Before his assassination, there was an attempt on Mujib’s life

Updated - November 16, 2021 08:15 pm IST

Published - April 13, 2013 03:54 am IST - Chennai:

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

An attempt was made to kill Bangladesh President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman a few months before he was assassinated on August 15, 1975.

The bid on Mujib’s life has come to light in a U.S Embassy cable from Dhaka to Washington, part of the Kissinger cables obtained and recently published by WikiLeaks.

According to the cable, the Bangladeshi press was under government orders not to report it.

“We have received two reports that President Mujibur Rahman was target of assassination attempt on evening of May 21,” the cable, sent on May 23, 1975, ( >1975dacca02535_b, confidential ) noted.

“Attempt occurred as Mujib was returning to his residence after visiting new tv station on outskirts of Dacca.”

The “primary source” of the information was the embassy’s “Bangalee political assistant who says he was told by deputy superintendent of police assigned to President’s security unit. Other is journalist who told information officer Alpern. Both accounts say grenade used. According [to] pressman’s report, Mujib escaped uninjured but two unidentified persons were injured. He adds press given strict instructions by press information department to suppress story.”

Relations between the U.S and Mujib were strained because of the Nixon administration’s close ties to Pakistan generally, and during the 1971 War in which East Pakistan broke away to form Bangladesh. Cables sent after the assassination and military coup reflect American concerns about the direction in which Bangladesh was headed.

In one cable ( >1975dacca03964_b, confidential ), the U.S Embassy reported that there was a “calm acceptance, and perhaps some sense of relief” at his death, though “no particular jubilation.”

The cable went on to say: “The relative ease with which power has been transferred suggests above all the degree to which Mujib and the Bangalees had become alienated from one another, the Bangalees from Mujib because of his failure to meet their aspirations and his apparent desire to hold power largely for personal agrandizement and dynastic reasons. And Mujib from the Banglaees as he grew more isolated from objective counsels and began to suffer the classic paranoia of the despot.”

The new government was “still a collection of overly familiar figures identified with the poor administration of post-liberation Bangladesh,” the cable observed, but seemed to think it would offer more “moderation,” and would have more “balance” in its relations with the Cold War powers.

“The quickening tempo of Sheikh Mujib’s efforts since early June to insure his stranglehold on power, together with the growing influence of his nephew Sheikh Moni, doubtless made the coup plotters conclude that no further delays in taking action was possible. That India’s Independence Day was chosen may have been merely incidental, but we note the coincidence,” the cable said.

The U.S. was concerned if India would interfere in Bangladesh again. Its embassy in New Delhi reported back ( >1975newde11059_b, confidential ) comments of Indian Army officers: “We have not seen or heard anything that would indicate that the Indian army eastern command has taken any special measures in connection with the Bangladesh coup, although our ability to monitor such developments is of course limited. For what it may be worth, both General Jacobs [Eastern Army Commander] and his immediate deputy, Major General Hari Shengel, were at [West Bengal] Governor [A.L] Dias’ Independence Day reception yesterday, along with what appeared to be all the rest of the senior officers of the eastern command. I spoke to both Jacobs and Shengel and they seemed relaxed and unconcerned. Neither mentioned the events in Bangladesh.”

India, of course, had reservations over the coup. This is made clear in a conversation ( 1975dacca11063_b, confidential ), between a U.S. Embassy official and a Ministry of External Affairs functionary, who expressed concern over the new Bangladesh government’s foreign policy.

The same cable says that “at an August 15 dinner for Ambassador, Foreign Secretary Kewal Singh and [principal secretary to Prime Minister, P.N] Dhar seemed relaxed about Bangladesh developments. They limited their comments to joking about how “all the old crowd” was coming back into office.”

Just as Bangladesh told its media to keep mum on the assassination bid, India also asked its media to be silent after the coup. “A press source told us August 15 that GoI censors have prohibited editorial comment on Bangladesh developments.”

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