40-year-old controversy over call for Bangladesh independence

March 27th, 2011 - 3:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Sheikh Hasina Dhaka, March 27 (IANS) Bangladesh celebrated its independence day amid an old controversy about who was the first to declare independence four decades ago.

Its founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was supposed to have given a call to his people for an all out struggle for independence just before being whisked away by the Pakistani authorities March 25, 1971.

Two days later, Ziaur Rahman, then a young major of the Pakistan Army, declared the same in a radio broadcast he made before crossing sides and turning a freedom fighter.

This is as per the records of 1971. Bangladesh became free in December that year.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is Mujib’s daughter, and Khaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition who is Ziaur Rahman’s widow, have since continued to fight over who was the first to declare independence.

Wreaths were placed at the mausoleum’s of the two leaders Saturday. Both presidents met with violent deaths in army-led rebellions - Mujib in 1975 and Zia in 1981.

The Daily Star Sunday recorded the chain of events: “On March 25, 1971, the Pakistani occupation forces in the middle of the night unleashed one of the worst genocides in the history in then East Pakistan to suppress the uprising of Bangalees.”

“On that night before his arrest, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman issued a proclamation of independence. Awami League leader M.A. Hannan the following day read out Bangabandhu’s message on air from Chittagong.

“On March 27, Maj Ziaur Rahman read out the message again. Hearing the declaration of independence from an army officer, the people regained their courage.”

The controversy has led to the history books being rewritten when Zia was the country’s prime minister.

There is a move by the Hasina government to amend the constitution and record Mujib’s name.

Moudud Ahmed, a senior leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Saturday said that his party on returning to power would revoke any decision of the present government to name Sheikh Mujib the proclaimer of independence, even if it was done by changing the constitution.

“If the government amends the constitution to make Sheikh Mujib the proclaimer of independence, BNP after coming to power would cancel the decision,” Moudud said after placing floral wreaths at Zia’s grave, marking Independence and National Day.

“The people know it was Ziaur Rahman who had proclaimed independence,” New Age quoted him as saying.

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