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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 25 New Delhi June 13, 2015

Meaning of Mujib / Communal Amity in Post-Liberation Bangladesh

Saturday 13 June 2015, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

Meaning of Mujib

When Dacca, in the grip of an unprecedented mass upsurge on the triumphant home coming of Bangabandhu, heard lakhs of voices spontaneously calling for “Joi Indira Gandhi”, it was not only an expression of well-deserved personal tribute to the Prime Minister of India for all that she has done for the libertion of Bangladesh and for the freedom of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It was much more significant: a memorable landmark in India’s contribution towards the building of a better world of peace, freedom and democracy in Asia.

It was this time last year when the Indira Government’s critics—not only outside her party but quite a few inside it—used to say that our standing in the world abroad had gone down, that we had made no advance worth the name in redeeming our prestige in foreign affairs while other countries from Japan to West Germany had gone far ahead. Such carping criticisms formed part of the Right Opposition’s platform in the mid-term parliamentary poll campaign, while the Left Opposition attacked the govern-ment for being weak-kneed in standing up to the US imperialist offensive particularly in Asia.

Today, such prophets have turned out to be empty-headed pundits oiut of tune with the emerging reality in the Indian scene which Smt Gandhi and her team have correctly assessed and accelerated its advance. It is because they have been able to detect the mass mood for radical move forward that they have scored phenomenal success both at home and abroad. There is a common link between the expulsion of the Syndicate from the Congress, the nationalisation of the banks and the amend-ments of the Constitution, on the one hand, and the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty, the diplomatic recognition of Hanoi and the liberation of Bangla-desh, on the other. All the outstanding events of the last three years can be pieced together to form a coherent pattern of radical advance; but if any of these is taken in isolation, one is bound to either get stuck in doctrinaire sectrianism or land in idealised optimism.

Smt Gandhi’s claim that the three promises made by her government—help in the liberation of Bangladesh, ensuring the return of one crore refugees in self-respect and security, and get Sheikh Mujib released from captivity—have been redeemed, provided eloquent testimony to the newly gathered strength of India’s democracy wedded to non-alignment. In contrast, the dictatorial regime based on US-propped military blocs today presents the sorry spectacle of a state, the majority of whose population has opted out into freedom.

India’s pride and glory lies not in humiliating the people of Pakistan but in helping in the birth of a new nation-state in Asia, liberated from the heels of militry dictatorship and broken away from war blocs sponsored by US imperialism. It is a significant commentary of the fast growing radicalism in this part of the world that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who in the fifties did not demur at Pakistan continuing in the CENTO and SEATO, has today led his people to victory over those very forces reared by the military-bloc policy inside Pakistan, and has pledged himself to the ideals of democracy, secularism and socialism.

If the journey so far has been strenuous though rewarding, the road ahead promises to be no less uphill, but the prospect beckons us to the challenges that only a great nation has the privilege to take up.

New Delhi will have to create new norms of mutual cooperation and assistance which will reinforce the present bond of solidarity forged through the struggle for liberation. By the time Bangabandhu touched down on Sonar Bangla, the first step towards the evolution of this new relationship was already taken during the very fruitful talks that Bangladesh Foreign Minister Janab Samad had with different Ministries and experts in New Delhi. The joint communique at the end of the talks opens up new vistas of cooperation in different spheres. Almost simulta-neously has come the relaxation of restrictions on trade in many items, while India has offered supply of crude for Bangladesh’s refinery requirement. Already exploratory talks have started on joint projects of mutual benefit. In other words, the realisation is evident in New Delhi that a strong and viable economy in Bangladesh will benefit this country in cooperation and mutual advance.

The struggle for independence in Bangladesh has brought a new dimension in the outlook and attitude of India’s armed forces. In the British days, the Indian soldier had to fight Britain’s imperial wars; even in the later stages of the Second World War when the struggle against fascist conquest of many countries brought a new content into the war itself, the perspective of freedom was kept back from India’s armed forces under British command. After Independence, the jawan was invested with the responsibility of defending the country’s frontiers and he did it with dedication even when the brass let him down as in 1962 at the time of the Chinese attack. But this time in Bangladesh, India’s jawan has emerged in the new role of a liberator and he has earned his spurs as men and women in Bangladesh, from Bangabandhu downwards, offer him their gratitude and affection.

This metamorphosis of the Indian soldiers in thirty years from a mercenary under an imperial master to a fraternal liberator of a friendly neighbour struggling to be free, provides one more proof of the new reality in world politics today which injects radical content into the traditional institutions of a bygone age. Those who assess developments by looking at the form without scrutinising the content, miss the revolution that is on despite all the profundities of paper revolutionism that they claim for themselves.

Bangladesh’s liberation has provided an acid test of statesmanship for many powers in the world. It was the USA which had kept Pakistan as its own preserve for two long decades. While rearing up the military junta in West Pakistan, it tried to extend its tentacles over the political elite in the eastern wing. In fact, there was no conspicuous sign of bitterness against US agencies in East Bengal even up to the time of Yahya’s crack-down on democratic forces on March 25.

But through its own misdoings Washington has today lost its political standing at Dacca. The Kissinger strategy has practically lost for Nixon the entire state of Bangladesh. It is not just a coincidence that the Seventh Fleet’s Enterprise turned its course back into the Pacific Ocean the very day Sheikh Mujib set foot on independent Sonar Bangla. The crisis of the US global policy is writ large from Vietnam to Pakistan despite the billions of dollars spent on arms and aid by policymakers in Washington. In these ten months what Nixon has been able to achieve in this subcontinent is a major debacle of US policy with the crack-up of Pakistan, coupled with the strengthening of Moscow’s standing not only in this country through the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty but in Bangladesh as well through the active appreciation of the positive content of the liberation struggle.

With regard to India, the slump in American statesmanship is nowhere more sharply brought out than in the diplomatic exchnges during this crisis; and it is to be noted that the diplomatic exchanges often provide a very good touchstone for a government’s capacity for statesmanship. One conspicuous example will bear this out: Smt Gandhi’s letter to Nixon during the Indo-Pak conflict in December bears the imprint of maturity in statesmanship unruffled by the blatantly anti-India posture of the Nixon Administration. In contrast, Nixon’s reactions have the hallmark of cowboy politics, as shown in his reply and more sharply in the Anderson exposures of Kissinger’s intrigues.

It is an irony of history that Peking which has been tirelessly proclaiming its claim as the sole guardian of all liberation struggles in all the continents today, came out as the ardent champion of Yahya Khan’s bloodthirsty hordes and vied with the USA in the United Nations to denounce the Bangladesh liberation struggle and to condemn India for supporting that struggle. The consequence of Peking’s policy today has been that its political foothold in Bangladesh has practically been liquidated and it will not be easy for it to get over the wall of bitter misunderstanding which is its own making.

In this case also New Delhi has displayed a sense of rare statesmanship. Not only did it restrain the temptation of matching invectives with counter-invectives—which is both easy and natural to indulge in—but it never ceased to appeal to the dictates of reason and sense of good neighbourliness. Against the vitriolic outpourings of the Chinese delegation in the United Nations, Smt Gandhi did not hesitate to appeal to Mr Chou En-lai to exercise his undoubted influence over Islamabad to restrain it from the mad venture of war. If the Chinese Premier has not cared to reply, New Delhi had nothing to lose but a lot to gain when today’s momentous developments would be assessed tomorrow in their proper perspective.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman faces today perhaps the biggest challenge in his eventful political career. His phenomenal mass popularity will itself demand of him the capacity for handling multi-dimensional problems which few leaders in the world have to face. While his own people will expect him to lead them on to new heights of success in rebuilding a shattered nation, the magnitude of the problems themselves can over-power men of ordinary mould.

Bangladesh as a nation today is united as never before, and this granite unity will have to face attacks, both open and clandestine, from the agents of the Right and organs of the ultra-Left; sometimes the forces of the Right will put on the mantle of revolutionaries. All this calls Banga-bandhu to a battle which is no less formidable than the one waged to overthrow the Pak military rule. Some may argue openly—or question in whispers—if Sheikh Mujib will be able to stand up to this mighty challenge. No doubt it will be a folly to be carried away by the euphoria of today; there are many precedents in history when leaders have lost their charisma much faster than they have acquired it.

But the one single guarantee of Bangabandhu riding the storm ahead is his capacity to move with the masses: they are not only his friends but his master as well. Nearer home, we have to take into account the phenomenon of Indira Gandhi to understand the meaning of Mujib. Five years ago, nobody in this country could believe that she would earn for herself the place in history that she has today. This has been possible for her to achieve because learning from the reserses of her first year in office, she has been trying to reflect the radical urges of the awakened masses in this country. In the same way, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman can reach new heights of glory as he will constantly endeavour to translate the radical expectations of his people into an abiding reality.

The makers of history are in their turn made by the awakened masses that throw them up.

(Mainstream, January 15, 1972)

The following is the second part of N.C.’s ‘Dacca Jottings’ that he wrote in February 1972 on his return to New Delhi from his first visit to Dacca (as it was then spelled) after the liberation of East Pakistan and emergence of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. It appeared in Mainstream on February 12, 1972.

Communal Amity in Post-Liberation Bangladesh

A striking feature of political life in Bangla-desh today is the total absence of any sign of communal politics. In no walk of life one comes across any sign of communal discrimination.

This is largely a contribution of the Awami League politics which never based its demands or claims on Hindu-Muslim differences. Even in the past, during the 1965 Indo-Pak conflict, communal offensive against the Hindus was engineered by the Pak authorities and not by any of the parties which have participated in the liberation struggle. It is not, therefore, just a gimmick on the part of the Bangladesh Govern-ment to ban the communal parties immediately after the liberation.

The heinous crimes of the Al Badr and Al Shams have, if anything, opened the eyes of the common Muslim about the enormity of religious bigotry, since most of the Al Badr and Al Shams cadres are Bengali youth under the spell of the mullahs.

The Pak military authorities did discriminate against the Hindu minority population. A pogrom against the Hindu minority population was let loose quite early in the all-out offensive which was started on March 25, 1971. That was why a very large section of the refugees who migrated across the frontier into India was Hindu. After pushing them out of the villages, loot and arson by Razakar bands were allowed freely by the Pak military authorities. This way a communal twist was sought to be given to a purely political offensive.

The Razakars, it may be noted, are mostly from among non-Bengali sections of the population, and their crime record is the most shocking. The antipathy towards non-Bengalis—lumped in the popular parlance as “Biharis”—has a political connotation, since the non-Bengalees, by and large, not only sided with the Pak military authorities but were mostly co-sharer in the crimes perpetrated during Yahya Khan’s fascist regime.

Even in the non-Bengali pockets of Mirpur and Mohammadpur in the outskirts of Dacca, the overwhelming section of the people—ninety-five per cent, as a senior Dacca journalist told me—are the supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami. There are armed groups among them, as they were equipped by the Pak Army. It is estimated that the pro-Pak elements still in possession of arms, whether Razakars or Al Badr, would number over a lakh.

It is in this background that one has to understand the widespread public antipathy towards the non-Bengalis in Bangladesh. It is not so much an attitude of intolerance towards a linguistic minority as such: had it been so, Smt Indira Gandhi and General Aurora would not have commanded the popularity they do today in Bangladesh.

It is more an expression of revulsion against those who actively indulged in atrocities or helped to commit them as part of the Pak military campaign of genocide against its political opponents. As a very important political leader told me in Dacca, the antipathy towards the Biharis is not due to any narrow sense of intolerance against a linguistic minority but as popular manifestation of hatred against Pakistan’s fifth column inside Bangladesh.

At the same time, the more responsible sections of public opinion in the country have not permitted any pogrom against the non-Bengalis. Rather, they have enforced a restraint which has to be gauged against the background of all the horrible atrocities committed during the nine months of full-scale rampage against all sections of the Bengali population.

It is not a case at all of non-Bengalis being finished off, as Pakistan Radio and the Western press have been trying to make out. Had it been so, the twelve lakh non-Bengalis would have been extinct today or would have fled across the frontiers. For heir own safety, most of them are kept in protected areas, where the Bangla-desh Army today stands guard.

 In the days immediately following liberation, the non-Bengali elements with pronounced pro-Pak leanings were still on the offensive in some areas, such as Khulna. And they mischievously spread the slander that the Indian Army personnel had indulged in looting and stripping off some industrial plants. On prompt investi-gation, the Bangladesh Government contradicted these rumours as totally baseless.

The entire question of collaboration with Pak authorities is exercising many in Dacca today. Some of the appointments in position of importance in the government have been misunderstood, as the personnel involved were reported to have collaborated with the previous regime.

Sometimes these charges are made without proper investigation; anybody who continued in government service during the nine months of the Pak military campaign, is a suspect, although there are many cases of persons having served the previous administration without actively helping in the campaign of atrocities.

The difficult question before the present government is: where to draw the line? While the liberation war has no doubt provided a yard-stick of patriotism, its duration and character have not been such that all those who stayed behind could be branded as enemy agents.

Secondly, there is a very serious dearth of administrative cadre in Bangladesh. For one thing, the top executive posts were mostly held by non-Bengalis, both in administration and industry. Besides, the marked collaborators among the Bengalis had to be kept away. Moreover, independence has brought on its train the need for opening of new departments—such as the Foreign Office which East Bengal did not have to bother about under Pak rule.

Thirdly, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is personally unaware of the records of many of the officers since March 25, as he himself was whisked off to the West Pakistan prison. His impressions of the personnel continues largely to be on the basis of their stand and activity before March 25. So, some of the appointments made by him personally have confused or puzzled many in the Awami League itself. The upshot of it all is that appointments have sometimes been followed by unexpected changes—a sort of ad hoc approach to the problem continues.

But resentment at some of the official appointments has not been on the score of some persons having served the previous regime being still retained in office. During my short stay in Dacca, a long list of official appointments included some persons who had been fired under the Ayub regime on charges of corruption. They are generally known as belonging to “303”, because that was the number of officers who lost their jobs under Ayub due to corruption. Obviously, there are cases of people who are trying to get themselves into the new set-up on the plea of having been victimised by the Pak authorities at sometime or other.

It is an indication of the political conscious-ness of the people in Bangladesh today that such fatuous pleas—and the patronage doled out on the basis of such pleas—are frowned upon by the public, even if such patronage comes from the highest in the land. The manner in which different sections of the Awami League itself have reacted sharply to the rehabilitation of some among the “303” bears this out.

A significant feature of the present situation is the nature of relationship between the political leadership and the officialdom. Generally speaking, the bureaucracy in Dacca is competent and hardworking. It has a number of very       able officers. However, that does not invest it with a prerogative that it had enjoyed under Pak rule.

The political leadership may not be as strong in its intellectual attainments as a Nehru, but it is jealous of its authority and vigilant against bureaucracy wielding undue powers and tres-passing into the authority of the political leadeship.

A case in point came up before my very eyes. The Bangladesh Government had appointed one of its senior Foreign Service officers, A.F.M. Fateh, as the new Foreign Secretary, when the government shifted to Dacca. Fateh was the Pak Ambassador in Iraq and had defected to Bangladesh a few months ago.

Suddenly, a few days after Sheikh Sahib’s return, Fateh was replaced peremptorily by S.A. Karim, another senior officer who was in the Pak mission in Washington. There were many rumours current about this change, and some of the Sheikh Mujib’s conservative critics started a whisper campaign that Fateh’s removal provided the foretaste of the high-handed manner in which the Prime Minister was going to rule Bangladesh.

On enquiry, I came to learn that Fateh had submitted a note objecting to the recognition of the German Democratic Republic after the government had taken a decision on it but before its formal announcement. When this note was brought to Sheikh Sahib’s notice, the Foreign Secretary’s transfer was ordered with immediate effect. No senior officer, however important he might feel, would be allowed to lord it over the government and behave as if he was on par with the Ministers. This is the present motto in Dacca.

One senior Awami League leader presented the subject very aptly to me: “In Pakistan, the bureaucracy used to be supreme, and the politicians had to kowtow to it. If we allow that tradition to continue, we would not only go down the drain as Pakistan has done, but lose the support of the common people which is the only source of our strength.”

This healthy attitude of respect towards the mass opinion is indeed the bedrock of any democratic order that will come to stay in Bangladesh. And this respect towards the mass mood is expressed in many forms.

One of the reasons for the Awami League leadership opting for the parliamentary form of Cabinet Government is the consideration that the masses in general might have misgivings about the presidential form of government. For, the presidential form is associated with the nightmare of Pakistan rule.

Besides, Mr Nixon’s flouting of the powerful American public opinion’s clamour against the US Government arming the Yahya regime, has not enhanced the prestige of the presidential model in the eyes of the common people in Bangladesh. It was, therefore, not surprising that the Bangladesh leadership had voted for the Cabinet system in deference to the popular will.

This mass mood today is conditioned by the experience of the nine months of liberation struggle against the Pak Army’s repression. Before March 25, 1971, the anti-India frenzy used to be countered by the political elite around Sheikh Mujibur Rahman himself and a section of the Left represented by the Communist Party, while even a man of the stature of Maulana Bhashani, in the exuberance of his support for Peking, did not hesitate to attack India. The masses in general while not subscribing to Islamabad’s hate campaign, were at best neutral—if not critical at times—towards India.

All this changed in the ordeal of the liberation struggle. Today the mass consciousness has gone far ahead in being warmly friendly to India. Those who actively participated in the liberation struggle and those who took shelter in India are not the only enthusiastic supporters of India. The conduct of the Indian Army when engaged in operations in Bangladesh and after, has been exemplary; and everywhere the Mitra Bahini (the Army of Friends) is welcomed in contrast to the hatred still nurtured against the Pak Army. In fact, one could hear at Dacca a grievance that the Mitra Bahini has been too generous in its consideration for the bloody “Khans”, as the West Pak Army is referred to in Bangladesh.

It is a common scene in Dacca today that a Sardarji with his well-groomed beard and smart turban is greeted in warm friendship by a cluster of lungi-clad Muslims, young and old. For, the Sardarji belongs to the Mitra Bahini.

In the New Market, visiting a sari shop, I asked the shopkeeper why there were so few jamdani saris. Was the famous handicraft destroyed under Pak rule? No, the famous Dacca sari had a good market in West Pakistan, as it was popular among the fashionable ladies in Lahore and Karachi. But the stock had gone down because the Mitra Bahini people bought them in large numbers. Did they loot or pay less? No, they paid the price as marked in the tag—to the very paise, “Don’t you understand, they belong to the Mitra Bahini; they are not Khans.”

In India, one comes across the portraits of national leaders, touched up heavily, adorning the calendars hung in the pan stall or the grocer’s shop or the barber’s saloon. In villages, they are practically the most widely used wall deco-rators, side by side with the figures of gods and goddesses.

In Dacca today, the illustrated calendar which can be seen most widely displayed, whether in shops or along outer walls of masjids or markets, is the one which carries a portrait of Smt Indira Gandhi at the top left-hand corner and Sheikh Mujib at the bottom right-hand corner, with an Indian soldier standing on a tank and an Indian airman swooping down on fleeing Pak soldiers, thrown in between.

One can quote hundreds of instances of the popularity of the Indian Army in Bangladesh today. It is a new role in which India’s armed forces have emerged—not only for their valour and superior military powers but also because they were taken as the liberators from the oppressive rule of Pak military junta. From the intellectuals to the common masses in Bangla-desh—the more among the common masses—India and her armed forces are regarded as friends in need, as a reliable ally.

Those who had feared that the Muslim millions of East Bengal would never be receiving with open arms the armed forces of Hindu India, as they used to say, were miserably mistaken. It is not the Jana Sangh that is remembered by the millions in Bangladesh but India is represented largely by what Indira Gandhi stands for. The fact that the Jana Sangh is opposed to her as much as she is opposed to the Jana Sangh, is not unnoticed by the alert public opinion in Bangladesh today.

It is the awakened masses who set the tone of political and social life in Bangladesh. The speed with which the millions of refugees have been returning from across the frontier speaks volumes of the sense of security that even the minority feels in the new order. Here, too, the prophets of doom who used to rule out that the Hindu refugees would ever go back, have been falsified.

Inside Bangladesh, many problems have risen about resettling the refugees. This is inevitable when such massive migrations take place under abnormal circumstances. And Sheikh Mujib and his government is not unaware of its magnitude or complexity.

Yet the significant fact to note is that despite all the difficulties, there is no communal tension, no large-sacle instability in the countryside as a result of the refugees’ return. If anything, the conscious section of the villagers themselves have been coming forward to help in the sorting out of the problems of resettlement. 

(Mainstream, February 12, 1972)