Emergence of Bangladesh
THE events that took place in the formative phase (1947-1958) of the Pakistan state created the ground for increased alienation of the Bengalis with the resultant disintegration of Pakistan, and thus, the emergence of Bangladesh as a separate state in 1971. The accommodation of the distinct Bengali identity as a national category was the major challenge before the Pakistani ruling elites, and the pursuance of utterly discriminatory policies by them towards the Bengalis only contributed to hasten the process of their alienation. Needless to say, political developments of a state do not take place in isolation. This was very true in case of Pakistan. The pre-1947 course of events had made a large impact on it. It may be remembered that the pro-Pakistani partition leaders projected their contemplated state as a panacea, a sort of 'heaven on earth' before 1947. A sea gap afterwards between expectations and realities in the new state caused utter disillusionment to toiling masses.
Pakistan came to be established more than half-a-century ago. Different scholars covering its various aspects with special focus on the early period have written many good books. However, the recent work by Badruddin Umar, a noted Bangladeshi writer and Marxist idealogue, titled The Emergence of Bangladesh: The Class Struggles in East Pakistan, 1947-1958 (Oxford 2004) is a welcome addition to the list. The book contains as many as forty chapters covering a wide range of things, such as, minority questions, structure of power and position of the Bengalis, peasants' and workers' movements, 1948 and 1952 language movements, formation of Communist Party in East Pakistan and its role, hunger strikes of communist prisoners and Rajshahi Jail killings, crisis within the Muslim League, birth of Awami Muslim League and its role, Tangail by-elections (1948, 1949), formations of Youth League and Ganatantri Dal, constitution making in Pakistan and East Bengal's position in it, governmental instability at the province and the centre, formation of the United Front and the 1954 elections, fall of the United Front Ministry and role of the centre, creation of one unit in West Pakistan, Awami League governments in East Pakistan as well as at the centre and their performances, formation of the National Awami Party, political intrigues in Pakistan and their actors, and 1958 military coups d'etat and the role of US. Readers already know most of the political events discussed in the book. The book's distinctive feature is the class analysis approach on which it is based.
Chapters dealing with partition, peasants' and workers' movements, formation of the East Pakistan Communist Party and its role, language movement in East Pakistan are the best ones. On minority question and partition the author rightly says that the partition of India, thus, the creation of Pakistan did not solve 'the religious minority problems' (p.1)holding both Congress and Jinnah responsible for this. About the failure of communist movement, the author is of the view that the mistaken policy and strategy adopted by the Communist Party were responsible for not being able to play its desired role despite genuine commitment and many sacrifices. First of all, in pursuance of B.T. Ranadive's thesis, the Communist Party had a recourse to a militant path in the aftermath of partition when Pakistan euphoria was very high among the Muslim masses. Second, in the early sixties, the party resolved to allow a section of its leadership to operate within the Awami League instead of developing itself as an independent body pursing the Bengali national question along the line of class struggles. The author has a pioneering work on language movement in three volumes.
In the present book the section on language movement is at its best. One will fully agree with him when he says, "... for the first time workers, peasants, office employees, students and people from all walks of life joined in a kind of uprising against the government....the common people realized that the government which came to power after independence was not their friend" (p.13). Or as he says, "The police firing on 1 February transformed, almost overnight, the Language Movement into a movement of the broad masses of the people for the overthrow of the existing government... The people realized much more clearly the regional character of the Pakistan government and the need to struggle for establishing not only certain basic regional rights but for consolidating themselves as a linguistic nation" (p.223). "The inevitable consequence of this ... was the continuous decommunalisation of politics and the emergence of non-communal forces as organized political and cultural bodies" (p.223).
However, the present work has been constrained by many shortcomings. At some points it lacks consistencies and suffers from contradictions. As for instance, at p. 231 (also see p.188) while discussing the organizational position of the Awami League in the year 1951, the author writes, "... the Awami League itself had little organisation and was a rather insignificant political force." At p.256 he gives us just an opposite view, "... the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League was the biggest organised party in East Bengal." The latter statement is made for the year 1953. This suggests that such an astounding expansion of the party took place just over the period between 1951 and 1953. Was it possible? This may give rise to further question: What led the organisation to grow in no time? The author does not give any answer.
The author is widely known to be pathologically opposed to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh, as a man and political leader. From his writings readers instantly get impression that he decidedly talks a very negative attitude towards the Sheikh for mysterious reasons. His only intent seems to belittle him as much as he can. The author's present work is no exception. While he prefers to mention Jinnah as 'Quaid-i-Azam' (p.138), no such adornment (Bangabandhu) can be found in his book after the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Sheikh Mujib was the first state language prisoner (11 March 1948) along with others. Only there is a cursory reference to this in the book (p.33). Sheikh Mujib became a founding Joint Secretary of the Awami League from prison. This single fact bears a testimony to his political eminence as a leader at his age (at that time 29 years). He was the General Secretary of the Awami League from 1953 onward until 1966 when he was elected as its President. He organised the Awami League in every nook and corner of East Bengal turning it into the Bengali nationalist movement. He left the lone example in our political history by voluntarily resigning from ministerial position of the Ataur Rahman Khan's government in East Pakistan in 1957 in preference to the position of party General Secretary.
Though the book under discussion contains many chapters, most of them are scanty and many range from 3 to 5 pages. The work is unconventional in the sense that it does not begin with any introduction nor does it give any conclusion. As it is evident from the preface, the book was not well planned. It is the outcome of a series of articles written over times in the Weekly Holiday (83 installments altogether). This may explain why it lacks coherence and suffers from contradictory statements. The 'gross distortion' of history by the Awami League government in 1996 prompted the author, as he claims, to write 'a factual, as well as analytical, history of this land from 1947-1971' (Preface). Has he been able to write one completely free from distortion in the end?
The second volume, which covers the period from 1958-1971, is yet to be published. We shall have to wait till then in order to see the strengths and weakness of that volume. In any event, I congratulate the author for writing this book which, in spite of many shortcomings as seen above, readers will find very useful for the range of subjects, if not for other things, it covers.
Harun-or-Rashid PhD is a Professor of Political Science and Dean, Faculty of Social Science, University of Dhaka.
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