Sheikh Mujib may be declared Father of the Nation
Mar 29, 2007 - 12:14:57 PM

New Delhi, March 29 - Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the man in whose name the people of East Bengal fought for freedom from Pakistan in 1971, may be finally and formally declared Bangladesh's Father of the Nation.

There is no announcement yet from the caretaker government of Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed, but a clear pattern is emerging about the government's thinking.

An indication came last Tuesday during a tea party hosted by army chief Lt. Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed in honour of the Freedom Fighters' Contingent that had taken part in the national parade on the first anniversary of independence.

'In the 36 years since independence, politicians have not given us anything good. They have even failed to give due recognition to the national leaders,' he was quoted by The Daily Star as telling the army veterans.

'Think about it, we haven't even given recognition to the Father of the Nation,' said Moeen Ahmed, referring to 'Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman'.

Sheikh Mujib ruled the new nation from January 1972 till he was assassinated along with most of his family members in a military-led coup Aug 15, 1975. Subsequent governments, particularly army-led or army-guided, have sought to belittle his role.

His role has been juxtaposed against that of the late Ziaur Rahman who, as a Pakistan Army major, turned a rebel and declared independence from a local radio station. He rose to be the army chief and subsequently the president between 1977-1981 till he was ousted in another coup.

Attempts have been made to rewrite contemporary history according to the political colour of the government of the day, especially during the two tenures of Zia's widow Begum Khaleda Zia -.

Moeen Ahmed's views come a week after tributes were paid to Mujib on his birth anniversary. Chief Advisor Ahmed, who performs the prime ministerial functions, visited Mujib's grave in Tungipara village, about 80 km from Dhaka.

Floral wreaths were laid at the grave, with three services chiefs attending the ceremony and military buglers sounding the 'last post'.

Keen to maintain political neutrality and hence equal distance from the two national heroes, the government has specified that it would accord the same honour to Zia that it did to Mujib by paying homage to him as well on his birth anniversary.

What is intriguing, however, is that Mujib's daughter and former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, who has inherited his political legacy, left the country for the US, just two days before this ceremony.

Before her departure, however, she extended full support to the caretaker government, committing to 'legitimise' its actions, should she come to power again. The only point of disagreement was her demand for early general elections, called off in January.

Observers of the Bangladesh scene have noted the army's apparent readiness to honour Mujib, perhaps to remove memories that those who killed him were serving, retired and cashiered army officers.

The army and the present government also appear keen to exercise neutrality on the ongoing political controversy as to who declared independence in 1971.

They are also keen to rationalise the current role of the military. Moeen Ahmed says that the armed forces are only 'assisting' the caretaker government, insisting: 'We are not running the country'.

While his repeated assertions are aimed at disabusing the widely held perceptions at home and abroad that the present government is 'army-guided', if not 'army-led', it is also true that his views and the stand that he takes on different issues matter.

His tea party had both serving generals and the military personnel who participated in the liberation war.

The first army chief after independence gained in 1971, Lt Gen - K.M. Shafiullah, sought the army's assistance in reinstating the 'correct history' by declaring Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman the 'father of the nation'.

Among other freedom fighters, Maj Gen - Syed Mohammed Ibrahim called for creation of a list of wartime collaborators, while Lt Gen - Mir Shawkat Ali and Maj - Rafiq expressed their support for the army.

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