IT was not entirely unexpected. Yet the unscheduled special programme on state-run television prominently featuring Sheikh Mujibur Rahman only hours after his daughter, Sheikh Hasina, was sworn in as Bangladesh's new prime minister caused millions of Bangladeshis to rub their eyes in collective disbelief. For, the programme not only marked the formal lifting of the official ban on any mention of Bangabandhu (as Mujibur is popularly called) on TV, it also set in motion the rehabilitation of the charismatic leader who led Bangladesh to independence in a civil war 25 years ago.
For 21 years, since the Awami League government was toppled and Sheikh Mujib gunned down along with more than a dozen of his family members in a military coup, successive regimes have tried to depict him as a monster and at the same time literally obliterate his name from history books. To achieve that, they changed everything the Sheikh stood for. Secularism was removed from the Constitution as one of the four state principles, turning Bangladesh into an Islamic state, while Mujib's killers were given amnesty and rewarded with plum diplomatic jobs. And to permanently deny his crucial role in the liberation war, history books at schools have been distorted.
Within two weeks of its coming to power, the Awami League Government has decreed that important government offices will only hang the pictures of Bangabandhu. It also declared August 15—the day Sheikh Mujib was assassinated in 1975—as a national day of mourning, terminated the jobs of the assassins and constituted a high-powered committee headed by noted historian Salahuddin Ahmed to correct the distortions in history textbooks.
One incident that especially provoked condemnation and street protests by Awami supporters was the recent removal of Sheikh Mujib's picture from...