Bangladesh: National Revolution and Solidarity Day, its Significance and its Precursor (With inside stories)
By R Chowdhury 1 November 2019
November 7, 1975. A unique day in the life of Bangladesh. At the early hours on this day, soldiers in the Dhaka Cantonment came out in force against the conspiratorial putsch staged by Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf’ four days earlier. Firing with whatever personal weapons they possessed in all directions, they made it warlike. They chanted self-serving slogans, anti-officer ones being the loudest.
“Being a freedom fighter,” said retired General Ibrahim, then a Captain, “I was used to such firing. But the fireworks I had seen and heard that day was unprecedented.” Captain Ashraf of Signal Corps saw the approaching crowd shouting “Sipai-sipai bhai, officerder rokto chai, Subedarer upore rank nai (soldier-soldier brothers, we seek the blood of officers. No rank above Subedar).” He quickly donned uniform, took off his rank badge and joined the crowd slanting slogans against officers. In confusion and in the darkness of the night, nobody identified the badge-less officer. He was not alone. Many officers did the same while some went hiding wherever they could. Colonel Oli Ahmed remained hidden in a paddy field for three days. Nearly two dozen officers lost their lives in the hands of the agitated and unruly troops in Dhaka alone. Another 20 casualties in other cantonments were reported. A batman killed his boss, a lady captain of the medical corps (Batman was a soldier assigned to an officer to take care of the officer’s official chores, a British legacy). An angry soldier shot the wife dead when he could not find the Major at the residence. Some soldiers were kinder; they just tore the ranks off the shoulders of the officers whomever they found.
Meanwhile, Major Mohiuddin and Subedar Major Anis of 2 Field Artillery Regiment led a group of their men and rescued General Ziaur Rahman from confinement at his residence, which was nearby. Outnumbered by the storming artillerymen, the guarding soldiers of 1 Bengal Regiment gave away. A reinstated Army Chief made 2 Field his headquarters for the next few
days. (In the Sylhet warfront in 1971, Captain Rashed Chowdhury founded this artillery unit as part of the Z Force of Colonel Ziaur Rahman. This unit was also in the forefront during the August 15 revolution. Major Mohiuddin was hanged in 2010 for his involvement in the August 15 Coup).
A freed General Ziaur Rahman (in the middle) among soldiers
Outside, the soldiers rode tanks and trucks and fanned out to the city. The general public, dismayed at Khaled’s betrayal of the August 15 spirit, as well as to the nation–most of them perceived Khaled’s was a pro-Indian takeover–joined the troops and paraded the city streets slanting slogans jointly, which included Sipahi-Jonota Bhai (soldiers-public brothers) and praises for President Mustique, General Ziaur Rahman and the heroes of August 15. The event thus came to be known as Sepoy-Jonota Biplop (Soldier-People Revolution). Later termed as the National Revolution and Solidarity Day, or simply National Solidarity Day (NSD), it is observed as such on November 7. It was a national holiday.
However, the day’s events were not as simple as the eyes and ears caught. A few vested and vicious forces came into play. I will come to that later. The most important thing about NSD is not what happened on that day, it is how such a serious broken discipline and dangerously chaotic situation in the ranks and file were brought under control by General Ziaur Rahman.
Lost Vision of NSD
General public attach the Sepoy-Jonota Biplop to the national unity, which was disturbed by Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf’s revolt on November 3, 1975. For decades, the day received due importance under different administrations. But not under Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League. To them, it resurrected their nemesis, General Ziaur Rahman, and heralded him to be a great leader in Bangladesh. Zia’s successes reminded them of the abject failures of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, their worshiped leader. To demean the importance of NSD, the Hasina administration struck it off the list of national holidays. The day passes unsung under it. It’s observance and programs are not only frowned, but at times disbanded or forcibly stopped on various pretext. Sheikh Hasina could not tolerate any program that eulogized Ziaur Rahman. Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Ziaur Rahman and other non-Awami elements, fearful of the official scowl and restriction, try to observed the day in a low key. In the process, they make a mockery of the significance of the day by shying away from mentioning how November 7 came about in the first place. It is like talking about a child without acknowledging its father. But the people are no fools. They detest such ostrich vision as displayed by today’s observers of the NSD.
As one cannot discuss the independence of Bangladesh without first tracking the independence of India and its partition in 1947, one cannot also talk of National Solidarity without taking into account the November 3 and August 15 ante. The moment we talk of November 7, our immediate attention goes to November 3. And, November 3 takes us to August 15, 1975.
What Happened on November 3
On the night of November 2, 1975, Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf, Army’s Chief of the General Staff, arrested Army Chief General Ziaur Rahman and declared himself the new Chief of Army Staff. Next day, he promoted himself to a Major General. On November 5, public were entertained with a front-page image in most dailies, in which the chiefs of the Navy and the Air Force gleefully helping a beaming Khaled with his general’s badge.
Navy and Air Chiefs helping Khaled with his new rank of Major General
Khaled and his cohorts tried to tell those willing to listen that their action was to restore “the chain of command” that was broken on August 15, 1975. Far from convincing. On August 15, a group of young army officers brought an end to the repressive and dictatorial one-party BAKSAL (Bangladesh Krishok Sramik Awami League) regime of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to the great relief and joy of Bangladeshis. Within hours, service chiefs and Khaled Mosharraf rushed to the Radio Station to express their support and solidarity with the August 15 action.
The self-styled army chief (Khaled) demanded that President Khandakar Mushtaque Ahmed step down and turn over the August 15 officers to him. Khaled’s intention was no secret to Bangabhaban, the presidential palace. He wanted to rid of those Majors who had become obstacles to his personal ambition. The president and the officers refused to comply.
A power struggle ensued between Bangabhaban and Khaled’s headquarters at 4 Bengal in the Dhaka cantonment. (4 Bengal was part of his K Force in the liberation war and he commanded its loyalty. But its Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Aminul Haq was a Zia loyalist. Amin was sidelined during Khaled’s plan and operation). President Mushtaque, General M A G Osmany, president’s Defense Adviser, and the young officers of August 15 showed great courage, prudence and restraint, even in the face of serious insolence and heightened provocations by Khaled and his cohorts.
General Mohammad Ataul Gani Osmany, the Chief of Mukti Bahini in 1971 and Defense Advisor to President Mushtaque Ahmed
Mercifully, the public life had not been disturbed. People continued their business as usual, mostly oblivious of what had been going between Khaled and Mushtaque. The most ominous lapse, however, was the total silence of the electronic media–radio and television–for almost three days, generating umpteen rumors and premonitions among the citizenry.
Why Khaled Did It
Khaled Mosharraf was one of Bangladesh’s brightest officers. He made glorious contributions during the liberation war in 1971. He was wounded during the closing days of the war. To say he was ambitious would not be enough. He was overambitious and could go to any lengths to fulfill his objectives.
(During the war, Khaled was the Commander of Number 2 Sector, responsible for Comilla, Dhaka and part of Noakhali districts. His tactical headquarters was based close to India’s eastern city of Agartala, the second most important center, after Kolkata, of the military and political activities of Bangladesh. Khaled used public relations to the fullest to augment his image by frequently inviting reporters to his headquarters. Few other commanders had the time, opportunity and interest to do so.
In July 1971, the Mukti Bahini Headquarters at Mujibnagar decided to form two conventional army brigades—Z Force, to be commanded by Ziaur Rahman, and S Force, to be commanded by K M Safiullah– with the nuclei composed of former military personnel with superior armaments. Khaled moved heaven and earth to have a third brigade, K Force, for himself. That speaks of his ambition and how haste he was in to reach his goal.)
Khaled perhaps could have reached any height he desired in the national hierarchy, had he waited for his turn. But he was impatient. He developed a personal rapport with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman through his younger brother Rashed Mosharraf, an Awami League Member of the Parliament. Reportedly, he even made an overture to Sheikh Mujib, to appoint him the army chief, superseding his seniors Ziaur Rahman, Safiullah and many others.
After the August 15, 1975 revolution, Khaled Mosharraf was the first senior officer to react positively. He came forward to help the young officers consolidate their success. He was a regular visitor to the Bangabhaban and tried to befriend the young Majors, and posed as their greatest supporter and well-wisher. Obviously, he eyed a leadership position within and outside the group, including perhaps the coveted post of the army chief, before it went to anyone else. He knew Safiullah’s days as the army chief were coming to an end. But the young officers knew better.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman could not digest the fact that an unknown Major Ziaur Rahman had the “audacity” to declare the Independence of Bangladesh on March 27, 1975 and stole the show. This was a task Mujib ought to have done but failed, which true to his characteristics, did not have the integrity to own. Instead, a few fake stories were released in the market to the effect that Mujib made the declaration before his arrest or surrender. None of those stories sustained because of serious inconsistencies. It has later been revealed that Mujib had no plan for an independent Bangladesh. He eyed the premiership in Islamabad while obtaining full autonomy for East Pakistan.
As a punishment to Zia, Mujib made his junior K M Safiullah the army chief. But Zia was too popular in the army to be sidelined. His peers and juniors both feared him and respected him for his honesty, discipline, assertiveness and effectiveness. Noting the consequent displeasure in the military hierarchy, a new post of Deputy Chief of Army Staff (DCAS) was created and Zia was accommodated there. Most people in the military knew that Safiullah was the titular head while the real command rested with Ziaur Rahman. He handled all matters relating to organization, administration, operation and technical. As a Staff Officer in one of the formations those days, I had seen the formation commanders would invariably endorse a copy of their letters meant for the Army Headquarters to the DCAS for immediate compliance. Ziaur Rahman became a legend, an icon but I never saw him showing it off. (Having served as one of his unit commanders in the war, I had maintained personal relationship with him even though our positions were miles apart.)
The August 15 officers thought it was time to recognize Zia’s seniority, competence and his contribution to the independence of Bangladesh. On their recommendation, Ziaur Rahman was made the new army chief. Air Vice Marshal AK Khandakar was replaced by Group Captain Tawab, an efficient officer, who had gone on self-retirement in Germany since 1971. He was promoted to Air Vice Marshal. The replaced officers–Safiullah and Khandakar–were sent abroad as ambassadors.
The Conspiratorial Putsch
Losing his bet with the August 15 officers, Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf devised his counter coup to satisfy his ambition and ego. Some senior officers felt dwarfed by the August 15 officers who achieved a spectacular success that the whole country welcomed. “Missing the boat,” those peeved officers wanted to do something to outdo the August 15, and they bonded with Khaled Mosharraf. Brigadier Rouf, Director-General of the Defence Forces, Colonel Malek, Director of Military Operations, Colonel Shafaat Jamil, Commander of Dhaka’s 46 Brigade, also joined in the conspiracy. Shafaat had four Infantry Battalions under his command: 1, 2, 4 and 22 Bengals. Lieutenant Colonels Matiur Rahman, Azizur Rahman, Aminul Haq and Abdul Ghaffar Hawladar commanded the four units respectively. Shafaat could not trust Artillery, Armour, Engineer and other service units of his Brigade. There was another reason for the desperation of these senior lots.
Khaled learned that he topped the list of about 30 officers to be purged soon on various grounds. Ziaur Rahman was not involved in the preparation of the list but was kept in picture. Considering possible repercussion in hostile quarters, he went slow on the cleansing matter pending further scrutiny and advised the president accordingly. Most officers who joined Khaled belonged to that list. For them, it was now or never. The result was the November 3, 1975 putsch. Zia became the first victim.
The conspirators failed to enlist the support of most military establishments inside and outside Dhaka. Men outside their orbit could not accept Khaled’s action aimed at negating the success of August 15. They also could not approve of the arrest of General Ziaur Rahman, the most popular officer at the time. Khaled relied on whatever loyal elements he could muster. He ordered 10 Bengal, another of his wartime K Force units, to move from Jessore to Dhaka. Upon arrival on November 5, it camped at the Parliament area at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar in the city. Thus, scope of his activity and support was limited. He thought if he could seize control of the Bangabhaban, the rest will fall in line. It didn’t work.
During the early hours of November 3, 1975, elements of 2, 4 and 22 Bengal quietly left the Dhaka cantonment and deployed themselves at a few strategic points that included the main thoroughfares connecting the capital with the rest of the country. Major Hafiz, Brigade Major of Shafaat’s 46 Brigade, played a key role in executing Khaled’s plan. (In end March 1971, Hafiz defected with parts of 1 Bengal that was deployed outside Jessore. In July, 1 Bengal re-grouped in Mymensingh and joined the Z Force. The unit was loyal to both Zia and Hafiz and was in a crossroad on November 3).1 Bengal was then guarding the Bangabhaban. Hafiz sent a message to the troops at Bangabhabon to leave the place. Captain Iqbal, Hafiz’s brother-in-law, who commanded the guard detachment in Bangabhaban, readily complied. But all the troops did not obey Hafiz or Iqbal. A platoon or so still remained inside and closely guarded the president and his team. Later, elements of 2 and 22 Bengal arrived, but were not allowed in and they positioned themselves outside the perimeter. Apparently, acknowledging the shortage of his troop strength, Khaled had strict instructions not to enter into any direct confrontation with opposing forces.
Hafiz also said to have arranged the house arrest of Ziaur Rahman with 1 Bengal soldiers. But he was a Zia loyalist too. Reportedly, he visited the Zia family regularly during those crucial days and ensured that no harm was done to anyone. Squadron Leader Liaquat made an air show over Dhaka with a MiG-19 in solidarity with Khaled. Flight Lieutenant Iqbal Rashid and Shamsher, made a few helicopter rounds over the Bangabhaban. However, no untoward incident was reported, other than generating various rumors in public minds.
August 15 Officers Leave Country
(This is from an officer involved in August 15 Action)
At one stage, Mushtaque offered to leave the country temporarily for Khaled and Majors to sort their business. Colonels Rashid, Farook and Dalim, who had since been promoted, decided to join the president. They feared that once Khaled took control, they would be made scapegoats and face the consequences. One by one, other officers and their families also joined the bandwagon. Finally, it was decided that only the officers would leave the country, the president needed not. Mushtaque opted out.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs frantically looked for a suitable country which would give temporary shelter to the officers. Finally, a positive response came from Thailand. A Bangladesh Biman Fokker Friendship plane was made ready to fly to Bangkok. Brigadier Mashhoor ul- Haque, the Military Secretary to the President, issued temporary Identity Cards to the officers and their family members, in absence of passports. Around 10 pm, the officers and their families were escorted to the airport. All the valuable possessions of the officers, including cash whoever had, were confiscated. Some officers had small firearms which were also taken. Lieutenant Colonel Aminul Haq, was in charge of the security clearance at the airport. “Why are you leaving?” he asked an officer with whom he fought the war together and were close. “You have no problem. It is Rashid and Farook, if any.” The officer was hesitant, but his batch mate and friend Major Mahbubur Rahman of the Military Intelligence, who was also at the airport, cautioned that if he stayed in the country, he could face trouble with Khaled and Co. The officer knew Mahbub was loyal to Khaled and had inside information. He took Mahbub’s advice and boarded the plane with wife and their 18-month old son.
Around midnight on November 3, the Fokker left Dhaka. Most officers had no idea where they headed. After a short time, it landed in Chittagong, said to be for refueling. Soldiers from local formation kept the plane cordoned. No one was allowed to leave the plane. Those inside were keeping their fingers crossed, some reciting Quranic verses assuming their doom was close. It was a scary syndrome!
“Through the window, I saw Brigadier Atiqur Rahman, the local area commander and Captain Wali, an officer with whom I fought the war,” said the officer of the group. “I knew them personally. Wali and his newly married wife were close to my family when we served together in Chittagong after the war. When he saw me and my wife, he waved to us with a thumb up, signaling everything was okay. I felt confident.” After about an hour, which seemed too long, the plane took off. It landed at Bangkok during the early hours of the morning on November 4. “It was the longest night,” recalled the officer. “We were still confined inside the plane which was parked in an isolated place away from the tarmac with no electric connection. As sun rose high, so did the Bangkok temperature and the children kept screaming in heat and discomfort. Around 10 am, we disembarked and went to the tarmac building. Another wait till late afternoon. Meanwhile, Bangladesh Embassy people came, brought food and drinks and milk for the children. Everyone was issued with a passport “Valid for Travel to the Kingdom of Thailand Only.” Temporary IDs were taken away.
After completion of immigration formalities, we were taken to a mid-level Victoria Hotel on Silom Road. We received one hundred Thai Baht, about $4, per family per day for our subsistence. On November 7, our allowance was raised to 100 Baht per person. That was a relief and we could save some money to buy a few essentials. Our passports were re-endorsed to ‘Valid for All Countries of the World, except Israel and South Africa.'”
Colonel Nazmul Huda (an Agartala Conspiracy Case officer, hence had a personal loyalty to Sheikh Mujib. A nice person otherwise) rushed in from Bogra to help Khaled. Upon arrival in Dhaka, his first query was the whereabouts of the August 15 officers. When he learned that they had left the country, he immediately contacted the Dhaka Airport Control Tower and asked them to bring the plane back to Dhaka. “It cannot be done, Sir,” replied the Air Controller. “The plane is outside our airspace.” A tower officer later confided to another officer of the group that, in reality, at that moment, the plane was readying to take off from Chittagong. They let it go. Colonel Huda then contacted Brigadier Atiq in Chittagong and received the same response.
After the August 15 officers left the country on the night of November 3, Khaled offered Mushtaque to continue as president while he ran the show. It did not work. “If I am to stay as president,” Mushtaque reportedly replied, “I will be the President, not your President.” Brigadier Rouf and Colonel Malek went to Bangabhabon on behalf of Khaled on November 4 and 5 and unsuccessfully tried to persuade the stubborn president to resign. Later, an infuriated Colonel Shafaat took a platoon of armed soldiers and stormed the president’s office and forced him to sign the resignation in presence of General Osmany on November 5. He said to have applied physical force on the elderly leaders. Shafaat, an honest and decorated freedom fighter, was politically close to Awami ideology, though he had a personal loyalty to Ziaur Rahman. He commanded 3 Bengal, one of the component units of Z Force during the war. On November 6, Chief Justice of Bangladesh, ASM Sayem, was made the new president. Mushtaque cabinet stood dissolved and the constitution suspended with the declaration of a renewed Martial Law under Khaled.
Khandakar Mushtaque Ahmed
Clearly, the November 3 conspiracy was aimed at undoing the August 15 revolution. Opportunists in the disgraced Awami League came forward to lend support to Khaled and his cohorts. Bangladesh Intelligence arrested a few agents, identified as Indians, in Dhaka and elsewhere while they were distributing leaflets in support of Khaled. Lawrence Lifschultz, a left leaning American journalist, asserts of an Indian hand in Khaled’s attempted takeover. “Before news of the jail house murders became public on November 5th,” Lifschultz writes in Bangladesh: The Unfinished Revolution, p-7 (Zed Press London, 1979) “the official Indian radio and strictly censored press greeted this second putsch with such unrestrained pleasure that few observers failed to suspect India’s covert hand.”
On November 4, Rashed Mosharraf, Khaled’s brother, and their mother led a small protest march against the “killing” of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to his residence at 32 Dhanmodi. They chanted slogans in favor of Khaled’s coup and friendship with India. Their action did not receive much public enthusiasm and it soon died. But it had big impact on Khaled’s coup. The news was flashed in most dailies the next day and the people took it granted that Khaled was an Indian agent. When Khaled learned about it, he called his mother. “You just dug my grave, Ma,” Khaled moaned. Khaled was not known to be pro-Indian.
An unfortunate incident happened on the night of November 3, 1975. A few armed soldiers entered the Dhaka Central Jail and killed four top leaders of Awami League who were in custody there. Former Vice President Syed Nazrul Islam, former Secretary General of Awami League and wartime Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad, former Minister Mansur Ali and former Minister Qamaruzzaman were gunned down at close range. The Jail Killing episode remained shrouded in mystery and no proper investigation to the incident was carried out for a long time. Exact time of the incident has not yet been established or revealed. After more than two decades, the Hasina administration held a trial, which convicted, among others, Mushtaque–by then dead– and most of the August 15 Coup leaders. Like the Mujib Murder case, the Jail Killing was also handled in a highly political light and there existed glaring discrepancies in the investigation. It ignored the fact that the officers were out of the scene, in fact out of the country, when the incident reported to have taken place. According to investigation report, the jail authority had received a call, supposedly from the office of the president, to allow the armed soldiers inside the jail. Most analysts point fingers at Mushtaque for the gruesome act.
Khaled Miscalculated the Impact of August 15
The young officers of August 15 could have easily taken on Khaled and his co-conspirators. They had the support of the troops, the majority of officers and the public at large. Most importantly, they had command of the formidable tanks and artillery guns. On the other hand, Khaled had virtually no troops with him. Infantry troops of Dhaka Brigade–1, 2, 4 and 22 Bengal–which Shafaat banked on, had divided loyalty (During the sepoy uprising on November 7, soldiers of these units also participated). President Mushtaque and General Osmany prevailed on the young officers. They did not want the onset of a civil war because of a “stupid action” of Khaled, nor did they want to see any renewed bloodshed in the country. August 15 officers were persuaded to leave the country for the time being, to be brought back after the dust settled. Most importantly, the Bangabhaban leaders did not want to present a pretext to India to intervene.
Khaled and his cronies miscalculated the victory and the impact of August 15. They forgot the public joy and celebration following the fall of Sheikh Mujib, and ignored how people from every walk of life came forward to welcome the August 15 revolution, hailing it as a Day of Deliverance, and how quickly the foreign governments recognized the follow-up administration under Mushtaque. They overlooked the peoples’ overall satisfaction at the tremendous success achieved by the new administration in such a short time.
Taher’s Vicious Game
As mentioned earlier, various groups came into play in the November 7 uprising.
A clandestine organization styled as Biplobi Soinik Sangstha (Revolutionary Soldiers’ Organization, BSS) was in the offing in some units of the Dhaka Cantonment. It was the brainchild of Colonel Abu Taher, a decorated freedom fighter, who lost a leg in the war. He was released on medical ground and made chief of the Sea Truck Division of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) at Narayanganj, east of Dhaka. A highly spirited officer, Taher was not to remain quiet or passive. He secretly joined the Marxist party of Jatiyo Samajtantric Dal (JSD) formed by ASM Abdur Rob and Major M A Jalil. A US trained commando, Taher was in charge of the underground militant faction of the party. Hasanul Haq Inu was his deputy. Through his links in the military, he tried to indoctrinate radical JSD ideology among a few chosen officers and some members in the ranks and files. Taher fought in Mymensingh area, in conjunction with Kader Siddiqui. His main target was the remnants of those freedom fighters who later formed the Rakkhi Bahini. The Rakkhi Bahini, dissolved in post-August 15, was absorbed in various units. Taher also had some followers in the Armour and Engineers. BSS took roots with the formation of a few secret cells. The main montro of its Twelve Demands was that Bangladesh would have a Biplobi Gono Bahin (Peoples’ Revolutionary Army-PRA), a class-less (officer-less) military and removal of the colonial era discriminatory practices, such as Batman system. PRA was the JSD’s version of Chinese Peoples’ Army. Secret outfits of the BSS were in their embryonic state.
JSD said to have its own plan to remove Sheikh Mujib and his BAKSAL. It was to be achieved through a nationwide popular uprising. Though it has started some propaganda works at various levels but the people were not yet ready for such radical programs. The August 15 surgical operation and its wide acceptance by the people threw them out of the plank. Some JSD leaders thought August 15 hijacked their objective.
Not to be given up, Colonel Taher quickly extended his support to the August 15 group and was seen hobnobbing around the officers. He was even seen at the Mushtaque’s cabinet swearing in at Bangabhaban. He insisted that Mujib’s dead body should not be buried anywhere in the country; it could turn out a BAKSALi rallying point in future. He suggested that the body be thrown in the Bay of Bengal. Mujib rests at his village home in Tungipara, Faridpur. Not finding much cordiality among the August 15 officers, Taher went to concentrate on his militant plan through the BSS. Khaled’s counter coup, and the general disapproval to it by the military as well as by the public presented a renewed opportunity to him.
Colonel Abu Taher
Taher came up with his 12-Point Demands, including removal of officer class. Lifschultz claims that Taher wanted to use the image of Ziaur Rahman for his uprising. His soldiers would accept only Zia. But the general was not to be sold. In a meeting of soldiers to present their demands to General Ziaur Rahman on November 8, the representative of the soldiers addressed him as Ziaur Rahman Saheb. Zia immediately and firmly corrected him saying, “I am General Ziaur Rahman.” The speaker got a jolt and corrected his statement. It needed guts to challenge the agitated troops in that situation. But Zia did. Later, he addressed the troops in another gathering and asked them to surrender their weapons before he could consider their demands. “Those who refuse,” Zia said in a stern tone, “will be arrested.” Nobody dared to challenge Ziaur Rahman. To help him in the task, Zia recalled Brigadier M A Manzur from New Delhi, where he was the Defense Adviser in the Bangladesh High Commission, and made him the Chief of the General Staff. The discipline restored in the ranks slowly.
Within the military, there existed another closely guarded loose organization which called itself Bangladesh Sena Parishod (BSP). Its facade seemed welfare oriented and said to have a few serving and retired officers in its fold. It also claimed that some senior officers, including Ziaur Rahman, were in the know of it. If any, it was also in its infancy. Taher’s Biplobi Songstha attempted to link up with the Senal Parishod and influence it with its radical ideas. Taher might have some converts but I doubt if it made any headway or created much impact, because the larger part of the military still remained disciplined and loyal to the command structure. These clandestine cells were weak and remained confined within a few non-fighting units like Signal, Ordnance and Supply. It may have infiltrated in the Engineer and Armour units in Dhaka too. Subsequent developments demonstrated that there existed some unity among troops of all units on the reform and welfare demands contained in the 12 Points. Colonel Shariful Haq Dalim, one of the August 15 leaders, claimed in his book Untold Facts that the August Coup was initiated by the BSP, that is Sena Parishod. I find it difficult to accept. An idea and operation to the magnitude, importance and precision of the August 15 could not have come from the brains a few non-descript officials. The architects of the August 15 plan, Khandakar Abdur Rashid and Farook Rahman, were never known to have any connection with the so called Sena Paarshod.
Khaled’s counter coup and arrest of Ziaur Rahman did not go well among the troops. Most officers also did not approve of it. Taking advantage of a general dissatisfaction among soldiers, elements of BSS and BPS contacted like-minded colleagues to initiate an uprising to undo Khaled’s putsch and to realize their 12-Point demands. The idea appealed to most troops and they decided to act at the midnight of November 6. Common soldiers were largely oblivious of the BSS or BSP, much less their ideologies but they seemed united on their demands that included ‘no officer class in the military.’ But they seemed to accept only one officer: General Ziaur Rahman. Once started, soldiers’ reaction was instantaneous and the Biplob spread like wild fire and fanned out to almost all units. In absence of a controlling body, it soon went out of control. Wild soldiers made the sky ablaze with small arms fires, as in a closely fought war. Their immediate objectives were Soldiers’ Empowerment, oust Khaled and reinstate Zia. General Zia was rescued by 2 Field men and reinstated in authority in their unit. Few of those artillery soldiers had any connection with the radical elements.
Taher Lost the Gamble
Colonel Taher was not ready for it. He had worked on a plan which did not mature yet. And, I doubt if he had any plan to rescue Zia even though Lifschultz claims so. The uncontrolled Sepoy-Jonota Biplop not only short-circuited his plan, the freedom of General Ziaur Rahman and popular acceptance made it complicated for him. Not to be undone so easily, Taher rushed to 2 Field Artillery and gathered around Zia claiming responsibility for his freedom. At that point of time, Zia himself was in the dark of the details and perhaps believed Taher. Zia and Taher were close during the war. Lifschultz claims they remained in touch even after Taher left the army. Zia soon came to know the facts and realized Taher’s vicious game. He slowly distanced himself from Taher, who sensed that the control was slipping out of his hand. To gain control of the situation, Taher proposed that Zia should go with him to the Radio Station to announce his authority. Colonels Moinul Hossain Chowdhury, Aminul Haq and a few other senior officers, who by then gathered around the chief, did not like the idea. They became suspicious of Taher’s Radio Station plan. It could be Zia’s final trip. They prevented Zia from leaving the cantonment and asked Radio equipment to be brought to him in 2 Field for recording of statement. It was so done.
Taher lost control of the Biplob and slipped back to square one. But his radical military groups went on a rampage and killed a few dozen officers, including a lady doctor. There were reports of sympathetic detonation in other cantonments including some fatalities.
Taher didn’t live long. He was sentenced and executed for the attempted kidnapping of Samar Sen, Indian High Commissioner. It was said to be his desperate ditch to seize a bargaining chip. He was also accused for the death of the army officers by infusing ultra-radical ideology, thereby encouraging ill-discipline in the military. Lifschultz blames General Zia for hanging a valiant but crippled freedom fighter, who saved his life. I do not agree. First, Taher was not behind Zia’s rescue though the Taher-ignited Sipahi Biplop helped it. Second, his trail and exemplary punishment was the demand of the military and the whole nation for infusing in the military and among the public ultra-radical JSD ideology for which the country was not prepared.
Zubayer’s Story (Khaled’s Fate)
My batch mate Major Zubayer Siddiqui (now a retired Brigadier) narrated two important incidents to me in 1979. He was a Captain in 2 Field Artillery on November 7, 1975 and was present with General Ziaur Rahman when he arrived in the unit after his rescue.
Shortly after arrival, Ziaur Rahman wanted to contact Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf, who at that moment was at Bangabhaban with some of his close aides. After great difficulty, Zubayer managed to get Khaled on the other end of the phone.
“Slamalaikum, Sir, I am Captain Zubayer from 2 Field,” Zubayer introduced himself. “Troops of our unit have rescued General Ziaur Rahman. He is free.”
“Don’t talk rubbish,” Khaled retorted. “I don’t believe it.”
“Believe me, Sir, the troops are not with you.”
“Shut up. How dare you talk to me like that?”
“General Zia is here, Sir. He would like to talk to you.”
There was a silence and then Zubayer heard the tone of disconnection. (This implies that Ziaur Rahman was rescued during the early part of the uprising, by the troops of 2 Field and not by the mainstream biplop. That was the reason for Khaled not to be aware of it immediately).
By that time, Khaled received the news of the Biplop from other sources and realized that his game was over. Convoys carrying the slogan chanting and arms firing sepoy-jonota were advancing towards Bangabhaban. Asking his officers to do whatever they felt appropriate, he decided to flee. Colonel Huda and Lieutenant Colonel Hyder joined him. (Hyder had nothing to do with the November 3 coup. He had been commanding an infantry unit in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. While on vacation in Dhaka, he came to see his wartime boss on November 5 and got entangled with him).
Lieutenant Colonel ATM Hyder
Soldiers of 10 Bengal, Khaled’s onetime loyal unit, intercepted Khaled’s fleeing vehicle at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar and brought the group to Lieutenant Colonel Nawazish, the Commanding Officer. Nawazish put them in a room under guard and immediately informed Zia at 2 Field. The general asked Nawazish to keep them with him until further order, and to ensure their safety. Reports were coming of indiscriminate killing of officers by unruly Biplobi Sena Sangstha (BSS) soldiers, ostensibly at the instance of Colonel Taher and his deputy Hasanul Haq Inu. Shortly afterwards, Nawazish called the general again to give the bad news. Some angry soldiers had killed Khaled and his group. Suddenly, Zia lost his voice. He grimaced and his face blackened.
“I am sorry, sir,” said the CO, “Situation was out of my hand.”
“I understand,” the Chief said after a pause. “Try to preserve the bodies.”
Captain Zubayer was present during this phone conversation.
According to retired Major General Fazlur Rahman, then a Captain with 10 Bengal, elements of Taher’s BSS infiltrated their unit too, mostly among the former Rakkhi Bahini soldiers.
Zubayer later learned from an eye witness how the gruesome act was done at 10 Bengal. He related it to me. A young subaltern, a former Rakkhi Bahini officer, was in charge of guarding the escaping group. But his anger against those officers for what they had done four days earlier overtook his responsibility and judgment. He decided to kill them. When he conveyed his intention to the group, Khaled took it coolly. Others were a little nervous.
“You want to kill us?” Khaled asked.
“What’s the doubt, you b……d? Get ready.”
“Can I smoke a cigarette?”
“I am ready,” said the Brigadier, after finishing his fag.
Tat…tat…tat. The bodies collapsed on the ground.
In his attempt to flee, Colonel Shafaat Jamil jumped over the southern wall of the Bangabhaban and broke one of his legs. After four days, he was found in a distressed state at a ferry ghat in Munshiganj. He was dismissed, later converted to retirement, from service. Military Intelligence kept tabs on him for some time.
What Hafiz had to Say
In August 1976 my father passed away and I rushed home on an emergency leave. One day, I happened to meet Major Hafiz, an old friend near Naya Palton in Dhaka. After losing his army job, he rejoined his former profession of soccer with the Mohammedan. We walked to his club and talked. He gave me some details what happened between November 2 to 7, 1975, much of which has been narrated above.
“I have seen how military biggies started falling in line,” said Hafiz. There was a Formation Commanders Conference on November 5, 1975. It was not much enthusiastic. But, Brigadier Shawkat Ali of Jessore Formation, slapped Khaled’s thighs next to him and said, “Buddy, I look after you, you look after me.” It was Shawkat’s tacit support to his buddy, Khaled. (The two were batchmates but Shawkat was senior by gradation. It had always been a sore point with Shawkat that his junior mate was in the limelight and held superior position since the war. Shawkat’s wartime contribution was limited.)
“The biggest blunder Brigadier Khaled did,” said Hafiz, “was not to spell out his objectives to the people. The media was kept in complete silence for almost three days. On my own initiative, I had drafted a statement for Khaled. After a few revisions by seniors, it was reduced to a confusing testimonial, which Khaled delivered on the air. It was too little too late, and had no impact whatsoever. By that time, damage had already been done.”
“Mushtaque let you down, and Khaled did the same to us,” Hafiz lamented at the end.
He also told me that Colonel Shafaat was in a bad shape and led a quiet life. “You can meet him,” he said, further adding, “He will be happy, if you do.”
I took the address. It was a small place in a by lane. Not an affluent locality.
It was evening. In a lungi and a half sleeve shirt, he welcomed me. I noticed he still limped.
“Sir, you shouldn’t have arrested General Zia,” I said in the midst of our discussion of the November 75 events. “Without it, you could have perhaps managed.”
“It was not arrest,” Shafaat defended their action. “For his own security, we kept him at his residence under the guard of his loyal 1 Bengal soldiers.”
“If so, Brigadier Khaled didn’t have to make himself the army chief immediately afterwards?”
He tried to explain that it was a temporary arrangement but also understood that I did not buy all that, and quickly changed the topic. “There was a wide disapproval in the army how the young officers in the Bangabhaban were running the show. How Rashid, Farook and Dalim were behaving.”
“It was not true that Majors were running the Bangabhaban. It was just rumor. Personally, I was not happy with many things, sir. With Mushtaque. With Rashid, Farook, Dalim and a few others. The unfortunate deaths. But that did not call for an action to undo the greater achievements of August 15.”
I knew he would not buy it either. We discussed less serious issues like his health, life and future plan. We talked about the situation in the army, in the county. He was vague, didn’t seem happy.
During my stay with Shafaat, two young beggars showed up at different times, one limping with a stick. He disposed them after dropping a few coins in their extended palms. “All from DGFI (Intelligence),” he whispered to me after they had gone. “Came to check on me.”
That meant an alert signal for me and I became apprehensive. I begged his leave soon afterwards.
“Only General Zia can bail the country out of this crisis,” was Shafaat’s parting remarks. He knew my closeness with the Chief and thought it would reach Zia’s ears. He might even have assumed that I came from the Intelligence. A few days later, Brigadier Nurul Islam (Shishu), Adjutant General, told me that the situation in the country was not good. “Leave as soon as possible,” he advised. My contact with Shafaat perhaps did not go unnoticed.
Sepoy-Jonota Biplop was essentially to reinstate the values of the August 15 revolution. A group of the biplobi sepoys rushed to the Bangabhaban to establish contact with the August 15 officers, but few of them knew that they were not in the country then. They found only President Khandakar Mushtaque Ahmed in confinement. They escorted him to their truck to share a victory procession. The Sepoys demanded that the August 15 leaders be brought back to the country immediately. General Zia was said to have assured the troops that he would do what was necessary. The non-return of the August 15 officers from abroad remained a sour issue, and caused unrest within a large part of the military ranks for many months. It was also true that a section of officers did not endorse the August 15 action and did not want those officers in the country. Farook managed to sneak into Bangladesh in 1976 and tried to make a showdown with his Lancer unit, now in Bogra. The standoff lasted a few days but was soon brought under control. Farook was packed out of the country.
Following story is a translated version from the original Bangla of an officer of the August 15, 1975 Coup.
(Brigadier) Khaled Mosharraf’s coup on November 3 was a limited one. Formations outside Dhaka knew little about it. On the evening of November 2, I (a Major) went to Comilla on a personal business and stayed the night at the Circuit House. Health Secretary T Ali and a few other officials of his Ministry were in Comilla in connection with the setting up of a Medical College there. They also stayed at the Circuit House. Early next (November 3) morning, T Ali woke me up from sleep and rattled, “Major Saab, something has happened in Dhaka.” He looked terribly disturbed. A helicopter came and took President Mushtaque away. Radio-TV is totally silent. Called Dhaka but nobody knows anything. Called local Member of Parliament Mr. Ashraf. He knows nothing. He will check and let me know.”
It was not in my wildest imagination that something like this could happen, though various rumors came to my ears. “Let me check, Ali Saheb,” I tried to comfort him by dismissing anything serious.
My job was with the Police Superintendent, on someone else’s behalf. He was the father-in-law of Major Khairul Anam, a co-freedom fighter and friend. The SP asked me to go to his house. Suddenly Mrs. Anam (I was not aware that she was in the house) appeared and expressed similar anxiety as T Ali. “Bhai,” she addressed me directly, “What is the problem? Not getting any news. TV, Radio dead.” As with T Ali, I tried to pacify her by undermining the news blackout. “Electronic media may have some technical issue,” I said, but did not sound convincing even to myself. Now I became worried too.
After completing my job with the SP, I quickly returned to the Circuit House. I knew Colonel Amjad Chowdhury, the local Commander and called him. Major Mujib, his Brigade Major, picked up the phone. He said that something had happened in Dhaka but he didn’t know the details. They were kept in “Stand To”, a readiness position. I felt he was not telling me the whole truth. I said that my family, including my sick father, were in Dhaka Cantonment, and I was worried about them. I wanted to know if the road to Dhaka was open. “No problem,” he assured. “We heard people are coming in and out of the Cantonment as usual. If you want to talk to the Commander, he is here.” “It’s okay, Major Mujib,” I replied. “I am coming to see him. Slamalaikum.”
I wondered if I should go to the Comilla Cantonment. Without knowing the details, I could be in trouble. Instead of going to the Commander, I first went to Major Amin, my batchmate, who was in charge of the Supply Depot. He could not reveal anything either. I then went to another friend Major Anwar, an FF and Commanding Officer of 18 Bengal. It was tea break time and I joined the officers. “You wait here,” said Major Anwar after the tea, “We have a Commander’s Meeting. I will be back soon.” I felt it might not be wise to stay there and left. Later had a quick lunch with Amin and left for Dhaka. By the time I crossed the last of the three ferries at Demra, Narayanganj, it was dark. On the Dhaka sided, the ferry ghat was full of soldiers. I told a soldier that I was a Major returning from vacation and asked what they doing there. “Sir, we are from 4 Bengal,” said the simple solider. “Something happened last night. We were told to guard this place.”
“Is there any officer here?”
“Captain Saab is in that office,” he showed me a room at a distance. I avoided the officer and quietly went to the nearby Adamjee Jute Mills, which was closed. By using a side gate, I went to their duty telephone operator. The guards and the operator could not refuse a Major. I called Bangabhaban, Cantonment, my residence and found out some facts. In my absence, my family was terrified. I calmed them down and told them I was coming. After great difficulty, I manage to get Major Huda at the Bangabhaban. Excitedly, he gave a short rundown in one breath, “Brigadier Khaled wants to run the show. We are leaving the country. Where is Bhabi? Everybody else is here.”
I said that my family was in the Cantonment. “Is Cantonment clear?” I asked.
“Yes. Come quickly, sir.”
I rushed to Bangabhaban. Everybody looked tired and dejected. I called my wife and asked her to be ready. My Jeep was coming to pick her up. I could not answer her many questions. My driver returned after an hour empty. He tried to enter the Cantonment from various entry points but failed. Captain Sharif Aziz, ADC to the President, offered to given a car from the Presidential pool. Sharif was my regimental officer in 11 Bengal in Jessore. I declined. That would draw attention. I decided to go myself, come what may. Besides, my parents and entire family were there. I needed to do something about them. At the main gate I just gave my name and said I was returning from vacation. They allowed me in. I requested my loyal civilian driver to take my parents and others to my village home in Chandpur the next day. (He did). I returned to Bangabhaban with my wife and 18-month old son. We came in whatever gear we were in. Nothing extra. My son had no shoes.
R Chowdhury is a former soldier and a decorated freedom fighter of the war of liberation of Bangladesh. Enjoys retired life in reading, writing and gardening. Writes on contemporary issues of Bangladesh and published three books so far.