Monday, 23 May, 2022

Bangabandhu's Political Philosophy 1947-1971 (part - II)

Dr. Syed Anwar Husain

Bangabandhu's Political Philosophy 1947-1971 (part - II)
Dr. Syed Anwar Husain

Bangabandhu's Siraj-ud-daula hostel meeting had, in fact, foreshadowed the roadmap for his doings in East Pakistan. After getting back to Dacca (September 1947), his concentration was on the emancipation of Bangalis of the rump Bengal (Eastern Bengal; Western Bengal had become by then a province of the Indian Union) through achieving an independent status.

Things started off well as, on 4 January 1948, the East Pakistan Muslim Student's League was born; and on 23 June 1949, the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League was born. Both the platforms had the charted goal of serving Bangali, interests, It may be mentioned that in the formation of the student front, Bangabandhu did play a pivotal role; and he was made the joint secretary of the elders' front in absentia (as he was in jail at the time). It may be further noted that, both the organisations emerged non-communal subsequently by dropping the word 'Muslim' from their names; the student front in 1953 and the Awami League in 1955. It may be argued that both these organisations were now congruent with the political psyche of Bangabandhu. In 1953, he was appointed general secretary to the Awami League; and by being so, he was now in a position to direct the affairs of the party as per his idea of leading his people towards emancipation.

The people-centric frame of mind that Bangabandhu had was adequately demonstrated, when in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, on 25 August 1955, he strongly argued in favour of ascertaining Bangali public opinion before changing 'East Bengal' into 'East Pakistan'. The relevant statement showed his democratic bent of mind as well as a pro-Bangali sentiment.

Bangabandhu's politics was Bangali-centred, his ideas and deeds were all geared to this end. His party, the Awami League, was, essentially, a pro-Bangali front; nevertheless, he had his own agenda to fulfill to reach the goal of Bangali emancipation. In 1960, for example, he floated the Swadhin Bangla Biplobi Parishad (Independent Bengal Revolutionary Council), a secret and province-wide organisation to which only the progressive-minded youths were inducted as members. They were trained on how to wrest independence. But this secret body could not work well because of Bangabandhu's repeated incarcerations, starting in 1962.

The year 1961 witnessed two memorable events showing the contours of Bangabandhu's political philosophy. First, Bangabandhu himself launched the Purbavanga Muktifront (East Bengal Liberation Front). He himself drafted the leaflet in English, which was printed at his own cost. He himself distributed the leaflets to different foreign missions located in Dacca. Some student co-workers were also inducted to do the job of distribution. The move had the ostensible purpose of sensitising foreigners about Bangalis’ grievances and goals. Limited as it was, this personal initiative did not make any headway; but it was certainly important in that it showed a limitless propensity of Bangabandhu for Bangali emancipation.

The second incident was about a series of secret meetings with the comrades Moni Singha and Khoka Roy. Apparently, the rationale for the inclination of Bangabandhu was to ascertain Left views on his agenda of Bangali independence. The two comrades, mature politicians as they were, suggested caution and reticence in the face of Ayub's anti-Bangali military regime. They however, agreed to concert their efforts in organising a progressive movement. This incident, although trifle, was certainly a pointer to Bangabandhu's intensity of purpose insofar as Bangali emancipation was concerned.

The Agartala mission (1962 or 1963) of Bangabandhu, although abortive, had the same personal intent. He was sure, as his experience suggested, the emancipation of his people could not be achieved without the active support and assistance of a friendly country; and for which, India was his obvious choice. Thus the Agartala mission, undertaken in absolute secrecy, was purported to seek Indian help in facilitating his trip to London, wherefrom the Bangali movement would be launched. But the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, immediately after the China debacle, demurred, but kept the door of future cooperation open. Bangabandhu had thus to return empty handed, again secretly, and through a good deal of tribulations. The entire venture was a fiasco; but in retrospect, it was symptomatic of the undertaker's intensity of purpose for Bangali emancipation. Indeed, Bangali emancipation was the core of Bangabandhu's political philosophy.

On 11 March 1964, Bangabandhu led the formation of an all-party action committee to further the cause of the anti-Ayub agitation; and with this, the Awami League was also put back to shape, which had been almost in a moribund state after the death of Suhrawardy (5 December 1963).

But the biggest document pertaining to Bangabandhu's political philosophy was the Six Point programme of 1966. Drawing upon the spirit of the Lahore Resolutions (23 March 1940). The programme had two apparent suggested doables. First, restructuring the state structure of Pakistan to make it democratic as per the Lahore Resolution. Secondly, in continuation of democratization, the then East Pakistan, like all other provinces, was to be ensured political, economic and military autonomy. Considering the overall situation, East Pakistan was proposed to have para-militia. This programme, rightly dubbed the emancipation document of the Bangalis, was innocuous enough to spawn a meaningful dialogue; but instead, the Pakistan authorities considered the programme a recipe for break-up of Pakistan, and acted accordingly; the infamous Agartala Conspiracy Case (1968) was foisted on Bangabandhu and 34 other Bangali civil and military persons (Bangabandhu used to call this case the Islamabad Conspiracy Case). Apparently, an autonomy-seeking plan, the Six Points ultimately sought Bangali emancipation; and it was a crafty document to that end. The Ayub regime, despite its tenacity of purpose, had to retract. The case had to be withdrawn on 22 February 1969, under the sheer weight of the youth sponsored Mass Uprising chanting the slogans, "We will break the lock of jail, free Sheikh Mujib", and "Brave Bangalis, take up arms, and free Bangladesh." The freed Sheikh Mujib (along with other accuseds) was given the honourific Bangabandhu (friend of Bengal) next day at a mammoth civic reception at the Race Course (now Suhrawardy Udyan) organised by the youth. The case was thus abortive, but it did catapult Bangabandhu to a height of popularity to the extent that he became the sole spokesman for the Bangali people. This was also a stage of his life where he found his long held political philosophy taken by those for whom he had been toiling.

At a discussion meeting, commemorating the sixth death anniversary of Suhrawardy, Bangabandhu declared the peoples’ authority that East Pakistan be renamed as Bangladesh. This declaration was indeed a long shot of his political philosophy in the direction of Bangali emancipation.

The 1970 General Election was fought by the Awami League with the eye-catching leaflet titled "Why is the Golden Bengal a burial ground" (Sonar Bangla Shashan Keno). This leaflet categorically pointed out higher price of daily consumer goods in the then East Pakistan than those in West Pakistan. The leaflet appeared to be an imaginative stratagem for vote-catching; and, as it was, it did its work. Out of allotted 169 seats for the people of East Pakistan, the Awami League bagged 167, while of the two, one went to Nurul Amin (PPP); and the other to Raja Tridiv Roy (independent). The Awami League thus emerged the single majority party in the whole of Pakistan. Bhutto's People's Party (PPP) finished second in West Pakistan. But the requisite political space was denied to the majority party through the evil machinations of Yahya, Bhutto and the military, who sought a military solution to the resulting political impasse.

The scheduled March 3 National Assembly session in Dhaka was postponed without giving a fresh date; this was done apparently to thwart the Awami League's coming to power, and thus was an anti-Bangali move.

The people's instant reaction was a vociferous protest, which under the direction of Bangabandhu, turned into the non-violent non-cooperation movement spanning the period from 1 March through 25 March. This was a political movement in which Bangabandhu called the shots, and has since remained an astounding success story.

At least two events during the tumultuous March days need mention – Bangabandhu's 7 March speech and his participation in the Yahya – Bhutto parleys. The 7 March speech had two core parts, the first contained a message for Pakistan and the world; while the latter for Bangalis. The first part raised four preconditions for resolving the political crisis politically, and which included a. withdrawal of martial law; b. taking the army back to barrack; c. judicial inquiry into killings; and d. return of power to the people's elected representatives. These preconditions did demonstrate Bangabandhu's acumen as a democratic leader as well as it sent out a message across the world that his intent was to solve political crisis politically. The second part was intended to rouse his people for wresting independence through a people's guerilla war. The central sentence in this part was "The struggle this time is for our emancipation, the struggle this time is for independence." The rationale for such a call was that deep down in his mind, Bangabandhu knew for sure that the Pakistanis could not heed his political preconditions. The subsequent turn of events did justify him. In a nutshell, however, it must be said that the speech was an equivocal call for independence given in a crafty and roundabout way.  In contents and substance, as subsequently interpreted, the speech addressed not only the have-nots of the then East Pakistan, but also those across the world. Hence there is little wonder that on 30 October 2017, the UNESCO included the speech in its Memory of the World Register. Moreover, another international recognition had come, when Bangabandhu was given the honourific 'poet of politics' by the American weekly Newsweek (5 April 1971).

The March 7 speech of Bangabandhu was his consummate political philosophy foreshadowing Bangladesh. It also demonstrated his deep ingrained democratic ethos whereby he could raise the voice of justice, albeit couched in crafty words. All in all, this speech demonstrated the speaker's political acumen, strategic perception and a clear understanding of the past, present and future of his people.

Bangabandhu's participation in the talks had a serious intent to find a political solution to a political problem. This act of Bangabandhu also got across the message of his democratic intent to the world. On the contrary, the Pakistan side, bent ab initio on a military solution, used the time of the talks for finalizing the genocide plan code-named Operation Searchlight. Politically as it can now be said with hindsight, that Bangabandhu did the right thing in participating in the talks; and this he had to do as he had no other better alternative.

Bangabandhu's political sagacity was borne out at least twice as he had forecast election results (of the 1970 General Election) precisely to the two journalists even before the elections were held. A few days before the elections, APP journalist Amanullah heard from Bangabandhu, "I will certainly return victorious in the election." Anthony Mascarenhas had quizzed Bangabandhu as to the number of seats his party would win. The prompt reply given was, "167 out 169 allotted seats; of the rest two, one would go to Nurul Amin of PDP, and the other to Raja Tridiv Roy, an independent candidate from the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The election results proved Bangabandhu true; whereas the military intelligence prognosis was 80 seats for the Awami League, and 25 for Bhutto's Peoples Party of Pakistan; none of which came out to be true.


The writer is the Bangabandhu

Chair Professor, Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP), Mirpur

Cantonment, Dhaka