November . . . and what might have been
Syed Badrul Ahsan
What if the four leaders of the Mujibnagar government had not died in November 1975? Thirty three years after the medieval manner of their murder, it is naïve to ask what might have been if things had happened differently. And yet there is a need, a very palpable one, for us to ask this --- and other --- questions because of the many things that went wrong but ought not to have. There is a damp, drizzly November in our souls, as Herman Melville would put, for it will forever remain a season of undying sadness for all of us in this country. Or put it all in perspective. When you think of August, when you reflect on November, you know how cruel fate has been to you and to your country.
What if Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam, Mansoor Ali and AHM Quamruzzaman had not died? What if the jailer on that night of terror had refused to let in the murderers? The answer is pretty simple: the paucity of leadership Bangladesh has
gone through in these more than three decades would not have been there. These men would have taken up the mantle of leadership and preserved the legacy of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. And they would have done the job eminently well because they had proved their mettle on the field of war. Men who wage war in defence of liberty are remarkably qualified to lead nations in peacetime.
What if the three chiefs of the armed services had acted swiftly on the morning of 15 August 1975? The soldiers killed Bangabandhu in the pre-dawn hours; and for the next five hours these men did nothing to quell the coup that the colonels and the majors had brought about. But had they ordered the men under their command to neutralise the killers, had the air force been ordered into action, all those conspirators --- Moshtaque and everyone else --- could have easily been rounded up and sent off to prison, to await trial for sedition. Every coup against an elected government is an act of sedition. In August 1975, sedition thrived. It could have been the other way round. Senior officers in the military, after suppressing the coup, could have made it possible for Vice President Syed Nazrul Islam to take over as President. Constitutional rule would have been maintained. The culture of coups and counter-coups that was subsequently to leave this nation paralysed would not be there. Politics would have thrived; and political dynasties would be fiction.
What if Khondokar Moshtaque, who lost the election in March 1973, had not been allowed to maneouvre a victory and go on being part of Bangabandhu's government? What if Tajuddin Ahmed had stayed on and Moshtaque shown the door? These are questions that even today send a shiver down your spine, for they are a reminder of how horribly things began to go wrong once Tajuddin was compelled to leave the government in October 1974. Henry Kissinger came calling that month and Moshtaque lost no time in linking up with him. Intrigue was cemented. Tajuddin was in the woods; and Bangabandhu was a lonely figure. Tragedy lurked around the corner. What if the young Turks around Bangabandhu had restrained themselves, had not made it possible for the chasm that came to be to define relations between Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Tajuddin Ahmed? What if the Fourth Amendment had not come to pass? What if the Chhatra League had not split down the middle in 1972, paving the road for the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal to traverse?
So much there is that could have been but wasn't. Colonel Abu Taher ought not to have taken the side of General Zia in November 1975. What if he had proffered his cooperation to General Khaled Musharraf? The so-called sipahi-janata biplob, responsible for so huge a tranche of suffering for this nation, would not be. What if the eerie silence that pervaded the country between 3 and 6 November were not there? What if Musharraf had spent more time in the cantonment consolidating his hold on power rather than be at Bangabhavan negotiating the exit of Moshtaque and the assassins for three whole days even as Taher disseminated his incendiary messages to restive soldiers in cantonments across the country? Khaled Musharraf was a professional soldier and clearly had been the most brilliant of tacticians in the War of Liberation. That brilliance collapsed in 1975. He temporised. It was the country that paid the price.
What if Zia had focused on preserving the principles of the War of Liberation and not let the old Pakistani collaborators back into politics? What if he had not tried to airbrush Bangabandhu out of history? What if 'Bangladeshi nationalism' had not been foisted, through Khondokar Abdul Hamid, on the country? What if MG Tawab had not inaugurated the seerat conference that was to yank the country away from its secular moorings? And what if General MAG Osmany, having bravely refused to be part of Baksal, had demonstrated similar bravery through condemning the coup of August 1975? What if he had not boosted Moshtaque by agreeing to be his defence advisor?
But, of course, history is never a matter of what might have been. It is always one of what has been and may well be. And yet there is the soul. It keeps asking questions. What if there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? What if all the good men married all the good women? What if Planet Earth were one country and all men and women had the same colour of skin?
What if Creation had not been?
(R) thedailystar.net 2008