Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a devoted member of the Muslim League. The people of Gopalganj and Faridpur were first introduced to the Muslim LeaguebyMujib.He made significant contribution towards achieving Pakistan. Yet,he was disillusioned with the newly born Pakistan for a number of reasons. The Muslim League Government was not showing its willingness to implement the pledges it made to the people while campaigning for Pakistan. The ordinary people of his locality responded positively to his call for Pakistan as they thought the new state will bring economic emancipation for them. But in reality this was not to be. People’s frustrations with poor governance of Pakistan got reflected in one of the early writings of Sheikh Mujib in the newspaper Ittehad on 14th August 1948, the first birth anniversary day of Pakistan, as reported by the Intelligence officials of the government.
A tentative translation of what young Mujib thought of the one-year old Pakistan was reflected in this report: “The freedom that we have achieved on August 14 of 1947 is not mass freedom. This has been clearly proven over the past year. ‘National Cabinet’ has added on to the suffering that the people have been facing for the last 200 years instead of relieving them of it during the last year. They have not ensured the basic necessities of the hungry, bare bodied, sick and needy citizens and instead further imposed taxes on jute, tobacco, betel nuts and increased sales tax all of which have made the livelihoods of the common people unbearable. Even though they promised to abolish the zamindari system without any compensation, they are going to pay the same to 50-60 crore to zamindars and middlemen. These ministers are conspiring to postpone the abolishment of zamindari system in the name of a new survey. Not only that, many League members have been imprisoned without any reason in the name of public security. The freedom has been tainted by the use of baton charges, tear gas and bullets during the language movement and some other occasions.”(“SECRET DOCUMENTS OF INTELLIGENCE BRANCH ON FATHER OF THE NATION BANGABANDHU SHEIKH MUJIBUR RAHMAN” Edited by Sheikh Hasina, Hakkani Publishers, Volume-1, Page-44)
The statement above tells us a lot about Sheikh Mujib’s disillusionment with Pakistan. Young Mujib could understand early on that an abnormal nation separated by 1400 miles was bound to fall apart. Many of his speeches and statements reflected this anguish. Another memorable speech related to this issue was given by him at a rally at Narayanganj Public Library. Sheikh Mujib was very candid and said, “We have brought Pakistan in exchange for many lives and this is what it has become? We do not get food, we do not get clothes. The people in the villages do not have clothes to wear. The villagers cannot get access to clothes that the people in the city get through black markets. Before the partition, there was no deficiency of food in Barisal. And now, rice is 40 rupees per mound there. Additional taxes have been imposed on farmers. When we talk against these we are called traitors. Before the birth of Pakistan we were assured of enough food and clothes once we will have Pakistan. We were assured of justice. We have seen, unfortunately, no change in the situation even after Pakistan came about.” (“Secret Documents”, ibid,Volume-1, page-19).
In addition, he always kept deep touch with the grassroots. So he felt embarrassed when an ordinary boatman wanted to know why he was forced to pay to the “Jinnah Fund” beyond his means. It may be recalled that back in1949, the government started raising a charity fund called “Jinnah Fund”. It was said that people were to donate whatever they could afford. The affluent people happily donated to the fund. Many poor people also made donations as much as they could. However, many ‘overactive’ provincial officers tried to raise money by forcing the people with a hope that this will lead to early promotions for them. Around this time, Sheikh Mujib had to go to his hometown. A boatman could easily recognize Mujib and told him that he was forced to pay five taka when his daily income was somewhere around two taka. The boatman further told Mujib that he had first heard about Pakistan from him and, therefore, asked him why this Pakistan was only exploiting them. (“The Unfinished Memoirs”, p.112). These words of the boatman touched him deeply. A huge sum (more than three hundred thousand Rupees at least) was collected in Gopalganj by then. He immediately decided to raise voice against such forcible collection of fund. A part of the raised fund was used to give reception to Mr. Nazimuddin, the then Governor General and the rest was spent on construction of a mosque and a college was named after Jinnah, mainly due to the social pressure which he created on the local leaders and administration.
Bangabandhu was deeply committed to democracy and became intolerant of the torture inflicted on different student leaders across the country. The other students were also angered by the government’s actions. One of his co-leaders, Mr. Dabiruddin from Dinajpur, was badly assaulted. They organized a ‘Resistance Day against Repression’ and made Sheikh Mujib the convener. By that time Mujib had already established himself as a credible leader and the students also had deep faith in his abilities. And his actions of this time also proved that he was indeed farsighted and aptly grounded. In his own words: “On the ‘Resistance Day against Repression’ they (goons) were imported into the university campus. When I heard about this, I decided to hold the meeting in the evening. I told everyone present that we would have to resist any attempt to use the goons to attack us.
We were supposed to hold the meeting at the Amtala math that had become famous as a site for political meetings. When the authorities prevented us from holding our meeting we held it in the field that faced the university. I placed a special group of loyal volunteers near the university gate to obstruct the goons from attacking us and thwarting our meeting. The idea was to teach them a lesson through a three-pronged attack so that they would refrain in the future from coming to Ramna to carry out such acts of disruption.” (“The Unfinished Memoirs”, page-117). Mujib was a pragmatic leader. Many of his left-leaning friends used to misunderstand him for being so blunt on people’s cause. They too were against the government. But they could never attract the general students and the public because most of their theoretical ideas went over the average person’s head. In the words of Mujib, “I used to tell them, ‘While ordinary people still like to walk you all tend to have your heads in the clouds and fly. They do not understand your language and will not accompany you in your flights. You should only give the public as much food for thought as they can digest.”(ibid, p.117). And history confirms how prophetic he was about people’s perception of politics. Most people supported the pragmatic Sheikh Mujib at the end of the day.
Since the creation of Pakistan, there had been a rise in political sentiments supporting the Bengali nationalism in East Pakistan. The language movement worked as a fuel to the fire for these brewing sentiments and gave it a basic feature. Sheikh Mujib, as we have already reported, played a significant role in the initiation of the language movement. Following this, East Pakistan Awami Muslim League was born on 23rd August, 1949. Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani was made the president of the party and Shamsul Huq became the general secretary. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was made the joint secretary when he was still in jail. The word ‘Muslim’ was removed from the name of the party during its third council meeting on 22-23 October. This was done because Maulana Bhasani, Suhrawardy, Shamsul Huq and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman wanted to pursue more secular politics. Mujib was one of the most active leaders of this new party. In fact, he was Bhasani’s favourite for his astute organizational abilities.
The Intelligence Branch was constantly keeping an eye on Mujib’s activities during this time. He was emerging as a very popular leader. On 22nd September, 1949 at Armanitola, Sheikh Mujib presented three particular demands to the central government of Pakistan: food, education and military training. Sheikh Mujib said, “We have held so many meetings and passed so many resolutions copies of which have reached the central and Provincial Governments but to no effect. Are the Govts. blind? I believe in direct action. Pakistan was achieved through direct action. Many lost their lives.” (“Secret Documents”, op.cit, Vol-1, Page- 275).
After being expelled from Dhaka University for supporting the university’s low-paid employees, he devoted himself entirely to politics. And thus began the historic journey of a full-fledged politician. He developed a stunning record of staying on the ground with the people and constantly enduring political imprisonment. The Intelligence Branch officials were always wary of his activities during this time and reported every step he took. This also vindicates his checkered pro-people political journey which finally made him Bangabandhu, as well as the Father of the Nation.
The writer is the Bangabandhu Chair Professor at Dhaka University, and former Governor of Bangladesh Bank. He can be reached at [email protected]