Since that macabre, dark morning in 1975, 3 November every year has dawned in heartbreak for the people of Bangladesh. Every year the day is a painful reminder of the brutalities committed in 1975, of the deep and vast conspiracy which went into undermining the national political ethos.
The assassination of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, with nearly his entire family, earlier in August 1975 had been a rude shock that left the nation in a state of paralysis. The conspirators had done their homework. They were meticulous in their plans of seizing the state through neutralizing the leadership which survived Bangabandhu's killing.
Bangabandhu's murder put paid to the principles that had underpinned the War of Liberation. In that summer of cumulative pain, a group of young military officers, in connivance with a band of political predators symbolised by the likes of Khondokar Moshtaque Ahmed, pushed the country further down the path to disaster. It was in November of the year that matters came to a head, for reasons inextricably linked to the murders of August.
In the days following Bangabandhu's assassination, the assassin-officers launched the next phase of their operations through taking into custody the four principal leaders of the 1971 Mujibnagar government-in-exile. Tajuddin Ahmad, Syed Nazrul Islam, M. Mansoor Ali and A.H.M. Quamruzzaman, pivotal figures in prosecuting the guerrilla war against Pakistani occupation, were seized by the soldiers and lodged in Dhaka's central jail. Moshtaque and his murder squad understood perfectly well that these were the leaders who, if left free, would be able to organize opposition to the extra-constitutional seizure of power in August 1975 and banish them into the woods.
Tajuddin Ahmad's parting remarks to his wife, as he was being led away, remain a poignant expression of the despair that had taken hold of the country. When Zohra Tajuddin asked him how long he expected to be in prison, he turned toward her on the landing of his Satmasjid Road residence and said, "Take it as forever." His words would turn out to be prescient.
In the weeks preceding November 1975, rumours had begun to circulate about a power struggle getting underway at Bangabhaban and in the cantonment. Senior officers in the army, among whom were Brigadier Khaled Musharraf, Colonel Shafaat Jamil, Colonel Najmul Huda and Major ATM Haider, all heroes of the 1971 war, were determined that the chain of command broken by the assassin majors and colonels through the coup in August needed to be restored. The assassins of course remained ensconced inside the safe confines of the presidential palace, along with Khondokar Moshtaque.
The chief of army staff, Major General Ziaur Rahman, having been unable to exercise authority over the assassin officers, was himself under threat of removal from his position. By the evening of 2 November, it was obvious that changes of a major nature had begun to take shape. By the next day, 3 November, it became fairly clear that Musharraf had gained the upper hand and was putting pressure on Moshtaque to give up the presidency. What exactly was being done about the majors and colonels was not at that stage very clear.
And yet Brigadier Musharraf would soon be under siege. Even as his enemies went into planning strategy against him, he was found spending a long stretch of time trying to negotiate a deal at Bangabhaban that would have Moshtaque and his team leave office quietly. Musharraf, one of the most brilliant of tacticians in the 1971 war, was suddenly observed to be oblivious to conditions outside Dhaka, especially in places like Joydevpur and Comilla where forces arrayed against him were spreading the lie that he was a foreign agent and therefore leading the country to a new phase of servitude.
As Musharraf remained busy in the presidential palace and as Col. Taher went around developing his own plans of liquidating the Musharraf group through a reversal of the new conditions that had arisen, a macabre plan of murder was given shape and then executed.
In the early minutes of 3 November, Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, M. Mansoorr Ali and A.H.M. Quamruzzaman were gunned down in a cell inside Dhaka central jail by the very men who had in August murdered Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family. Khaled Musharraf and his men clearly had little idea of the tragedy that had already occurred at the Dhaka jail. A mere few hours after the murders had been committed, all the majors and colonels involved in the coup d'etat of 15 August 1975 (and the killings of 3 November 1975), were allowed to fly off to Bangkok with their families.
Musharraf had triumphed, but he remained as yet unaware of the price he had paid to ascend to the top. On the morning of 4 November, a newly freed from jail Korban Ali, minister for information in Bangabandhu's government, was spotted telling a crowd outside his Wari home of the horrific murders just hours earlier.
The entire national leadership that had shaped the edifice of Bengali nationalism through the 1960s and led the land and the people to sovereign statehood in 1971 was gone. Bloody treason, as Shakespeare would put it so aptly, reigned supreme.
A long night of fear, of anti-history, crowded the daylight out of our collective existence.