Back when I met Sheikh Hasina in 1957, she was a lanky young girl and her father, Sheikh Mujib was the minister of the provincial government. Who could have guessed that Sheikh Hasina would have to bear the burden of the nation like her great father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding Father of the Nation?
She started her early education in a school that was not known to be a prominent one and that was due to financial constraint of the family. While at Dhaka during the 50’s Bangabandhu’s family used to reside in a rented house at 79, Nazirabazar of old Dhaka. I had the opportunity to visit that house after Bangabandhu left it and went to the minister’s residence at 14, Hazi Abdul Gani road. Hasina’s next schooling was at Azimpur Girls High School, a dignified secondary girls’ high school for the children of the middle class people.
Then she became a student of Eden College and finally graduated from the University of Dhaka. During the 60’s Bangabandhu family resided for sometimes at Segun Bagicha when Bangabandhu was chairmen of tea board. Finally they went to the residence at road no. 32, Dhanmmondi.
This house became so well known to the people that even remote villagers knew about road no.32, Dhanmondi as the residence of Bangabandhu. Now the house has been turned into Bangabandhu Museum. Bangabandhu himself had little opportunity to reside there as his second residence was the prison. Nearly 14 years of his youth passed in jail. All members of the family of Bangabandhu got little opportunity to reside in that house for quite a long time. After marriage Sheikh Hasina used to live in a separate house only 100 yards away from Bangabandhu’s residence.
Sheikh Hasina’s political career started when she was a student of Azimpur Balika Bidyalay. She came out of the school and used to join the procession against the Pakistani autocratic regime. She actively participated in politics when she was a student of Eden College and got elected to the leadership of Chhatra League. She was known to all the student leaders of different student unions, some of whom were her cabinet colleagues like Rashed Khan Menon, Amir Hossain Amu, Tofail Ahmed, Hasanul Huq Inu.
If Sheikh Hasina is now an asset for the nation it is due to the fact that Almighty Allah saved her life on 15 August 1975 by keeping her away at Germany with her husband. Sheikh Hasina along with her sister Sheikh Rehana had then been living with Dr Wazed in Germany. Allah saved her for the second time on 21 August 2004. She could overcome the grenade carnage as the leaders of Awami League shielded her with their own bodies.
Immediately after the 15 August tragedy, Sheikh Hasina had to take shelter in London for some time and then moved to New Delhi where she was given political asylum. It was in 1981 that she got the presidency of Awami League, the party that her father founded. Electing her as the president of the party, the people of Bangladesh made way for her return to the country. Thousands of councilors, despite conspiracy, elected her to her father’s position. She was given a rousing reception when she returned to Bangladesh. Nearly 10 lakh people greeted her amidst heavy rain fall. It was one of the biggest ever assemblage of people after the 7th March rally of Awami League at Suhurawardy Uddyan.
After her return, she was not allowed to enter their residence at road no. 32, Dhanmondi which was forcibly occupied by General Zia government. So she had to live in a flat at road no. 27, the then residence of late ATM Syed Hossain. She remained there for a month and only one room of Bangabandhu’s house was open for her. It took a long time to go back to her father’s house at Dhanmondi. The house that remained occupied by the Zia regime was finally opened for the common people and then hundreds of people started visiting Bangabandhu’s residence every day. Hasina got an opportunity to meet them. In fact, the house of Bangabandhu was a house for the people of Bangladesh, i.e., exactly what is meant by “Gano Bhaban”. Sheikh Hasina has rightly converted the house into national museum, a worthy decision of a worthy daughter.
When Sheikh Hasina returned to Bangladesh, General Ziaur Rahm was in power. Sheikh Hasina formed an alliance with pro-liberation political parties and started movement against the autocratic regime of Zia. Sheikh Hasina took step one by one in a well-thought-off manner. Thousands of people started joining her rallies whenever she called for it. People even from remotest areas started coming to see the house where Bangabandhu was brutally killed along with almost all members of his family and also to see her. The act of organizing the party and carrying on movement went on simultaneously. Although there was restriction, she did it very carefully, Awami league almost shattered by the military Junta of General Zia who being an army intelligence officer knew it well how to dismantle the political parties. Many Awami League senior leaders had fallen prey to his evil bait. The decision to participate in the so called election to legitimize his rule was aided by those who secretly dealt with Zia.
It is a tragedy and failure for Awami League not to use the constitutional position that was created following the assassination of Bangabandhu i.e., if the president is absent, the speaker should function in his position automatically. Although the elected parliament remained functional for nearly 82 days, none of Awami League leaders did show any interest to utilize the constitutional position. Some leaders of second and third grade did try to do it, but in vein as the speaker late Abdul Malek Ukil betrayed. If the desired constitutional government could be formed, then Zia could not be able to consolidate his position. That is the great failure of the then Awami League leaders. Many MPs got united to do exactly what was needed. As a result some members had to leave the country and take shelter in India. Nearly 116 Member of Parliament in a meeting at 176, Green Road, the residence of Safaruddin Talukder took decision to form constitutional government, even Begum Sajeda Chowdhury was there. In fact if that decision could be implemented, Sheikh Hasina could come back to Bangladesh much earlier.
Since her arrival in Bangladesh in 1981 she has been relentlessly trying to organize the party. If anyone goes through the political career of Sheikh Hasina he or she would find that she is not only tolerant for the wrong doers of her own party, but also forgetful to her political opponents BNP who were involved in nefarious acts.
Many senior the Awami League leaders stood on her way. Both the groups -- pro-BAKSAL of late Abdur Razzak and anti-BAKSAL of Dr. Kamal Hossain did not like Sheikh Hasina to lead the party. There are leaders who tried desperately to prevent Sheikh Hasina from being chief of the party in 1981 special council session held at hotel Eden. They tried to convince the councilors not to elect Sheikh Hasina as president of Awami League. Even one L.M.G was kept ready to threaten the councilors. But they could not succeed as 90% of the councilors were in favour of Sheikh Hasina. It was not true that the resolution had been passed unanimously without any resistance. Much more interesting was that Dr. Kamal Hossain and his cohorts were chosen among the delegates who were sent to greet Sheikh Hasina at New Delhi following her being elected to the presidency of the party. It was also widely propagated that Dr. Kamal Hossain was the person who had brought back Sheikh Hasina. The fact was certainly to the contrary.
Both Dr. Kamal Hossain and Abdur Razzak had been exposed later on about their evil design of opposing Sheikh Hasina. Out of these two leaders, one formed BAKSAL and the other Gano Forum subsequently. It is I who took Sheikh Hasina to the residence of Dr Kamal to convince him not to form a new party. Again it is I who went to the residence of Abdur Razzak along with Sheikh Hasina to convince him not form BAKSAL. Sheikh Hasina did also appeal to both the leaders not to break the party and both of them assured Sheikh Hasina that they would not to do so. But they breached their commitment and both of them left Awami League. Dr. Kamal formed Gano Forum and Abdur Razzak BAKSAL. After a lot of futile exercise Razzak came back to Awami League and despite all odds Sheikh Hasina made him Member of Parliament and then minister. Dr. Kamal Hossain was given nomination for presidency and Sheikh Hasina personally campaigned in his favour. But Dr. Kamal lost the battle. Even after giving assurance that he would not break away with Awami League he took only 11 days to declare Gano Forum as the new political party of his own.
As a political leader Sheikh Hasina has demonstrated utmost patience and forbearance in dealing with her rivals and always pardoned their offence. Student leader late Fazlur Rahman of Kishoreganj was excused and was made MP. But he joined Kader Siddique’s Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Janata League and started opposing Sheikh Hasina. Her opponents did commit a lot of ugly events to malign Sheikh Hasina but she did not take any retaliation out of political vengeance. Ultimately late Abdur Razzak could not prove his contention that an ideological son is more acceptable than the blood born daughter.
In fact the story that has been cooked up by some Awami League stalwarts were not true. A good number of senior leaders did not like Sheikh Hasina’s return to politics and hold her father’s position in the party. They thought it to be a family rule. In Bangladesh betrayers can manage to be in position even if they fail to implement their conspiracy. You can recognize them when the country in crisis. They come out from the hideout to play their destructive role.
Sheikh Hasina as a political leader had to fight even her own party leaders since her entry into Bangladesh politics. None could take the country to such a height that we see today. She loves the country much more than herself. She is truly a patriot. She desires to bring about a qualitative change in politics. She has prepared many youths for the purpose. No doubt her success is bringing about a qualitative change in politics.
The writer is former political adviser to the Prime Minister and Member of Parliament, general secretary of Bangabandhu Parishad and columnist