Acclaimed academic Professor Shams Rahman has lashed out at Bangladesh's first military dictator Ziaur Rahman, the founder of BNP, for "staging a farcical national vote of confidence in 1977 only to solidify his hold on to state power after running the country for 18 months under strict martial law.
Raising questions about the legitimacy centring the birth of Bangladesh's Nationalist Party, Professor Shams, who teaches at the College of Business and Law at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, divulged that the party was founded with Zia at the helm in barracks, bearing tell-tale hallmarks of Pakistan's repressive regime that unleashed genocide in 1971.
"That BNP still remains in a denial mode and continues to glorify the mastermind of those darkest episodes as its founder, even when the nation is celebrating fifty years of independence clearly puts a big question mark over the party's commitment to the constitution," he added while addressing a virtual discussion on Monday night.
In reference to the "notorious national referendum" that Zia oversaw back in 1977, Professor Shams said, "that shameful step served a big blow to the spirit of the country's liberation war, tore down the country's constitution and offered an olive branch for anti-liberation forces -- radical elements."
The referendum was marred by a very low turnout, yet the results were manipulated showing around 90% turnout with many centres seeing the number of votes in favour of Zia surpassing the total number of voters registered with those centres, recollected Professor Shams.
Within years of the country's liberation, the father of the nation was assassinated with most of his family members, but in the aftermath, Zia rose to the rank of president and rehabilitated the killers of Bangabandhu -- trampling the secular credentials of the constitution earned at the cost of an ocean of blood, revealed the Melbourne based professor at a webinar held online yesterday.
It is sheer irony that BNP still calls the referendum "a great exercise of the democratic franchise," said Ajoy Dasgupta, a veteran journalist and researcher, addressing the webinar.
Dasgupta, an Ekushey Padak awardee, said the military rulers who had taken over and ruled Bangladesh for the next 15 years legitimized the pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami, and introduced constitutional amendments that undermined the country's secular democratic polity, and finally declared Islam as the state religion of Bangladesh.
He said some parties like BNP and its ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, have tried to restore the "Pakistan military-fundamentalist model of radical Islam" but failed.