The second revolution has been Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s most misunderstood political move. It was introduced by Bangabandhu through a dramatic change in the Constitution on 25 January 1975 in the parliament. He tried to explain the rationale and the urgency for such a transformational change both within the house and outside.
But the proposed changes were so fundamental and sweeping that it was indeed not so easy to make people understand this clearly. The first revolution of Bangabandhu was, of course, the independence of Bangladesh itself, which was achieved through the liberation struggle of 1971.However, this had deeper political and socio-economic perspectives cemented through several movements, beginning with the Language Movement and followed by the movement for regional autonomy in the form of the Six-Point program, among others. Bangabandhu was always at the frontline of these movements, leading to the ultimate push for the independence of the country. Finally, his leadership led millions to freedom. As already noted, he had prepared for the liberation struggle since 1947-48. However, establishing an independent country did not mean economic freedom and justice for all, nor social stability and peace. This was why, perceiving the need for a second revolution, he initiated fundamental changes in the Constitution to improve the quality of state governance. At the National Parliament on January 25, 1975, Bangabandhu said, “This is our second revolution. This revolution aims to bring smiles to the faces of the ill-fated people. This means the end of oppression and injustice. This calls for believing in the four principles- nationalism, democracy, socialism and secularism. This calls for all who believe in these principles to love their country. Everyone has a scope to contribute to the development of the country. Come and join the race to work for the country. Save the country. Save the people. Remove the sorrows of the people. And uproot the corrupt, bribe-takers, extortionists, hoarders and, of course, those anti-state elements who did not want our independence and yet I gave them a chance” (translated from Khan, A. H, Jatir Pitar Nirbachito Bhashon Ekattor Prokashoni, 2018, p.173). Deeply aware of the concern for democracy among the people, he elaborated at length why he had to change his gear so drastically. He said, “The amended system which we have opted for today is also democratic. This is called democracy for the exploited. People will still have the power to vote. Here we both socialism and democracy of the exploited. We will never allow the seed of communalism to grow in Bangladesh. There is no place for those who do not love Bangladesh, its land, language, and culture. I had allowed even those who hate and discredit Bangladesh to speak and engage in politics freely. Simultaneously, there is no place for those who hoard, take bribes, engage in corruption, and terrorize the society. They kill people in the dark of night in the name of ‘revolution’. They thrive on the money flowing from foreign lands. We have been trying our best to save our people from hunger and poverty. But some people are conspiring against the country. This cannot be allowed any further. So, the change.” (ibid. p.174-75)
After a few days he went straight to the people to explain this rationale for the change. This was on March 26, 1975, at the historic Suhrawardy Maidan. In his emotional speech, Bangabandhu called upon the farmers, labourers and students to stand by him and told them that the social system was rotting at its root. He wanted to attack this system the same way he had attacked the Pakistanis during his entire fight for independence of Bangladesh. While asking for their support to the new system, he emphasized the importance of building up compulsory multipurpose cooperatives. Mujib assured the people that this didn’t mean that the ownership of lands would be transferred. He said that 65,000 multipurpose cooperatives would be established which would help employ the unemployed and eliminate the Union Council frauds. According to him, unless these frauds were gone, the country could not be saved. He announced that every village would have compulsory cooperatives consisting of 500-1000 families (ibid, p.187). Moreover, he gave primarily three reasons for this fundamental overhauling of the system of governance:
First, achieving self-sufficiency in food, for which there was a need for enhancing agricultural production through corporatization; second, the growth in population had to be curtailed by adopting population planning through raising social consciousness; third, the nation had to be united against the corrupt, bribe-takers, smugglers, hoarders, and those who were against social stability and peace (summarized from his speech, ibid, p.176).
However, these far-reaching goals of the second revolution were wrongly interpreted as a move towards one party system called BAKSAL which was, in fact, a platform for progressive forces in politics to bring changes in the society and economy. There was enough scope for participation from all segments of the society besides politicians in this platform, providing healthy internal democratic development in the polity and society. Harun-or-Rashid explained Sheikh Mujib’s second revolution in detail in one of his recent books and wrote that he wanted to bring about fundamental changes in Bangladesh’s social, political, economic, governmental, party, administration, land, production, educational, health, judicial, and publicity systems three years after independence. With the passage of the fourth amendment of the Constitution on January 25, 1975, in the Parliament, the country shifted from a Parliamentary form of government to Presidential one. Bangabandhu became the President for 5 years and Captain Mansur Ali was elected as the Prime Minister. On 6th June, BAKSAL was formed with the political parties that had supported the liberation of Bangladesh. On 21st June, all subdivisions were broken down into 61 districts and a governor was appointed for each district. The district governors were selected from all segments of the society, embracing elected and non-elected politicians, both civil and military bureaucrats, and intelligentsia. In addition, only four national newspapers could be published to bring discipline in the chaotic press arena which was distracting governance immediately after the liberation. This was the time to focus sharply on nation-building and ensure prosperity from ashes. (Harun-or-Rashid, ‘Bangabandhur Ditiyo Biplob Ki O Keno’, First Impression, Bangla Academy, 2020, p.20)
To appreciate Bangabandhu’s desperate move of the second revolution, let us see what S. A. Karim quoted from Sheikh Mujib’s speech at the Parliament on 25th January: “It is not the Bengali peasants nor the Bengali workers who are engaged in corrupt dealings…we’ll not attain success simply by a change of system. Just as you fought selflessly during the struggle for independence…you must struggle now against injustice, against corruption. Otherwise it will be all in vain…Inshallah, we’ll be successful.” After quoting Mujib, he wrote, “It was the best speech Mujib ever made in his years of power because it came straight from his heart.” (Karim, S.A., ‘Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy’, UPL, 2005, p.348-349). Indeed, if one reads this speech, along with the one Bangabandhu delivered at the Suhrawardy Maidan on March 26, 1975, one can feel the depth of his passion for the people’s emancipation, which was not possible within the conventional system of governance. This revolutionary move by Bangabandhu was misconstrued as an authoritarian drive to consolidate power into his hands. He did not have enough time to fully explain his mind to his people either. Bangabandhu had fought for democracy throughout his career, and he stayed true to this even after independence. According to Harun-or-Rashid, the opposition took advantage of this and spread their destructive propaganda. They attacked the very existence of the state. (Harun-or-Rashid, ‘Bangabandhur Ditiyo Biplob Ki O Keno’, First Impression, Bangla Academy, 2020, p.30-31)
In order to appreciate Bangabandhu’s second revolution, we also need to understand his thoughts on cooperatives. One of the core anchors of the second revolution was the establishment of compulsory cooperatives in 65,000 villages of Bangladesh. This was planned to ensure the efficiency of resource usage in agriculture, in order to modernize it for enhanced productivity. Many Scandinavian countries, in addition to the socialist countries, had opted for this structure of agricultural production system to take advantage of economies of scale. Bangabandhu was a great fan of Tagore and must have been inspired by his thoughts on cooperatives. Tagore experimented with this system in his Zamindari estates in East Bengal, now Bangladesh. Later, Bangabandhu was able to experience this system in detail when he went to China in 1952. Since 1972, small steps were being taken towards establishing cooperatives. The socio-political situation then had not allowed the realization of Bangabandhu’s plan of massive corporatization. Bangabandhu was aware of the unequal distribution of land even before independence. If we look at his autobiography and the secret intelligence documents on him, we can understand how passionate he was about land reforms. Therefore, it was not surprising to see him taking measures for land reform in order to reduce inequality and increase production. He had even faced opposition from within his party regarding his decision (Nazrul Islam, ‘Bangabandhur Swapno O Bangladesh er Gram’, Eastern Academic, 2017, p.26). When the land reform plans were not realized as desired, Bangabandhu envisioned multi-purpose cooperatives as a part of his second revolution. His initiative would have actualized the decentralization of administration and the people in the rural areas would have gained immensely from this new system.Many, even amongst his well-wishers, have asked the question of whether Bangabandhu’s second revolution was in line with his lifelong ideals of democracy. Among them was former Finance Minister M. Syeduzzaman. He was close to Sheikh Mujib and was trusted by him. He was also a member of BAKSAL’s Central Committee. While paying tribute to Bangabandhu, M. Syeduzzaman wrote that he was forced to take such a strong stance in order to bring about a society free of hunger and poverty. Mr. Syeduzzaman had asked Sheikh Mujib why he had taken such measures. Bangabandhu replied, “Give me three years, if Allah keeps me alive, I will come back to parliamentary democracy. I was unable to do much during the last three years because of domestic and international disasters. This saddens me a lot.” (Bangabandhur Smriti O Unnayan Darshan, Uttaran, December 2020, p.49). S.A. Karim had quoted Wazed Miah where he wrote about Sheikh Mujib’s meeting with some young leaders of Jubo League. They had suggested that Sheikh Mujib become the President of Bangladesh and Mujib said that he would consider it. A week later they had proposed to him to become President for life, and to this Bangabandhu replied: “It is not only unseemly but unconstitutional to elect anyone as life-long President. Therefore, this will not be done.” (Wazed Miah as quoted in Karim, S.A., ‘Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy’, UPL, 2005, p.347). Bangabandhu’s second revolution was a step to achieve self-sufficiency in food production, flood control, population planning, and control of inflation. He intended to prevent killings within the country, remove social injustice, uproot corruption, rectify the ranks and files of the party, and bring a smile on the faces of the poor.
Unfortunately, conspirators did not allow Bangabandhu the opportunity to realize his dream of equity and justice through the second revolution. His dream journey was cut short by the heinous killers, the enemies of civilization.
The author is Bangabandhu Chair Professor and former Governor of Bangladesh Bank. He can be reached at: [email protected]