Excluding Zia’s grave, there are seven graves of former president Abdus Sattar, former prime ministers Shah Azizur Rahman and Ataur Rahman Khan, former minister Mashiur Rahman Jadu Miah, Muslim League leader Khan A Sabur, litterateur, journalist and politician Abul Mansur Ahmad and Pakistan national assembly’s former speaker Tamizuddin Khan--at the parliament premises.
The existence of seven graves will be under question if the government relocates Zia’s grave from the particular place, citing it a violation of the parliament’s original design. Relocation of eight graves at a time will put negative impact on the society, said some Awami League leaders.
According to some ruling party policymakers, prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s speech highlights only important issues and plans. Sometimes she shares with her close associates about the ‘important’ issues or plans, or explains her speech informally.
Sometimes, party leaders–familiar as ‘propaganda machine’–learn the inherent message of PM’s speech and later, spread it at public rallies.
The party policymakers, however, do not find any planned matter over the Zia’s grave issue.
In 2014, prime minister Sheikh Hasina first raised questions over the existence of Zia’s grave at Chandrima Udyan. Her question echoed for several days by her associates.
This time, the same question has turned a much-talk-about issue as the PM on 26 August said Zia’s wife Khaleda (BNP chairperson) too knows that her husband's grave is not in Chandrima Udyan.
Sheikh Hasina said this while addressing a rally organised by Dhaka city units of Awami League marking national mourning day.
The PM’s remark over the Zia’s grave was a reactionary speech against the 17 August clash between BNP activists and police at Chandrima Udyan.
In the rally, Sheikh Hasina said, “BNP activists clashed with police at Chandrima Udyan. Did not they know that the place was not the grave of Zia? Khaleda Zia knows it well. A coffin was brought to the place but no one could see Zia’s body inside there. The corpse laid in the coffin was in military uniform. Zia was the president (when he was assassinated). President does not wear military uniform. Then why are they staging a play?”
Later on 28 August, AL general secretary Obaidul Quader questioned about the Zia’s grave, echoing the PM’s speech. Several senior ministers and AL leaders followed the suit.
In the latest move, Obaidul Quader, while addressing a rally of Krishak League on 31 August, said BNP’s citation of Ershad’s involvement in Zia’s funeral does not prove that the coffin brought to the Udyan contained Zia’s body.
Talking about the issue, AL’s joint general secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said, “There is no doubt that Zia was not buried at that Chandrima Udyan. Awami League leaders are responsible for informing the people about the truth. However, the government only can take decision on the relocation of Zia’s grave. If Zia’s body is not buried there, then what a value the grave holds?”
After coming to the state power in 1991, the BNP-led government named the park at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar as Zia Udyan.
After Awami League’s election victory in 1996, the incumbent government replaced the park’s name with Chandrima Udyan and removed the bailey bridge from the crescent lake. The bridge connected the Zia’s grave and the lake road.
Later, a concrete bridge, a complex, a convention centre and a mosque were built surrounding the grave when BNP regained state power in 2001.
In 2014, the housing and public works ministry recommended that all the establishments including the Zia’s grave–violating the original design of the parliament–should be relocated. The recommendation fanned anti-BNP critics at the treasury bench that time.
Later in December 2016, the public works ministry and the parliament secretariat communicated with US source and collected the Louis Isadore Kahn-drawn original blue print of the parliament house. No initiative has been taken to relocate Zia’s grave and other establishments.
Talking about the issue, another AL joint general secretary Hasan Mahmud, also the information minister, told Prothom Alo that Awami League told the truth about Zia’s grave because the BNP activists are frequently going and creating chaos at Chandrima Udyan.
*The original report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Sadiqur Rahman.