Is national unity an illusion?
Mozammel H. Khan
As it appears now from the current government version of history, ours, probably, is the only nation on the planet whose history does not contain the history of its creation! On any congregation not organised by any political party or its direct affiliates, either at home or abroad, any reminiscence of the authentic history of our war of liberation is considered as "political," as if the process of the birth of Bangladesh was an apolitical phenomenon.
A few years ago, two reputed constitutional lawyers of Canada while analysing the legalities of the possible separation of Quebec from Canada, observed: "After 1945, Bangladesh was the only country of the world which successfully seceded from Pakistan through armed struggle. However, the principal strength of that struggle came from the unparallel election victory of Awami League led by its charismatic leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The popular support he enjoyed was unheard of in a Western democracy."
It is an undisguised consensus among our people that the liberation war of 1971 was the most, and probably the only, glorious chapter of our history. It is like democracy; it is very stigmatic to portray oneself as not a believer in democracy, no matter how undemocratic the person is.
The effort to deny the credit by portraying someone else but Bangabandhu as the principle architect of that history has been a ceaseless phenomenon since his tragic assassination some thirty years ago. As the years passed, all successive (non AL) governments went further and further in, not only eclipsing Bangabandhu, but totally expunging the only chapter of history for which each and every element of our nation who sided with it, either by participation or through allegiance to the concept, could have been truly proud of.
Every nation evokes the memory of its history's golden chapter in time of dire need of national unity. Paradoxically, ours is the opposite, where the recitation of veracious history has become the major divisive ingredient in our society. This year's celebration of March 26 by the government shattered all its previous records of falsification.
It was reported that the whole of the stadium, where the official celebration of the independence took place, was decorated with the pictures of the late President Ziaur Rahman, portraying him as the sole leader of our independence. Seven Birshresthas' pictures were lucky enough to make their places in the stadium, only because they met martyrdom. If they were alive today, they would be persona non-grata at the venue of the celebration unless they would re-educate themselves with the "history" that they responded to the call of an obscure major to join the war of liberation.
Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir did not have the luxury to sit with a transistor and wait for someone's call when he valiantly fought with the Pakistani army in the early hours of the crackdown and met martyrdom. Likewise, Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman, probably did not even know who the declare was when his great patriotic zeal reigned over the love of his young children and wife, who were in enemy territory, in order to join the war of liberation of his motherland.
It is not only the effort to marginalise Bangabandhu from our history; it is the vilification of him that has attained a new height. A sitting minister who was a student leader during the liberation struggle and a propitiator of "scientific socialism" and an organiser of "gonobahini" to establish that socialism thereafter, recently made a disclosure that he was with Sheikh Mujib until the late hours of March 25 and that the Sheikh did not give any call for independence. He joined the war of liberation only after the "proclamation of independence" by Major Zia on March 26, a day ahead of Major Zia's actual declaration! The said minister also commemorated March 2 as the Isthehar Divas (declaration day) in the congregation of his current comrades.
I am quoting an extract from that Ishtehar, and from the resolution of the public meeting that followed on March 3 in Paltan Maidan that read: "Joy Bangla: Proclamation of independence. Independence for Bangladesh is hereby declared. It is now an independent and sovereign country ... The name of this territory of 54,506 [square] miles is Bangla Desh ...Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is the father of this new nation."
The public meeting further resolved, "This meeting is taking the solemn vow to carry out the struggle for independence resting full confidence on the leadership of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and urging every one, irrespective of party affiliation, to join the struggle for independence of Bangladesh."
Conferring upon himself with the distinction of making such a public declaration of independence on March 2, one can only conjecture how he could abase himself to assert that he joined the war of liberation only after he heard the call made by an unknown major of that time. It would be only natural to enquire that when he took leave of Bangabandhu on the fateful night of March 25, did Bangabandhu advise him to wait for someone's call to start the war of liberation for independence for which he takes great pride, even today, to read the declaration on March 2? If he thought Bangabandhu was such an injudicious leader, what logic propelled him to associate himself with the section of liberation force that carried Mujib's name? What pursuit prompted him to take another vow to establish his so-called scientific socialism under his "great leadership" right after the liberation?
Another former minister, a current MP, and then a junior officer, has underlined Sheikh Mujib's ineptitude as a leader, since he, allegedly, did not pay heed to a group of Bengali soldiers' (stationed in Chittagong) advice to declare the independence of Bangladesh in early March. Without contesting the frivolous counsel, albeit not even attested by any authoritative account, it would be sufficient enough to rebut that the liberation war was not an adventure game.
Unilateral and public declaration of independence without justifiable provocation could hardly command the support of the international community without while the war of liberation would have been short-lived indeed. It would have been a self-inflicting catastrophe of astronomical magnitude at the expense of the ethnic cleansing of millions of more lives and of the subjugation of the Bengali nation for the foreseeable future. AL's six-point programme, as was endorsed by people in the general election, was a Magna Carta for quasi-independence, not for absolute independence.
To justify the transition from the mandate of a quasi to a complete independence, the formal declaration of independence (April 10, 1971) contained five "whereas" clauses that included: "whereas instead of fulfilling their promise ... Pakistan authorities declared an unjust and treacherous war." The corroborating words of the enemy General, Rao Forman Ali, also attested that sequential transition when he said, "after the postponement of National Assembly, he (Mujib) came to the conclusion that the combined forces of the Military and the PPP would not let materialise his desire to rule Pakistan. Therefore, he decided to be the father of a new nation."
Bangabandhu was the main force and the spirit of the Bengali nationhood. If anyone did anything to accelerate the process during the crucial nine months, at home and abroad, it was done invoking his name. It was he who unified the nation and brought us together to a height we have never reached either before or since. During the nine months of genocide, armed struggle, and untold sufferings, his name glowed ceaselessly in the hearts of millions.
In the words of affirmation by General Rao Forman Ali: "90 per cent of the people of Bangladesh were taken in by the magical power of Sheikh Mujib, and they were ready to sacrifice their lives for the creation of Bangladesh." It is imperative for any prudent leadership of the nation to evoke the only glorious chapter of history with a view to make it the rallying point to induce patriotism, an indispensable pre-requisite for national unity. Quite to the contrary, history is being revoked, not invoked, and the much-cherished national unity remains, forever, an illusion.
Dr. Mozammel H. Khan is a Professor and the Head of Mechanical Engineering and Quality Engineering Departments of Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Ontario, Canada.