Dhaka: In an act that stretches the limits of political rivalry, Bangladesh opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia chooses to celebrate her `birthday` on August 15, which is the same day on which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had lost almost her whole family 38 years ago in a bloody military coup.
According to the BBC, Begum Khaleda Zia has deliberately chosen to celebrate her birthday on a day that her arch political rival and incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the rest of Bangladesh observes the death anniversary of her father and Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and mourns the death of other members of her family. Adding salt to this grief, no government documents indicate Begum Khaleda Zia`s date of birth as August 15.
This August 15, while Sheikh Hasina and her family prayed at the mausoleum of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Begum Khaleda Zia and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) cut a giant 69-pound cake at the BNP`s new office in the Paltan area of Dhaka to celebrate her 69th birthday. In all, BNP leaders, supporters and activists presented and cut seven cakes, each weighing 69 pounds.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina`s son, Sajib Wajed Joy, described Begum Zia`s birthday celebration on a national day of mourning as insensitive.
Joy, in a Facebook post, asked "What kind of a woman is she? How can she and they (BNP) celebrate her birthday on this day (August 15), especially, when it not her actual date of birth?"
None of Begum Zia`s government issued identification cards indicate her birthday as August 15.
Begum Zia`s marriage certificate indicates her birth date as September 5, 1945. Her first passport says that she was born on August 19, 1945, while her admit card for taking part in a matriculation examination shows her date of birth as August 09, 1945.
Leaders of the ruling Awami League have criticised Begum Zia, saying that she has selected August 15 to celebrate her birthday to highlight the achievement of wiping out Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and his family on this same day in 1975.
The Awami League leadership has also accused Begum Zia`s late husband, General Zia-ur-Rehman of being the brains behind the military coup that led to the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and other members of his family at their Dhanmondi residence in Dhaka.
They claim that Zia-ur-Rehman was a major in the then Pakistan Army and later was a commander in the Mukti Bahini military outfit during the 1971 Liberation War. After Mujib`s assassination, Zia-ur-Rehman took charge of the government and was Bangladesh`s first military dictator. He ruled the country till his assassination by a group of disgruntled military officers and soldiers in 1980.
The political rivalry between the two parties run deeps and strong, and August 15, is both a day of mourning and celebration in Bangladesh, depending on where your political allegiances lie.
After 1980, General HM Ershad assumed power and ruled till 1991. During these eleven years, both Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia waged political struggles in an attempt to oust General Ershad. This goal was only achieved in 1991.
BNP standing committee member of the Musharraf Hussain said, "Our leader today is 69 years old, we must pray for her."
Awami League general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam said, "Today we cried, she celebrated, it is not wrong?"
On August 15, 1975, some dissatisfied Army officers killed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family, including his 10-year-old son, Rasel. The only survivors of that massacre were Mujib`s two daughters - Hasina and Rehana and their husbands.