When it comes to writing about Sheikh Fazlul Haque Mani, the first thing that springs to my mind is that he was an ardent disciple of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his beloved mama (maternal uncle). As a matter of fact, the mama-bhagne (maternal uncle and nephew) partnership performed a highly instrumental role in the creation of Bangladesh and its development up until their death on that fateful August night in 1975. In all the watersheds marked in the independence struggle of , Sheikh Mani exerted himself and made a phenomenal contribution drawing inspiration from his mama Sheikh Mujib. Mani loved him and his politics so passionately that he rated him above many other world class politicians. As he puts it in one of his columns published in the then Banglar Bani under the title—Durbine Duradarshi: “The life of Bangabandhu is absolutely invaluable for the people of a newly independent country like ours. For the people of China, Russia, and even America, their leaders are not that important. Despite the absence of Mao Zedong, Nixon, Brezhnev or Kosygin, there is no problem today. Because their societies have come a long way. But we have just started. We are having to create our own roads to development by cleaning up the ills. Bangabandhu is that guide. God forbid, if we lose him, we don’t know what lies in store for seven and a half crore hapless people of Bangladesh. So, stronger security measures should be taken for him for national interest,” (transl. added). What could be a more realistic view of the security of the Father of the Nation than this? But unfortunately for us all, Sheikh Mani’s suggestions went unheeded and the whole nation had to pay the price for it.
Sheikh Mani is perhaps the best embodiment of Poet Helal Hafiz’s famous poetic utterance “Ekhon joubon jar, michhile jabar tar shreshtha samoy/ “ Ekhon joubon jar, juddhe jabar tar shreshtha samoy/” (It’s high time to march in procession for them who are in their youth/ It’s high time to go to war for them who are in their youth/). Mani marched in procession a great many times against the military regimes of the notorious Khans—Ayub and Yahya and went to the 1971 Liberation War to ensure the independence of his country. He was full of youthful idealism which seems to have little/no place in today’s politics. Poet Asad Chowdhury in his book—Chumbon Korini Aage Bhul Hoye Gechhe (Didn’t Kiss before Made a Mistake) testifies to it. To quote: “The time was of the politics of sacrifice and commitment. Those who would associate with them had deep patriotism. They had the knowledge and idealism for doing politics and a sense of solidarity in their character. They would consider people’s votes or politics something more than just the means of moving up the social ladder. Our brother Mani belonged to this group,” (transl. added). What kind of politician he was and how he was furthest removed from the general run of the politicians motivated entirely by self-interest is best exemplified in his words: “When the liaison between three forces—the power-hungry military and civil bureaucracy, profit-hungry rising capitalists and fiercely ambitious political powers is forged, it must strike.”
Sheikh Mani launched some major guerrilla operations in Dhaka, Comilla, Noakhali, Sylhet, Chittagong, and Chittagong Hill Tracts, which completely unnerved the occupation army. He had become an icon of thousands of young freedom fighters and a sworn enemy of the Pakistan Army. He was a star attraction among the youths of the country. He was smart, intelligent and much ahead of his time and his love of the country was legendary. He was the most far-sighted of young politicians.
Sheikh Mani had other strings to his bow. He was a journalist and writer, bilingual in Bengali and English. The publication of the Bengali weekly—Banglar Bani in the tumultuous days of 1970s can be considered as a journalistic front on which the Liberation War was fought.
Sheikh Mani has also founded Bangladesh Awami Jubo League, popularly known as Jubo League, the youth wing of the ruling Awami League in late 1972 with a view to involving the nation’s youth in the struggle for building Bangabandhu’s Sonar Bangla—a progressive, democratic, non-communal and exploitation-free country in the light of the Liberation War ideals. When the youth of the country upon return from the Liberation War were aimlessly idling their days away, their leader Mani considered it absolutely imperative to organize them under the umbrella of the same ideology and the creation of a youth organization was seriously felt. Because there was no pro-liberation platform for the youth in between Awami League and Chattra League where the immediate past student leaders could join. Awami League was the organization for the elderly and Chattra League was for the students. Mani could realize that if these young folks were not organized under a political platform, they might go astray. From this realization was born Jubo League, the first youth organization in Bangladesh which was the brainchild of Sheikh Fazlul Haque Mani.
Sheikh Mani’s influence on the youth of today in general and on younger generation politicians in particular is his greatest legacy. He was an epitome of how best one’s youth can be spent on the altar of the nation’s welfare. It’s reassuring to know that his son Sheikh Fazle Shams Parash has stepped into his father’s shoes. It is an opportune time to discover more about him.
Dr. Rashid Askari is a freethinking writer, academic and translator. Email: [email protected]