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BBC News
David Chazan reports from Dhaka
 real 56k

Sunday, 8 November, 1998, 14:52 GMT
Analysis: The controversy never dies
Bangladesh scene
Bangladesh is divided over Sheikh Mujib
By South Asia Regional Analyst Alastair Lawson

Sheikh Mujib's place in the history of Bangladesh is hotly disputed.

To some extent the debate is split down party lines. His admirers in the Awami League Government - led by his daughter Sheikh Hasina - see him as the country's founding father.

Sheik Hasina
Supporters led by Sheikh Hasina
They venerate him as the leading force behind the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971.

This view is at odds with the opinions of Sheikh Mujib's detractors - many of them in the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party - who see him as an autocrat who paved the way for the country to succumb to military rule.

Despite the conflicting views, there is little doubt that at the height of his power in the early 1970s, he dominated Bangladeshi politics.

Drive for independence

Sheikh Mujib devoted the early part of his political career to the independence of Bangladesh, which before 1971 was known as East Pakistan.

It and West Pakistan were made into one country by the British at the time of partition because of their common Muslim religion.

That was about the only link they shared: The two parts of the country were separated by India and did not have the same language or the same culture.

Although he was repeatedly imprisoned by the Pakistani authorities, Sheik Mujib's high profile stance against Islamabad made him immensely popular in his native Bengal.

The extent of that popularity was graphically seen in elections of 1971, when his Awami League party won such huge support in the east that it was a position to form a government for the whole of Pakistan.

Politicians in West Pakistan viewed such a development with trepidation and sent troops to East Pakistan to stifle the independence movement and arrest him.

War begins

The Bangladeshi war of independence began, which finally led to the Indian invasion of East Pakistan and the subsequent defeat of the Pakistani army.

Throughout this war, Sheikh Mujib had been imprisoned in West Pakistan.

He returned to Bangladesh in 1972 as its prime minister to receive a tumultuous welcome.

He found a country ravaged by war, economic chaos and with the threat of starvation hanging over millions.

His popularity lasted during his early time in power despite the difficult circumstances facing the country, and despite allegations of inefficiency and corruption within his administration.

Presidential rule

Shortly before his death, he scrapped the country's prime ministerial system with a one-party presidential system.

His critics said this strategy typified his authoritarian tendencies, which by this time had extended to curtailing the freedom of the press.

The differences of opinion over Sheikh Mujib are reflected in the different stances of the country's two main political parties towards the trial.

The Awami League of Sheikh Hasina has been united in bringing the perpetrators of the crime to court, but elements within the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party are opposed to the case.

They say other political murders in Bangladesh have been ignored by the authorities.

More than 20 years after his death, Bangladesh is still polarised over the role of Sheikh Mujib in the country's history.

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