History will remember the 20th of March 2013. It will remember so for the fact that on this day, Mohammed Zillur Rahman, the President of Bangladesh passed away. He breathed his last at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, where he was undergoing treatment for critical lung infection since March 10th, 2013. The country lost a veteran leader who could have played a leading role in redeeming the country from the mess it has turned into recently. I say this looking back at his glittering political career which saw him serve the country selflessly through dedicating his life to representing the people at different positions of power. As a simple citizen of this great nation, I ask the Almighty to grant him forgiveness and bestow upon him the Jannah.
To my brethren in Bangladesh and beyond I have a simple request. Look at his life, take him as an example in his successes and please, please learn from his mistakes. Our dear president was a most notable example of a man who was given power to do what was right for the country and its people. He in his capacity as a representative of the people fought for democracy at various points in his career and was famous for holding the Awami League together through the dark days of the army backed interim government led by Dr. Fakhruddin through 2007-2008. In his position as president, he was widely perceived as an icon for political decency with a firm commitment. He was the voice that even the opposition listened to in times of political bickering which threatened the flow of democracy in the country.
However, just like any other human being of flesh and blood, he had his very own flaws which characterized him and set him as an example from which a generation could learn. Apart from his love for the country, his loyalty to his party was both his greatest asset and greatest flaw. This love allowed him to hold the party together through the crisis of the caretaker government and remain active in politics despite the devastating death of his wife, Ivy Rahman, in a grenade attack on a rally at Dhaka on August 21, 2004. This love, however also induced in him a tendency to overlook the flaws in the decisions of his party, rendering him a mere tool for their implementation. When the party demanded of him anything, he was only too happy to oblige, unquestionably and obediently. Only such unrequited love can explain the number of death sentence pardons that were granted during his rule. As many as 21 death row convicts were pardoned in Bangladesh by the President in about four years since the Awami League assumed power in 2009. Previously, the number was only four during the entire period between independence in 1971 and 2009. The list of 21 pardoned by the Awami League government included HM Biplob, who was handed death sentence for killing Laxmipur BNP leader Nurul Islam. Biplob, who is the son of Laxmipur's Awami League leader Abu Taher, was later pardoned a second time in two more murder cases. The incident drew widespread criticisms from different sections of the society, including rights groups, legal experts and the media.
It is also notable that Zillur Rahman maintained a quiet profile on the recent political violence in Bangladesh where more than 150 people lost their lives. Although undesirable, his silence spoke volumes and was perhaps attributable to the limited powers a president holds according to the constitution of this country. Perhaps the political scene would have been that of a different one had he placed himself as a rallying point to which the country could have turned towards to resolve its differences. However, it is important to note that his flaws, though understandable, should not be used to judge the character of a man who selflessly served his nation till the day of his death at the age of 84.
Man has been called as the 'noblest of creation' in the Holy Quran due to his ability to think, adjudge and consequently follow the best course of action. Throughout this journey, examples abound as to the consequences of right and wrong decisions. Zillur Rahman was such an example. What we do with this knowledge may well decide the future of this country and its people.