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Bangladesh Awami League: Torchbearer of Non-communal Politics

  • M Nazrul Islam
  • 23rd June, 2022 03:55:06 PM
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Bangladesh Awami League: Torchbearer of Non-communal Politics

Today is the 73rd founding anniversary of the country’s largest and oldest political party - Bangladesh Awami League. The word ‘Awam’ means people, and ‘League’ means party or group. In that sense Awami League means a people's party or group. The party came into being on 23rd June 1949 in Dhaka’s Rose Garden with a vow to work for public welfare. About two decades later, in 1971, that very party led Bangladesh to freedom.

Pakistan was created in 1947 based on religion as a communal state. The ruling Muslim League was itself a communal party. As a result, a communal political atmosphere prevailed in Pakistan. Even opposition political parties and student organizations couldn’t come out of the shadow of communalism. For example, Muslim Chhatra League was formed in 1948. Opposition political parties and student organizations had to assume a communal face because of the communal political atmosphere in Pakistan. But the conscious youth of East Pakistan did not take long to come of the artificial shell of religion-based politics. Thanks to their initiative, first Chhatra League and then Awami League became non-communal political parties in the mid-fifties. A wing of Awami League was also formed in West Pakistan. As a result, the Awami League became the only major national political organization in the whole of Pakistan.

At the beginning the name of the party was not Awami League. The party that appeared as Awami Muslim League on June 23, 1949 at the Rose Garden in Dhaka is now today’s Awami League. Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani was made president of its first committee. The general secretary was Shamsul Haq of Tangail and the joint secretary was the then young leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Bangabandhu's Unfinished Memoir gives a vivid description of the happenings at that time. Young leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was in jail when the party was being formed in Dhaka's Rose Garden. He writes in the Unfinished Memoir: “People were gearing up for a grand meeting of workers. From our jail cells we came to know of the elaborate preparations going on. An office had been set up at 150 Mughaltuli. … We were anxiously awaiting the outcome of the preparatory work being done in the run-up to the meeting. They had contacted me for my views on the matter. I told them, ‘There is no point in pursuing the Muslim League any longer. This party has now turned into a government establishment detached from the people. … They now operate through coteries. It can no longer be called a party of the people …’

They also wanted to find out from me whether I would like to continue to work in the student front or join the political organization they were thinking of creating. I told them that I would no longer do student politics; rather I would focus on establishing a political party because if we didn't form an organization that could take on the role of the opposition this country would turn into a dictatorship.

… Everyone agreed on creating a new political organization. It was named East Pakistan Awami Muslim League. Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani was made its president, Mr Shamsul Huq its general secretary, and I the joint secretary. I read in the papers that I was identified in reports as a 'security prisoner'. However, it was my view that since Pakistan had been achieved there was no further reason to create a political organization tied to communal ideals. I was for a non-communal party based on a sound manifesto.”

It did not take long to implement the kind of non-communal political party Bangabandhu had thought of establishing. He transformed Awami Muslim League into Awami League in order to make it a non-communal party. It was a bold step at that time.

In its long arduous journey, Awami League had to cross many hurdles and overcome many obstacles. Various quarters blessed by vested interest groups repeatedly tried to annihilate the party. Inter-party clashes also flared up from time to time. But the torchbearer of light - Bangladesh Awami League - marched ahead defying all odds.

In 1957, the Awami League split under its President Maulana Bhasani centering Kagmari Conference held at Santosh, Tangail. And when Bangabandhu announced the six-point program, charter of freedom of Bengalis, in the party council session on March 18, 1966, the Awami League split for the second time. In the 1970 elections, the Bangladesh Awami League led by Bangabandhu won an absolute majority in the National Assembly of Pakistan.

After the War of Liberation of 1971, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib was released from Pakistan prison and he returned to the country on 10 January 1972. When Bangabandhu was assassinated along with most of his family members on the night of 15 August 1975, the Awami League was again facing an existential crisis. In 1981, at a special council session of the Awami League, Sheikh Hasina, who was living in exile, was unanimously elected party president.

On May 17 of that year, Sheikh Hasina returned to the country at a critical time. In 1996, after 21 years, Bangladesh Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina got the mandate to form the government. It was rare in the world that a party managed to return to power after remaining out of power for 21 years. The Awami League got the mandate of the people three times in a row in 2008, 2013 and 2018.

Political analysts are of the view that Bangladesh Awami League has gone through a number of glorious chapters with the change of leadership. According to them, the first era of Awami League was the Bhasani era. The party was communal in the early part of this era when it was named Muslim Awami League. Sheikh Mujib first became the joint secretary of the Awami League and later the general secretary. Under the leadership of Bhasani-Mujib, the party discarded the shell of communalism and became a non-communal political party by changing its name to Awami League.

The Bashani era ended through the Kagmari Conference, with the dawn of the Shahid Sarwardi era. At that time most of the progressive leaders of Awami League joined Bhasani’s newly formed party National Awmi Party. But Sheikh Mujib didn’t leave the party. Again, he didn’t allow the right wing in Awami League to dominate the party.

The era of Mujib leadership in Awami League began after the death of Shaheed Suhrawardy. Awami League had lost the support of a section of common people due to the right wing policy of Shaheed Suhrawardy. Sheikh Mujib reformed the party in such a way that it attracted young leaders and activists in droves. The party became a center-left party and secularism and socialism were added to the party's basic principles.

The Mujib era is the brightest chapter of Awami League. He propagated non-communal Bengali nationalism. He declared that the name of this land will be Bangladesh, not East Pakistan. We have been Bengalis for thousands of years. Our identity will be Bengali. Thus he gave a huge boost to Bengali nationalism. The thousand-year-old cultural heritage of the Bengalis speaks of a non-communal cultural heritage and civilization. Sheikh Mujib is the torchbearer of the Bengali tradition and nationalism, while the Awami League is its lighthouse.

During the Mujib era, Awami League got associated with the international socialist movement. The party underwent a major transformation. Had his movement of democracy of the exploited people become a success, it would have been a giant step towards establishing common people's rights in Southeast Asia. But he received martyrdom in 1975 as a result of conspiracies of national and international quarters.

Bangabandhu had dreamt of non-communal Bangladesh. He wanted to establish democracy for the exploited people by ending the sufferings of the common people. Now, if we want to establish a developed non-communal Bangladesh and ensure a prosperous future for the people, we have no alternative to Bangladesh Awami League. There are two reasons for this: one is economic and the other is political.

The Awami League-led government has undertaken 10 mega projects. A total of 100 Economic Zones (EPZs) are being set up on 30,000 hectares of land by 2030. It is estimated that once the economic zones are established, it will generate export revenue of 40 billion US dollars. At the same time, these 100 economic zones will provide employment to one crore people of the country. No government has achieved such a developmental success in the past.

Padma Bridge is going to be inaugurated in two days, which will help develop an integrated communication system in the country. The lives of the people in the Southwest will be changed. The Southwest region is developed in agriculture. The Bridge will pave the way for easy transportation of agricultural goods to Dhaka. It will also directly connect Mongla and Payra seaports and Benapole land port with the capital and the port city of Chattogram. This will have a tremendous impact on the country’s economy.

It is said that the history of Awami League is synonymous with the political and social history of Bangladesh in the last 73 years. For those who will read the history of Awami League, it will not be necessary to read the history of Bangladesh that much.

The Awami League was formed by the people, for the people. That’s why the people still have an unwavering confidence in the party. We hope the party will keep moving forward upholding the spirit of the Liberation War and non-communalism.

Even though Awami League turned 74, it didn’t lose its youthful exuberance. The ideals of Bangabandhu, evolving challenges of rapidly changing times and leadership of Sheikh Hasina will keep Awami League reformed and reinvigorated. This is the history of Awami League – always invincible.

The writer is the President of All European Awami League and expatriate journalist from Austria

Source: Sun Editorial