Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan
In death and in life
Syed Badrul Ahsan
Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan
Much to the disappointment of his detractors and former allies, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan died in all the glory of respect he truly deserved. The effusive and spontaneous tributes which poured in from across the political spectrum, all of which made note of his contributions to politics, were proof of the niche he had created for himself on the national scene. His death brought together men who have never had reason to agree with one another and probably never will. But all of them did agree that in Mannan Bhuiyan's death one more authentic political being had passed from the scene.
Mannan Bhuiyan was not a man whom history will place among those who made a difference to this nation. He will not rank with those who fought for greater causes and achieved greater successes in this country. But he was a significant political figure. But for him, despite the chilling criticism Begum Khaleda Zia may fling at him, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party would not be where it is today. Through the decade of the 1980s, as the momentum to rid the country of the Ershad dictatorship gathered pace, it was Bhuiyan who, more than anyone else in his party, understood the necessity of principled action. And that consisted in holding fast to the belief that the only way to make sure a dictatorship was put out of action was through confronting it head on. At a time when many of Begum Zia's comrades found it convenient to desert her and link up with the military regime and its political outfit, the Jatiyo Party, Mannan Bhuiyan upheld loyalty at its highest colours. Those renegades who ditched the Begum for Ershad are back in the BNP. And there are those too who, having talked reforms within the party with the Fakhruddin-led caretaker government, found their way back to the party. Khaleda Zia cheerfully saw them return to her, in all their old, frayed loyalty. But she left Bhuiyan out in the cold. That she did not deem it proper or respectful to visit him in his dying hours, that she did not consider it worthwhile to have his party membership restored will forever remain a sign of the deep hatred in which she held Bhuiyan. The loser here is not Bhuiyan.
Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan's fault, much as one might disagree with the notion, was not that he considered reforms in the BNP a historical necessity. It was, now that we have known the truth in sharper detail, his clear belief that if the BNP were to turn into a party in the proper democratic sense, it would need to shed some old baggage. Part of that baggage was the dynastic mould the party had become trapped in. It was plain humiliation for Bhuiyan when Begum Zia's elder child was imposed on the party as a leading figure. As party secretary general, Bhuiyan ought to have exercised his authority in vetoing such action on the part of the party chief. But, then, the bigger truth is that in a party where the chairperson is the repository of all authority, no other individual matters. From that perspective, Bhuiyan did not matter. Should he have asserted himself? Should he, as one who had helped national history take shape in the 1960s and 1970s, have roused the party faithful through a direct challenge to Begum Zia in the BNP's last stint in office on the imperative for party reforms?
These questions will not be answered easily. And then comes that bigger question: should Bhuiyan have gone for reforms the way he did during caretaker times? The natural inclination for men and women, especially when it comes to politics, is to cast a cynical look at those who would seek to do good in the shadow of questionable quotidian reality. In a number of ways, the Fakhruddin administration, backed by the military as it were, faltered grievously. Its embarrassing attempt to block Sheikh Hasina's return to the country was made worse by its unashamed move of trying to force Khaleda Zia to go into exile abroad. The consequence was natural: Sheikh Hasina came home, Begum Zia did not have to leave it, and the caretakers had their noses rubbed in the dirt. It was Mannan Bhuiyan's misfortune that he chose to speak of reforms at a time when others in his party thought they were waging battle against a new dictatorship.
When you speak of Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, you tend to get drawn to the ironies which often leave life in a state of inexplicable suspension. Bhuiyan's track record tells you that he ought not to have gone into the BNP at all. As a student, he was part of the cerebrally oriented Chhatra Union. He was a participant in the War of Liberation. In the early 1970s, his was a loud left-wing voice in defence of popular causes. In aligning himself with Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, he clearly told the country he knew what Bangladesh expected of its politicians.
And yet Mannan Bhuiyan left all this happy personal legacy behind --- to join the Ziaur Rahman bandwagon with others of his political club. His presence alongside Zia and then beside Khaleda Zia surely injected the Bangladeshi jatiyotabadis with energy and good cheer. But this sacrifice of his true calling, of the secularism he believed in, of the democratic goals he aspired to, in the end found him pushed into loneliness he could not truly bear. It was loneliness which was related as well to the treachery of those whose message he had borne across the country for years.
Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan will be missed long after those who treated him with contempt are remembered no more.
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