August 21 grenade attack: A dark chapter for Bangladesh politics

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Published on August 22, 2022
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Hiren Pandit: 

The Honourable Prime Minister (the then Leader of the Opposition) Sheikh Hasina, and the leaders of the Awami League miraculously survived a horrific grenade attack at an Awami League rally on August 21, 2004. However, 24 Awami League leaders and activists including Ivy Rahman were killed. Hundreds were injured. Many have been crippled forever. Some of them never got back to normal life.

If the main leadership of the party, including Awami League president Sheikh Hasina, had been wiped out in the grenade attack of the Islamic militant group Harkatul Jihad that afternoon, it would be a terrible outcome for the country. After the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib, it was another horrific incident in the country.

Sheikh Hasina was addressing an AL rally protesting for Sylhet blasts with a call "to end the rule of the government that inspires bomb attacks". Around 25,000 leaders and activists of the party were present there. A shower of grenades followed in the next one and half minutes, with a total of 13 explosions that ripped through the rally premises. Party leaders and security personnel created a shield over Sheikh Hasina as she ducked on the truck while the grenades missed the truck and landed on either side. She was then immediately huddled into her bulletproof sports utility vehicle as her security personnel fired blanks to clear the way and wheeled her away through gunfire and thick smokes.
The assailants fired seven bullets at Sheikh Hasina's bulletproof vehicle. A bullet punctured the rear wheel of the vehicle and there was a large hole on the rear right side of its windshield. At least three bullets hit the right side of the front windshield, just opposite the front seat where Sheikh Hasina sat. The three-layered bullet proof Mercedes Benz saved her life that day.

Angry protesters around 6:00pm torched and threw stones at vehicles chanting slogans against the attackers. Thick black smoke soon mushroomed from about 20 burnt vehicles in Bijoynagar, Purana Paltan Crossing, Dainik Bangla Intersection, Zero Point, Bangabandhu Avenue, Golap Shah Mazar, General Post Office (GPO), and Gulistan areas. Police fired scores of teargas canisters and charged batons to bring the situation under control.
According to Harkatul Jihad leader Mufti Hannan and the militants, it was clear that the main target of the August 21 grenade attack was to assassinate top Awami League leaders, including Sheikh Hasina. From 2004 to 2006 the BNP-Jamaat coalition government also spread such incredible propaganda that the Awami League itself carried out the grenade attack to gain the sympathy and support of the people.

The BNP-Jamaat coalition government tried to convince the people that the grenade attack was planned by the Indian intelligence service. The false information was also spread in the pro-coalition newspapers quoting the four-party coalition government and intelligence sources. Writers and intellectuals supporting the BNP-Jamaat alliance government also spoke in the same tone at the meetings and seminars, writing columns in newspapers and helping to spread that falsehood. But now the BNP leadership is silent when the truth of the grenade attack on August 21 is revealed. They don't say anything else about it.

The grenade attack on August 21 to assassinate Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League leadership take us by surprise how an elected government and leadership can shamelessly destroy their opponents.

Although Bangabandhu's daughter miraculously survived that day, her two ears and eyes were severely damaged. Irreparable damage is done to her hearing. She miraculously returned from the brink of death.

The writer is a researcher and columnist