wikileas logoThis cable was sent by the US envoy in Dhaka Boster on May 3, 1976 describing what Gen Ziaur Rahman told a May Day rally at Suhrawardy Udyan.

In a hastily scheduled rally on May Day, General Ziaur Rahman gave a rousing patriotic speech calling once more for unity and discipline to safeguard the sovereignty of Bangladesh and vowing that all Bangladeshis would defend the country against aggression. Speaking before an estimated crowd of 50,000 at the Suhrawardy Udyan, General Zia made no new pronouncements, but his tone was more militant and his appeal to the emotions far greater than in past speeches.

Although India was obviously the target of references to possible aggression, continued border attacks and threats to the independence of Bangladesh, General Zia made no specific accusations. On Farakka, he limited his remarks to repeating that Bangladesh must get its rightful share of Ganges waters and to expressing the hope that solution to Farakka would be found soon. In an obvious appeal to Islamicists, both at home and abroad, General Zia said that because of cultural and religious ties, Bangladesh would further strengthen relations with all Muslim countries.

1. In his first appearance at a mass public rally since coming to power in November as DCMLA (Deputy Chief Martial Law Administrator), General Ziaur Rahman at Suhrawardy Udyan on May Day devoted most of his speech to enumerating the dangers facing the country and stressing the need for self reliance and hard work to solve the countries economic problems and ensure its independence.

In now familiar pattern, he reviewed the depredations visited on the country by the regime of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; attacked miscreants (read Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal) who in the name of revolution were killing, looting, and raping; condemned the misguided youth and miscreants who were operating from across the border; and asked the people to root out the smugglers who were out to destroy the nation.

On the economic front, Zia said the government had curbed inflation and revived the economy; he called for hard work and increased food and industrial production.

In some obligatory remarks regarding May Day, Zia praised the workers and promised that government would try to increase wages and would consider amending its labor policy (which restricts union activity).

2. With his emphasis upon the Bangladesh-in-danger” theme, General Zia obviously had reference to India. Although he stated that Bangladesh wanted friendly relations with all its neighbors, Zia specifically referred to the miscreants who crossed the border for training and who return to Bangladesh to loot villages. He accused them of wanting to “bring independence with foreign help” and of wanting to set up a government-in-exile. He also said that attacks on the border area were continuing.

On Farakka, Zia said that while the water is being diverted “only to improve the navigation” of Calcutta, it was a life and death problem for one third of the population of Bangladesh and thus Bangladesh must get its rightful share of Ganges water. Claiming that the “whole world” supports Bangladesh’s demand and noting the presence of the Indian technical team in Dacca, Zia expressed the hope that the solution to the Farakka problems would be found in the future.

3. In what appeared to be a reply to Muslim critics of Bangladesh’s continued secular status, General Zia said “secularism is not anti-religion” and said that the government would guarantee the religious freedoms of all the people. In an apparent attempt to blame the bad name of secularism on the practices of Mujib’s regime, Zia went so far as to say that for four years the people — Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists — “could not practice their religions.” Zia followed his defense of secularism, however, with a promise that the government would further strengthen relations with all Muslim countries of the world because of religious, historical and cultural ties.

4. Comment. That General Zia would address the May Day rally was only announced the evening before, which led to speculation that he might have a major announcement to make. This speculation was fueled by the near simultaneous resignation of DCMLA and air force chief MG Tawab. General Zia did not live up to that expectation but his speech was widely noted for its style as much as for its contents.

In all his previous televised speeches to the country and in appearances at small meetings, General Zia has been a model of restrained, even plodding, delivery. At the Suhrawardy Udyan, he pulled out all the stops, adopting the traditional rhetorical style and gestures of a Bangalee politician. Political activity in Bangladesh remains suspended, but General Zia gave every appearance of a man preparing to toss his hat in the ring.