It was around 11:30pm.
A Dodge car screeched to a halt before the ammunition store of the 2nd Field Artillery in the moonless night of August 14.
Major Rashid and Captain Jahangir got down from the car. Some 10 to 12 soldiers of the artillery and lancers were also with them. Major Rashid ordered the store guards to unlock the store.
The soldiers immediately swung into action, taking rifles, cannon rounds, Sten guns, submachine guns, light machine guns, pistols and revolvers out of the store in large numbers. Then the store was locked again on orders of the Major.
“You stay here. We might need more ammunition,” Rashid told Nayek Jamrul, who was in charge of the store that night.
Rashid then hurriedly left the place on his fateful mission that was to change the country’s destiny forever.
Events went ahead according to their well laid out plan. Around 4:00 in the morning, tanks rumbled down the empty roads to their destinations — one of the teams headed for Bangabandhu’s residence at House 677 of Road 32 in Dhanmondi.
Inside, everybody was still in deep sleep: President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his wife Begum Mujib, their sons Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russell, daughters-in-law, and his brother Sheikh Naser. They did not know that they would not live to see the next day.
A few tanks stopped at the entrance of Road 32 while a few others went in, coming to a stop at the gate of the residence.
Dawn had not broken yet. AFM Mohitul Islam, personal assistant of Bangabandhu, was on night duty at the residence. Suddenly the phone rang and he sleepily picked up the receiver.
“Serniabat’s [Bangabandhu’s brother-in-law Abdur Rab Serniabat] house is under attack!” Bangabandhu spoke in the phone from his first floor bedroom, “get the police control room immediately.”
Mohitul dialled the police but failed to get through. Just then Mujib came down to the office room and asked whether he could contact the police control room. Mohitul replied in the negative.
Mohitul finally got the line of the Ganobhaban exchange. Someone picked up the phone there but would not speak. Impatient, the president took the handset himself and spoke into it: “This is President Sheikh Mujib speaking.”
Right at that moment, a barrage of bullets shattered the windowpanes and hit the wall of the office room. The gunshots continued for a while. Bangabandhu’s assassination mission had begun.
As the gunfire abated for a moment, Bangabandhu managed to talk to Gen Shafiullah over phone and asked him to send force immediately as his house was under attack. Shafiullah replied: “I am doing something, can you get out of the house?”
House help Abdul brought Bangabandhu’s white punjabi and glasses from the first floor. Putting those on, the president came out on the veranda.
“There are shootings all around. What are you doing?” he shouted at the sentries. And then he went back to the upper floor.
Sheikh Kamal came down to the ground floor. He requested the army and police members to come with him.
At that moment three to four soldiers in khaki and black fatigues entered the premises. Mohitul recognised one of them as Huda, who shot Kamal dead.
The army men asked some soldiers to keep watch on Mohitul and others gathered near the gate and hurried to the first floor.
Havildar Md Quddus Sikder, who had arrived at the residence around 4:45am on his regular duty, saw the terrible events unfold. He was detained as soon as the soldiers entered inside the house.
Huda and Nur ordered him to follow them as they went up to the first floor along with their troops. As they walked up to the landing of the staircase, they saw Major Mohiuddin and his soldiers leading Bangabandhu down.
“What do you want?” Bangabandhu had asked.
Suddenly, Huda and Nur aimed their Sten guns at Bangabandhu and pressed the triggers. Burst fire from the sub machine guns hit him.
The president collapsed on the stairs. His body lay there with blood flowing from the landing down the stairs.
After killing Bangabandhu, the soldiers ran amok. Bangabandhu’s family members had taken shelter inside the bathroom of the main bedroom. But they were not spared.
The soldiers knocked on the door and fired a few rounds at it. Begum Mujib opened it and begged for the lives of her family.
The killers machine gunned Begum Mujib, Sheikh Jamal, his wife Rosy, and Kamal’s wife Sultana. The bodies fell in a heap.
Then they took Sheikh Naser and Sheikh Russell to the ground floor and made them stand in a line. Naser pleaded to live, but the killers took him into the bathroom attached to Mohitul’s office and shot him.
Naser begged for water, but a soldier shot him again.
Then the cruellest thing happened.
Trembling, Russell, Bangabandhu’s 10-year-old son, wailed to be taken to his mother. Clutching Mohitul he asked: “Bhaiya, will they kill me too?”
“No Bhaiya, they won’t kill you,” Mohitul had tried to console him.
One of the soldiers took Russel upstairs to the spot where his mother lay dead. Then came a burst of gun fire.
After a while, Major Farooq Rahman met Bazlul Huda at the gate and asked him something.
“All are finished,” Huda replied.
But things were not really finished. A new chapter started unfolding in the history of the just independent Bangladesh taking the country backward.
The killers installed Khandaker Mushtaque, the commerce minister of Bangabandhu’s government, as the president in the afternoon. Mushtaque, who was a part of the heinous conspiracy, happily grabbed the presidency paying no heed to the constitution that barred him from assuming the office.
He was grateful to the killers. In his address to the nation, Mushtaque called the coup “changeover as historic necessities” and portrayed the killers as “brightest son of the soil.”
Mushtaque declared martial law, making the constitution subservient to the martial law proclamations and orders.
In the morning of August 15, “Bangladesh Zindabad” slogan was heard from the radio for the first time after independence.
Pakistan was the first country that quickly recognised the government led by Mushtaque who dreamt of turning Bangladesh into an Islamic Republic like Pakistan.
The office of the chief of army staff was also hijacked only after a week as the regime installed by the killers replaced Gen Shafiullah by Gen Ziaur Rahman.
Mushtaque indemnified the killers from all charges of murders, conspiracy, execution of their plan and overthrow of the government by issuing an ordinance.
The politics of killing brought no peace and stability in the country. A battle for power began within the army. Two more coups took place in quick succession on November 3 and 7.
There was no bloodshed in the November 3 coup. But later that night, Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, M Mansur Ali and Quamaruzzaman, who had led the Mujibnagar government to liberate Bangladesh, were brutally murdered in the prison.
The November 7 counter coup led by the followers of JSD and Gen Zia succeeded in their mission. But again some war heroes –Gen Khaled Mosharraf, Colonel Najmul Huda and Lt Col ATM Haider– were murdered in the coup.
The November 3 coup brought an end to Mushtaque’s regime. But it forced the then chief justice Sayem to assume presidency along with the office of the chief martial law administrator violating the constitution.
Gen Zia gradually emerged as the most powerful man by occupying the office of the chief martial law administrator and finally the president in 1976 and 1977 respectively. He started ruling the country with brutality. A few hundred army officers and personnel were hung after secret trials for their alleged involvements in coups against the Zia regime.
The constitution, which was an outcome of the Liberation War, also came under brutal changes.
Being the chief martial law administrator, Justice Sayem began the process of amending the constitution through martial law proclamations. His successor Gen Zia continued to do so.
The changes made to the constitution in around four years after the August 15, 1975 changeover altered the fundamental principles of state policy, destroyed the secular character of the constitution and allowed politics based on religion.
The changes replaced Bangalee nationalism with Bangladeshi nationalism, and provided political right to anti-liberation forces including Jamaat-e-Islami and war criminals that resulted in an alarming growth of political parties and organisations based on religion.
The regime-led by Gen Zia began a policy of rehabilitation of war criminals. He made Shah Aziz, who opposed Bangladesh’ birth, prime minister of his government. BNP, the party he founded, has been following his policy. Anti-liberation Abdur Rahman Biswas was made president in 1991. Two more war criminals Matiur Rahman Nizami and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, chief and secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami were made ministers by Zia’s widow Khaleda Zia in her government in 2001.
Assassination of Zia, while in office in 1981, brought in another spell of martial law. Gen Ershad, the then army chief, grabbed state power overthrowing the then president Justice Abdus Sattar in March 1982. He continued to rule until his ouster in a popular movement in December 1990.
As Gen Zia kept following the footsteps of Mushtaque, he paid no heed to the demand for trial of the killers of Bangabandhu. He kept the 1975 Indemnity Ordinance in effect keeping justice at bay.
Gen Ershad who grabbed state power in March 1982 also followed his predecessors. He continued to rehabilitate war criminals in politics and kept ignoring the demand for trial of the killers of the father of the nation.
The situation changed only after Awami League returned to power in 1996. The AL-led government scrapped the Indemnity Ordinance of 1975 and opened the door for the trial of the killers of the father of the nation.
Justice came finally, but the nation still suffers from the chaotic political situation created after the assassination of Bangabandhu.