For the subsequent twenty one years after 15 August 1975, Bangladesh would pass into darkness engendered by a denial of history
Towards the end of July 1975, Tajuddin Ahmad received a late night call from someone he knew. It was one of desperation as the individual at the other end asked him to warn Bangabandhu that he ought to strengthen security for himself. As he told Tajuddin, who was at that point outside government, a deep conspiracy was taking shape to bump the Father of the Nation off.
Tajuddin Ahmad wasted little time in setting off for 32 Dhanmondi to convey the message to Bangabandhu. He walked half the way before he found a rickshaw to drop him off at Bangabandhu's home. Surprised to see his former colleague at such a late hour, Bangabandhu soon came to know of the fear that had drawn Tajuddin to his home in the deepening night. But, as always, Bangabandhu was dismissive of the report Tajuddin conveyed to him. Not to worry, he told him, before asking him to go back home. A despondent Tajuddin returned to his Satmasjid Road residence.
A little over a fortnight later, the carnage took place. Bangabandhu and most of his family members, Abdur Rab Serniabat, Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni and Arzoo Moni and others were gunned down by assassins in uniform. On 15 August 1975, Bangladesh passed into sinister darkness, wrenched from its liberal and secular moorings. It was parricide that laid the nation low.
And yet there had been all the signs of a conspiracy, indeed a multiplicity of conspiracies, that were afoot long before the cataclysm of 15 August came to pass. The Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal through its Ganobahini was deeply involved in intrigue not only to undermine Bangabandhu's government but also to eliminate him from the scene. A bomb placed under the stone slab leading to the gates of the secretariat to kill Bangabandhu in 1974, moments before the Father of the Nation turned up, failed to go off when a sudden spell of rain rendered it ineffective.
Men like Colonel Taher were at the time busily engaged in plans to overthrow the government. And that was not all. By November 1974, a clear outline of a conspiracy against the government began to take shape when a few majors and colonels were dispatched to Major General Ziaur Rahman to solicit his support for what was given out as a change in the country. The men were sent to Zia by Khondokar Moshtaq Ahmed, at the time minister for commerce in Bangabandhu's government. Zia was non-committal. A few months later, in March 1975, the same men went back to Zia with the same message. Zia did not discourage them but at the same time had little desire to be part of their conspiracy. He did not inform the government of the conspiracy that was being woven.
Any reflection on the tragedy of 15 August cannot ignore the systematic manner in which Bangabandhu's government was beginning to come under attack, particularly from 1973. The JSD apart, Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani went for a public campaign in defence of what he called Muslim Bangla. It was a direct assault on the secular ethos of the country. In 1974, a concerted media campaign against the government, through portrayals of such untruths as a young woman named Bashonti being constrained to clothe herself in a threadbare jute sack were disseminated throughout the country and beyond to embarrass the government. And, at the same time, the fact that an international conspiracy against the government was afoot, typified by America's Ford administration recalling a shipload of food aid for Bangladesh, cannot be overlooked.
By early 1975, rumblings of organized intrigue were in the air. At the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD), Moshtaq, Taheruddin Thakur, Mahbubul Alam Chashi and ABS Safdar were in meetings to determine their course of action. Meanwhile, the conspiring majors and colonels had begun to sound out officials, especially Philip Cherry, the CIA station chief at the US embassy in Dhaka, on possible American support for a coup against Bangabandhu's government. There is no evidence that the Americans dissuaded the plotters from going ahead with their plans.
In the morning on 14 August, a special representative of South Korean President Park Chung-hee called on President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at Ganobhaban. In the evening, a farewell reception was organized for Farashuddin Ahmed, Bangabandhu's PS, at Ganobhaban. Ahmed was scheduled to go abroad shortly. At Dhaka University, preparations went on full swing to welcome Bangabandhu to the campus the next morning. The Father of the Nation went home to Dhanmondi in the evening.
The plotters attacked Bangabandhu's residence in the pre-dawn hours on 15 August. The minimal security people at the gates of the presidential residence were overwhelmed within minutes, with a police officer being the first to be shot by the killers. It was then the turn of Sheikh Kamal, who had come down on hearing the commotion, to be gunned down. Over the next few minutes, the assassins ran up the stairs toward the first floor of the residence. Halfway, they stopped on seeing Bangabandhu at the top of the stairs. Barely a few minutes went by before the Father of the Nation was shot. He fell down the stairs, coming to rest at the turning to the ground floor. And then began a wholesale massacre of his family.
At the end of the bloody exercise, one of the plotters informed another, 'All are finished.' Over the radio, one other plotter proclaimed the fall of the government and the killing of 'autocrat' Sheikh Mujib and the formation of a government led by Khondokar Moshtaq. Moshtaq would a short while later broadcast to the nation, eulogizing the murderers as 'children of the sun.'
Close to five hours went by after Bangabandhu and his family were murdered and yet no action was taken to put up resistance to the coup and have the plotters rounded up. Other than the President's security officer Brigadier Jamiluddin Ahmed, not one among the military and security forces stepped forward to run the assassins out of town. Instead, all senior military officers as well as those from the Bangladesh Rifles, police and Rakkhi Bahini quietly followed the instructions of the killers. They presented themselves before Moshtaq, pledging their loyalty to him. It was a pathetic sight.
Away in Pakistan's capital Islamabad, the managing director of the state-run Pakistan Television was observed to be rather busy right from early morning. He constantly asked the employees of PTV if any news had come from Dhaka, which was clearly a sign that the powers that be in Islamabad were in the know of what was about to occur in Bangladesh. Once the news of the massacre in Dhaka came through, Pakistani media loudly proclaimed it to their people. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, cheered by the assassinations in Dhaka, promptly accorded recognition to the Moshtaq dispensation, wrongly describing Bangladesh as an Islamic republic when it was nothing of the kind. He also ordered a dispatch of rice and cloth to Bangladesh and at the same time asked other nations to recognize the new dispensation in Dhaka.
Bangabandhu's corpse lay at the bottom of the stairs of his home all day. Similarly, the bodies of his family members lay where they had fallen. Late in the evening, the soldiers collected all the bodies in makeshift coffins, which were to be taken to Banani graveyard. In one more instance of spite, the killers would have Bangabandhu's body taken on 16 August to his village Tungipara and buried there in unceremonious manner. Prior to the burial, Moshtaq told the members of the cabinet, all of whom had been part of Bangabandhu's government till only the other day, that anyone among them was free to accompany the body to Tungipara. No one responded.
It rained in the evening of the day Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was buried beside his parents in his ancestral home in Tungipara.
Post-August, the country was pushed by Moshtaq and his assassin-associates into revisionist mould. A few days after the coup, the usurper regime placed four prominent leaders of the 1971 Mujibnagar government --- Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, M. Mansoor Ali, A.H.M. Quamruzzaman --- under arrest. All four of them would in early November of the year be done to death in Dhaka central jail.
General M.A.G. Osmany, who had protested the imposition of Baksal in January 1975 and had quit parliament in protest, joined Moshtaq as his defence advisor. The army chief, General Shafiullah, and the air force chief, Air Vice Marshal A.K. Khandaker, were replaced. General Ziaur Rahman took over as the new chief of staff of the army, while M.G. Tawab was called back from Germany, where he had settled, to take charge of the air force.
Moshtaq promulgated an indemnity ordinance that effectively blocked any questioning of the assassinations of 15 August and any trial of the perpetrators of the crime. Additionally, the regime annulled the constitutional move setting up the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League.
Days after the coup, Mohiuddin Ahmed, a senior leader of the Awami League, was dispatched to Moscow by the regime to secure support for it from the Soviet Union. In London, Abdul Malek Ukil, a long-time colleague of Bangabandhu, told the media that the coup d'etat of 15 August had marked the fall of an autocrat.
The slogan Joi Bangla was replaced by Bangladesh Zindabad. Bangladesh Betar, the radio station, was rechristened as Radio Bangladesh.
On 3 November, Brigadier Khaled Musharraf launched a counter coup, removing Ziaur Rahman from the position of army chief of staff and taking over the job himself. On 6 November, Moshtaq was forced to resign and was replaced by Justice Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem, chief justice of the Supreme Court, as the new President of the country.
Khaled Musharraf, Khondokar Najmul Huda and A.T.M. Haider were killed in a putsch led by Colonel Abu Taher on the morning of 7 November. Freed by soldiers, General Zia resumed command of the army even as sepoys, encouraged by Taher and the JSD, went on a spree of killing officers in the name of a Sepoy-Janata Biplob. Later in the month, asserting control over the army, Zia had Taher and the leaders of the JSD arrested.
President Sayem took additional charge as chief martial administrator, with General Zia, Air Vice Marshal Tawab and Rear Admiral M.H. Khan officiating as deputy chief martial law administrators. In December of the year, the regime repealed the Collaborators' Act that had been promulgated by Bangabandhu's government soon after liberation.
In early 1976, the regime organized a Seerat conference at Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka. It was presided over by M.G. Tawab, the air force chief.
In July 1976, Colonel Taher was tried by a military court, sentenced to death and hanged.
In April 1977, Ziaur Rahman, having engineered the resignation of President Sayem, took over the presidency.
For the subsequent twenty one years, Bangladesh would pass into darkness engendered by a denial of history.