THE extra-judicial killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding president of Bangladesh, and most of his family members, on this day in 1975 remains the most disgraceful event in the history of independent Bangladesh. The Sheikh had always been in the forefront of most of the political movements, as a leading activist in his youth and a leader in the later years, for the political, economic and cultural emancipation of the people of this country, while he emerged as the supreme political leader of the Bengalis of East Pakistan by 1971. Moreover, he remained a constant source of inspiration for the people who successfully fought Bangladesh’s war of liberation against the occupation forces of Pakistan in 1971, although he was in a Pakistani prison — more than a thousand miles away from the battlefields. Bangladeshis owe to him a lot.
Be that as it may, it is true that the Sheikh could not live up to the people’s extra-ordinary expectation of him, political and economic, in the independent Bangladesh. Besides, he took political measures, such as banning of the opposition political parties, that the people had fought against in the Pakistani era under his leadership, resulting in the waning of his immense popularity. But killing him was not at all, and in no way, the answer to the problem of democratisation of the state and its polity. There could have been political resistance against his party’s autocratic practices— no matter how long it could take and how tough it would be. The Sheikh’s murder has rather contributed to, as we have written in this column more than once in the past, the further autocratisation of the state and polity by the military regimes. Then, again, the indemnification of the Sheikh’s killing by the administration of Khandaker Mushtaque Ahmed of Awami League and subsequent constitutional ‘ratification’ of the ‘indemnity’ by the martial law regime of General Ziaur Rahman, were the acts that none believing in the democratic rule of law can endorse.
The Awami League under the leadership of the Sheikh’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina, has eventually succeeded to try the local perpetrators of the killing, and has thus legally settled the claim of history. The success, however, obligates the League leadership to establish ‘rule of law’ in the country, for before it could put the murderers on trial, the party used to publicly argue that the indemnification of the Mujib killers was the prime impediment to the establishment of the ‘rule of law’ and that the trial of the Sheikh’s killers would remove the impediments. The trial has been completed, most convicts have been executed, while the absconders are being searched out by the state, but none can perhaps claim that the ‘rule of law’ has been established. The legal system still does not treat everyone equally, extra-judicial murders by the coercive forces of the state are on with impunity, socio-economic discrimination on the rise, even political culture of legally indemnifying potential crimes prevails. Under the circumstance, the League leadership should make sincere efforts to establish rule of law — a promise that it made in name of the Sheikh.
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