• Monday, Sep 26, 2022
  • Last Update : 09:54 am

OP-ED: An old debate resurfaces

  • Published at 09:31 pm September 7th, 2021
Ziaur Rahman's memorial at Chandrima Udyan
Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Is there a problem with shifting Ziaur Rahman’s grave from the parliament area?

The debate of removing the grave of the late President Ziaur Rahman from the Sangsad Bhaban area has restarted, sparking arguments and counter-arguments. We should remember that about two years before the last parliamentary elections on December 30, 2018, there was a political debate about shifting the grave of the late president and founder of BNP General Ziaur Rahman from the Sangsad Bhaban area, which is situated at the heart of Dhaka.

Although the debate over whether Zia’s body was laid there or not is old, just after Zia died in 1981, the then AL MP and Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Asaduzzaman Khan raised the question about his dead body.

The old debate has restarted with a recent remark by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. On August 17, 2021, there were clashes between the BNP activists and police at Chandrima Udyan of Sher-e-Bangla Nagar in Dhaka. The police and the BNP blamed each other for the sudden crashes.

Police said BNP activists carried out a surprise attack on police, and BNP says police attacked without provocation. It is difficult to say whether the incident, which took place while paying homage to the newly elected leaders of the metropolitan BNP at Zia’s grave, was due to a party quarrel or provocation by the police.

Referring to the incident, on August 19, in a meeting marking National Mourning Day, the PM said: “Doesn’t the BNP know that there is no grave or body of Zia? They know it very well! If so, why do they stage the drama? Khaleda Zia is also aware of it.”

PM Hasina said whether Khaleda Zia or Tarique Rahman could claim that they saw Zia’s body in the box (which was brought from Chittagong) as a bullet-hit body can easily be recognized. “No one saw there was a body (of Zia) in the box.” 

However, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam said the initiative to remove Zia’s grave would be suicidal for the government, and the people of the country would not accept it. In a news conference on August 28, Mirza Fakhrul said that the witness who found Zia’s body in Chandrima was the late President HM Ershad. Zia’s body was carried on shoulders by the then army chief.

In the current debate on Ziaur Rahman’s grave, on August 29, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque said Zia’s grave would be removed from Chandrima Udyan. He did not stop, saying that there was nobody in Zia’s grave but added that he would apologize to the nation if there is proof (that Ziaur Rahman’s body is there).

The veteran Awami League leader said all unplanned installations, including Zia’s tomb in the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban area, should be removed. It is not clear what action will be taken in removing the speaker and deputy speaker houses from the area.

All in all, it seems that they are just talking about removing Zia’s grave. The government has not yet said where, when, and why the grave will be shifted. If the government has such a specific plan, its proper explanation needs to be made public. A grave-shifting is not religiously illegal. The late Hazrat Mufti Faizullah once said that building a house on a grave seven years after its burial is permissible. I am not an expert on this subject; Islamic scholars can analyze it and give fatwas. 

However, history shows that in 1938, the graves of two companions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) near the Euphrates River were also removed. The bodies of both the companions were intact. Even the cloth with which both the companions were buried did not get dirty. If it is possible to move the graves of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh), where is the difficulty in moving the grave of General Zia? Even if Zia’s body is in the grave. It’s possible. If Zia’s grave is removed, the question may arise about where he will be buried a second time. In that case, it is necessary to take the opinion of his family.

In 1960, General Ayub Khan, the president of Pakistan, saw the growing sense of isolation in the minds of the people of Bangladesh and decided to make the second capital of Pakistan in East Pakistan, which was later renamed as Sher-e-Bangla Nagar. In his book, Pakistan’s General Rao Farman Ali wrote that Ayub Khan had told him: “I built the beautiful parliament building so that Bengalis would remember me.” I do not know how many Bangalis can remember Ayub, but he gave the Bangalis one of the largest parliament buildings of the world with 200 acres of land, which is now known to many people.

Bangladesh became an independent country when the construction of the parliament building was almost finished. Bangabandhu completed the unfinished work of the parliament building, and it was launched in 1982 during Ershad’s regime. In the original design, there was supposed to be a secretariat at Chandrima Udyan -- it is logical to have a secretariat next to the parliament. 

Zia’s grave would create an obstacle if the secretariat were to be built at Chandrima Udyan; therefore, removing the grave of Zia would be inevitable and necessary. So, the decision should come as a political resolution from the parliament through conclusive discussions, participated in by all the parliamentarians.

Anis Alamgir is a journalist and columnist. Contact: [email protected].

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