Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq
March 5, 2000
[The following write-up originally appeared as a multi-part posting on Shetubondhon, a distinctive Bangladeshi internet forum, in the context of a dialog on Bangladesh.]
I urge the subscribers to read the entire multi-part message before sending any response to this. Any factual correction should not need any wait for the end of this series. No single article can be comprehensive enough to help understand an author's perspectives. I am no exception. Toward better understanding this message I do assume that they are somewhat familiar with my previous writings, and in particular, have read at least one article: "Political Transformation in Bangladesh: The Demand and Supply Side of Healthy Politics".
I: The Dream and the betrayal in a historical perspective
As Bangladeshis we are enamored by the nostalgic past whereby history seems to suggest of a Sonar Bangla (golden Bengal) that was prosperous, progressive, vibrant, dynamic, resourceful as well as a beautiful land with some people that were open, valiant, tolerant and rich in its culture, legacy, heritage and history. This region was also well-known to the world, even though in the contemporary world we are characterized either the "test case", "basket case" or an area of no serious strategic interest to the world powers. Ancient Greek and Latin historians suggest that this is the same region at the potential of resistance to which Alexander the Great brought his quest for conquest to an end and gradually withdrew from India. [http://asnic.utexas.edu/asnic/countries/bangla/bangladeshm.html ]
Under the British rule, Bengal was neglected by the colonial rule, especially due to the resistance it received from the people of Bengal. Gradually, one of the most powerful tools of the British, Hindu-Muslim issue, worked well in entrenching the cultural-religious divide, so much so that Bengal was divided under the British rule, then reunited, and finally as part of the colonial retreat of the British, the entire subcontinent was divided on the basis of primarily religion, as part of which Bengal got divided into East Pakistan (former East Bengal) with Dhaka as its capital and West Bengal in India with Calcutta as its state capital. This was contrary to the original Lahore Resolution, according to which Bengal along with several other contiguous areas with Muslim majority were to be an independent country, not a part of Pakistan. It was also contrary to the subsequent partition plan, according to which Bengal was not to be divided into two. But history does not follow any rule "according to" and in this case too, it did not.
The migration, voluntary and coerced, that took place across the border based on religion was an ugly, gruesome and utterly shameful chapter for both sides. But from the inception of Pakistan, East Pakistan had to face the rude awakening of neglect and contempt of their counterpart-minority in West Pakistan. From issue of language to virtually every other respect, West Pakistani elites consistently followed policies that ultimately played into the hands of those who wanted independence from Pakistan. Those policies and acts also played in the hands of India, whose understandable interest lay in a divided, weakened, and humiliated Pakistan and a weak, easily manageable (what was to emerge as) Bangladesh. The way Pakistan handled the general election of 1970 pretty much sealed the fate of Pakistan as well as what was to become Bangladesh. What unfolded in 1971, beginning 25th March, only marked the beginning of the final labor hours of an almost inevitable birth as people of (now) Bangladesh realized that this was a marriage destined for divorce right from the start. They just did not know that it would be this painful and ugly.
Similar to the rhetoric against the British rule, whereby the exploitation of the British and the former glorious days of the Muslims in this subcontinent predictably played well with the people before 1948, rhetoric against the Pakistani rule, whereby the exploitation of East Pakistan by their western counterpart played even better. We started dreaming again about Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal) again: how it has historically suffered under various rules and for the first time, at least part of Bengal, East Bengal - now Bangladesh - became independent. It was not a coincidence that the national anthem that was chosen is a constant reminder of that nostalgic reminiscence of Sonar Bangla:
"Amar SONAR BANGLA, ami tomay bhalobashi,
chirodin tomar akash, tomar batash, amar prane bajay bashi...."
The people of Bangladesh naturally sought this independence to leave behind their traumatic experience under the British and then Pakistan rule, dreaming of better days ahead. They were shocked at the outset of Pakistan as their natural right to mother tongue was violated. They were tired of the neglect and contempt they have suffered. They were tired of communal tools used by ruling elites to pit one group of people against another. They were tired of false promises and excuses. They were tired of seeing their democratic rights trampled as in the general election of 1970. They were tired of seeing religion as a cover of exploitative ruling elites, despite the fact that they themselves were Muslim majority in not just in East Pakistan, but in entire Pakistan.
The people of Bangladesh, half of what was known as Bengal or "historical" Bangladesh or Bongo, in keeping with their legacy of valiance fought Pakistani hegemony and secured independence. In the process its people suffered one of the worst genocides that people around the world still know about and remember only "little", and the garb of religion was exploited to the fullest by the Pakistani elites not only against the Hindu minority, but also the Muslim majority that has generally lived with Hindu minority in Bangladesh relatively in peace and harmony as a veritable and glorious legacy of this land. Innumerable women, regardless of religion, lost their honor, unbelievable damage of property and resources occurred, the institutional infrastructure was destroyed, and there was targeted massacre of the talented minds of the land.
So, we are independent now. We have our own national anthem, national bird, national fish, national airline, national flower and so on. We have a seat at the table of the world's independent nations. We have a constitution, democratic institutions, electoral process, political parties - the whole gamut of components that are integral to any so-called democratic nations. Therefore, what happened in the last almost thirty years during which not only that the wounds this people have suffered have not healed, but also the bleeding continues to worsen - with a fundamental difference that now we can't blame any outsider anymore.
What went and still continues to go wrong? While the March TOTM of Shetubondhon is not a comprehensive topic to deal with the past, present and future of Bangladesh, I do fully believe that an important aspect of the whole equation that has gone awry has to do with the kind of destructive partisanship that has emerged in Bangladesh, quite incongruent with the political culture of a truly independent nation. And, about this we need to make a genuine effort to engage particularly the people that they and they themselves might be the key to removing the obstacles between their dream and the reality.
II: For the just cause of a people, NOT for or against any specific ideology
This part contains some personal anecdotes. Hopefully, these would be found relevant to the theme of "partisanship" I am attempting to articulate. I hope you would bear with these, because I believe these anecdotes are most likely not isolated ones.
If Bangla, our Sonar Bangla, is also our "ma" (mother), then the way its elites, politicians, decision-makers have treated their mother does not give us a clear idea whether they have any appreciation of their mothers in their lives, or is this the way they view and believe how their mothers should be treated, or is it all rhetoric. Indeed, those who chose the national anthem FOR the nation and are most boisterous in their rhetoric about Sonar Bangla seem to have done the worst in their treatment of their mother, Sonar Bangla. It's a betrayal that is sanguinary in the worst possible way.
I was in grade 8 during 1971. My father, a military physician, was posted in so-called Azad Kashmir. He has been an officer with the AKAMC all his life - always in Kashmir. I was too young to understand politics, but old enough to understand the difference between cold and hot, peace and violence, harmony and discord, friendship and enmity, fun or boredom or safety and danger. At that age, who had the interest in keeping up with the news and whose parents took the time to explain or help understand what was going on? I grew up in Sirajganj with diverse group of friends including non-Bengalis as well as Hindus. I don't recall in my class, with good number of Hindu students, and at school, a good number of Hindu teachers, any memorable incident where we were conscious in regard to whose religious affiliation was what.
Among my favorite games was Carrom. For whatever reason - I don't remember now - it was a daily routine every afternoon that right at our home, there used to be a gathering of a group of friends - almost all of them 6-7 years older than me - to play Carrom. Based on my performance with Carrom, they never treated me too young and I did not feel that they were much older. Among them were my senior friend Bakku bhai (a bihari Muslim) and Swapan (a Hindu). The quiet days of undisturbed young life would be soon shaken up by the rude awakening that the distinction between human beings and two-legged beasts can disappear in no time.
One day I saw the riotous mood of people in March 1971 - before 25th March. Many other smaller events must have incrementally preceded this, but not big or important enough to notice or for me to remember. This time I saw violent procession of people with all sorts of TRADITIONAL weapons - hockey stick, knife, club, spear, bamboo, etc. - were going toward the part where the non-Bengalis used to live in greater numbers. The next day I learnt from a distant uncle (his house was adjacent to ours) that Bakku Bhai along with his family members were among those who have been BUTCHERED. My uncle and his family were closely involved with Chhatra League, and yet very fond of Bakku Bhai and close to his family. He made a frantic effort to save Bakku and his family, but could not prevail before those people, who at that point were after blood and won't let anyone stand their way. Similar incidents took place several times more in the days to follow.
In a few days the dark 25th March unfolded. The military quickly spread throughout the country. I don't recall the details, but do remember that our family along with many others were leaving town for safer places in rural areas. Before this, one of the worst events took place. Even hearing it was terrible enough. A good number of non-Bengalis who were spared from being butchered - old and young, men and women - were confined in a place near the jail in town. Then, after pouring on them kerosene, they were put on fire. As the ghastly news spread, with the additional news that the military was coming to the town shortly, common people started fleeing in a rush. Our grandparents' home were only twenty miles away which we generally visited by train. But the train route was not safe any more. Thus, ox-carts (goru-gari) were arranged and soon we took shelter in our grandparents' village in Chinadhukuria, only six miles away from Shahjadpur, where the famous Kutthibari of Rabindranath still survives. Two days after our departure from Sirajganj, the military arrived in town and found some of those bodies were still burning and melting, the smell of which reached far and wide.
My father was still in Azad Kashmir. Along with my mother and two sisters, I was with my grandparents. I still vividly remember those days' harrowing experience. Quite a few times, we had to flee from home - sometimes during the day and at other times during the night - as the military came deep into the rural areas in search of "miscreants" or "muktis" - aided by their "peace" collaborators.
My family and relatives had a closer, occupational connection with the military. My father was in military, though in Kashmir. One of the maternal uncle was in Air Force, posted in Karachi, but was in vacation during March and residing with my grandparents. One of my paternal uncles, younger brother of my father, was also in military. An important incident during this period was that my maternal uncle (he was in Air Force) and one of the sons of my oldest uncle decided to cross the border and join the freedom fighters. My eldest uncle, an ordinary farmer and respectable person in the village was not very religious. But I do remember one time (and one time only in my life), while I was in 7th grade, I joined him during a 3-day Tabligh event in Shahjadpur. Tabligh was not a big attraction for me, but being away from the family rules, disciplines and routines in a camp environment was a rather interesting experience. My paternal uncle bade farewell to his son and other relatives also joined as my maternal uncle and my cousin left. Only scarcely we heard about them during the entire nine months. Occasionally, we got to know about their well-beings when some of their fellows who have known them before would come to our area for guerilla operations and our families, indeed, the entire village would provide them support and cover.
One of the things that subsequently divided the nation was the color of secularization that was superimposed on the liberation struggle. My uncle and cousin who went to join the freedom fight and the families who sent them were not isolated families and freedom fighters who fought for "secularization" so that in the country that came about through their fights and struggle, instead of putting Pakistani ruling elite and their collaborators on, Islam itself would be put on trial. In independent Bangladesh, taking the name of Islam or any association with Islam has been looked at with disdain, contempt - and worse - hostility. It was forgotten that the liberation struggle was FOR THE JUST CAUSE OF A PEOPLE, NOT FOR ANY IDEOLOGY OR AGAINST ANY RELIGION.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was gracious enough to forgive the collaborators, which was a political move of magnanimity. But in two respects two big wound-holes were left bare. Those who committed genocide and those who "criminally" collaborated needed to be dealt with within the framework of special judiciary as a part of healing. And, those ordinary people, who fought for independence without granting anyone any mandate for anti-Islamic secularism (that is, secularism that does not merely seek non-preferential treatment of religion, but actually stands against religion), rather fought with full conviction of their faith, should not have been marginalized so much so that even late Major Jalil had to endure the title "razakar." The issue of secularism and Islam as well as the reconciliation between those pro-liberation forces from both religious and secular background is an issue that never got addressed in Bangladesh and it is a must for the country. But that is a different issue and we will deal with that later in an appropriate context.
Along with the vast majority of the rest of the country suffered and languished during those nine-months that seemed it would never end. But it did. The valiance of the freedom fighters and the nation and the self-interested midwifery of India finally brought the sunshine in crimson red against green background. The country became independent. Refugees started returning. Freedom fighters also returned, including my cousin and my maternal uncle. Inspired by the parents and families and motivated by the natural dedication to a just cause (in this case one's land and people are concerned), they voluntarily went to join the armed fight for freedom. Upon their return they realized that their ordeal and nightmare have just begun, and the horror that followed turned their world as well as of many of ours upside down.
III: Betrayal that was worse than just "bloody"
My cousin and my uncle returned to our village along with several others in the same as well as adjacent villages. During the first year after the independence, one of the worst experiences by the people of Bangladesh was the weapons in the hands of the returning freedom fighters. My cousin, quite young and not yet entered into any career, turned over all the weapons to the respective authorities. My uncle (of Air Force background) joined Bangladesh's newly reconstituted Air Force.
They did not seek, nor did they desire, any special privilege or return. They fought for a just cause for the sake of a better future of their dear ones and their people.
Soon, not atypical of our areas only, some of the so-called freedom fighters started showing off their weapons and using those for their personal gain, agenda and vendetta. Some started taking possession of properties from some weak owners, especially the Hindus who fled to India. Some started settling their personal scores with others. Some started extortions through intimidation and terrorization. There was no law and order. No law enforcement agency was able to address the grievances of ordinary people. The MP of the local area was giving full protection and cover of THESE so-called freedom fighters. These freedom fighters did not have any ideology, any religion, any conviction, or any principle. They now had indisputable "certificates" as freedom fighters and weapons in their hands to back up their claim to FF-hood. But most importantly, they were now FREE - free to do WHATEVER they liked.
The newly formed political leadership made no genuine effort to disarm them toward preparation of a "civil" society after the civil war. Even Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (SMR) appealed several times to the freedom fighters to surrender their weapons. The war was over. They were not entitled to keep any unauthorized weapons any more. But those who were to heed have already disarmed themselves before being asked. There were many more who heeded to their leader and surrendered. Then, there were those who were not ready to surrender their hard-earned "freedom" to do whatever they liked. The plea of the leader(s) were like from half-hearted, frustrated fathers who ask their naughty kids to give up their toys, but never seriously mean it.
The life in many of these rural areas became unbearable. People from the grass-root level started raising their grievances, but it was of no avail. SMR must have been aware of these grievances, as at one point he called on the people to provide list of those unworthy freedom fighters who were still bearing unauthorized arms. People felt that finally something might really be done to redress the situation. The leader may have finally taken a firm stand on this matter as a real leader - leader of the nation, of the people - should.
There was a renewed enthusiasm among at least some people, who thought that there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. After all, people have given their heart and loyalty to the call of their leader SMR. Even in his absence, while he was languishing in Pakistan, they have given unconditional support to those who became freedom fighters. They are ordinary people. They might not understand deeper philosophies, higher thoughts, more details of religious edicts or intricacies of politics, but they knew the difference between right and wrong, justice and injustice, friends and foes. While most of the middle class has different aspirations, but common people, the vast majority, that bore the brunt of the struggle in exemplary spirit so that they would have better days, if not for themselves, for their precious little ones. They reposed a great deal of hope on their new leadership of an independent Bangladesh, particularly a leader for whose safe return many people even performed voluntary fasting.
With heightened hope, the call of the leader was taken seriously by many. In the village adjacent to my grandparents' village, where my eldest uncle lived, there was a so-called FF who was among those who basically became a rogue bandit, patronized by the local political elites of AL and operated beyond the reach of the local law enforcement authorities. The situation was so bad, and the person became so daring that whose family had what background did hardly matter to him. Several villages in that vicinity were agitated and frustrated enough to take the bold step to heed to the call of the nation's leader, SMR. They signed a petition, identifying a number of rogue miscreants, at the top of the list of which was that person from the village. But who would have the guts to initiate the petition? Whose name would be at the top of the list of petitioners? Seeing the fear in eyes of other people, my eldest uncle, an ordinary person, who was among those who sent his son to cross the border and join the freedom fighters, came forward and signed the list first. His signing encouraged others to come forward to take the opportunity and formally let the nation's leader know who are letting this nation's people bleed even in the INDEPENDENT country. Following him, many other people came along and signed the petition.
This infuriated that rogue person, and most of his wrath was targeted toward my uncle. Among my uncle's favorite activities in the rainy season was to go fishing in deep water, several miles away from home in a boat. Usually, he would go alone and on a fateful day, it was no exception. Eyewitnesses say that while he was fishing on a boat, along with many other fishermen, he was picked up by that person and his cohorts at gunpoint. My uncle was never to be seen, and his body was never to be found.
But that was not the end. Such a story would be too ordinary to relate here. The person who took "care" of him then gleefully started narrating to the people what was done to his victim. According to his own narration, he along with his accomplices took him to an isolated place. Several people held my uncle in a standing position, while that person struck an axe on his head. It would take several strikes before my uncle was FREE - his soul LIBERATED from this INDEPENDENT nation, for which he sent his son as a freedom fighter.
It would be too personalized a story, but I KNOW that it is not an isolated one. Most of us can share such story where such inhumanity has been perpetrated by some over others - they might be Pakistani military or their cohorts or some others. I wanted to narrate this story to drive the point home: how do you think this freedom fight mean to my cousin whose father was not killed by any outsider - not the British, not the Pakistani military or their cohorts, but his father was killed in INDEPENDENT Bangladesh by those who claimed to be fellow freedom fighters. For years my cousin and all of us were in a shock - an understatement. The worst part of this whole thing, especially for my cousin, was the fact that even after what had happened to his father, the killer was walking free, and leader of the nation was still leading the wolfs.
There were two very fundamental wrongs in connection with this, and other common such stories, in the early post-independence period. First, all the way to the top, there was no RULE OF LAW, nor was there any commitment to uphold it. Sadly, the fact is that SMR, did not and could not, help the nation to move toward the RULE OF LAW. But, though RULE OF LAW is an integrally related component of our problems, there is a second one, that I would like to deal with in the context of March TOTM, and it's PARTISANSHIP.
IV: The curse of PARTISANSHIP
This is probably the only posting so far where I have brought some reflections of truly personal nature. I would have preferred to avoid this time too. However, as I said, I believe such stories are not isolated and they have intimate relation to a very fundamental problem that our society is infested with: PARTISANSHIP, on which I will elaborate shortly.
The soul of my uncle, an ordinary man and a father of an otherwise ordinary freedom fighter (FF), found FREEDOM in the axe of another so-called FF. His crime was that he thought the independent Bangladesh would be different for its people than it has been in the past. The father of this FF was wrong in his expectation. The FF himself was wrong in his expectation. Almost thirty years since independence, our overall socio-political environment has not meaningfully changed for the better.
I did not recount the story of my uncle (for the first time in my writing) because he was MY uncle. But in him many others can identify in terms of their own tragic stories, whether it happened in case of a Muslim, a Hindu, a Christian, a Bangali, a non-Bangali, a Marxist, a nationalist, a secularist, or whatever. It's not a "my uncle" story. It's HUMAN story. In this story I empathize with the pain and suffering of other sons who lost their fathers (regardless of their faith, language, nationality), of other brothers who lost their brothers, of other mothers who lost their children, of other wives who lost their husbands, or of others whose mother/sisters/wives were violated. Through this story I am not bringing up the matter of bringing justice related to this case, but to touch the chord of our conscience of all so that we build our bridges for justice and rule of law - not for any party, organization, or Jamaat, but for people, for ALL.
What happened in the case of my uncle can be just another of innumerable anecdotal account. But there can be also some important lessons to explore. Well, apples have a few rotten ones, cars have few lemons, humans have quite a few "two-legged beasts", and that's easily understandable. However, why was the murderer patronized by the local political leader that also had control over the law enforcement agency? Well, let's assume that there are also a FEW rogue parliament members, as the one that patronized this murderer. What about then the collective conscience of the organization, the party, or more importantly, its leader(s)?
When people tried to reach out to the local MP, he protected his coteries. Instead of being a representative of people of his area, he subjugated himself only to his personal and party interest and in complete derogation of public interest or the rule of law. What happened when all these matters reached the father or the leader of the nation?
Did he act as the "father" or leader of the "nation", or did he act as a leader of the ruling party? Did he make it CLEAR to his party elders and workers that he would not tolerate any wrongdoing within the party or by any party members? Did he make it UNAMBIGUOUSLY clear to them that he would stand by the rule of law and there is no room for those who flaunt the law in his party? Did he take any DECISIVE and categorical step to bring order and rule of law within his own party? Did anyone at the local level raise a voice of conscience to the local MP that what is happening is wrong, immoral, illegal and unconscionable? Whether one goes from the bottom to the top or from the top to the bottom of the leadership and organizational hierarchy, there is consistency - at almost every possible level there was (and still is) disregard of rule of law and within not a "national" or "people" framework. Rather, within a "party" framework there is partisan patronization of each other.
If people with grievance go to the local MP (representative of the people) and he does not do anything about it (rather turn against those who bring grievance to spotlight), and if people take their grievance even higher up the ladder - indeed, all the way to the highest level - and nothing is done about it, then in such context at least one possible (and dominant) definition and meaning of FREEDOM FIGHTERS would be that they fought for FREEDOM to do WHATEVER they liked or desired. We all know that nobody would concede that that's the meaning they believe in, but their action reflects the definition I just have stated.
People gave their HEART to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as their leader and as their representative. Even now when I hear his unscripted speech of 7th March, I hear a sincere voice that was in tune with the ethos of the nation, of the people. But when his party members, and unfortunately yes, his family members started to behave as if the country was THEIR party or family property - and doing so with complete disregard to any civility or rule of law - the process of decisive, corrective intervention should have started from him. But it did not. While as a leader of the independence movement he showed the greatness of a leader and people reciprocated by wholeheartedly responding to his call, he was just the opposite as a leader of the independent Bangladesh. His own sons - Jamal and Kamal - created a new legacy of lawlessness, a kind that was unforeseen even in case of the families of military dictators of pre-71 Pakistan. His close relative Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni, who could have been "chokher moni" (apple of the eye), turned out to be worse than a thorn and a nightmare for whoever stood in the way of his desire and ambitions.
In independent Bangladesh there was a genuine opportunity to build a new culture of "independence" the focus or center of which could have been people, rule of law, respect for life for all as articulated in the speech of not merely Awami League's leader, but people's leader. Most regrettably, however, the culture that emerged, due to the failure of the post-independence leadership, was a culture of most outrageous and reckless "partisanship".
Lest I am misunderstood, let me make it crystal clear that the situation in the post-Mujib period, in terms of the curse of partisanship, was no better. One can trace our problem further back, including in regard to the Islamically-inclined, political forces.
As far as the independence struggle is concerned, one must recognize that people quite legitimately could have taken a different position about Pakistan and its potential break up. One cannot punish or hold people responsible merely for their ideas or persuasion on such pivotal issues, except those who want to benefit from divisiveness or fishing in the muddy water. However, those among East Pakistanis who took up the arms and engaged in armed collaboration with a genocidal military force, it is only natural that they would be held accountable. To them also questions can be raised as to the role of others in the organizational hierarchy: wasn't there any voice of conscience? Unfortunately, there was only blind following of the leadership.
How many of you remember the following magnificent statement? Do you remember or recognize as to who made this statement? When was the statement made?
"... Those who cannot maintain law and order cannot expect to be a great nation. ... Independence is not achieved with the hoisting of the flag only. ENSURING THE SECURITY OF PEOPLE'S LIVES AND PROPERTY IS ALSO AN INSEPARABLE PART OF INDEPENDENCE ..."
"I have waged the independence movement of Bangladesh along with seven and a half crore people. So I appeal to the people to PUT AN END TO THE ACTIVITIES OF ANTI-SOCIAL AND DISRUPTIVE ELEMENTS ..."
"My dear brothers of armed forces, you belong to the people and people belong to you. You do not form a separate entity. All of you are sons of the soil. This is why you will have to share the happiness and sorrow of the masses and stand beside them in rebuilding the devastated country. ALLAH is with you ...."
If you are unable to recognize the speaker, the occasion, and the context, I will deal with that in my next part. But there was a vision in the above statements with which the people identified themselves. There was a clear trace of statesmanship in that speech, and to the speaker people offered their trust. Most importantly, there was a PROMISE as well as indication of opportunity that lay ahead for the nation to have a clean break from the past injustices and maladies. How did we lose that opportunity?
V: Opportunities lost - more than once!
"ENSURING THE SECURITY OF PEOPLE'S LIVES AND PROPERTY IS ALSO AN INSEPARABLE PART OF INDEPENDENCE ..."?
"So I appeal to the people to PUT AN END TO THE ACTIVITIES OF ANTI-SOCIAL AND DISRUPTIVE ELEMENTS ..." ?
So who do you think made these statements? When? Where? Most of you probably already know it. If not, first let us recognize the profound statement that ensuring the security of, not just party members', but PEOPLE's LIVES AND PROPERTIES is an INSEPARABLE part of independence. This is this kind of people-oriented message that should come from a true leader. Indeed, this was none other than the leader of independence movement of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. This speech is known as the Declaration of Independence. It was given on 26th March. http://www.bangabandhu.org/bangabandhu.html ]
It was this kind of vision and hope as radiated through such message that earned him the popular, overwhelming, wholehearted, and mass support of the people of Bangladesh. However, as unfortunate as it is, the fact is that this articulation of "independence" never found expression in real life politics and administration in Bangladesh. Not during the administration of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, not during Gen. or Khaleda Zia, not during Gen. Ershad, and once more, not during none other than SMR's own daughter Sheikh Hasina, who claims and proclaims to be working for the realization of the unfulfilled dream of his beloved assassinated father to build (or rebuild) Sonar Bangla..
ASSUMING that the nation-state framework is the ultimate desired form for any people, independence of Bangladesh was the long-awaited and sought change. But the opportunity to change was lost due to several factors. Probably the most important one is that in independent Bangladesh, destructive partisan politics found new and strong root under the Awami League government. I have not personally done my homework to reflect on the details of the role of SMR. But the fact is that as far as partisan politics (combined in complete derogation of the rule of law) is concerned, either SMR failed to stem the tide of partisanship that emerged in AL, or he wasn't aware of what was going on by his own party and family members/relatives, or all these happened with his full knowledge and approval. I believe that third one is not the case.
Regardless, the opportunity that came as an unprecedented people's mandate to SMR was not utilized for a transformation toward building, not a partisan culture, but a people-oriented political culture of "independence". In his 7th March's speech, a magnificent speech by any standard, SMR most eloquently stated: "Rokto jokhon diyechi rokto aro debo, edesher manuske mukto kore chharbo, INSHALLAH. Ebarer shongram amader muktir shongram, ebarer shongram shadhinotar shongram. Joy Bangla." [http://www.bangabandhu.org/bangabandhu.html]
While one should not read too much into "INSHALLAH" in that speech, on March 26th's second message tied to the Declaration of Independence, SMR also said: "... I appeal and order you all IN THE NAME OF ALMIGHTY ALLAH to fight to the last drop of blood to liberate the country. Ask the police, EPR, Bengal Regiment and Ansars to stand by you and fight..." [http://www.fastlane.net/~mbari/declarat.htm ]. His message, without any partisanship or communalism, was in full accord with the ethos, sentiment, heritage, and faith of the people.
When he safely returned to the newly liberated country, and assumed the leadership, he could have drawn lessons from the heritage and examples from the world's rich shelf of wisdom. But what was needed from a leader like him in a conflict-ridden, war-ravaged country was not unknown or secret to him or others like him. When the people of his own party and own family were flaunting, subverting and undermining the rule of law, he COULD have remembered and benefited from the same heritage that made him "appeal and order ... IN THE NAME OF ALMIGHTY ALLAH". SMR must have known the teaching of a Prophet (s) who have said: "What destroyed your predecessors was just that when a person of rank among them committed theft, they left him alone, and when a weak one of them committed theft, they inflicted the prescribed punishment on him. I SWEAR BY ALLAH THAT IF FATIMAH, DAUGHTER OF MUHAMMAD SHOULD STEAL, I WOULD HAVE HER HAND CUT-OFF". [Sunan Abu Dawood, Vol. 3, # 4360]
That is shariah, one of the implications of which is rule of law. And, rule of law is rule of law. Justice is when everyone is EQUAL before law. Consistent with his appeal and order "IN THE NAME OF ALMIGHTY ALLAH", he could have decisively and sincerely declared in no unequivocal term that "even if my dear Jamal or Kamal of my family or any of the leaders/members/workers of my party violates the law, he WON'T escape the consequence in the eyes of the law." But he did not. Not only that he did not say it, he did not take any known and decisive step to distance himself from what happened; he did not assume responsibility for all that; nor did he take necessary, appropriate, and adequate action.
The same heritage that made him use "INSHALLAH", before he declared "Ebarer shongram amader muktir shongram, ebarer shongram shadhinotar shongram" would also have reminded him of the example as one time the son of Hadhrat Umar, during his reign as the Khalifa, was found drunk and was to be punished according to the rule of law. Hadhrat Umar found that the whip was not landing on his son's back as strongly he has seen falling in case of other people receiving the same punishment before. He immediately took the whip away from the person giving punishment and gave the whipping to his son full strength as would be in the case of others.
That's RULE OF LAW - of which an important dimension is EQUALITY before law. Unfortunately, during the partisan environment of AL and the administration of SMR, not only that SMR did not take the whip in his own hand for full- and -equal strength application, actually he did not have any whip in his hand, especially against the people who were either his relatives or devotees. That's how the MOST PRECIOUS opportunity that presented itself to the people of Bangladesh was lost. There is no point in rehashing the rest of the story that followed.
The next significant opportunity came in the post-Mujib era under the leadership of General Zia. His assumption of power can't meet the standard of democracy, and he built a party/organization that did not run internally in democratic tradition as he built and run the organization like a military leader. He had the decisiveness and organizational acumen. But in at least two respects he was a continuation of the same. The first was that he did not set any internal norm of ethics and adherence to the law for his own party. He did not mind that along with a few good people, the whole bunch of corrupt politicians and personalities joined his party. They started violating law in many respects too (with albeit more fear of the leader than the party members of AL feared their own leader). I can relate to my own experience. I have personally experienced more unjustified violence and harm from the student organization of BNP while I was a student at Dhaka University than I did from any other group. Indeed, I have to gratefully acknowledge the role of one of my friends of Chhatra League, who on one occasion was instrumental in saving my life.
Second, General Zia failed to truly inculcate the democratic and constitutional tradition in the nation. I identify his case as the second lost opportunity because regardless of how he came to the power (by the way, I very much CARE about not just who is in power, but also HOW one comes to power), the kind of popular support he enjoyed from people, he had a kind of "people's mandate" that may not be equal to what people gave to SMR before independence movement, but can be only compared next to SMR's. Utilizing the people's mandate and loving support, he could have set things straight. But it did not happen. Reinstating "Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim" before speeches did not correct what needed to be corrected. In his case, there was "bismillay golod".
Subsequently, there was only one leader: General Ershad. He is not worthy of mentioning in the context of what I am describing as opportunity: having people's mandate for change. He didn't have any. However, with all due respect, I do not consider Sheikh Hasina or Khaleda Zia as a leader, because they did not become leader based on any qualification other than one was the daughter of SMR, and other the widow of General Zia.
The two opportunities that were lost were mixed in so much pain, suffering and agony of the people. But we must recognize and acknowledge those opportunities if we want a better future and if we want a fundamental change of track in future.
Shall we then merely look at what these two leaders, SMR and Zia's failure, without looking at or acknowledging their successes and contributions? Indeed, despite their limitations, shortcomings, and significant failures, they made their unique and precious role at critical junctures of the nation's history. The fact is that we often focus on failures of others and successes of ourselves. When we would be objective in rendering where the credits are due, being inspired by the positive contributions, and committed to learn from previous mistakes to build a better future, then we might succeed in our goal of a better future.
SMR had a heart full of love for his people, not as much administrative, leadership skill. Zia had the skill and a discipline of a soldier, but he was driven and motivated more by a sense of duty than emotional bond with people. Both of them had the weakness in terms of their inability to rise above destructive and incapacitating partisanship. However, both also had some fundamental integrity at the personal level. The same cannot be said about any of the later personalities - General Ershad, Sheikh Hasina or Khaleda Zia.
I do believe SMR and General Zia in their own way wanted to do good for their country, nation, people. They had their own type of dream that neither they themselves could bring those dream to fruition, nor probably they knew how to.
"ENSURING THE SECURITY OF PEOPLE'S LIVES AND PROPERTY IS ALSO AN INSEPARABLE PART OF INDEPENDENCE ..." If this is what SMR said, then this gives a glimpse of his vision for independent Bangladesh for which he so much suffered. It indicates an unfulfilled dream of a culture of "independence" that we are yet to insist on, uphold and foster. The reality is that for those who care about the unfulfilled dreams of these past leaders, one fact we may have to come to grip with. That is, whether it is the ruling AL and its current leadership, or the opposition with the current constituents and their leadership, NONE of these are relevant for realization of those unfulfilled dreams.
But we must look forward, understand what course needs to be charted, recognize the price to be paid for the kind of change we seek, and work CONSCIENTIOUSLY as well as in a non-partisan manner toward that end.
VI: Conclusion: UP from partisanship!
If you have read all the preceding parts of this series, please accept my appreciation and personal gratitude. Our problems as a nation, country, people are definitely manifold and complex. I did not intend here to present to blueprint for solutions. In concluding this write up I will focus on only one part: PARTISANSHIP.
It has become a cancerous aspect of our political landscape and culture. Those who are infested with this disease are across the whole spectrum. They come from any and all backgrounds: Muslim and non-Muslim, religious and secular, theistic and atheistic, Mujib-shenas and Zia-shenas.
To those, whose objectivity, sense of fairness and conscience have already been mortgaged or surrendered at the altar of their favorite League, Party or Jamaat, I have nothing to say except that sometime they should look themselves up in mirror and REFLECT on the personality (not the appearance) whether they like what they see. As far as those, whose objectivity, sense of fairness and conscience are still alive and those who also genuinely care about solving the problems with an attitude and approach of problem-solving, they might recognize partisanship, the way it is practiced, as one of our most basic problems as part of our political culture.
Politically speaking, only technically, we have become "independent": our personality, orientation and culture has not. Otherwise, those who intend or desire to do good to their people and country, their primary field of work is their own League, Party or Jamaat. The more I see and hear people sloganeering about "independence", I generally see leaders who do not inspire and inculcate independence of thought, opinion and attitude. The followers and the devotees, sincere simpletons and corrupt opportunist ones, reciprocate to the expectation of the leaders. Until we take our own conscience seriously and we hold our favorite parties internally accountable to an acceptable standard, all the political rhetoric is just that - RHETORIC. All the political tears are crocodile tears. [You might find the audio file of an excellent poem of Nazrul "Saheb ar mosaheb" quite enlightening. http://sr8.xoom.com:80/farooqmo/recitations/mosaheb.ram . After hearing the poem, if you like, leave your reaction in the Guestbook.]
If anybody truly cares about the vision of SMR, their work is cut out AGAINST his own daughter and WITHIN the party SMR founded. If anyone truly cares about the spirit and vision of Zia, their work is cut out AGAINST his own widow and WITHIN the party he founded. The same thing can be said about all other main participants in the political arena today.
What I have just stated relates to primarily those who are politically active with or inclined toward the existing political forces. Their decency, consciousness and conscience, if any, should induce them to rise to the task of internal housecleaning. Some houses are not cleanable; those are better treated as condemned by simply walking away from those.
As far as those who are not politically active with or inclined toward any particular group, they have even bigger opportunity and responsibility. They are the potential pool of people to bring about real changes in the society. In one respect they have the most potent weapon: their vote. Conscious and conscientious people must actively and judiciously utilize their weapon: vote out ANYONE or any group that does not meet certain expectation. That is only half of the problem: the Demand Side. There must still be good choices for our positive vote for any solution to work, which is the Supply Side. Unfortunately, right now there is a vacuum that awaits to be filled. I have articulated some of my pertinent thought in this regard in one of my concept papers "Toward Political Transformations in Bangladesh: The Demand Side and the Supply Side of Healthy Politics". You can read it from my personal homepage at: http://www.globalwebpost.com/farooqm/writings/academic/consensus.html .
A part of the solution equation is that we must be UP FROM PARTISANSHIP. Among us are seculars, and I appeal to them to bring their perspective to the table in this regard. Among us are Hindus and individuals of other backgrounds, and I extend the same invitation to them. I would personally like to be enlightened about their views on this issue and problem of partisanship as well as on how to build and cultivate a better political culture of "independence".
I hope my writing would be taken as "ideas", not advice. Because I am hardly in a position to give anyone advice as I struggle myself with my own weaknesses and shortcomings and endeavor to improve myself. However, given my personal orientation and conviction as well as given the fact that the majority of Bangladesh still - at least, culturally (though a distorted and degenerated one) - identify with their faith in Islam - as SMR did not miss INSHALLAH in his 7th March's speech and as his own daughter still is frequently Makkah-bound, while conveniently covering her head, carrying her beads (Tasbih) and posing for Munajat posture, I draw the attention of those who proclaim themselves to be Muslim to the following unambiguous statements related to PARTISANSHIP. I present these to all as food for thought, in light of which as a human being I myself also have to improve.
Wathilah b. al-Asqa said: I asked: Apostle of Allah! What is partisanship (asabiyya)? He replied: "That you should help your people in wrongdoing." [Sunan Abu Dawood; Vol. 3, #5100]
Jubair b. Mut'im reported the Apostle of Allah (s) as saying: "He who summons others to partisanship DOES NOT belong to us; and he who dies upholding partisanship DOES NOT belong to us." [Sunan Abu Dawood; Vol. 3, #5102]
Narrated Ibn Abdullah al-Bajali: the Messenger of Allah (s) said: "One who is killed under the banner of a person who is blind (to his cause), who raises the slogan of family or supports his own tribe (unjustly), dies the death of one belonging to the days of Jahilyyah." [Sahih Muslim; Vol. 3, #4561]
"He who wrongs others, and he who does so tolerate,
like weeds may he burn in His condemnation and hate."
["Nay-dondo", Rabindranath Tagore; please excuse my poor translation]
By the way, my point about rising above partisanship should not be misunderstood as avoiding belonging to any party, organization or simply organized endeavors. I have used partisanship in the sense as explained above: an environment, approach and framework in which people help (or do not prevent) each other in their respective groups from wrongdoing.
What can you do?
-- Rise above partisanship.
-- Put principle ABOVE personality or party.
-- Educate, encourage and persuade others to rise above partisanship.
-- Build network in a non-partisan spirit with those who seek positive and constructive changes for a better future.
Being UP from partisanship can take us a long way in our pursuit of Sonar Bangla. Indeed, if Sonar Bangla means anything to anyone, one of the obstacles we must overcome is our vile partisanship.
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