Had He Only Listened to the Betel Leaf Trader

It was sometime in June 1974. Some senior Bangladesh Army officers including major Khandaker Abdur Rashid and major Syed Faruque Rahman had gathered at the residence of the then deputy army chief major General Ziaur Rahman.  In the course of the three-hour long meeting, the three planned a coup to overthrow Bangladesh founder-President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from power.

Mujibur RahmanImage Source: clickittefaq.com

One of those present in the meeting doodled a plan on a piece of paper and carelessly threw it into a waste paper basket. The paper was later collected by a clerk who handed it over to a Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) agent in Dhaka. The bit of information found its way to the hands of Rameshwar Kao, founding chief, RAW. Convinced about a coup in the offing in Dhaka, Kao met the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The information, he told her, was received by a reliable but very sensitive source whose identity must never be disclosed.

With a nod from Indira, Kao flew to Dhaka under the guise of a betel leaf trader and met Mujib (as Mujibur was fondly called in Bangladesh) in December 1974. The meeting was arranged beforehand. He requested Mujib to take a short stroll with him in the Bangabhaban lawn.

When the two were alone, Kao warned him that RAW had definite information about an impending coup d’état. He even revealed the names of the officers involved.

The Bangladesh President dismissed the RAW chief’s concerns. They are like my children, and can’t harm me, he said.

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Kao didn’t argue. But he said his information was reliable and will give further details of the conspiracy soon.

After returning to New Delhi, Kao despatched one of his lieutenants to meet Mujib in March 1975, with exhaustive information of the coup. These included details of all the serving and dismissed military officers involved in the conspiracy.

Mujibur Rahman, again, wasn’t convinced.

But the plan to assassinate Mujibur Rahman was hatched much earlier. Faruque had clandestinely visited the US Embassy, Dhaka, in 1972 to discuss the procurement of arms to carry out the assassination. The Bangladesh government had no knowledge about it. A year later, Abdur Rashid, who was Faruque’s brother-in-law, visited the US Embassy for the same purpose. His official reason was that he was sent by Ziaur Rahman, then a brigadier, to purchase arms and logistics.

Faruque, on 15 May 1974, under orders from a senior army officer, sought US assistance through the US Embassy. The then US envoy, Davis Eugene Boster, forwarded Faruque’s message in a confidential document to Washington.

The plan for the assassination and coup, meanwhile, gathered steam in the Bangladesh Army headquarters at Dhaka Cantonment.

The then adjutant army general, colonel Moinul Hossain Chowdhury, had a meeting with Ziaur Rahman on the evening of 20 March 1975 on a different matter, at the latter’s official residence inside the cantonment. Moinul Hossain, while leaving, found Faruque waiting outside Ziaur’s home and seemingly asked him about the purpose of his visit. Faruque replied that it was a routine call-on. He had become very cautious regarding his rendezvous with Ziaur. He feared that a blunt appeal to oust Mujibur Rahman from power could get him arrested and land him in jail. He was unwilling to take risks.

Faruque met Ziaur and started discussing about corruption in Bangladesh, and at one stage, told the deputy army chief that the country needed a change.

Mujibur RahmanImage Source: Daily Pakistan

Ziaur replied in the affirmative and suggested they go out and talk.

Once outside, Faruque told Ziaur that being professionals, they are supposed to serve the country and not an individual. Everything, including the civilian government and the army, was infested with corruption and things cried for a change. The junior officers, Faruque said, have worked out a plan. He asked Zaiur to support them.

Faruque’s fears that Ziaur would react negatively was unfounded. On the contrary, he said that if the junior officers have anything in mind, they were welcome to carry it out, but he personally won’t get involved in it. The deputy chief army had his own reasons for anguish, with Mujibur Rahman appointing general KM Shafiullah as the army chief over Ziaur.

Faruque was quick to read Ziaur’s mind.

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Prabuddha Neogi

Foodie, lazy, bookworm, and internet junkie. All in that order. Loves to floor the accelerator. Mad about the Himalayas and its trekking trails. Forester in past life. An avid swimmer. Also an occasional writer and editor

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