Shabbir Ahmed

A new biography of Mrs. Khaleda Zia titled, “Begum Khaleda Zia: Her Life, Her Story” was written by a journalist named Mr. Mahfuz Ullah. In the unveiling ceremony of the book, a few notables commented on the sacrifices and achievements of Mrs. Zia. I watched and read comments of some of these remarkable individuals, who attributed her political success to her great talent and skills. Especially, the comments made by Dr. Asif Nazrul were overwhelming. He gave an inordinate amount of credits to Mrs. Zia for her great abilities to transform the sympathy that she received as a widow to respect in a short time (The Daily Star; November 19, 2018). Let’s first examine how Mrs. Zia had the opportunity to gain so much sympathy from the public after the tragic killing of her husband Gen. Ziaur Rahman by his fellow army men. At the time when Mrs. Zia became a widow, her party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was at the helm of power in Bangladesh. Two powerful government-controlled media outlets (Bangladesh Television and Radio) incessantly transmitted programs with tributes to the departed Lieutenant General. The two government-run media relentlessly broadcasted fabricated stories on how penniless Gen. Zia was despite his stature initially as the deputy chief of army and later as the President of Bangladesh. At one point, in a television program, the narrator recounted how Gen. Zia and his sons were clad in overused and wrinkled shirts and pants. It was altogether a ridiculous claim because Gen. Zia used to be always well dressed with nice Safari Suit and Ray-Ban sun-glass.

All the deceptive propaganda programs were transmitted to generate public sympathy and support for Gen. Zia’s family and for his party BNP that he left behind. The televised sympathy generating propaganda programs served his family and adherents well. Back then, there were no privately-owned television channel and radio broadcasting systems in Bangladesh. Many people including one of my family members shed tears after watching the fabricated propaganda stories about the poor living conditions of the departed President Gen. Zia. Mrs. Khaleda Zia was adept in garnering the support and capitalizing the sympathy that she received. She not only gained power in politics but also acquired government properties and helped generate enormous amount of wealth for her sons through different means. Dr. Asif Nazrul mentioned how Mrs. Zia transformed public sympathy to respect but he missed mentioning how adept she was to transform the public sympathy to fortune.

Professor Laila Islam of Dhaka University emphasized and applauded Mrs. Zia’s role in anti-autocratic movement against Gen. Ershad (Dhaka Tribune, November 18, 2018). It is relevant to mention that Gen. Ershad served as a trusted Deputy Chief Martial Law Administrator under the Chief Martial Law Administrator Gen. Ziaur Rahman in the successive years after the changeover in 1975. Apparently, Mrs. Zia took part in the movement against the Chief Martial Law Administrator and President Gen. Ershad who took over power with a short break after the death of Gen. Zia. The question lies about her spurious role that she played during that movement against Gen. Ershad. At that time, her supporters and admirers portrayed her as an uncompromising leader against the autocratic rule of Gen. Ershad. On the one hand she fought against the rule of Gen. Ershad but on the other hand she received a fully-built luxurious house as a gift from the Government of Gen. Ershad. Here again, Mrs. Zia was successfully able to transform her movement against Gen. Ershad to fortune. Does Dr. Laila Islam know about the gains of Mrs. Zia from the government under Gen. Ershad in the midst of her uncompromising movement against him?

Another outstanding individual named Mr. Nurul Kabir, editor of New Age newspaper spoke in a more equitable fashion. While evaluating the book, Mr. Kabir indicated some of the deficiencies in Mrs. Khaleda Zia’s ability in decision making as a former prime minister. Especially, his remarks on the parallel government formed by Mr. Taique Rahman depicted her carelessness while running the affairs of the country as the prime minister. During the speech, Mr. Kabir praised about her rise to power through a democratic process unlike Gen. Ershad. I wish Mr. Kabir also compared her rise with Gen. Zia, who became the president of Bangladesh by force. According to Mr. Kabir, the inherent strength of Mrs. Khaleda Zia lies with the wariness and dislike that the Indian ruling class has about her. As a newspaper editor, I am sure Mr. Kabir is fully aware of ten truckload arms and ammunition that were in the process of smuggling through Bangladesh during Mrs. Zia’s rule to create unrest and perpetuate terrorist acts in India. This smuggling was aided by the state minister for home affairs Mr. Babar, the industry minister Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami (a Jamaat-I-Islami leader and a war criminal), and many other high-ranking officials. Does Mr. Kabir know about Mrs. Zia’s role and steps she took after the failed episode of smuggling of ten truckload arms and ammunition through Bangladesh?

It is inconceivable that a group of people in Bangladesh are trying heart and soul to elevate Mrs. Khaleda Zia’s stature to a level that only a highly successful politician can deserve. Now that a new biography has been written and a group of individuals are hell-bent on giving her so much credits, I think it is time for a scholar in Bangladesh to write another book through a thorough investigation of the political career of Mrs. Khaleda Zia. The focus should be on the anecdotes associated with many controversial events centering her political career. Some of the controversial events include (but not limited to): (i) her real date of birth, (ii) her condition in 1971, (iii) causes of her vindictiveness in return to Bangabandhu’s blessings that she received from him, (iv) her role in the growth of Jamaat-I-Islami and increase in terrorism as a consequence, (v) her permission to establish a parallel Howa-Bhaban based government by her son, (vi) her steps as a prime minister after the capture of illegal arms smuggled through Bangladesh to create unrest in India, and (vii) her role before and after the grenade attack on the current prime minister on August 21, 2004. If she was in the thick of many illegal and violent acts, it is crucial to uncover the facts for the political stability in Bangladesh. All the incidents should be compiled in the proposed book to let people know whether Mrs. Khaleda Zia displayed the comportment of a genuine politician.