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Light at the end of dark night: 7th November 1975

07 November 2016

Maj Gen (Retd) Syed Muhammad Ibrahim Bir Protik :
The 15th of August 1975 had come as a surprise to many. It had upset the plan of actions of the JSD and the SSS. After 15th of August, Bangladesh was experiencing a very peculiar administration. The president of the country was Khondokar Mustaq Ahmed who, peculiarly enough, was also the Chief Martial Administrator. He had a cabinet of Ministers, although most of them were members of the Awami League, nay the BAKSAL. Mustaq had appointed General M A G Osmani as the defense advisor to the president. Major General Khalilur Rahman was appointed Chief of Defense Staff. Yet, beyond the books and beyond the rules, the President was being advised and guarded by the Colonels and Majors who had carried out the coup-de-tat on 15 August 1975. The senior officers of the Bangladesh Army were at a loss and undecided in dealing with the situation. The SSS was worried that, in their opinion, the country was swept from one bourgeois administration to another, none being pro-people. After a gap of eleven weeks, in the early hours of the 3rd November,  a portion of the Bangladesh Army under the leadership of Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf Bir Uttom carried out a counter-coup. He was aided by the commander of the only infantry brigade located at Dhaka Cantonment, Colonel Shafaat Jamil Bir Bikrom.
Brigadier Khaled had bypassed the-then Chief of Army Staff Major General Ziaur Rahman Bir Uttom in organizing and leading the coup on the 3rd November. In the discretion of the coup leaders, the safest option was to place Ziaur Rahman under house arrest and incapacitate his chain of command. So by 1am of the 3rd November, Ziaur Rahman arrested, and forced to give up his chair, in favor of Khaled Mosharraf. And then only, Khaled Mosharraf proceeded to neutralize the Bangabhaban which was the seat of the government at that very hour. For next 3 days, there was virtually no government in the country because on the one side President Mustaq was barred and prohibited from exercising  his power while on the other hand, nobody else had assumed the office the president. The coup-makers of the 3rd November were arguing with the coup-makers of the 15th August 1975, about the safety of the latter. Indecision at the highest level gave rise to speculations and rumours. On the 5th morning, Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf was promoted to the rank of Major General. He remained the Chief of Army Staff, in which chair he was now about 48 hours old. For rational  reasons, he did not assume the political office of the President of Bangladesh.
The Jatio Somajtantrik Dol (JSD) and their undeclared partner the Secret Soldier Society (SSS) had been observing the situation. They carried out an estimate of the situation and tried to forecast future events; but they failed. They argued that the events of 15th August came as a surprise to them, they argued that the events of 3rd November came as a further surprise. They argued that, if they did not proceed with  their own decision, somebody else will again interrupt with new events. They argued that, it was high-time they proceed with actions by the JSD and the SSS together, more so because it was an unstable period of time.  It was a recall of the famous English proverb: "Fishing in muddy waters".  Thus they decided to strike. They struck at the zero hour of the 7th of November 1975. Soldiers belonging to the organization called SSS, or the soldiers having sympathy for the SSS took the streets inside the Dhaka Cantonment. Within about an hour a  huge crowd of soldiers gathered around the house of General Ziaur Rahman. Soldiers who were so long guarding Ziaur Rahman on behalf of the coup-makers of the 3rd November, changed their loyalty instantly. All soldiers unanimously ensured that Ziaur Rahman was freed and appealed to  Ziaur Rahman that he takes over the command of the Bangladesh Army again.
It is at this historic hour that, more soldiers came and joined the crowd. Ziaur Rahman was overwhelmed with the outburst of loyalty and patriotic zeal of the soldiers. A question came up, which way will Ziaur Rahman proceed now? Activist of JSD and activist of the SSS wanted to carry him away to the city of Dhaka. Soldiers who loved Ziaur Rahman but were not happy with the JSD or SSS, wanted him to keep a safe distance. As time passed on the morning of the 7th November, say about 4 to 5 am, more soldiers had joined the crowd in support of Ziaur Rahman. Soldiers loving to Ziaur Rahman and loyal to him quickly organized and consolidated themselves. They carried out a post mortem of events which happened between the 3rd November and the 7th. They saw discomfort and threat to the country and the army in both the quarters namely the coup-makers of 3rd November and the JSD-sponsored uprising. The soldiers who loved Ziaur Rahman and loved the country, spread out to the entire city of Dhaka in the next 3 to 4 hours. While senior officers gathered around Ziaur Rahman in his temporary command-center, soldiers spread the message to the entire city of Dhaka. In the perception of the people of Dhaka, the 3rd November coup was an attempt to re-direct national politics in pro-Indian direction; while the activities of JSD was considered to be aiming at anarchic Bangladesh.
In broad sunlight of the 7th November, Ziaur Rahman had to take multiple decisions. The first and the most important decision was to direct the soldiers back to their barracks; and deposit the weapons to the respective armoury. The country was not in a war, but all soldiers were carrying weapons and ammunitions. Faced with threat on their life from the mutineers loyal to JSD and SSS, as the calendar turned to 7th November, officers in most of the places had abandoned their command or responsibility; the exceptions being Infantry and Artillery. Ziaur Rahman had to encourage, coax, order officers to regain their command and responsibilities. Easier said than done, luck favored Ziaur Rahman. He was acknowledged by the three day old President of Bangladesh as well as the whole of Bangladesh Army as the leader of the hour, as the savior of the hour.   
7th November gave rise to nationalistic feelings, shunning socialistic ideas and protesting the hegemonic attitude of the big neighbor. The political party called JSD was about to fragment the entire edifice of the Bangladesh Army and the country with their unproven theories. Ziaur Rahman, bolstered by the cohesion of nationalistic feelings, was able to thwart the designs of the JSD and SSS. The president of Bangladesh, had little option but to seek the cooperation of the Bangladesh Army in stabilizing the internal political situation as well as, guaranteeing the security of the borders of the country. And, Ziaur Rahman was the leader of that very army which was shouldering such an onerous task. Inevitably, Ziaur Rahman became the natural leader of the country and commander of the government.  
(The writer is a Liberation War veteran, columnist and now heads a political party)

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