August is always a reminder of the biggest tragedy which befell the Bengali nation in 1975. In less than a fortnight, the people of Bangladesh will be paying homage to the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and his family on the anniversary of their martyrdom. Indeed, homage is already underway, now that the month of August returns once more to remind us of the great man, the Liberator we lost to conspiracy 46 years ago, the leader we could not save on a dark dawn all those decades ago.
The pages of history need turning as we go back to a study of Bangabandhu's life and career in the brief yet eventful fifty five years he had of life. And through that turning of the pages the eyes come to rest on August, down the years, as they happened to be in Bangabandhu's life. It is a mirror which informs us of the politically active life the founding father of Bangladesh led, the influences which shaped his worldview as he moved from one phase of life to another.
Observe August 1946, as Calcutta burned in the fury of the communal riots which left thousands of Hindus and Muslims dead all across the city. A student of Islamia College and resident of Baker Hostel at the time, the young Sheikh Mujibur Rahman engaged himself in the task of restoring order and whatever was possible of Hindu-Muslim amity in Bengal's biggest city, its claim to heritage. A year later, he was in Dhaka, as a citizen of the new state of Pakistan.
In August 1955, a politically upwardly mobile Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took the floor in the Pakistan constituent assembly to condemn the move to have East Bengal renamed as East Pakistan in the aftermath of the creation of One Unit in the western part of the country. He made it clear that if any change in the name of the province were to be made, it ought to be done with the consent of the Bengalis. There were more important issues which called for serious deliberations, he said, noting that the state language controversy and the question of regional autonomy merited discussion in the House.
The Mujib trajectory in politics was constantly evolving in the 1950s. In 1957, he was inducted as a minister in the provincial cabinet led by Chief Minister Ataur Rahman Khan. But when a decision by the Awami League required him to step down from office and concentrate on organising the party in the length and breadth of East Bengal, he submitted his resignation from the cabinet, which was accepted in August. And then he went into doing what he did best, take the Awami League to the doorsteps of the masses. His phenomenal organizing abilities were instrumental in giving the party the strength that would help it survive all manner of onslaught both in pre-1971 Pakistan and post-1971 Bangladesh.
The military regime of General Mohammad Ayub Khan decreed the Elective Bodies' Disqualification Ordinance (EBDO) in August 1959. A prime target of the ordinance was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whose opposition to the regime, even as a whole group of other political figures was intimidated into pusillanimity by the ordinance, was becoming increasingly pronounced. Mujib saw little reason to kowtow before the regime and paid for it by being sent into incarceration. That did little to dampen his ardour about struggling for the democratic rights of his people.
In August 1963, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman flew to London to meet his party leader Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, who after his release from prison by the Ayub regime had chosen to leave the country. Suhrawardy would die in Beirut in December of the year, a tragedy which the future Bangabandhu was unwilling to accept, to the end of his life, as a natural death. It ought to be recalled that Z.A. Bhutto, Pakistan's foreign minister at the time, had warned Suhrawardy not to set foot in Pakistan, which statement subsequently raised questions in Pakistan's political circles about some foul play that might have been there in Beirut.
August 1968 was a time when Mujib's fate hung in the balance, with the proceedings of the Agartala Conspiracy Case going on at full steam before a special tribunal in Dhaka cantonment. With the Ayub regime determined, through initiating the case, officially known as State Vs Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Others, to put away the authentic voice of protest which Mujib was, questions were being raised in August about whether or not Mujib would survive the trial or would be sent to the gallows. A mass uprising by his people ensured his freedom and his rise to greater glory.
In the all-encompassing darkness of 1971, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was placed on trial, on charges of waging war against Pakistan, before a military tribunal in August in Mianwali, Punjab. A terse announcement on Radio Pakistan on 9 August let it be known that the imprisoned Bengali leader --- who had led his party to an impressive victory at the December 1970 elections but the results of which the military junta had repudiated --- would be placed on trial on 11 August. Bangabandhu refused to recognise the legitimacy of the military tribunal. A sentence of death would be passed on him, but he would survive and return home as the father of the nation-state his leadership had given shape to in the War of Liberation.
In August 1973, Bangabandhu, as Prime Minister of Bangladesh, attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Ottawa, Canada.
In August 1975, darkness descended on Bangladesh. The light went out of our lives.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a senior journalist and writer.