The unhealthy controversy with regard to the declaration of Bangladesh independence is still nagging us. We have grown weary of listening to the parade of the same old dispute over Mujib- Zia dichotomy in the independence matter. Now, we feel that all disagreements regarding this should be settled by law. Mujib is Mujib and Zia is Zia. Never shall the two be comparable to each other. This is history - not a matter of speculation.
As far as history is concerned, nobody was worthy of the declaration of our Independence except for Mujib. What Zia did was just read out a declaration note on behalf of Mujib. This is based on hard facts, and the reading out of the declaration note of March 27 could not be considered as the formal declaration of the Independence of Bangladesh, which was actually made on March 26, 1971.There is as such no room for fabrication in these two distinct facts.
It is Mujib who, for the first time, formally made the declaration of the Independence of Bangladesh on March 26, 1971. S. A. Karim in his book Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy writes that the wife of MR Siddiqi was given an urgent message over telephone from Bangabandhu received through the wireless operators of Chittagong. The message reads as follows: "Message to the people of Bangladesh and the people of the world. Rajarbagh police camp and Peelkhana EPR suddenly attacked by Pak Army at 2400 hours. Thousands of people killed. Fierce fighting going on. Appeal to the world for help in freedom struggle. Resist by all means. May Allah be with you. Joy Bangla." This message from Bangabandhu was then taken as the declaration of independence, which was read out by M.A. Hannan, general secretary of Chittagong District Awami League at 2:30pm. On this basis, March 26 was declared the Independence Day of Bangladesh.
The declaration of independence made by Major Zia took place on the following day (March 27, 1971). As a matter of fact, Zia made two speeches. In the first speech, he claimed himself as the president of Bangladesh, and urged upon the people to fight the Pakistan army. When this unauthorized speech created confusion among the people, the Awami League leaders asked Zia to read out a text prepared by AK Khan to dispel the popular confusion already created by the speech he had previously made. Zia followed the suggestion and made a second speech, where he categorically mentioned that he was speaking on behalf of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the great national leader.
Zia's speech, however, had an immediate effect among the fighting men and the civil population. But it was more to the credit of an ex-officio army official than to the credit of Zia, the very person. It was an on the spot demand which Zia happened to meet. Had there been some other army officials, say, a major or a colonel or the like, the effect would have been the same. The freedom-mad people across the country were bursting to get the command of their supreme leader, not of one of the thousands of army officials. Any Tom, Dick or Harry among the army officers could have easily substituted for Zia, but there was no substitute for Mujib. Moreover, March 27 was not declared 'Independence Day' on the basis of the Major's declaration.
So, Zia should not be said to have declared independence of Bangladesh. He only read out the message of declaration on behalf of Mujib, which, too, has an historic significance and that was duly recognized by the Mujibnagar Government. But that should not be manipulated into usurping Mujib's position in the declaration. Besides Zia never claimed himself the declarer of independence during his lifetime, and it is said that once he vehemently opposed a proposal made by one of his henchmen to establish him as that.
The Constitution, which was accepted as the "Declaration of Independence" on April 10, 1971, by 403 elected MPAs and MNAs also bears the testimony to the declaration of independence by Mujib. Under that constitution was formed the first government of independent Bangladesh (Mujib Nagar Government) with Mujib as the first president. The constitution of 1972 was later written in the light of that constitution. As it is put in the sixth section of that constitution (Declaration of Independence): "Whereas in the facts and circumstances of such treacherous conduct Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the undisputed leader of 75 million people of Bangladesh, in due fulfillment of the legitimate right of self-determination of the people of Bangladesh duly made a declaration of independence at Dacca on March 26, 1971 ...". Again, in Section 10 of that constitution, Mujib's declaration of independence is confirmed: "We the elected representatives of the people of Bangladesh... thereby confirm the Declaration of Independence already made by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman". That Mujib declared independence is an historical truth, which is properly substantiated by the Declaration of Independence of April 10, 1971, which can be considered as the precursor to the constitution of 1972.
The Mujib-Zia debate in regard to the declaration of independence was first raised by BNP in order to place its founder Zia on an equal footing with Mujib by adding extra credit to Zia's record on the Liberation War (1971) and subtracting that of Mujib. It is alleged that this grotesque idea of 'plus-minus' was the brainchild of the notorious collaborator Shah Azizur Rahman, who, after the death of Zia, spun a weird tale that Zia was the real man behind the Liberation War, who substituted for Mujib during wartime by declaring independence of Bangladesh. Aziz did this Machiavellian manipulation to feed people the story of Zia's independence declaration. He tried to make a mountain of wild fancy out of a molehill of facts. Had Zia been alive, Aziz would never have dared to do it because, he (Aziz) had made similar attempts several times during Zia's lifetime and was silenced by his stinging rebuke. Zia never staked out his claim on the declaration of independence. Rather he made an overt display of his allegiance to Mujib by writing an essay which was published in the Weekly Bichitra, in 1972. Khaleda-Nizami Alliance Government (2001-2006), on their having assumed the office in 2001 poked their nose into some settled matters of the history of independence. They came up with a conciliatory gesture of equalizing the contribution of Mujib and Zia to our Independence War. They tried to weigh both by the same scale. They repealed the 'Father of the Nation Portraits Preservation and Display Act' and proposed to make further acts for preserving and displaying the pictures of both the leaders side by side on the same wall in the office. The BNP-led government realized that they could benefit much from this process of equalization. They knew it well that without the blessing of an idolatrous personality, a political party is destitute of an ideology. BNP does not have a political idol like Sheikh Mujib of Awami League. Their Zia is not a person of Mujib's height, and does not have any outstanding contribution to the Liberation War. He may be as important as one of the eleven sector commanders or one of the sixty-eight Bir Uttams. Many of them, however, were given more important position for fighting more valiantly than he fought. Besides, Zia was the only sector commander, who was later reduced to the saviour of the anti-liberation forces after the August tragedy in 1975.
Taking such a disputed person as a guiding ideology, BNP could not go much further. Therefore, they needed to raise his image by way of tarnishing Mujib's. On their way to do this, they tried to distort the history of our Liberation War. Some opportunist intellectuals had joined hands with them to drum up support in their favour. They manufactured unique facts and anecdotes on our national history without bothering much about documentations. BNP is still trotting out the same old cliché that Zia is the declarer of independence. It sounds as if everything of our independence depended on that declaration and if he had not declared it right at that moment, it would not have been achieved at all. They try to argue over the matter in such a way that the independence of Bangladesh was based only on a verbal declaration, which was made by Zia. It is so ridiculous that if Zia himself had lived until now, he would sure have hung his head in shame.
Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns, and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University. E-mail: [email protected]