During 1981-1996, Sheikh Hasina not only had to fight against Pak military rule but also against the Bangladesh general who captured power only three and half years after the country was made free, killing the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and ousting Awami League, the party that brought our independence. Sheikh Hasina got elected as president of Awami League in 1981 when she was in political asylum in India. She entered the country with the same kind of responsibility i.e., to oust the military dictators General Zia and General Ershad who governed the country for nearly 15 years almost with the same strategies. Sheikh Mujib fought for more than 23 years to establish the voting rights of the people of this region. Similarly Sheikh Hasina had to fight for people’s right to franchise against General Zia and General Ershad.
Bangladesh was not supposed to be under military rule. Those who opposed the war of liberation took revenge killing the leader of the revolution Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib and putting the country under military rule that was practiced by Pakistan. None in Bangladesh could believe that any member of Bangladesh army could kill the father of the nation and introduce military dictatorship. It was the duty of Sheikh Hasina since she entered the politics of Bangladesh to bring an end to the military rule as done by her father against the military dictators of Pakistan. Sheikh Hasina had to fight against the military regimes (Zia and Ershad) for 15 years to establish voting rights of people, democracy and rule of law. It was in 1996 that she got elected as the Prime Minister of the country and since then she has been working tirelessly to establish democracy ad rule of law in Bangladesh following her father who was the first leader who introduced parliamentary democracy in 1973.
The political demands for which Bangabandhu had to fight against the Pak military Junta are democracy, secularism, Bengali nationalism and social justice. Sheikh Hasina too had to fight for the same purposes. Even now being the Prime Minister of the country she has been working hard to address them. Both the father and the daughter had to fight almost in an identical manner. Bangabandhu made the country free to achieve the objectives and Sheikh Hasina had been fighting in the independent Bangladesh to achieve the same objectives that her father fought for. The counter revolution held in 1975 did change the very state principles of independent Bangladesh. In independent Bangladesh, the people under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina have been fighting for restoring those values which had been established through the war of liberation in 1971. The counter revolution in 1975 did really reverse the phenomenon. So the struggle of the father and the daughter, although different in form, but objective was same.
If we look into the long 70 year’s existence of Awami League as a political party in the subcontinent and compare some events that took place during 23 years under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib i.e., the period when East Pakistan was in existence from 1947 to 1971 with the period from 1981 to 2019 under Sheikh Hasina we would find a lot of similarity during both the periods.
Sheikh Mujib is the person who fought for Pakistan along with A. K. Fazlul Huq, Hussain Shahid Suhurawardy, Abul Hashim. There was martial law in 1958 and General Ayub ruled the country for ten years ignoring the people of the East. Hussain Shahid Suhrawady as the Prime Minister of Pakistan with only 13 MP tried to frame a democratic constitution in 1957 for Pakistan. But General Ayub declared martial law to cling to power and continued for ten years. What was put to jeopardy was democracy and right of the people of East Pakistan.
The leader who fought against them was Sheikh Mujib and his party Awami League. At one stage in 1966, after the war between Pakistan and India, Bangabandhu declared his six-point programme at Lahore and united the entire population of East Pakistan through that programme. A revolutionary zeal grew among the people of East Pakistan against the oppression and suppression by central government of Pakistan. Situation became so volatile that General Ayub had to talk in language of weapon and Sheikh Mujib replied by organizing the entire nation against them. Lodging Agartala Conspiracy Case by Pak ruler helped Sheikh Mujib a lot to strengthen his position as the only opposition in East Pakistan. The consequence was the mass movement of 1969 bringing Sheikh Mujib out of cantonment being rewarded with title Bangabandhu. The result of the movement was the general election in 1970 based on six-point of Sheikh Mujib. In that election, Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib got 167 seats out of 169 in East Pakistan establishing that Sheikh Mujib is the only spokesperson for the people of the East. No other leader could attain that position.
The Pak military dictator General Yahiya did not call the assembly on 15 February 1971 as suggested by Sheikh Mujib. They called assembly on 3rd March at the advised of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Sensing a possible danger, Yahiya finally postponed the session of the parliament. Sheikh Mujib just before his arrest declared the independence of Bangladesh. There are lot of events that took place between 1957 and 1971. Before that Sheikh Mujib played an important role in the language movement in 1952 and 1954 Jukta Front election.
In fact the ideology for which Bangabandhu had to fight was almost the same for which Sheikh Hasina has been fighting. Even today in independent Bangladesh, in its constitution, Bangabandhu incorporated secularism, nationalism, democracy and socialism for the emancipation of the people of Bangladesh. The post-counter revolutionary government of General Zia and General Ershad acted to destroy these values amending the constitution as per their sweet will.
Sheikh Hasina has been fighting for last two and half decades to restore them and since she is in control of governance much has been achieved already but the insertion, “Bismillah” as to fix Islam as the state religion is still there challenging the secular characters of the state. But Zia and Ershad not for the sake of religion but for politics did commit a great mischief to the nation. These are so sensitive that to bring about change has really been difficult. They did it not to show respect to Islam or the Muslims but to exploit the religious sentiment of the people for political purpose.
The government of Sheikh Hasina has evaluated all the religions equally like Bangabandhu. There are no discriminations but the fact is the constitution does still have it. The constitutional provision that religion should not be allowed to interfere the state affairs has not yet been guaranteed. About democracy, it has to be mentioned although other parties in Bangladesh do not practice democracy. The party in power cannot practice it alone despite the fact that Sheikh Hasina wants democracy in every sphere of our national life. Democracy could not be restored by the ruling party alone.
During 23 years politics in East Pakistan, Bangabandhu did not face the kind of terrorism like religious extremism, ISIS Styled terrorist attack, political violence on the street, killing and burning people as Sheikh Hasina has to face during her tenure. The act of promoters of scientific socialism, Sarbahara Party of Siraj Sikder, Pubobanglar Sammyabadi Dal (M-L) of Comrade Toaha was certainly terrorism in nature. But the kind of terrorism that threatened the society during Sheikh Hasina’s regime was really different. The situation was so dangerous that Sheikh Hasina herself was attacked by the political opponent 19 times. All the time the attack was to annihilate Sheikh Hasina physically. In case of Bangabandhu the fatal attack was a single in which he had been brutally killed. Similarly a gruesome attack was carried on Sheikh Hasina on 21 August 2004 in which she got survived. Bangabandhu did not face such attack from his political opponent as the nature of politics was not so violent then. Sheikh Hasina had to face the new kind of terrorist attack led by religious extremist. She has been relentlessly trying to bring an end to it. She has been efficiently carrying on unprecedented pace of development that she conducted throughout the whole period of her governance leading the country to the highest position of glory.
Dr S A Malek is former political adviser to the Prime Minister and Member of Parliament, general secretary of Bangabandhu Parishad and columnist.