Reasons for army's anger towards Sheikh Mujib

Army's dislike of Sheikh Mujib's pro-India and Soviet Union stance

Bangladesh army officers who were held in West Pakistani jails during the Liberation War of Independence gave Sheikh Mujib their full support in the question of the independence of Bangladesh. But they were in opposition to the pro-Indian sympathy and the support for the Soviet Union which Sheikh Mujib showed. As long as Sheikh Mujib was Bangladesh's Head of State relationship with India remained cordial.

His public expression of gratitude to Indira Gandhi and "the best friends of my people, the people of India" after his release, were not well received by many in politics and the military who were critical of India's excessive influence. The subsequent 25-year treaty of 'Indo-Bangladeshi Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Peace' signed by him and Indira Gandhi (thus also referred to as 'Indira-Mujib Treaty') on 19 March 1972 further antagonised many who sought to distance Bangladesh from India. Issues such as India's late, albeit crucial, entry into the Muktijuddho (officially on 3 December 1971 - eight-and-half months after West Pakistan's attack), the dispute over water resources of the Farakka Barrage (resolved much later in 1996) and India's perceived delayed withdrawal of troops began to diminish the spirit of friendship.

The charge of Mujib's dependence on India was sometimes accompanied by wild allegations against India.

The weekly Hak Katha [Truthful Words] of Maulana Bhasani specialised in preaching that during the period of Awami League rule India looted from Bangladesh a larger amount of resources than the British did in course of 200 years... No opposition party had the honesty to praise India for accelerating the liberation of Bangladesh, and for repairing, at the request of the Awami League government, hundreds of bridges and culverts with extraordinary rapidity... Nor did any opposition party register appreciation for withdrawal of Indian troops from Bangladesh in less than three months...

Mamoon and Ray,

Another bone of contention for these critics was the increasing level of smuggling by neighbouring Indian civilians which resulted from the Sheikh Mujib government's controversial decision to adopt the Indian rupee as an acceptable form of currency within the country even though the 'taka' was in circulation.

By this time Bangladesh was facing a new menace that had almost crippled its already fragile economy. It was smuggling. Tony Hagen, then head of the UN Relief Operation to Dhaka, aptly described the situation to the Sunday Times "Bangladesh is like a bridge suspended in India". Some unscrupulous businessmen and officials smuggled, almost all they could, to the neighbouring country.

According to some reports the smuggling of goods across the border during the first three years cost the country's economy about Tk. 60,000 million. The goods that were smuggled were mostly food-grains, jute and materials imported from abroad. In fact by December 1973, the economy was completely bankrupt, and about 2-billion US dollars of international aid had already been injected to the country's economy.

Some of these "unscrupulous businessmen and office bearers" were Awami Leaguers; and though, the whole party was in no way collectively responsible for the smuggling, Nafia Din (a student of Dhaka University) believes, "Some of their involvement in smuggling and the '25-years treaty' with India gave the Awami League a pro-India label".

Ahmed Hussain, journalist

Sheikh Mujib responded to these criticism by attending in 1974 a summit of Islamic countries held in Lahore and visiting Washington. The visit to Lahore resulted in Pakistan officially recognising Bangladesh as an independent country, three years after its massacre.

Perceived lack of Islam

The army officers were also not in favour of Sheikh Mujib's effort to restrict the role of Islam in national affairs by relegating it to a position of minimal importance. By proclaiming the four fundamental principles of "nationalism, secularism, democracy and socialism", which would come to be known as "Mujibad" (Mujibism), Sheikh Mujib hoped to appeal to the international audience and maintain the goodwill gesture with neighbouring India. Religious-oriented political parties were banned.

However, the people of Bangladesh have a strong attachment to Islam - a fact acknowledged by all rulers and opposition parties who dare criticise Islamic practice and belief at their own risk. In a country where over 90% of the population are Muslim and the belief in Islam is very strong, Sheikh Mujib's commitment to secularism, or non-religion, were disturbing for the intellectuals. Even the leftist secular political parties which consider religion to be an instrument of exploitation, do not make anti-Islamic statement in public.

Government announcement are often sprinkled with references to the establishment of Islamic values, and policies are determined in such a way as not to disturb this sensitive issue.

Ahmed Shafiqul Haque & Muhammad Yeahia Akhter, authors of 'The Ubiquity of Islam: Relgion and society in Bangladesh'

Sheikh Mujib did nevertheless move more closer to Islam through state policies and personal conduct during his later years in power. He revived the Islamic Academy (now Islamic Foundation Bangladesh) (which had been banned in 1972 for suspected collusion with Pakistani forces) and banned the production and sale of alcohol and the practice of gambling, which had been one of the major demands of Islamic groups. Sheikh Mujib also sought Bangladesh's membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Islamic Development Bank and made a significant trip to Lahore, Pakistan in 22 February 1974 to attend the OIC summit, where Pakistan officially acknowledged the independence of Bangladesh.

In his public appearances and speeches, Sheikh Mujib made increased usage of Islamic greetings, slogans and references to Islamic ideologies. In his final years, Sheikh Mujib largely abandoned his trademark "Joi Bangla" (Glory to Bengal) salutation for "Khuda Hafez" (May Allah protect you) preferred by religious Muslims.

He also declared a common amnesty to the suspected war criminals in some conditions to get the support of far right groups as the communists were not happy with Sheikh Mujib's regime.

I believe that the brokers, who assisted the Pakistanis during the liberation war has realized their faults. I hope they will involve themselves in the development of the country forgetting all their misdeeds.

Those who were arrested and jailed in the Collaborator act should be freed before the 16 December 1974.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Rashtopoti

'Shame' and heartbreak of Bangladesh famine of 1974

The Bangladesh famine of 1974 was a major source of discontent against Sheikh Mujib's government as the Bangladeshi people felt ashamed, insulted and demoralised as a nation for this famine that was not due to a food crisis but, according to Nobel Prize winning Bengali economist Amartya Sen, due instead to the lack of proper governance and democratic practices.

Independence had become an agony for the people of this country. Stand on the street and you see purposeless, spiritless, lifeless faces going through the mechanics of life. Generally, after a liberation war, the new spirit carries through and the country builds itself out of nothing. In Bangladesh the story is simply the other way round..

The whole of Bangladesh is either begging or singing sad songs or shouting without awareness. The hungry and poor are totally lost.

Colonel Ziauddin's observation of socio-economic decline of Bangladesh post-independence

His [Sheikh Mujib's] famine relief effort was poorly conceived and executed. Among the more odious aspects of the relief program was the herding of 50,000 Bangladeshi destitutes who had migrated to Dhaka into a camp bordered by a barbed wire fence and bereft of any medical or sanitation facilities. One unfortunate resident told a visiting journalist, perhaps mistaking him for an aid worker, "Either feed us or shoot us".

Alex Counts, author of "Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are changing the world" (2008)

Mukti Bahini favoured over trained army officers

Bangladesh army officers who fought during Muktijuddho were highly trained personnel and they expected to be absorbed in a regular and disciplined military force post independence. These army officers were skilled and experienced individuals who received their training in Pakistan in British tradition of strict military professionalism (pre-independence, when Bangladesh was East Pakistan) and believed in loyalty to country first. The idea of serving an individual rather than an institution was deplorable to them and against their core belief system.

However, Sheikh Mujib had growing fondness for the peasants and ordinary men who made up the Mukti Bahini and risked their lives for the cause of Bangladesh. He favoured them by giving appointments to his civil government and especially in the new Bangladesh Army which was made up of over 50% of these guerrilla fighters, who were viewed as 'undisciplined and politicized element in the military' by former army officers.

Most army officers were denied their expected posts and some of them were denied promotions throughout the rest of Sheikh Mujib's regime. The army officers viewed this as a breach of discipline and threat to the integrity of the military and felt no personal loyalty to Sheikh Mujib.

Ex-army officers were restricted to basic tasks such as disarming the civilians and taming Sheikh Mujib's political opponents, and assigned to functionless jobs as "Officers on special duty". These acts of Sheikh Mujib created enough discontent among the repatriated officers. There were always fears for coup in the military.

During and after the War of Liberation, many unknown personalities became war heroes out of the blue. Ironically, mere fighting bravely and selflessly for the liberation of the country was not enough but identifiable political affiliation was a must to get recognition. Obviously many war veteran freedom fighters became dejected and frustrated.

Amin Ahmed Chowdhury, Bir Bikram, a fredom fighter, is a retired Major General and former ambassador of Bangladesh

But for the Prime Minister everything was work in progress. The mammoth task of rebuilding a broken nation would take time. It was not something that was going to be fixed overnight. And he was the best person to do it.

Do not forget I have had only three years as a free government. You cannot expect miracles.

Sheikh Mujib reminds his critic

Turning a blind eye to staunch Awami Leaguers' misdemeanours

Many army officers experienced increasing political interference whenever action was taken against Awami Leaguers during their police-keeping operation. Hundreds of people were arrested by them for smuggling, hoarding and intimidation and murder. However, after a telephone call from Dhaka to the local police, charges were quietly dropped against the most prominent of these men and they were allowed to go free. The police had no option, the criminal's 'ustad' was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

If that wasn't bad enough, the officers were warned that they'd be solely responsible for the people they arrested and non of their seniors would be held accountable. Even Syed Farook Rahman, the man who masterminded Sheikh Mujib's assassination, claimed that he received a general order in writing informing him that should he arrest anyone he would be acting on his own responsibility and that his regimental commanding officer and brigade commander would not be answerable if anything went wrong.

At the same time Farook and the officers were being told to have no mercy on the opposition, particularly Naxalites (Maoists) and other leftists who got caught in the army's net. The order came straight from the top - which invariably meant Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. However, Farook in particular refused to comply with these orders so whenever he caught one of these men he'd quietly let him go.

It was a damned awkward situation. Every time we caught a chap he turned out to be either an Awami Leaguer or a very staunch Awami League supporter. They were getting protection from the top and we were getting a shelling for doing our job.

None of the senior commanders would accept responsibility because the Prime Minister had said 'If you take any funny action you will be hanged for it'. It meant that we were supposed to root out corruption and malpractices, but we were supposed to stop short of the Awami League. The whole thing was a damn farce.

I was given orders to beat them [i.e. leftists] up, get information from them and then throw them in the river. Colonel Shafaat Jamil (then Brigade Commander Dhaka) said they were vermin and must be destroyed. As far as Sheikh Mujib was concerned the indirect orders to us were for leftists like Siraj Sikder and Colonel Ziauddin and such groups, if we catch them to kill them. I was not deeply interested in Marxists but what impressed me was that these chaps did care for the country. They may have gone the wrong way ideologically but they had not so far done wrong to the country.

Farook on the power abuse by section of Awami League loyalist and the hierarchy, including Sheikh Mujib

Rumours of 'Sheikh dynasty' and 'Sheikdom'

An escalating law and order situation, warring factions and poor social and economic condition saw many of Government's major support groups become antagonistic to the regime. By now rumours spread all over Bangladesh that Sheikh Mujib was building a personal political dynasty – "Sheikhdom". Critics accused him of nepotism and appointing incompetent members of his family to prominent role and turning a blind eye to their flaws and mischief.

Sheikh Mujib's only brother, Sheikh Abdul Nasser, became the largest contractor in Khulna in 1975 from a "position of near poverty" in 1972. The husband of one of Mujib's sisters, A.T.M. Syed Hossain, who was only a section officer in the secretariat in 1970, became joint secretary in 1972 and, three years later, additional secretary of the Establishment Division, the division which is entrusted with responsibility for appointments, promotions and transfers of civil servants. The husband of another sister of Mujib, Abdur Rab Serniabat, was made a minister in the cabinet. Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni, Sheikh Mujib’s baghna (sister’s son, i.e. a nephew), commonly known as "the nephew of the nation", rose from the position of a newspaper reporter before liberation to Editor of the Bangladesh Times and head of the National Jubo (youth) League. At the age of 24, Sheikh Shahidul Islam, son of Mujib’s fourth sister, was given the rank of minister in the government of 1975. Sheikh Kamal, Mujib’s eldest son, was reputed to have been involved in a bank robbery and a number of corrupt activities. Sheikh Jamal, Mujib's second son, was sent to the world famous Sandhurst in England at the age of 20 for military training so that after the completion of the training he could take a leading role in what Sheikh Mujib termed "my army".

  • Sheikh Kamal (1949 - 1975) Eldest son of Sheikh Mujib. Founder of Abahani Krira Chakra.
  • Sheikh Jamal (1954 - 1975) Second son of Sheikh Mujib. While being under house arrest with his mother in July, 1971, he fled to free zone and participated in liberation war
  • Abdur Rab Serniabat (1927 - 1975) Brother-in-law of Sheikh Mujib. Husband of Sheikh Mujib's third sister Amena Begum. Appointed minster of Water Resources in 1973 by Sheikh Mujib. Born in Chaitra, Barisal.
  • Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni (1939 - 1975) Baghna (nephew) of Sheikh Mujib from his elder sister. Founder of Awami Jubo League

The people who hurt Mujib's image most were his two sons – Sheikh Kamal and Sheikh Jamal – and Mujib's own wife. Kamal, a student at Dhaka University in the 1970s, unsuccessfully tried his hand at business after graduation. He was eventually elevated by his father to the post of secretary of the Bangladesh Sports Federation. While participating in a number of alleged robberies, Kamal suffered bullet wounds, which his friends knew about and which Mujib and his physician tried vainly to conceal from the public.

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The worst reputation by far of any of Mujib’s relatives was enjoyed by Mujib’s nephew (the son of another of Mujib’s four sister), Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni , commonly called the "nephew of the nation”. Moni, 36 when he was killed in the l975 coup, graduated from Dhaka University in l960 with a third class B.A. in political science. He joined the ranks of the educated unemployed for a number of years before securing the job of a newspaper reporter at a salary of Take 275 (about $55) in l970. After the liberation, he built a network of youth organizations as head of his uncle's National Jubo League, and his henchmen were allowed to carry arms despite the fact that Mujib was demanding the surrender of arms from all of the militant groups that fought the Pakistanis during the Liberation War. By becoming editor of the government-run English language newspaper, the Bangladesh Times, and through his ownership of a number of magazines, Moni wielded real power in the opinion-building elite of the country. He also controlled a number of agencies and firms that imported relief goods into Bangladesh; this alone enabled him to amass personal wealth, including a number of automobiles and homes in Dhaka and elsewhere.

The most talented young relative of Mujib was a second nephew, Sheikh Shahidul Islam, who was put in charge of Mujib's Student League. At age 24, Shahid was already a ranking Awami Leaguer and was well-connected with a number of private enterprises as their director. Shahidul Islam was different from Mujib’s other relatives because he had been a brilliant student, having received a first class in chemistry from Dhaka University in his B.A. honours examination. But his reputation was gravely tarnished by persistent rumours that he was involved in a series of bank robberies with his cousins, Mujib’s sons, as well as in the 1974 killings of seven Dhaka University students in one of the dormitories. Rumours were also circulated that Shahidul Islam’s marriage to the daughter of M. Saleheen, who was a managing director of a bank and who came from an established, upper-middle class Bangladeshi family, was a result of pressure applied by Mujib himself when Saleheen proved reluctant about the marriage.

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All men, except A. T. M. Syed Hossain and Sheikh Shahidul Islam, were murdered simultaneously on 15 August 1975. The killers had banked on the unspoken negativity that were felt by the majority towards the "Sheikh dynasty" and were confident that there wouldn't be any widespread reaction which they couldn't control and manage. Just as importantly, the two biggest opposition to the Mujib regime came from the leftist parties Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) – more popularly known as 'Jashod' – and the Sarbohara Party, who were both becoming more and more aggressive with each passing year.

It is significant that while Mujib was building the Sheikh dynasty, alienating his major support groups in the process, opposition political parties became very active. Among the opposition political parties, the two revolutionary parties – the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) and the Sarbohara Party – provided strong opposition to the Mujib regime . In this vulnerable situation of the Awami League, any army coup was expected to be successful. The majors who planned the coup counted on the support of all the alienated groups dismayed by Mujib’s second revolution.

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