The ecstasy of victory

Nurul Islam Anu
The nation again celebrates its day of emancipation, marking the victory of an armed struggle to freedom from more than two decades of political and economic subjugation. The background of the struggle is too well-known and its defined or undefined goals have been analysed for the umpteenth time to bear any repetition. Glowing tributes have been paid to heroes for sacrificing lives or the significant contributions they made. The philosophical basis of the struggle and its victory has been eulogised, and derailments, if any, lamented. This is how it has been and will continue to be. Happily, a grateful nation celebrates the most glorious saga of its history written in blood, remembering it to restrengthen a nationhood, so fondly dreamt of, and finally achieved.
This column is a humble attempt at recreating some of the flavour of those moments of victory — immediately preceding or following 16th December, 1971. It recalls incidents — significant or small — that form very much a part of an unwritten history. This endeavour is partly inspired by a streak of fate which placed me, as a small bureaucrat, close to the center-stage where this great drama was being enacted and partly by my abiding interest in the events as something of a discerning observer. Both combined to create a compelling urge in me to narrate, to write — as a part of my individual tribute to the glory of the Day.

Days immediately preceding 16th December were painfully agonising with information on the war front trickling scantily down — disturbing rumours floating all around. Information regarding near and dear ones being missing or traceless were depressing. Broadcasts from Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendra were available to only those who had access to them. Radio Pakistan or Dhaka Television was abhorred. Recapitulating personal experiences, in that context, become impelling.

Myself abandoning my official residence at 67 Circuit House with my paralysed father and my old mother — at moment’s notice on the basis of ominous tips — with the entire house left unlocked — and trying to flee to my ancestral home in Munshiganj just before the curfew started — were harrowing experiences. The visit undertaken from Showa-righat in a boat was aborted by the indiscriminate firing by Pakistan Army which resulted in my father being abandoned at the ancestral house of Gazi Bhai and Mrs Fatima Malik (Gazi Bhai is the present Chairman of Eastern Bank Ltd) at Nolgola.

We rushed back to our house to collect the bare minimum and with the curfew dawning, we had to seek refuge in the house of our friend Shamsul Alam at Shantinagar because there was not enough time for us to go to Nolgola. We lost communication with Nolgola since there was no telephone at that place. We spent days gossiping about our fate and the fate of the war itself. Indian jets flying over, diving and bombing Dhaka were the only solacing experience of those agonising hours. We heard that Airport and Bangabhaban were bombed which was strategically designed to break the morale of the Pakistan Army.

Amidst those desperate hours of waiting and being totally confined, the final hour arrived as the news of Pakistan Army Surrender broke. Crowds in thousands thronged the streets in jubilation, welcoming columns of Indian Tanks and Muktibahini entering Dhaka.

Thousands encircled Hotel Intercontinental where Governor Malik and the top brass of Pakistan Army were billeted under the care of International Red Cross. Beyond all the jubilation one could feel a deep sense of patriotism and pride emanating from the look of every Bengali — sincere and spontaneous — welcoming a free sovereign nation. Huge newspaper coverage of war heroes — Bangabir Kader Siddiqui with his beard, long hair and combat outfit, host of other heroes like Col Shafiullah, Col Khaled Mosharraf, Col Ziaur Rahman and other not-too-celebrated heroes kept on pouring inspiring those feelings of the moment to newer heights. Pictures of the surrender of General Niazi started appearing to finally nail the expectation of those who were still living in an elusive dream for intervention by the Seventh Fleet of Nixon — Kissinger to resurrect Pakistan.
Subsequent events — small and big — victory receptions, seminars, experiential narratives of the preceeding nine months were all dominated by a pervasive and strong message of idealism dedicated to the dream of building the new nation up. It was a message of immeasurable strength, resonating everywhere in every one’s voice, in all writings — all pervasive.

The message sometimes lacked details, a little hazy, not too articulate — but clear in its inner content of building a prosperous Bangladesh under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In my humble judgment, this outpouring of idealism — honest, sincere and spontaneous — was the most glorious and precious experience of post-liberation Bangladesh. This needed to be sustained and the relative failure or success of that endeavour will remain a puzzling question to any student of Bangladesh’s political history.

I return to Bangabhaban, the potential seat of subsequent national dramas. The entire staff of Bangabhaban jubilantly welcoming me with a sigh of relief, I take command of the house because I was the only officer available to perform that historic act. I find the infrastructure in disarray, Indian bombing damaging a part of the building badly and the furniture all broken. My first act was to visit the deserted office of General Forman Ali at the ground floor, the nerve-centre of many sinister initiatives. I found the room littered with papers, shredded and burnt. After intensive search for a few hours, I recovered some documents of strategic and historic importance. I immediately called the then Home Secretary Mr Khaleq and sent all the papers to him with the discreet attention they deserved.

After trying to set the Bangabhaban in order, I was summoned on the afternoon of 20th December for a meeting at the Home Secretary’s Office at the Secretariat. The meeting was attended by Late Mr Nurul Qader Khan, beloved Jhilu Bhai, Awami League leaders Late Mr Gazi Golam Mostafa and Mr Moizuddin.

I was told that the Mujib Nagar Cabinet was to arrive at 11 am next day and Bangabhaban must be made ready to accommodate the entire cabinet. I was perplexed, bewildered — not knowing what to do on such a short notice. Mr A Hye, SDO, Dhaka Sadar South, a person of boundless energy came to my rescue. He suggested we might call Mr. Sattar, the owner of Purbani Hotel and seek his assistance. I did and Mr Sattar graciously responded.

With no money, not a penny, arrangements for lunch, dinner, breakfast, were made by the Staff for 200 people — thanks to the cooperation of the entire Thataribazar establishment providing food and other items on credit — gracefully and voluntarily extended for almost a month. The slogan in the Bazar was — our government must be fed and supported at all cost. Small individuals inspired by the spirit of 16th December, each contributing his part only made this possible.

Meanwhile the overwhelming task of administering a new nation with policy level structures still located in Rawalpindi was a huge challenge. There was no central bank, no ministry of foreign affairs to attend to international obligations which were of critical importance, no agency to conduct economic relations with potential foreign donors — all were conspicuously absent. The foreign minister’s office was set up at one corner of my own office in Bangabhaban with a table fixed for Mr Abdus Samad Azad; the Central Bank Act was drafted, and a cabinet meeting would be held almost everyday with vital matters coming before it. In those difficult times, the contribution made by Mr Ruhul Quddus, Mr Khandaker Asaduzzaman, Mr Taufiq Imam should be remembered with gratitude.

The political scene was dominated by the absence of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the anxiety over his absence continuously providing a destabilising factor. Both Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam and Prime Minister Mr Tajuddin demonstrated admirable statesmanlike qualities and political acumen in handling what was an extr-emely difficult situation. While they provided the leadership, host of other government officials at every level and all professional groups worked tirelessly imbued with and inspired by the noble goals of building a new nation.

We have travelled a long way as a nation — with triumphs and disappointments. The march is yet to be over; clearly and most certainly we need the spirit of the 16th to take us to greater glories.

The author is a former civil servant and president of the US unit of Awami League.

Leave a Reply