Demystifying Bangabondhu

[Published in the on 15 August 2010]

I have a confession to make– I probably do not know Bangabondhu well. Do you?

All these years, I thought I knew him. I mean, how can I not know the person who inspired us through our struggle for independence? How can I not know him when his 7th March speech still gives me goose bumps? How can I not know the person whose contribution in making and shaping of this country is unprecedented?

Well, when it comes to knowing a national leader, knowing the work is more effective than knowing the personality. Personality helps a leader to influence or motivate the people. But it’s the understanding of the works that helps people trust and know a leader.

Non-political leaders who rise to power at gunpoint carefully construct an untainted personality, based on facts and fairy tells, to blanket their unknown past and ruthless deeds. All the ruthless military leaders who reigned in this world had one thing in common—they spoke softly and carried big guns. Trust in those leaderships was not a choice for the people. Fear came first, which was then followed by respect. Later on, people renamed that fear as trust.

But political leaders need to earn the trust first. Here the legitimacy is earned through decades of struggles and public works. No one would have heeded if one unknown Sheikh Mujib went to Racecourse on 7th March to announce independence. He had to earn people’s trust spending thirty years’ in political campaigns before he announced “this time the struggle is for our freedom, this time the struggle is for our independence”. He did not need an army to support his cause; rather, his cause was against an army. People were willing participant in it.

This part of Bangabondhu is well understood. We know this Bangabondhu who led our independence war. But do we know the Bangabondhu who ruled the nation? I am afraid the post-independence generation never got to know Bangabondhu. Not even during these Awami League eras.

After his cowardly assassination, the post-15 August incumbents turned the state-run media into anti-Mujib propaganda machines and the post-independence generation grew up listening to these. Some of these were hateful, others were very delicate.

One of my personal favourite is the propaganda about Special Power Act. No one will abandon it, but will continue to blame him. In the 1980s, a common news headline on the evening of Eid was – “President HM Ershad has pardoned and freed this many prisoners today who were held under the 1974 special power act.” As if those prisoners were held in prison since 1974 and the kind President has finally freed them. The news will never say that these people were actually imprisoned by Ershad and only he is to blame for it.

Before the boom of internet, electronic and print media in the mid-1990s, state-run media ran anti-Mujib campaign deliberately to keep the political discourse on Mujib. Consequently, most political debates were on Mujib’s pardoning of razakars, release of Pakistani war criminals, India-Bangladesh treaty, 1974 famine, BAKSAL, Special Power Act, etc. While these debates helped the post-15 August incumbents to keep public eyes away from their misdeeds, the works of Mujib however were never clarified through these debates.

Take the pardoning of war criminals for an example. While the post-15 August leadership rehabilitated the war criminals by offering cabinet posts in successive regimes, they all along blamed Mujib for pardoning the war criminals. Interestingly, I have also heard many Awami League leaders openly admitting that ‘mistake’ by Mujib. Over the past 35 years, people were made believe that Mujib indeed pardoned the war criminals and thus we can’t put them on trial. As we see the war criminals being put on trial, we now realize that Mujib’s conditional pardoning never let off war criminals who were directly or indirectly involved in murder, rape, arson or looting. Rather, the trial he initiated, constitutional amendments he made, and acts he brought for the trial are the ones that facilitating the current trial process.

Nonetheless, once that pardoning-propaganda was proved to be wrong, another round of propaganda emerged. Some leftist-writers-turned-right are now vigorously writing in prominent Bangla print media blaming Mujib for releasing 195 Pakistani war criminals. Once again they are having a free ride. No one is correcting them by revealing the facts on how the Pakistani soldiers were deported to India before Sheikh Mujib was even released from Pakistan; and how strongly he tried to put those Pakistani war criminals on trial; and finally, how Pakistan’s freed them suing China’s veto in the United Nations and threatening the execution of stranded Bangalis in retaliation (for detailed account, see

Similarly, most of his post-independence acts were not explained to the people. Not even during his life time, not by his trusted allies. I have heard all the good and bad words about him. I have seen buildings and bridges named after him. But no one explained to us how he managed to influence India to withdraw its troops from Bangladesh within months; how he tried to keep Bangladesh in between capitalist and communist blocks by promoting a mixed-economy based on socialism; how Bangladesh endured post-war natural calamities and international apathy; how the India-Bangladesh treaty was more favourable to Bangladesh than to India.

If the post-15 August leaderships are to blame for anti-Mujib propaganda, AL leadership are to blame for not demystifying Mujib’s works. Either local AL leaders do not understand why Mujib did what he did, or they swallowed the anti- Mujib propaganda and are busy to move on.

Demystifying Mujib image will not provide us electricity or gas supply; it will most definitely not solve Dhaka’s traffic jam or bring food price down. The government will have to work on that separately to remain popular. But demystifying political leader’s works is necessary for any nation to keep its conscience clear.

Awami League owes this to Bangabondhu.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: