The BNP celebrates Nov 7 as the ‘national revolution and solidarity day’.
The party’s Acting Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has threatened a ‘mass uprising’ against the present government to force it to bring back the caretaker system on this date.
He has said the uprising will be ‘imbued with the Nov 7 spirit’.
But Fakhrul seems to have missed out on the strange twist of history in a bid to look for a right moment to threaten an uprising.
Because Nov 7, 1975 bears a few very uncomfortable skeletons for BNP’s founder late General Ziaur Rahman and would be no day to celebrate for those who adore him.
That day in 1975 marked the culmination of a sepoy mutiny of sorts, not a mass uprising involving citizens looking for democracy.
The slogan of the mutiny was: “Sepoy Sepoy Bhai Bhai, Officerer Rakto Chai” (we sepoys are brothers, we want the blood of the officers).
The soldiers in the mutiny were rescuing their army chief by deposing and killing another aspirant.
This was no revolution, just a bitter power struggle.
The mutiny was led by the charismatic Colonel Abu Taher, a 1971 sector commander like Zia, who he helped come to power, and Geneal Khaled Musharraf, who he deposed and who was killed by the rebellious soldiers.
Nov 7 thus brings back the memories of an era of mutinies that the Bangladesh army would like to forget and leave behind, as it emerges as a disciplined professional force called so often to do UN peacekeeping duties.
Especially in the week which finally meted out death penalty to 152 BDR troopers for killing their officers four years ago.
Bangladesh’s military is determined to put a lid on its legacy of bloody mutinies.
Taher was a radical socialist in his leanings and strongly advocated the cause of setting up of a ‘people’s army’ instead of a large standing army which he felt was not needed for a poor nation like Bangladesh.
He read Vo Nguyen Giap and Che Guevera — something that military officers in the sub-continent rarely do.
Taher was the man behind the Nov 7 mutiny.
Taher had been a real war hero for his exploits in 1971 liberation struggle but on Nov 7, he was leading one group of soldiers against another in a fratricidal strife.
Ziaur Rahman was freed by Taher and took charge as army chief.
He did not do anything on Nov 7 except thanking his stars for being freed.
But then came the biggest surprise.
The very man who had freed him and re-installed him as army chief was hauled up before a military court, tried and hanged for spreading disaffection in the army.
The High Court has recently described the execution of Abu Taher through an order of a military tribunal in 1976 as ‘outright murder’. It says the hanging of Taher was ‘illegal’ and a case of ‘cold blooded assassination’.
It has directed the government to try those who were involved with the so-called trial, if any of them are still alive.
The verdict was passed by Justice AHM Shamsuddin Choudhury and Justice Sheikh Md Zakir Hossain in May this year.
In the judgment, the High Court cited portions of BNP leader Moudud Ahmed’s book to suggest that Ziaur Rahman had formed the military tribunal to sentence Col Taher to death in order to satisfy army officials who had returned from Pakistan.
Earlier, the High Court had observed the trial and execution of freedom fighter Col Taher in 1976 was masterminded by the then chief martial law administrator, Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman.
Without getting into a debate over these observations made by the High Court, one can safely say Zia was a beneficiary of a Taher-led uprising but there was no way Taher could have been hanged without Zia’s design and consent.
Five years later, Zia was himself killed in another mutiny.
But the ghost of Nov 7, of betraying a naive socialist-leaning commander who had helped free him, and sending him to the gallows in haste, remains a blot on Zia, both as a man and as a ruler.
This is the ‘legacy of blood’ that author Anthony Mascarenhas describes in his bestseller by the same title.
Bangladesh has seen many a mass uprising over the decades since it was East Pakistan.
Fakhrul should not have a problem looking for dates to inspire an uprising his party seems to be planning to bring down Sheikh Hasina from power.
But Nov 7 is not one of those.
There was no mass uprising involving citizens on that day.
And the real hero of Nov 7 was Abu Taher.
By hanging Taher for ’spreading disaffection’ in the army, Ziaur Rahman himself undermined and trampled on the legacy of Nov 7, a date his wife declared as a public holiday after taking over as Prime Minister.
History, they say, is both used and abused.
Syed Bashir is a bdnews24.com columnist.