A Man Named Mujib

The Editorial Board

Every classroom, government office, hotel and state building in the fifty-year-old nation of Bangladesh has two portraits hanging front and center. Pictures of father and daughter, Bangladesh Founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the right and the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the left. Though eerily similar to Mao Zedong’s Communist China or an Arab Gulf monarchy,  Bangladesh is completely different both on paper and practice. Bangladesh today is a declared parliamentary democracy, famous for its fertile lands, leading garment industry, overpopulation, and rising economic position within South Asia.

It is no secret that Bangladeshis today have non-stop, unconditional praise for their revolutionary leader and first Prime Minister. When Sheikh Mujibur Rahman first declared independence from Pakistan, the odds were daunting, as the United States-backed Pakistani government met these independence aspirations with a fully-fledged air and land military campaign. Even after Bangladesh triumphed over an exponentially better funded Pakistani military, the U.S. Secretary of State dismissed the newborn nation as a “basketcase.”

Today, the soaring economic hub still faces issues with the world’s largest refugee camp on its Eastern border, overpopulation, internationally prominent corruption, and political hypocrisies exposing Bangladesh as being more of an autocracy than the democracy that it claims to be. 

However, credit is earned where credit is due, and the valiant, revolutionary genius, as well as the tragic downfall of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is a story worth retelling.

Khoka: A Leader is Born

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, better known as Mujib, was born on March 17, 1920, in Tungipara, a village in the Gopalganj District of modern-day Bangladesh, as the third child in a family of four daughters and two sons. He was born into an upper-middle-class family whose father, Sheikh Lutfur Rahman, was a serestadar (court clerk) in the Gopalganj civil court during the British era. Mujib’s dhak naam was Khoka, which his parents lovingly referred to him as.

At the age of seven he was enrolled in Gimadanga Primary School in 1927 before attending the Gopalganj Public School in class three two years later. In 1931, he enrolled at the Madaripur Islamia High School, where he thrived both as a student and leader, organizing a student protest calling for the removal of an inept school principal.

When Mujib was thirteen years old, family elders fixed a marriage between him and his cousin, Begum Fazilatunnesa. It was Sheikh Abdul Hamid, grandfather to both Mujib and Begum, who initially approached Mujib’s father with the idea, eventually getting the ceremony done in 1938 when Mujib was 18. Mujib and Begum gave birth to three sons (Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russel) and two daughters (Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Raihana).

His political calling took off while attending the Gopalganj Missionary School in 1939, when Chief Minister of then-undivided Bengal, A.K. Fazlul Haque and future Prime Minister of Pakistan, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, visited the school campus. Under the leadership of Mujib, a group of students demanded repair of a damaged roof of the school. During this time, young Mujib caught the eye of two leading Bengali Muslim leaders in both British India and later East Pakistan. As a son of a civil servant, Mujib’s integrity and itch for public service were only surpassed by his charismatic leadership and love for his people.

A young Mujib (right) with his mentor, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (left) who was former Chief Minister of Undivided Bengal and the Fifth Prime Minister of Pakistan,

After graduating from Gopalganj Missionary School in 1942, he received both his Intermediate Arts and B.A. in 1944 and 1947 respectively from Islamia College, known as Maulana Azad College today. Upon graduation, Mujib would join Suhrawardy (the Prime Minister of undivided Bengal at the time) and other Muslim politicians in Kolkata to help break up escalating violence before Partition. 

Following Partition, Mujib enrolled in the University of Dhaka in newly formed East Pakistan, as a law student. On January 4, 1948, he founded the East Pakistan Muslim Students’ League. His experience on the frontlines during Partition made him an experienced visionary among peers, keeping his eye out for shaping as well as defending the Bengali interests within the newfound Pakistan. Historian M. Bhaskaran Nair describes how Mujib’s role as Suhrawardy’s protege helped him “emerge as the most powerful man in the party.” 

Adolescent Mujib witnessed the great famines of 1943 where over five million died and World War II while working alongside leading Bengali leaders such as Suhrawardy and Fazlul Haq during Partition and the early years of East Pakistan. During this time, he witnessed how fellow Bengali revolutionary Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose challenged the British Empire while coming across the works of both Rabindranath Tagore and rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam.

Mujib is remembered for his mediocre academic performance, which was greatly overshadowed by his towering leadership initiatives. Standing at 5’11 with a touch of greying hair, a bushy mustache and dark black eyes, Mujib captivated millions with his thunderous voice and emotional rhetoric, holding his crowds spellbound. A style of speech so poetic and centered on unity before any distinction in class or religion, this larger-than-life persona would only help him grow from local Bengali leader to international personality.

Mujib giving a speech with his long-time mentor Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in Dhaka on 1957.

Mujib enters Politics: “The Most Powerful Man in the Party”

Mujib, along with the nearly 42 million Bengalis out of Pakistan’s 75 million population, faced his first real political challenge a year after Partition in 1948. Pakistani Founder and first Prime Minister, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, announced that “Urdu, and only Urdu” would be the state language of Pakistan. Bengalis of East Pakistan immediately rose in outrage in the form of protests launched by Mujib, as leaders communicated their dissent against the removal of Bengali script from government documents and banning of Bengali books. The resulting Bengali Language movement became a cultural revolution that would ultimately pave the road to national independence. Mujib would be arrested twice in 1948; once during the nationwide student strike on March 17, 1948, and again on September 11, 1948, while organizing a movement for the fourth class employees of Dhaka University. His advocacy for the fourth class employees would lead to his expulsion from Dhaka University, thus preventing him from completing his law degree.

Mujib would leave the Muslim League and join the Awami Muslim League (a forerunner to today’s Awami League in Bangladesh) with Suhrawardy in expanding a Bengali and socialist coalition in East Pakistan as an elected joint secretary in 1949.

In 1954, Mujib was elected as a member of the East Pakistan Assembly and joined A.K. Fazlul Haque’s United Front government as its youngest minister. This government would catapult Suhrawardy to become the fifth Prime Minister of Pakistan and serve for a year as a Pro-American head of state that split the Awami Muslim League. However, the ruling Muslim League government of Pakistan dissolved this government and again threw Mujib into prison for a third time, setting up a recurring practice that saw Mujib spend most of his youth in prison behind bars. He would be arrested again in 1958, when Pakistani General Ayub Khan staged Pakistan’s first military coup, and for a fifth time in 1962, after 14 months in prison. 

Suhrawardy died from a supposed heart attack on December 5, 1962 while in exile in Beirut, which Bengalis to this day are convinced was an assasination ordered by General Ayub for Suhrawardy’s popularity in the upcoming elections. Suhrawardy’s death devastated Mujib as Suhrawardy was his mentor who guided him into politics ever since he was a high school student.

Mujib effectively became the head of the Awami League in 1963, making his first order of business dropping the “Muslim” in the Awami Muslim League  to today’s Awami League in an effort for broader appeal to rally non-Muslim communities within Pakistan. 

More importantly, economic differences between West and East Pakistan became more clear as nearly twenty years after Partition, Bengalis were poorly represented in Pakistani civil and military services. The only university in East Pakistan was Dhaka University, as the Pakistani central government showed no signs of investing in education or infrastructure in East Pakistan even though it contributed nearly 70% of Pakistan’s overall GDP. This feeling of internal colonization among Bengalis by an alien West Pakistani government was coupled with the routine imposition of martial law and a social atmosphere where Bengali culture was looked down upon and seen as requiring cleansing of Hindu influences.

Mujib announcing his Six-Point program in Lahore in 1966.

Mujib came to the fore, once again, in the midst of the recurring injustices and a denial of democracy with his famous Six Point Movement. In 1966, Mujib spoke before a national conference in the Pakistani capital of Lahore where he envisioned a new approach to political life by demanding self-government as well as economic, political and defense autonomy for East Pakistan in response to West Pakistan’s clear display of a weak central government. The Six-Point Movement titled “Our Bangali Charter of Survival” called for: 

  1. A Federal State and introduction of parliamentary form of government based on universal adult franchise
  2. All departments except defense and foreign affairs will be vested in the hands of the federating units or provincial governments
  3. Separate currencies for two states or effective measures to stop flight of capital from East Pakistan to West Pakistan
  4. The transfer of all rights of taxation to the states
  5. Independence of the states in international trades
  6. The rights of the states to create’ militia or para-military forces for self-defense.

The Six Point movement was wildly popular all throughout East Pakistan, capturing the support of the Hindu populace as a definitive stance for Bengali autonomy and rights in the future of Pakistan. However, the sentiment in West Pakistan was the exact opposite as Mujib’s plan came across as thinly veiled separatism. Ayub Khan, who was still president of Pakistan after his first coup that sent Mujib to prison, declared in 1966 that those propagating the Six Point program for East Pakistan’s autonomy would be handled through the language of weapons.

We gave blood in 1952, we won a mandate in 1954. But we were not allowed to take up the reins of this country. In 1958, Ayub Khan clamped Martial Law on our people and enslaved us for the next 10 years. In 1966, our people fought for the Six points but the lives of our our young men and women were stilled by government bullets.” – Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

On January 18, 1968, the Pakistan government informed the public that thirty-five individuals had been charged with breaking up Pakistan and turning East Pakistan into an independent state with the covert help of India. The Pakistani Ayub regime’s claim of sedition became known as the Agartala Conspiracy case. Officially named the State vs. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the time, the plot was allegedly planned in the city of Agartala located in the Indian state of Tripura. Lieutenant Colonel Shamsul Alam uncovered how Mujib and associates were conspiring to ignite an armed revolution against West Pakistan that would result in secession. Mujib and thirty-four military officers were arrested by the Pakistan Army and jailed for two years before coming before a military court in 1969. In 1967, nearly 1,500 were arrested in connection with the Agartala plot. Strikes and mass civil unrest swept across East Pakistan in response to the state-led actions against Mujib and associates.

The hearings began on June 18, 1968 inside a secured chamber within the Dhaka Cantonment (headquarters for the later Bangladesh army and navy) which served as an opportunity for Mujib to publicize Awami League demands. The tribunal had three judges who witnessed an unsuccessful case against the thirty-five accused of sedition. The final date for the case was February 6, 1969, but a mass upsurge caused the government to defer the date which would only get worse when one of the accused Sergeants, Zahurul Haq, was killed in custody. Mass mobs and arson which burned some of the case’s evidence, led the Pakistani government to drop the Agartala Conspiracy case, releasing the thirty-five accused on February 22, 1969. 

The next day, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the other thirty-four accused were greeted with a grand reception at the Race course Maidan, where Mujib was given the Bengali honorific, Bangabondhu or Friend of Bengal. On December 5, 1963, which was the death anniversary of Suhrawardy, Mujib first coined the name “Bangladesh” to replace “East Pakistan” as the name of the land.

Mujib and the Awami League’s political momentum was met with the 1970 Bhola Cyclone, which was the last straw for East Pakistan in their struggle with their Western central government. The cyclone killed over 500,000 and displaced millions, while the Pakistani central government led by then-President Yahya Khan’s Pakistan Peoples Party provided ineffective disaster relief. While East Pakistan blamed the central government for turning a blind eye with an intentionally negligent disaster response, West Pakistan accused East Pakistani leaders for using the crisis for political gain.

This aerial view of the coastal area of Patuakhali depicts littered dead cattle after it was hit by the tropical cyclone center in November 1970’s Bhola Cyclone. (Express Newspapers/Getty Images)

The sentiment was clear and present when the 1970 Pakistani general election came along. West Pakistan’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) under the leadership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was completely blown out by Mujib’s Awami League.

Joy Bangla: Bangabondhu’s Finest Hour

For the first time in Pakistani history, on December 7, 1970, voters were allowed to directly elect members to the national assembly. The Bengali dissatisfaction and populace made itself known for the first time as the Awami League won 160 out of the 162 seats for East Pakistan, while the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) came in second only winning 81 of 138 seats for West Pakistan. Based on the Pakistani Constitution, the Awami League would have been delegated with the political predominance and power they deserved, but instead the election results were annulled and they were denied an inaugural assembly. 

This may be my last message. From today Bangladesh is independent. I call upon the people of Bangladesh wherever you are and with whatever you have, to resist the occupation army. Our fight will go on till the last soldier of the Pakistan Occupation Army is expelled from the soil of independent Bangladesh. Final victory is ours. Joy Bangla! – Sheikh Mujibur Raman

After Yahya intentionally delayed the assembly with the advice of PPP’s Leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, political deadlock only further worsened. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, delivered his famous 7th of March speech in 1971 on Ramna Race Course Ground in Dhaka, declaring independence from Pakistan and urging Bengalis to launch a campaign of civil disobedience. Yahya Khan willed extensive military operations to suppress the Bengali civil disobedience in addition to declaring martial law: banning the Awami League party and arresting Prime Minister-elect Rahman. By Constitution, Mujibur Rahman was to be Prime Minister of Pakistan but after Rahman’s call for Bengalis to rebel, Yahya Khan instead appointed General Tikka Khan as Governor of East Pakistan. 

Tikka and Yahya Khan led a six month war which was heavily funded by the U.S. under the Nixon administration and manipulated Islam in order to issue a religious fatwa for paramilitary groups to carry out systematic rape as an instrument of ethnic cleansing. 

Tikka Khan was the chief architect and planner behind Operation Searchlight, under instructions from Yahya to carry out direct action, indiscriminate killings to terrify the East Pakistani populace. On the evening of March 25, 1971, thousands of innocents were systematically slaughtered wholesale in the capital of Dhaka. While the initial victims were the Hindu minority, intelligentsia, students, civilians, military personnel and Bengali activists of any sort, Khan’s regime sought to kill everyone in sight. Of priority were the academia and civil members of society, including teachers, students, doctors, lawyers and politicians, all killed in mass burial sites along with their families. 

Dhaka University was a huge site for killings, while every radio station in West Pakistan were ambushed. Members of the Pakistani military and paramilitary forces from the Pakistani Muslim League (i.e. Razakars, Al-Shams & Al-Badr) took part in the systematic, deliberate rape of between 200,000 and 400,000 Bengali women, deemed genocidal rape. This was justified by a radically religious fatwa incited by Pakistani Islamists. Millions of Bengalis sought refuge in India, while the US turned a blind eye as President Nixon’s ties with Yahya to keep Pakistan as a Cold War ally against Russia and China. An estimated influx of 9.8 million refugees flocked to the Indian state of Tripura, where untold thousands died in camps. The events leading up to Operation Searchlight, up until the first few days of war, received little outside attention. The Mukti Bahini (Freedom Fighters of Bangladesh), resisting the Pakistani onslaught, put up a substantial guerrilla warfare defense. 

Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman signing a Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Peace following the Liberation War on March 2, 1972.

Indira Gandhi, although compelled by her solidarity with humanitarian sentiments for Bengal, and even threatening war on May 12, 1971,  couldn’t immediately intervene due to Pakistan’s claims of sovereignty in the UN Charter. Directly declaring war violated international law, but Indian Ambassador D.P. Dhar then suggested:

War–open declared war-fortunately in my opinion, in the present case is not the only alternative. We have to use the Bengali human material and the Bengali terrain to launch a comprehensive war of liberation.” 

Instead, India covertly aided the Mukti Bahini in training them within camps on the border in addition to Indian intelligence working closely with Bengali insurgents. When faced with the question of whether India was aiding the Mukti Bahini in the U.N., Indira Gandhi just broadly stated “They have their resources.” A U.N. Resolution to send UN High Commissioner of Refugees officials on the Indian-Bangladeshi border to investigate the Pakistani claims of Indian aiding & abetting in violation of international law was prevented through Gandhi’s alliance with Russia. This private information led to the buildup to an unconditional West Pakistani surrender to the Bangladeshi populace of East Pakistan. During the war, Pakistan saw its forces annihilated once Indian intervention came in with its near-total air supremacy and dominance on the naval front. The Mitro Bahini, the Indian Army allied with Mukti Bahini, found themselves retaliating at their best by November 21, 1971. However, on December 3, 1971, Pakistan unleashed Operation Chengiz Khan in direct opposition to India. Operation Chengiz Khan was a pre-emptive strike on 11 Indian airbases, giving Indira Gandhi the reason to hold the airstrikes as a declaration of war against India. 

The direct confrontation between Pakistan & India escalated the Liberation war to become the Third Indo-Pakistani War. India swiftly secured the victory to the Mukti Bahini within just 13 days. In the Nine Months of the Liberation War, the Mukti Bahini manpower of 175,000 with Indian Allied Forces of 250,000 held against Pakistan’s 365,000 servicemen. However, the open declaration of war in the Third Indo-Pak War doubled India’s deployed manpower to 500,000, ensuring Pakistan’s defeat and Bangladeshi Secession. On December 16, 1971, the Eastern Command of the Pakistani Military signed the Instrument of Surrender, marking the formation of East Pakistan as the new nation of Bangladesh. 

Pakistani Lt. General A.A.K. Niazi and Jagjit Singh Aurora on behalf of Indian and Bangladesh Armed Forces sign the Pakistani Instrument of Surrender in Dhaka on December 16, 1971.

Bangladesh established itself as the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, in the name of all Bengalis regardless of faith or ethnicity who fought for Liberation. The Indian army took in over 93,000 Pakistani servicemen as prisoners. Defeat and dismemberment was a shocking loss to Pakistani military junta and civilians alike, as Yahya Khan’s dictatorship crumbled over to Ali Bhutto. The surrender of Pakistan struck fear in the hearts of Americans, as Nixon’s ties to Yahya proved deadly, bringing Cold War relations between the U.S., China & Russia into crisis brinksmanship. India began to assume its ulterior motive as regional hegemon, which also meant assuming Pakistan’s role as manipulator of Bengali commerce and politics. 

Still, India’s proven goodwill to namely aid and advance Bengali secession efforts towards liberation did hold humanitarian sentiment, but was merely a byproduct of India seizing an opportunity of a weakened Pakistan to seize its role as regional hegemon.

U.S. President Richard Nixon (left) and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (right) were complicit in Pakistan’s Operation Searchlight due to Nixon’s ties with Pakistani President Yahya Khan.

How exactly Bangladeshis held out against an exponentially wealthier, more armed and internationally-backed central Pakistani government for six months baffles people to this day. The United States under President Nixon had especially good ties with the Pakistani Prime Minister during the 1971 Liberation War over strategic interests to keep Pakistan away from Soviet influence. This carries over today into the prevailing Democratic following of Bangladeshis, following Nixon’s Republican administration’s complicit role in the 1971 Liberation War. Consul General to East Pakistan, Archer Blood, wrote a famous telegram to Nixon, now known as the Blood Telegram, which reported Yahya’s Pakistan engaging in a “selective genocide” among the Bengali populace of East Pakistan. This was met with Nixon dismissing Consul General Blood, further proving America’s complicit role with Pakistan.

A Revolutionary, Not a Statesman: Mujib’s Fatal Flaw 

“Revolutionaries are not necessarily good statespeople.” Journalist Shahidul Alam gave this remark in a 2013 Al Jazeera interview with David Frost in regards to Mujib’s transition from Bangladeshi founder to Prime Minister. “I didn’t think he was sufficiently aware of that difference. He tried to run it, but the things that went wrong started with the one-party system.” 

My greatest strength is the love for my people, my greatest weakness is that I love them too much. – Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Interview with David Frost on BBC, 1972)

Bangladesh was a parliamentary democracy on paper, but a year into nationhood, Mujib essentially put democracy aside in a desperate bid to save democracy. On February 24, 1975, Bangladesh Founder and First Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman proclaimed Bangladesh a one-party state. With three presidential decrees, Mujib banned all existing political organizations, wiping out 13 political parties and effectively positioning Awami League as the sole political party in the new nation. From communists on the left to hardline Islamic groups on the right, Mujib declared that Bangladesh would now only have one party to help promote “the fundamental principles of state policy, namely nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism.” The establishment of a one-party Bangladesh follows Mujib’s plan to leave his Prime Minister title and assume his new absolute powers as President. 

On August 15, 1975, which is also Indian Independence Day, junior Bangladeshi military officers walked into Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Dhanmondi residence and assassinated Mujib, and seventeen members of his family– a tragedy of the ages, which still shakes Bengalis to the core to this day. The only two surviving members of the Mujibur Rahman family were future and current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her younger sister, Sheikh Rehana who were traveling in Germany at the time. The sheer brutality of the murders, so soon after the genocide crippled the morale of the country, but also served as an opportunity for a growing elite within the nation totally separate from Mujib’s Awami League party to this day. 

While the one-party decision would prove to be a fatal mistake that would open the floodgates for a military coup and preceding military rule, there were multiple other factors that led to Mujib’s political and physical death. Mujib made use of a political militia established in 1972 called the Jatiya Rakhi Bahini which operated as a second national armed-force loyal to Mujib and the Awami League. The JRB’s 30,000 troops routinely intimidated and tortured Awami League opponents as a law enforcing agency to maintain internal security. The JRB also received disproportionate funding from the overall military budget that angered the military and the likes of the Mukti Bahini. Mujib has also been accused of nepotism and corruption within his family. In 1974 the next year, Awami League politician Gazi Mostafa kidnapped Army Major Shariful Haque Dalim and his wife from the Dhaka Ladies Club. Mostafa initially planned to take them to the Rakhi Bahini headquarters, but ended up taking them to Mujib’s residence where Mujib mediated a compromise. When word got out about the abduction, Mostafa’s house was ransacked while his entire family was taken prisoner. The Dalim-Mostafa conflict led to many army officers losing their job and Dalim later became an orchestrator of Mujib’s 1975 assassination. 

The five-month track record of Mujib’s one-party rule was riddled with corruption according to journalist Lawrence Lifschultz who wrote in the Far Eastern Economic Review how “the corruption and malpractices and plunder of national wealth” in Bangladesh were “unprecedented.”

Ziaur Rahman gradually assumed the role of Bangladesh as Prime Minister after Mujib’s death. Ziaur reinstated multi-party politics, freedom of the press, free speech, and free markets and accountability. This was the change that the West wanted, away from Mujib’s communist inclinations calling for a totalitarian government under Soviet influence. Even outside the West, the post-Mujib Bangladesh seemed to be graciously welcomed by the international community as Saudi Arabia and China established relations with Bangladesh almost immediately with Ziaur coming to power. 

In B.Z. Khasru’s book, The Bangladesh Military Coup and the CIA Link, Khasru elaborates on the prominent and documented theory that U.S. Intelligence had advanced knowledge of Mujib’s assassination plot and yet decided to do nothing. Mujib had fallen out of favor in the West by slowly but surely shifting allegiance towards the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc of communist states in Central and Eastern Europe, East Asia and Southeast Asia under Soviet hegemony during the height of the Cold War (1947-1991). While Communist leaders like Fidel Castro would laud Mujib for being like “the Himalayas,” the U.S. never forgave Mujib for his turn towards communism and made use of the CIA to exploit cracks within Mujib’s newfound nation within a matter of months. 

The military coup instigators and benefactors proved to be the beginning of an entirely new political elite within the country as Ziaur established the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The BNP is the only other major political party to hold power in Bangladesh other than Mujib’s Awami League.

Mujib’s enemies were not just limited to Bangladeshis and Pakistanis as his socialist inclinations and decision to turn Bangladesh into a one-party state, earned him Western notoriety as a communist sympathizer in the Cold-War era.  

Sins of the Father: Bangladesh, a Blood Feud to this Day

Mujib’s decision to make Bangladesh a one-party state and play with the idea of socialism earned him enemies abroad and at home. Mujib can either be a big rallying point for Bangladeshis or a regrettable chapter, begging for a new turn of events. At any dinner table, Bangaldeshi families have either unending love, support and heartbreak over Mujib or hatred and pessimism over how political dynasties starting with Mujib have led to two parties taking turns looting the country ever since Bangladesh’s breakaway from Pakistan. 

To this day, the only viable political parties in Bangladesh have been directly intertwined with the first major political upheaval within the first decade of the liberation: Awami League and the BNP. 

The last twenty years of Bangladesh have seen the same two women, who are widow and daughter of the first two prime ministers of Bangladesh, hold the seat of Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Instead of the parliamentary democracy Bangladesh puts itself out to be on paper, instead, we are observing a blood feud between dominant political dynasties taking hold of a country, its people and its resources. 

A recent Al Jazeera documentary, All the Prime Minister’s Men, exposed immense corruption on behalf of the Head of the Military, Aziz Ahmed, whose brothers engage in money laundering abroad following a life of crime in Bangladesh. The 2018 Bangladesh elections exposed the lengths Hasina’s Awami League today engages in through wide-scale voter intimidation. Looking back a decade, when the BNP was in power, we notice that the BNP engaged in similar if not identical tactics of corruption, nepotism and overall refusal to let parliamentary democracy take its course. Members of Parliament from both sides of the aisle have engaged in corruption. As a result, most of the nation’s economic and social progress has come in the form of non-governmental organizations and the initiatives of Bangladeshis abroad who come back to take on social enterprises such as BRAC and Grameen Bank.

“The people who make Bangladesh are the farmers in the field, the garment workers, the migrant workers. People like us —middle class people—live off them yet we do very little for them. This is not a country that takes care of people.” Journalist Shahidul Alam aptly captures the ongoing nature of Bangladeshi society as a result of dynastic politics at the hands of Awami League and the BNP. 

“It is a question of who can utilize that [Presidential] term to get benefits for him or herself. Today we have essentially major right-wing political parties taking turns to loot a country one after another.”


Mujib is a figure, whom without Bangladesh could not possibly exist today.  He was a man of the hour, who came in with the right ideas and motives, carrying with him a nation that could no longer tolerate being governed by a West Pakistan government divided by over a thousand miles of India. 

However, from the facts presented in this piece and commentary shared by journalists such as Shahidul Alam and countless other leaders, academics and countrymen alike, we witness that Mujib was not a good head of state. An independence leader and patriot who held an immense love for his country and people, but a man whose love drove him to become the dictatorial figure that transformed Bangladesh from a parliamentary democracy on paper to an autocracy. 

Bangladeshi-Canadian author, Neemat Imam, wrote a historical novel in 2013 called The Black Coat where Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is presented as a deadly dictator. To Imam, this dark and dystopian novel is “a meditation on power, greed and the human cost of politics.”

Ultimately, there is a wide consensus that Mujib was a necessary force who brought independence to Bangladesh. Although his tenure in office has laid bad precedent for the autocratic nature of Bangladesh, Mujib’s towering legacy and presence is simply one Bangladesh could not do without.

The fact that the last twenty years of Bangaldeshi politics has seen the same two women from the same two parties, from the same two families that scrambled for power within its first decade of existence, says a lot about the Bangladesh we all know today.

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