Former Indian president Pranab Mukherjee has said he put his all-out effort to secure the release of both Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia during the 2007-08 caretaker government.
The Indian politician made the claim in his third book "The Coalition Years: 1996 to 2012". The book is third in a series by Mukherjee. The earlier two volumes are “The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years” and “The Turbulent Years: 1980-1996”.
The latest books take the narration forward from where the “Turbulent Years” left.
India Today published some exclusive excerpts from his autobiographical account of the coalition era. The article contains a separate paragraph on Pranab's efforts in rescuing the Bangladesh leaders. Here is the excerpt:
Rescuing Bangladesh's two Begums
Just before the elections (in January 2007), Bangladesh President Iajuddin Ahmed declared a state of Emergency and installed a caretaker government headed by Bangladesh Chief Adviser, Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed.
During this period, all prominent political leaders were imprisoned. Sheikh Hasina too was jailed on charges of bribery and corruption. While India continued to engage with the caretaker government, we stressed the need for full restoration of democracy through peaceful, credible, free and fair elections.
In February 2008, Bangladesh army chief Moeen Ahmed came to India on a six-day visit. He called on me too. During the informal interaction, I impressed upon him the importance of releasing political prisoners.
He was apprehensive about his dismissal by Sheikh Hasina after her release. But I took personal responsibility and assured the general of his survival after Hasina's return to power.
I also sought an appointment with the US President George W. Bush to request his intervention in the matter and ensure the release of both Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina.
With my intervention through the then National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, I ensured the release of all political prisoners and the nation's return to stability. Several years later, I also facilitated General Moeen's treatment in the US when he was suffering from cancer.
Sheikh Hasina had been a close family friend, and when I was the external affairs minister, India tried to help her cause by building adequate international pressure for free and fair elections after the caretaker government.
In fact, when some Awami League leaders deserted her at the time she was in jail, I rebuked them for their stand and told them that to leave someone when they are down is unethical.
The general election was held in December 2008, and Sheikh Hasina won with a thumping majority.
Mukherjee was serving as the External Affairs Minister of India for second terms during the 2007-08 tenure of the army-backed caretaker government in Bangladesh.
He served as the 13th President of India from 2012 until 2017. In a political career spanning six decades, Mukherjee was a senior leader of the Indian National Congress and occupied several ministerial portfolios in the Government of India.
Prior to his election as President, Mukherjee was Union Finance Minister from 2009 to 2012 and the Congress party's top troubleshooter.