Revisiting 1975

Posted in history, politics by jrahman on November 8, 2007

Of all the days in Bangladesh’s tortured history, 7 November 1975 stands out.  Different political factions use very different stories to describe the events of that day.  Which story one accepts as the truth, and more generally how one views the man who rose to power through the events of the day, used to be good indicators of one’s political inclinations until recently.  I was looking forward to 7 November this year because I thought this would finally show the ideological moorings of the powers-that-be that are running Bangladesh.  I was disappointed.

Before proceding any further, for anyone in need of a history lesson, this is what the wiki has to say. 

In today’s Bangladesh, most Bangladeshis accept the massacres of 15 August or 3 November as tragic events that they were.  For example, here is how Naya Diganta, a ‘rightwing’ newspaper marked 15 August (the distinction between ‘left’ and ‘right’ in Bangladeshi politics is less than clear – on this, some other day).  Here is their 2005 editorial on the jail killing.  Both events are clearly described as tragedies, and justice is sought for the victims. 

However, there is no such consensus when it comes to 7 November 1975.  Even the way the day is dubbed differs across the political spectrum. 

For the ‘right’, of whose standard bearer used to be Bangladesh Nationalist Party, it is National Revolution and Solidarity Day.  According to the BNP version of the history, on this day the nationalist core of the army, together with the ordinary people, overthrew a cabal subservient to Indo-Soviet hegemony.  According to this narrative, events of the early November put the nation’s sovereignty at risk, and what happened on 7 November deserves similar recognition to what is accorded to the Liberation War of 1971.  Here is how Naya Diganta marked the event this year.  The main slogan used by the supporters of the 7 November coup according to the newspaper was Allah Akbar.  In the years that BNP or the army has been in power, this day is marked as a public holiday.

For those on the ‘left’, particularly the supporters of the Awami League, it is a day of anarchy when freedom fighters were killed and a military dictatorship fashioned in Pakistani tradition emerged.  According to this history, the events of the day were a tragedy similar to 15 August or 3 November.  For example, this is how the Daily Star, the country’s largest English language daily with politics that used to be considered ‘centre-left’, marked the demise of Brig Khaled Musharraf, the man who lost on 7 November 1975.  Here is what Shamokal, a Bangla daiy of the ‘left’ has to say. 

Bill Clinton once said how one views the 1960s is the best predictor of one’s politics in today’s America.  The 1960s was a time of social and moral decay at home and defeatist foreign policy abroad, thinks the typical Republican.  For the typical Democrat, it was a decade of social progress at home and difficult foreign policy lessons abroad.  In Bangladesh until recently, views about the rule of Maj Gen Zia-ur-Rahman, the man who emerged as the winner from the coups and countercoups of 1975, used to be the best predictor of one’s politics.  For the supporters of BNP, the party Zia formed, the late 1970s was a time of national reconstruction and stability, and 7 November was a day of nationalist unity.  Those opposing BNP, generally supporters of the Awami League, the late 1970s was a time of counterrevolution against the nation’s founding principles, and 7 November was a day of anarchy and betrayal.

Since the army intervened in the country’s politics in January, political junkies (including the current scribbler) have been looking at the tea leaves trying to figure out which side of the ideological divide the current powers-that-be reside.  Since the army overthrew a set up that was designed to return the Zia family to power through a one-sided election, one could argue that the generals had a natual ally in the AL.  However, if this were so, why was Mr Sajeeb Wazed calling the regime a ‘Martial Law’ on 21 March, before there were any significant moves against his mother and AL chief Hasina Wajed?  But if not a pro-AL coup, perhaps the regime is intent on using the rhetoric of the ‘centre-left’, so argues Tacit

I was hoping that the regime’s official proclamations would allow us an insight into its ideological moorings.  Sadly, there was nothing, absolutely nothing, from any official on 7 November.  It was still a public holiday.  But that’s about it.

So, what do we make of this silence?  Does it prove the theory that the regime is a serious gongogol avoidance committee?  Or is it indicative of dithering within the regime?  I’m inclined to think the latter.  As Mash notes, the army chief Gen Moeen U Ahmed has not been seen for a few days.  Neither has been his deputy.  Meanwhile, BNP is in disarray.  What, dear reader, do you think is going on?  Why were they silent about 7 November?


4 Responses

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  1. DhakaShohor said, on November 8, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    I’m going with dithering to avoid gondogol in the short term.

    Right/centre-right would have been CTG’s natural ally, but unfortunately circumstances have dictated that they were at the receiving end of 1/11. As you or someone else has mentioned: AL grassroots and CTG’s power base are unlikely to get along. Thus the dithering and avoidance of gondogol at the same time.

    Btw, was about to blog on Badrul Ahsan’s piece on Khaled Mosharraf myself! What an awful hack!

  2. tacit said, on November 9, 2007 at 2:48 am

    Channel I could not have taped and broadcast Col. Rashid’s interview without the blessings of the current junta. Thus, this is something they want to happen. Notice while Zillur Rahman, the AL President downplays the event and expresses surprise over the interview, Captain (ret.) Taj, a very junior AL leader comes out confirming everything that Col. Rashid said.

    Given that this regime is demonizing Zia and doing its best to destabilize BNP, I think that it’s still going for the centre-left position. It may feel that many of the centre-right power-brokers of our country will support this government anyways, because of fear of what will happen to them if Begum Zia is ever set free. Moreover, if it can present itself as the most viable centrist alternative to AL, a significant chunk of BNP voters may support it anyways, just to keep AL out of power.

    Before Moeen left the US, he had made plans to set up his political party in this month. He has several friends in the US who are running Jago Bangladesh for him, and whom he uses as a think-tank. He even made some drafts of party to-do lists and speeches. I’d really like to know how that project is going.

  3. Rumi said, on November 9, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    BNP probably did not respond to Zia allegation because;
    1. They were busy otherwise.
    2. One spokesperson is overworked.
    3. They are used to all kind of anti Zia rhetoric. Don’t think any such thing will dent Zia. They would have if anything comes out against Khaleda.
    4. Thought JSD will do anyway.

    BNP ( Moeen u) missed an opportunity to play the major Zia defender. It was a chance to positively influence silent BNP supporters.

  4. jrahman said, on November 9, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    BNP turncoats did miss a chance here. If Saifur Rahman, Maj Hafiz and Mannan Bhuiyan came out and denounced the interview in the way JSD and Mrs Taher made their case, that would have impressed a lot of silent BNP supporters. In fact, the image of that would be – look at Hannan-Delwar mob, they’re adopting hooliganism whereas we’re defending the party founder’s image.

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