Published:  12:21 AM, 07 November 2019

7 November and the murder of freedom fighters

It is 7 November, a day etched in infamy in the history of this country. On this day, the nation lost some of its eminent patriots at the hands of the forces of reaction and communalism. On this day in 1975, the nation and its glorious history and heritage passed into the hands of men determined to push it back into the darkness it had emerged free of in late 1971. In effect, 1975 remains and will forever be our annus horribilis.

We as a people have suffered grievously in the aftermath of the commandeering of the state by anti-state elements between August and November 1975. The assassination of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, with nearly his entire family, was a tragedy at a time when we looked forward to building the Shonar Bangla of our dreams. It was not just a hope we nurtured. It was a belief we shared once Bangladesh emerged as a sovereign People's Republic through a focused War of Liberation in 1971.

Bangabandhu's murder, along with that of his family, was followed by the assassination of the four national leaders on 3 November of the year. But it was not the end of tge gruesome story, for the agents of disorder and conspirators backed by local and foreign elements murdered General Khaled Musharraf and two other freedom-fighter officers at a time when they were engaged in restoring sanity and the secular values of our nationhood by driving the forces of evil from power.

Their murder set in motion a train of more murders of other freedom fighter officers, plunging the country into chaos. Darkness was once again part of collective national life, as it had once been in the year we fought off the Pakistanis.

As the country teetered on uncertainty, 6 November dawned with newspaper images of a beaming Khaled Musharraf being decorated with epaulettes reflecting his new rank of major general by the chief of staff of the navy, Rear Admiral MH Khan, and the chief of staff of the air force, Air Vice Marshal MG Tawab. The latter had been flown in from Germany, where he had been leading a retired life, to take over from AK Khondokar in the period following 15 August.

As the day progressed on 6 November, the pieces began to fall into a pattern. The announcement that Khondokar Moshtaque Ahmed had resigned the presidency was swiftly followed by news that the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Abu Sadat Muhammad Sayem, had replaced him. A new order appeared to be in place finally.

As the night deepened, however, rumours of an unsavoury kind began to make the rounds. General Khaled Musharraf, they appeared to suggest, was waging a desperate struggle to hold on to his authority against the army units now beginning to move against him. In the cantonment, slogans of a 'sepoy-janata' revolution were raised. The entire area began to resonate with them. A full-scale rebellion was on and for once the shrewd, brilliant Khaled Musharraf appeared unable to resist the tide against him and his loyalists.

On 7 November, Dhaka slipped into the hands of Colonel Taher and his men, who lost little time in freeing General Ziaur Rahman from confinement and restoring him to authority as chief of staff of the army. For General Musharraf, conditions had already gone from bizarre to eerie. He and his loyalists were on the run from the marauding men who had clearly thrown in their lot with Taher and Zia.

Attempting to make their way out of Dhaka in the hope of organising resistance, Musharraf, Huda and Haider found themselves in Sher-e-Banglanagar. Within minutes they became prisoners of the men they had once commanded. All three were brutally murdered. Their corpses were then subjected to varied forms of humiliation.

Sometime in the early afternoon, General Zia made his way to Bangabhaban. Soldiers and a crowd of onlookers raised, for the first time in independent Bangladesh, the slogan of Nara-e-Takbeer, punctuated of course by another, Sepoy-Janata Zindabad. The state of Bangladesh was pushed into a state of grave peril.

On 7 November 1975, all hope, raised briefly only days earlier, of a revival of the spirit that had led Bengalis into the War of Liberation in 1971 seemed to have been snuffed out.

Musharraf loyalists in the army, those who had survived death, were scattered and making their way to safety.  It was the beginning of a new nightmare that would keep the nation in its vise-like grip for twenty one years.

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