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General M A G Osmani was an undisputed national hero

By Raihan Ahmed Topader:

General Osmani was born on 1 September 1918 in an affluent and aristocratic family in Dayamir, a village in Sylhet Bangladesh. He passed the Matriculation examination from Sylhet Government Pilot School in 1934 obtaining 1st division mark and was awarded the Pretoria Award for securing the highest marks in English. He attended the prestigious Aligarh Muslim University of India and graduated in 1938. After that he passed the Indian Civil Service examination. However, as the 2nd World War began, he gave up his civilian career plan and joined the army. He participated in the Second World War at the Burma sector as a commander of the British Army. He had a glorious career at the Pakistan Army until he retired on 16 February 1967. After retirement he entered East Pakistani politics and was elected Member of National Assembly (MNA) of Pakistan. During the war of independence of Bangladesh he was appointed as the supreme commander of Bangladesh Force the ‘Mukhti Bahini’ He was an Freedom Fighters and led them to victory.  His name accompanies the title Bangabir (Brave Bengali). The Bangladeshi government promoted him to four star general (the first in Bangladeshi history) on 7 April 1972.  He was appointed as the Minister for Air and Inland Water Transport in independent Bangladesh and served successfully until 1975. Osmani died on 16 February 1984 in London but was buried in Sylhet, Bangladesh.

General Osmani life history and unique contribution for the independence and democracy in our country are neither nationally discussed in those anniversaries nor being incorporated properly yet in the textbooks of Primary and Secondary Schools. No in-depth or extensive research has been done on the life and vision or mission of this great personality of Bangladesh. No newspaper publishes any Supplement on this extra-ordinary hero of our nation at his birth and death anniversaries. He appears to be neglected by the very nation, which he fought for and led the Armed Forces for Independence War risking his life and ultimately brought the Independence for. This is very unfortunate. General (Rtd) Muhammad Ataul Gani Osmani [popularly referred to as Bangabir (the Hero of Bengal) General M A G Osmani) was one of the golden sons of Bangladesh. He played the most prominent role during the Independence War of Bangladesh. He was the Commander-in-Chief of the Bangladesh Forces during the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence. He is regarded as the founder of the Bangladesh Armed Forces. General Osmani had a shining military and political career spanned over five decades. General Osmani was born on 1st September 1918 to a prominent Muslim landowning family in Sunamgonj, the then Assam Province under British India. His father’s name was Khan Bahadur Mafijur Rahman and his mother’s name was Mrs Jubeda Khatun.

He was the youngest of his parents’ three children. He was a descendent of Shah Nizamuddin Osmani, a 14th-Century close Associate of Hazrat Shahjalal Yemani (R:) His ancestral village is in Dayamir Union within Osmani Nagar Thana under Sylhet District.

General Osmani attended the Cotton School in Sylhet. He completed his matriculation at the Sylhet Government Pilot School securing the First Division-which was rare feat during those days. He even won the “Pritoria Prize” for his excellence in English even when he was in the Secondary School.  He then studied at Aligarh Muslim University and was graduated in 1938. Following year, he joined the Indian Military Academy as a Cadet. General Osmani had taken UOTC training in Aligarh, raising to the rank of Sergeant and had been elected Vice Chair of the Assam-Bengal Students Union. General Osmani kicked off the career journey by joining in the British Indian Army. He then rose to the rank of Major in 1942 at the age of only 24. He was one of the youngest Majors in the Military Service of British India. He attended the Long Staff Course at the Quetta Staff College. He served alongside the then Major Yahya Khan, Major Tikka Khan and Major A A Niazi all of whom ironically were destined to lead the Pakistan Army against the Bangladesh Forces commanded by General Osmani in 1971.  During the Second World War General Osmani fought and commanded as a Major in Burma.

After the partition of India in 1947 he joined the Pakistan Army as Lieutenant Colonel. His career was chequered when he clashed with his superiors over issues regarding the recruitment and treatment of Bengali Officers General Osmani, while he was a Lieutenant Colonel, had a heated argument with the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army General Ayub Khan over the treatment of Major General Ishfakul Majid, the senior most Bengali officer in Pakistan Army who had been falsely implicated in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy and forced to resign. This incident may have impacted his military career. He earned a reputation as a hard nosed and stubborn officer. Even within the wider family and beyond, General Osmani was well known for his love but also for temper, his passion, his glaring eyes and his military discipline.  He retired as a Colonel in 1967 as the DDMO in GHQ Pakistan. General Osmani was elected as the Commander-in-Chief of all Bangladesh Armed Forces in 1971 by Bengali Officers, a choice later rectified by the Bangladesh Government in exile. In April 1972, he retired as the first full General (Four Star General) of Bangladesh Army. After his retirement from Pakistan Army, Osmani entered politics of East Pakistan. He joined Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib-led Awami League in 1970. As a Candidate from Awami League, he contested the election from Balagonj-Fenchugonj area in Sylhet and was elected as an MNA (Member of National Assembly) in the Pakistan National Assembly.

General Osmani was diagnosed with cancer at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in 1983. Later, he was flown to London for better treatment at government expense. General Osmani died in London on 16 February 1984 at the age of 66. His dead body was flown back to Bangladesh and buried beside his mother’s graveyard in Sylhet Shahjalal Darga with full military honours. General Osmani is regarded in Bangladesh as one of the greatest leaders and heroes of the nation’s freedom fighters. He is also regarded as a brave man never afraid of laying down his life. He showed once again his boldness and bravery in 1974 when he resigned from Parliament and the Party protesting against the introduction of one party system. Under his command, the organisation and conduct of Bangladesh Armed Forces came into being without whom it would have been very difficult. To his memory, the international airport in his home city of Sylhet has been named after him as Sylhet Osmani Antorjatik Biman Bondor (Sylhet Osmani International Airport). The state-run medical college situated in Sylhet is named after him as Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College. Osmani Museum in Sylhet is also named in his honour. However, these recognition and appreciation appear to be localised and limited. General Osmani was not only a local hero. Rather, he was an undisputed national hero. His contribution and role during the Independence War of Bangladesh are unparalleled and incomparable with anyone. Despite these,

Our younger generation appears to know very little about him. His birth and death anniversaries every year pass very quietly. President and Prime Minister do not bother to give even a brief statement (bani) to the press in his remembrance at those anniversaries. Let us give proper recognition to General Osmani with full spirit and enthusiasm. Let us appreciate, and give proper value to, the unique role he played and outstanding contribution he made during the War of our Independence. Recognition and appreciation are needed not for him but for the greater interest of our nation. In order to make patriotic and to enable them to follow the true spirit of our Independence War to defend the sovereignty of our country, our young generation must read, analyse and reflect upon the life history and vision or mission of General Osmani. With such a personality, any country can feel proud of. After independence, Osmani was a Cabinet Minister during the Government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and a member of parliament. He was diagnosed with cancer in 1983 and flown to London for treatment. He passed away in 1984. Osmani is buried in his hometown of Darga, Sylhet General Osmani was not only a regional hero. Rather, he was an undisputed national hero.

Writer and Columnist