(Editor: This article has been updated here: Begum Khaleda Zia’s Release: Bangladesh’s Greatest Political Legend – OpEd) — Rabindranath Tagore composed a famous 22-line lyric “আজি বাংলাদেশের হৃদয় হতে কখন আপনি” in 1905 in the context of the Partition of Bengal that he strongly opposed in favor of a united Bengal. Despite, ironically, his “আমার সোনার বাংলা,” also composed about the same time in the same context, has been made, nearly 66 years later, the national anthem of the separate East Bengal that emerged as an independent country, Bangladesh, in 1971. Tagore never wanted Bengal to split, just as Sheikh Mujib never wanted Pakistan to break up. As the evidence of what he is said to have said in 1972 suggests, Mujib also did not like “আমার সোনার বাংলা” to be the national anthem of Bangladesh because, apart from other reasons, the song has/had nothing to do with the struggle for the new country (see Chapter 14: When Bangladesh Is Divided Over Its National Anthem: A Politico-Literary Perspective, pp. 465-492, www.amazon.com/Bangladesh-Political-Literary-Reflections-Divided/dp/1433146134). Anyway, turning to the specific subject in question, the first and the last stanzas of the first-mentioned song are as follows:
আজি বাংলাদেশের হৃদয় হতে কখন আপনি
তুমি এই অপরূপ রূপে বাহির হলে জননী!
ওগো মা, তোমায় দেখে দেখে আঁখি না ফিরে!
তোমার দুয়ার আজি খুলে গেছে সোনার মন্দিরে॥ ….
আজি দুখের রাতে সুখের স্রোতে ভাসাও ধরণী—
তোমার অভয় বাজে হৃদয়মাঝে হৃদয়হরণী!
ওগো মা, তোমায় দেখে দেখে আঁখি না ফিরে!
তোমার দুয়ার আজি খুলে গেছে সোনার মন্দিরে॥
That is how, especially in tune with the last four lines, millions of supporters of DeshNetri (Leader of the Country) Begum Khaleda Zia and her party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), may have expressed their feelings with tears of joy at the news of her release from the meanest and most menacing and mischievous imprisonment she was suffering from for more than two years. (Here, however, it needs to be quickly pointed out that this poem being a worship of a Hindu deity, Durga, is considered to be highly communal and controversial and has as such been dropped from the Class VII Bangla textbook in the Muslim majority Bangladesh. Visit www.dhakatimes24.com/2017/01/07/15334/পাঠ্যবই-থেকে-বাংলাদেশের-হৃদয়-বাদ Nevertheless, the poem may be contextualized with “Ma” and “Bangladesh” taken as standing for the released prisoner Begum Zia, the greatest political legend of Bangladesh ever and the vice versa).
Horrendously subjected to fishy and flimsy and fictitious and fabricated lawsuits cynically harped upon her by the fascist Hasina regime, the 75-year old leader, Begum Zia, proverbially prominent in her country, was released at the point of her near death with the predicament of a number of stringent strings attached. That also came in the midst of the dangerous corona pandemic that, as if a blessing in disguise, added to the আপোসহীন (uncompromising) DeshNetri’s legendary prominence while making the regime’s lavish cult-like Mujib-Borso extravaganza (some say, Awami-BAKSALi Bango Virus) dull and dreary, pale and futile, vapid and vacuous, and meaningless, almost conspicuous by its absence. God/Allah the Almighty does not like the excesses committed in any form, be it torture, tyranny, oppression, persecution, abduction, rape, murder, abuse of power, vote rigging, corruption, stealing, smuggling and spendthrift wasters, especially in a poor country like Bangladesh where millions are unemployed and below poverty line and many look for food from dustbins and waste disposal landfills. However, deprived of the loving company of the immediate family for decades, the legendary Khaleda Zia’s plight as a political prisoner was further aggravated by her jail-cell loneliness, isolation from her decades-long public and political life and her old age complications that allegedly went without adequate medical care in the hospital where she was forced to stay for treatment against her choice.
In a way the great and glorious Khaleda Zia’s confinement, nastily and nefariously imposed on her by the rogue regime, reminds one of the young English poet and essayist Leigh Hunt. After two years of imprisonment for what the royal authorities unjustly considered a libel (due to a lack of flattery and sycophancy) to the young extravagant Prince Regent (later King George IV), Hunt was released on 2nd February 1815. He was a man of liberal politics and wrote his masque The Descent of Liberty in prison. His friend John Keats, a major English Romantic poet, eleven years younger than Hunt, celebrated the latter’s release by writing a sonnet, “Written on the Day that Mr. Leigh Hunt left Prison.” In the poem, Keats describes his subject as: “Kind Hunt was shut in prison, yet has he/In his immortal spirit, been as free/As the sky-searching lark, and as elate./ Minion of grandeur!. He describes Hunt as one who became more famous, “far happier, nobler was his fate!” due to his “fortunate incarceration,” to use a borrowed oxymoron, during which he was reading the greatest epic/narrative poets of England, Spenser and Milton, and thereby took “happy flights” with them to the imaginative region of his own.
The politically engineered jail sentence on Bangladesh’s political legend Khaleda Zia bears historical significance when many other great minds—poets, writers, thinkers, philosophers, politicians—faced the wrath of tyrants and met with the similar fate of imprisonment throughout the ages and centuries. Mention may be made of a few politicians and statesmen only, such as the early 6th century Boethius of Rome, Sir Thomas Malory, Mary Queen of Scots, Sir Walter Raleigh, Adolf Hitler, Nelson Mandela, Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia and Mahmudur Rahman of Bangladesh. Similarly, Tarique Rahman in exile is a young dynamic leader who embodies the spirit of Bangladeshi nationalism and patriotism for Bangladesh. He is the torch bearer of the Zia family and Acting Chairman of the BNP, next only to his mother in popularity, way above any Awami leader. He has been suffering and sacrificing for more than twelve years now, facing the fate of the historic exiles, such as the ancient Trojan hero Aeneas, 5th century BC Greek historian Thucydides, 17th century English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, King Charles II, English philosophical historian Edward Gibbon, French philosopher Voltaire, French emperor Napoleon and Russian writer Dostoyevsky.
As mentioned at the outset, Bangladesh’s former Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, of singularly stellar prominence in the politics of Bangladesh, was released from prison on Wednesday, 25 March 2020, after more than twenty five months in jail. Her release followed the temporary suspension of her seventeen years of framed and formulated draconian sentence by an executive order from the horrendously ruling Hasina. The regime is widely thought to be nakedly manipulating and interfering with the lame and jaundiced judiciary as it does with all the rest of the state machinery, including the shamelessly yielding Election Commissions since 2008/09. Under the power and control of the fascist Hasina regime, the judiciary, far from being free and independent, is willingly or unwillingly dependent on the regime’s regressive and retrograde whims and caprices. Such an allegation is an open secret in popular perception.
In her critical condition for which the regime’s inhuman neglect and illegal imprisonment for years are responsible, the ailing opposition leader, already in her advanced age, cannot move or stand or even sit up on her own; she cannot even use her hand to eat. One can only speculate about the fascist regime’s reason/s to release the great leader. There could be a combination of factors: corona, the leader’s deteriorating health, repeated political and family requests for months and years to release her, her inability to be able to do anything anyway at this stage—let alone public and political, show of power by the tyrannical Hasina, international pressure, pressure from human rights groups,so on. In addition, there are conspiracy theories as suggested by Ranu Chowdhury (identified below). Mentioning the case of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Chowdhury claims he got the clue to those theories from two sources. “Surely, Khaleda Zia was a ‘bomb’ to Hasina, the reason to put her in jail in the first place. As the bomb continued to tick even in confinement, the regime wanted it to be deactivated sooner than later. So a slow poisoning was administered. Short of six months lifetime, the regime decided to send Khaleda to her family to die. So was the release condition not to go abroad for treatment, which could detect the ‘poisoning.’ To my query why Khaleda Zia’s personal physicians could not detect it, the response was that their চৌদ্দ গোষ্ঠী would be eliminated if they opened their mouth. The second source did not mention the poisoning theory. According to him, the authorities discovered that KZ had six months to live. They did not want it to happen in their custody.”
By virtue of being the most popular leader and the Chairperson of the largest political party of the country, Khaleda, at 75, still actually holds the same laurel of premiership in the people’s hearts and minds. Though out of power, she remains a People’s Prime Minister, not the “midnight” regime’s vote dacoit prime minister in power accused of illegally occupying the position by force and through the wholesale stealing and rigging and mugging of votes. Imprisoned by the endlessly repressive regime, to the extent of being fantastically fascistic, Khaleda was put in jail out of the “unelected” and “auto-elected” Hasina’s vindictive venom and vitriol. Also popularly called Mother of Democracy and Humanity, Khaleda is Hasina’s only and unbeatable political rival superbly excelling the latter in every respect of life and leadership—both personal and political–by all accounts—honesty, dignity, decorum, morality, popularity, fairness, firmness, openness, tolerance, truthfulness, democratic principles, nationalist spirit and patriotic impulse.
At Khaleda’s release, her party BNP, rendered as weak as EC-type toothless and spineless by Hasina-inflicted torture and tyranny through her police/RAB and law courts, rushed to thank the regime: “তারা এ জন্য প্রধানমন্ত্রীকে ধন্যবাদ জানান। ” Although all credit goes to the extended Zia family and none to the party itself, which utterly failed to secure its top leader’s release either through the legal battle or movement in the streets, it thanked the regime as though there was an indirect admission of guilt on the part of its freed leader. Simple and senile BNP leadership under Mirza Fakhrul is only good in swiftly thanking the fascist Hasina and the members of her rogue regime for anything in case it can hope (although against hope) for some sympathy from what is one of the dreariest and most oppressive regimes in modern times. The BNP did so after Hasina’s so-called “sea-conquest”; it did so with regards to the initially Hasina-supported Shah-bugee shontrashis (terrorists), only to regret and withdraw the hastily made “thank you” in no time. Now it has done again—extending a “quick rental” thank you, however cold, small and lukewarm it must have been.
People pity the hopelessly poor BNP trying to catch at a straw and swim with its hands and feet tied, brought to its knees by hundreds of thousands of lawsuits filed by the regime against its thousands of both local and national leaders and its rank and file members, most of whom have been busy running back and forth between home and the corridors of court. Even then, the party being the largest and most popular should have been strong enough to hold its grounds by politically standing up to Hasina with a show of people’s power led by the Standing Committee members on the street, rather than being cowardly and homebound. It is the fascistically driven Hasina, a Lendhup Dorji-type stooge of India, who should say sorry hundred times for the injustice done to the most majestic and most popular leader of Bangladesh, Khaleda Zia.
Khaleda Zia, unofficially the supreme leader of Bangladesh, should not have been in prison in the first place. Nelson Mandela never thanked the white minority government for his release after 27 years of imprisonment because he said he had no reason to thank them for and that he should not have been put in prison in the first place. One may ask, “Where have the dozens of mega corruption cases against Hasina gone? Where are the hundreds of millions and billions of dollars stolen and smuggled by the goons and gangs, allied with or connived at by the ruling axis? How come the regime is able to get away with its countless lies, blunders, scams, scandals, mischiefs and massacres?” The weak and poor BNP with old and septuagenarian and octogenarian men and women, disabled from within and without (minus the two top ailing or exiled leaders) in its upper echelon–Standing Committee–should have some courage, dignity and integrity; they should not prostrate and kneel down before the autocratic and authoritarian Hasina regime surrounded by and infested with many crooked elements in looters, smugglers, sycophants, scoundrels, hoodlums, hooligans, rapists, abductors, murderers, shontrashi terrorists and intimidators in its different branches and beyond countrywide. To achieve the lowest common denominator with the BNP, Bangladesh Awami League (BAL), the least popular, must have weeded out all those culprits and criminals, be they in uniform or white clothes and must have held itself accountable in the conspiracy of the BDR massacre and thousands of other misdeeds and mischiefs committed all across the country, especially in the capital Dhaka.
In an email post, former Bangladesh Ambassador to Japan Serajul Islam says: “The Prime Minister and her ministers had all along maintained that there was nothing that the Prime Minister could do about Khaleda Zia’s release because her release was in the hands of the judiciary that was independent of the executive branch. Now the Law Minister says Khaleda’s conditional release was the decision of the Prime Minister.” Similarly, Professor Syed Serajul Islam of Lakehead University says: “What is there to thank PM Hasina for? All along we heard that her government had nothing to do with Khaleda Zia’s release or her bail and the court was independent. Now, suddenly, for whatever reason, she is granted conditional release and Law minister says Hasina has granted the release. This indicates that Madam Zia has been in jail for personal grudge of Hasina against her formidable rival. I do not see any reason for the BNP to thank Hasina.” One cannot agree more with what the two distinguished people said. The statements made in the present tense above by them are an ever continuous and customary reality with the administration of the Hasina-brand fascists while the past tense statements are the ever continuous and customary falsehoods and fabrications by the same rogue regime of unprecedented corruption and repression and terror and tyranny.
One cannot but concur with the former army officer, decorated freedom fighter, diplomat and currently a political analyst and essayist on Bangladesh affairs, Ranu Chowdhury of the USA says: “Additionally, during the short press briefing, the Law Minister said that the Prime Minister’s action was in response to the request made by Begum Zia’s family members–he even read out the names–who met the PM. What a demeaning act! Before the journalists asked too many questions, the Minister ran away from the venue. My question: Is it the first time such request was made? Why such charity!! Why should there be any reason for the BNP to thank Hasina?
It is in the same manner that Engineer Rashed Anam of the USA writes: “আওয়ামী দখলদার স্বৈরাচার এখন আর বলে না এটা আদালতের বেপার ! বিচার বিভাগ থেকে শুরু করে সমস্ত রাষ্ট্রীয় প্রতিষ্ঠানগুলোই যে একক ভোটহীন অবৈধ স্বৈরাচারীর পায়ের নিচে সেটা আবারো জাতির কাছে নগ্নভাবে প্রদর্শিত হলো ! ৭১ এর চেতনা বটে ! বাকশাল-২ তে স্বাগতম ! খা কাপুরুষ-মিসকিন বিএনপি খা ! স্বৈরাচারীর দয়ার ও করুনার ভিক্ষা খা ! খেয়ে মর ! নিজেরা কিছুই করতে পারে না, রাজনৈতিক মূল্যবোধটা, রাজনৈতিক অবস্থান ও আদর্শের গলাবাজি করার জায়গাটাও রাখলো না ! দেওলিয়া টোটালি ! স্বৈরাচারীর পা ধরে দয়ার ও করুনার উপর ছুড়ে দেয়া উচ্ছিষ্ট খেয়েই অস্থিসর্বস্ব নিয়েই বেঁচে থাক বিএনপি ! Kick out all these imbecile gone case waste case leaders and reform and revive a true professional nationalist democratic political party.”
Extremely alert and active in political campaigning and writing, Zoglul Husain of the UK observes in the same vein as if he were speaking the mind of the entire Bangladeshi nation: “The government has committed a grave crime by sending Khaleda Zia to prison on trumped up charges. If it has suspended the sentence for 6 months for its own tactical reasons, there is nothing to thank the government for it. We demand withdrawal of all false charges against her and punishment of all those involved in planning them and the deliberate imprisonment of her. We demand compensation.”
DeshNetri Khaleda Zia is Bangladesh’s only and unique leader in her nobility, popularity, majesty and magnanimity, all of which match her lofty and beautiful looks, demeanor, garb and gait and leader-like stature. She is seriously, perhaps even critically ill at the hands of Hasina-orchestrated legal game. It is the mean and monstrous vote dacoit Hasina who is responsible for her near death deterioration. Years of her unjust detention, loneliness and lack of proper treatment contributed to the worsening of her physical and psychosomatic illness. There must have been millions who suffered feeling mentally and intellectually shocked and shaken at the imprisonment of who is regarded as the mother of democracy and humanity. On a personal note, I dreamt about her for two consecutive nights, Sunday and Monday, to wake up on Tuesday morning (March 24) to receive the breaking news of her release from Zoglul Husain. First night, I saw her kind of half-walking in her prison room in the PG hospital from a field outside. In the second dream I was visiting her there along with somebody else I don’t exactly recollect who he was. Beginning her jail sentence more than two years ago, I had a number of sleepless nights, as I am sure many others had, feeling so quite perturbed.
One of the finest political and intellectual minds of Bangladesh, Dr Asif Nazrul once asked the BNP leaders how they were sleeping at night with Begum Zia in prison. Well, I’m none of the BNP hierarchy but I had my share of sleepless nights with wet eyes at her sight on the media on many occasions. She suffered too much for nothing–without her family beside her and without her political freedom, with her husband and former President Ziaur Rahman assassinated in 1981 when she was still at the prime of her youth. It is beyond doubt what the former Ambassador Serajul Islam and senior journalist Zainal Abedin of New York observed about the political standing of Khaleda Zia. In their view she surpassed all subcontinental leaders, not just those of Bangladesh, in her long-standing sacrifice and struggle for freedom and democracy since the early 1980s.
The only lesson that the world in all its pride and arrogance about its military might and long-range cruise missiles should know from its being helplessly under the grip of the powerful corona calamity is intellectual humility. It is the boastful and belligerent braggarts and upstarts such as Donald Trump, Narendra Modi and especially Sheikh Hasina in particular that should learn moral honesty, decency, dignity, religious piety, political fairness, tolerance, openness and accountability from this corona catastrophe. What the former Awami speaker Humayun Rashid Chowdhury said about Mujib (not to speak of what the other former Awami speaker Abdul Malek Ukil, anti-Awami-turned-Awami Motia Chowdhury, now quarter Awami Hasanul Inu, late Col Taher and now semi-Awami Rashed Khan Menon said about Mujib in 1972-1975)–that even as many as one hundred hangings would not cleanse Mujib of his wrong doings–also applies to the horribly ruling Hasina odiously and abominably oppressive with baseless, yet unlimited opprobrium, vilification and vituperation of the opposition BNP, the largest and most popular party of Bangladesh. It is the high time for the foolishly but ferociously repressive Hasina to take a 180 degree about-turn and hand over power to the BNP in a peaceful transition through a clean and competitive general election.
Finally, the BNP is the party of the great and glorious President Ziaur Rahman (1936-1981), declarer/proclaimer of the independence of Bangladesh and founder of his popular and patriotic party. He was at the forefront of both the emergence and existence of Bangladesh—first in March 1971 and then in November 1975. In light of his numerous milestone contributions, his incandescent collective vision, and his vigorous pursuit of lofty national goals and ideals during his only four years of rule, he may be regarded as হাজার বছরের শ্রেষ্ঠ বাংলাদেশী (the greatest Bangladeshi ever, of a thousand years). To repeat, President Zia saved Bangladesh twice, first in 1971 and then in 1975. He did not run away from the battlefield the way Sheikh Mujib did to find himself under the safe custody with his pregnant daughter Sheikh Hasina left under the loving care of the Pakistanis.
Depending on the context of time, all fiery speeches are not the same. Wanting to remain with the united and unbroken Pakistan and wishing to be its Prime Minister, Mujib’s 7th March speech was only a wishy-washy and half-hearted oration about the independence of Bangladesh; it fell short of the clear and complete declaration of independence which remained for the bold and valiant (and would-be President) Ziaur Rahman to proclaim about twenty days later. In late December 1971, Mujib lamented the fact that Pakistan was finally, regrettably, broken up and that its Eastern wing went independent against the wishes deep down his heart. According to Stanley Wolpert’s book Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan, “I told you (Z A Bhutto), it will be a confederation. This is also between you and me … You leave it to me … Absolutely leave it to me. Trust me … My idea was we will live together and we will rule this country. You know the occupation (Indian) army is there.”
Then there is the three-time former Prime Minister and BNP Chair Khaleda Zia, who, of stunningly majestic stature and outlook and stately leadership style, has been living a politically fighting but personally lonely life since the prime of her youth following the assassination of her husband Zia in 1981.
Their son Tarique Rahman may have made some mistakes in his early young age, but those may be seen with forgiving eyes, especially in view of the innumerable Awami-BAKSALi macabre monstrosities before (1972-1975) and after, since 2009, until today. Orphaned early, the strong and impressive young man of great parentage has suffered immensely and is still suffering in exile, away from home and mother, both the son and the mother suffering most unjustly and living their lonely lives for fear of the wolves and hyenas out there in and beyond the horribly Indianized and Hinduized regime police/RAB/judiciary. As mentioned early in this article, Tarique must have gone through a maturing process since and has transformed into a bold and brilliant dynamic leader of mission and vision, far superior to those devils and dragons who oppose him for no good reason. He may be compared to Prince Hal, who after some initial youthful shortcomings, grew to become King Henry V (1413-1422), one of the greatest kings of England.
The mistakes the party of President Ziaur Rahman, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and Tarique Rahman—the BNP—may have made in the past are nothing compared with the carelessly countless and numerous made by the party of Sheikh Mujib and Sheikh Hasina—the Awami League. A political party is not a party of angels and prophets. Being a platform of people of all kinds of beliefs and backgrounds, a political party would make mistakes, more or less, compared with other parties. The Awami mistakes are incomparably endless and still counting on a daily basis. While one may hold the BNP accountable for the one or two mistakes it made, one cannot indict it in these fascist times under the pretty devilish rule of Sheikh Hasina.
In conclusion, one only wishes Bangladesh’s ailing great and noble (মহান ও মহত) Khaleda Zia, to recover fully and completely and be blessed with a second life to be able to provide, once again, lighthouse leadership that the people of Bangladesh have been deprived of for the last 12 years. Let Bangladesh be free, as soon as possible, of all kinds of viruses—corona, corruption, cruelty, terror, tyranny, discrimination, double standard, rigging, mugging, lying, stealing, rape, abduction, disappearance, murder, immorality, immodesty, lack of rule of law, absence of social justice, partisan politicization, flattery, sycophancy, nepotism, favoritism, increasing Hinduization and anti-Islamism and so on. It is only the democratic BNP-led opposition, now under tyrannical suppression, that, through a free and fair electoral process, can bring back the country to its right track from its present institutional destruction, corruption, demoralization and stagnation.
*Q M Jalal Khan is author of Bangladesh: Political and Literary Reflections on a Divided Country (2018) and Bangladesh Divided: Political and Literary Reflections on a Corrupt Police and Prison State (2019). Forthcoming is his new work, “Sheikh Hasina’s Brutal BNP-Phobia and Her Scandalous “Midnight” Power Grab Through Reckless “S/Election” Rigging With an All-Time High Record of Humongous White-Collar Corruption”.