Thursday, 26 May, 2022

Bangabandhu: An Assessment

Dr. Syed Anwar Husain

Bangabandhu: An Assessment
Dr. Syed Anwar Husain

To assess a vast (although in terms of longevity, it was a short life) and varied life and works of Bangabandhu, is a difficult, if not an impossible task. We seek to assess him on the basis of the four key evaluative themes:

—Why was he Bangabandhu?

—Why was he the Father of the Nation?

—Did he have any failings? and

—What type of leader was he?

Bangabandhu was an honorific, not self-assumed or given by some hand-picked flatterers, but by a vast crowd of people beholden to Sheikh Mujib’s selfless sacrifices for bettering their lot. Indeed, as the single most effective catalyst in the run-up of the myriad events making the pathway to Bangladesh, this man had contributions unequalled in the annals of Bangali people in the Eastern part of Bengal. But for him, servility of the Bangali people to the Pakistani misrule of oppression and discrimination would not end. Starting in September 1947, even before coming back to Dhaka, Bangabandhu had charted his political goal of relentlessly seeking Bangali emancipation through the achievement of statehood. In the 7 March speech, while giving an equivocal call for independence, emancipation was stressed more than independence. It may be said with hindsight that, as per the conceptual construction of Bangabandhu, independence from the Pakistani shackles would be a way station towards emancipation of his people. Thus precedence of the word emancipation to independence in this speech is understood. In the 1,314 days in the post-independence Bangladesh (upto the time he was hit by assassin’s bullets), Bangabandhu endeavoured to seek emancipation of people. He changed the course, but not the goal, on 25 January 1975 (through the controversial 4th Amendment). Controversy aside, a cursory glance at the resulting Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BKSAL) Constitution of 6 June 1975 would lead to an ineluctable impression that what was really meant was power to the people through overhauling politico-administrative structure. Even during the preparatory 233 days, the new system spawned some positive indicators. Meant for a temporary duration, the BKSAL system, if implemented properly, would have brought about revolutionary changes; but the assassins willed otherwise.

That Bangabandhu was drawn to people, and people to him is borne out by what Bangabandhu said to David Frost in interview (18 January 1972). Relevant here are the words of the American leadership researcher Professor Garry Wills, “... the leader is one who mobilises others toward a goal shared by a leader and followers.” The leader-people intermesticity did grow out of the mindset that Bangabandhu had, and the sufficient cue to which could be had from the self-assessment he made in a notebook as he jotted down on 30 May 1973

As a man, what concerns mankind concerns me. As a Bengalee, I am deeply involved in all that concerns Bengalees. This abiding involvement is born of and nourished by love, enduring love, which gives meaning to my politics and to my very being.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was thus justifiably Bangabandhu. That Bangabandhu would also be given the honorific the Father of the Nation had been foreshadowed even before the birth of Bangladesh. This was again a people-centric process in origin. Now the Bangladesh Constitution, by its Article 4A, recognises Bangabandhu as the Father of the Nation; this recognition was paved by a sequence of events. In 1966, during the 6 Point movement, Sirajul Alam Khan, the leader of the Nucleus (a secret youth front working for independence), was reported to have said publicly that, “Bangladesh would be made independent under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib because people listen to him.” On 3 March 1971, Chhatra Sangram Parishad, the youth front, in the Manifesto of Independence, declared at a rally (Paltan) made a specific point regarding the locus standi of Bangabandhu as the Father of the Nation. The constitutional recognition makes the honorific a fait accompli. Bangabandhu is the Father of the Nation, not because he fathered the nation (nobody can), but mainly because the state of Bangladesh owes its creation to Bangabandhu. In other words, the political doings of Bangabandhu endowed the Bangali nation with the first ever statehood.

A tricky question to handle is about whether Bangabandhu had any failing. To glorify Bangabandhu and make him a flawless angel would be unrealistic. He was a human being (although of a different breed and type), and had human failings. Thus a compassionate study on Bangabandhu is required to focus on his both successes and failures; although he was an outstandingly successful leader, while his failures were mostly due to circumstantial exigencies. To leave a track-record without any failure, Bangabandhu would have to be a superman, which, try as he might, he could not be. He remained throughout his life an exemplary leader with best possible intentions for his people. Indeed, Bangabandhu himself provides us a strong cue as to how to evaluate him in a realistic way. As he confided, “I am not an angel, not even a devil. I am a human being; and to err is human. If I err, my task is to correct myself...” He held the same view of his co-workers and followers, and he is on record of having had to admonish them time and again with such poignant advices as, “self-criticise yourselves, self-restrain yourselves; and self-correct yourselves.”

In retrospect, it may appear that a major failing was the inability to craft state apparatuses and administrative machinery befitting the new state of Bangladesh. The reason why Bangabandhu could not do this is he had to make do with whatever ramshackle structure he had found in a totally war-devastated country. In other words, time was against him. In the absolute topsy-turvy situation, the prime need was to get the country to a functional mode; and this was done by improvising on the basis of the inherited Pakistani system. Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader and a great admirer of Bangabandhu, at the Algiers Nonaligned Summit in 1973, found serious fault with this policy of improvisation. Bangabandhu had to parry this pointed question citing his dilemma in the new country.

But Bangabandhu did find the going real tough; and he was piqued at the mixed results; and the outcome was the BKSAL system, which portended to effect a revolutionary turn-around. By Bangabandhu’s own admission, the system was not a quick fix, but a result of a good deal of his pondering and introspection. The new system was slated to obviate the pitfalls of the pre-BKSAL days. But this was not to be, as the turn of events willed otherwise.

The Rakkhi Bahini, the elite force to deal with dwindling law and order situation, was certainly a need of the hour. But as this force was accused of doing excesses, it must not be forgotten that this force posed a direct threat as well to the group interest of the army establishment – something ominous for a fledgling state. A pious wish thus mismatched with hard reality, much of which was a systemic failure; and, for which, Bangabandhu, the person, although at the helm of affairs, could hardly be held entirely responsible. But, in the final analysis, however, things did go awry when Bangabandhu was calling the shots.

Another frequently hyped failing was the granting of amnesty to the Pakistani collaborators, excepting the eleven thousand, who had been accused of serious specific charges. This was a large-heartedness misconstrued mostly by the beneficiaries. It is worth mentioning that Nelson Mandela did the same thing in South Africa. But, while he was positively reciprocated, Bangabandhu had the opposite fate.

Bangabandhu was a people-centric and popular leader with the attending charisma. But he was never a populist leader, kowtowing public whims and caprices; on the contrary, he was a leader who rightly felt the popular pulse, and endeavoured honestly to deliver the goods the people hankered after; and this was manifested in how he acted as the lead catalyst in the cruel birth of Bangladesh as well as providing the new state with a roadmap for future growth. Indeed, during the time he was allowed, the state of Bangladesh reared its head like the legendary Phoenix bird. By the time he had to make a forced exit from this temporal world, the state of Bangladesh, both domestically and internationally, was a name to be reckoned with to the global community. In fact, much of the resilience of the present state of Bangladesh owes its origin to the troubled and delicate Bangladesh Bangabandhu had to preside over between 1972 and 1975.

While saying so much of Bangabandhu as the leader, there remains something more to be said of him vis-a-vis his psyche. In fact, as the psychiatrists suggest, psyche is the guiding factor which conditions all human actions. Bangabandhu was not a soft-spoken man; he was always articulate enough not to mince words, although he was skilful in wording his speeches/statements. Outwardly, these were signs of a strong man, and he had certainly the strength of mind to pursue his goal persistently and consistently; and the result was the birth of Bangladesh. The persistent struggle that preceded 1971 was unwavering and flawless under the dynamic leadership of Bangabandhu. But this Bangabandhu, while conducting the affairs of Bangladesh, between 1972 and 1975, masqueraded that he had a soft heart within himself insofar as his own Bangali people were concerned. Leniency was writ large in many of his decisions and actions during these tumultuous years. As we look back, it becomes clear that, on many occasions, Bangabandhu allowed his heart to dominate over head, resulting in quite a few policy and administrative slips. A leader is also a man with both head and heart; and perfect and balanced blending of both is required of a leader. As it was, in the case of Bangabandhu, the balance was tipped more in favour of heart, although his leadership remains unsurpassed. That he had a soft heart is revealed in his only self-composed poem—   

My poem wails in silence and isolation

the gentlemen of Bengal steal

and cheat people by ensnaring

them in trap

I would like to run red horse over them

[but] I feel pain in chest

Have we earned independence

for the country to be looted like this?


The writer is Bangabandhu Chair Professor, Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP)