The False Narratives around Bangabandhu

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Published on August 29, 2023
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Syed Badrul Ahsan:

In independent Bangladesh, we have gone through a long process of distortion of history. Again, there have been attempts by people to give us sanitised and selective versions of history. And there have been individuals and quarters jumping into the discussion with falsifications of history.

In these past few years, moves have been undertaken to have a new narrative composed around the personality of the recently deceased Serajul Alam Khan. There is little question that Khan holds a special place in Bangladesh’s history. That he was a cult figure for many is a truth we can ignore at peril to the story of the politics which defined Bangladesh at a particular point of time.
But the problem comes in when the nation is shown an outsize role supposedly performed by Serajul Alam Khan and his fellow young men in the times when Bangladesh under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was fast reaching a decisive historical stage in 1971. A few days ago, an organisation called ‘Serajul Alam Khan Pathchakra’ put out a poster, containing images of Serajul Alam Khan, Abdur Razzak, Kazi Aref Ahmed, Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni, ASM Abdur Rab, Shahjahan Siraj and Tofail Ahmad, with the heading (as translated from the Bengali): ‘The historic 7 March speech was prepared jointly by Nucleus, BLF High Command and Awami League High Command’.

This is a new narrative that falls into that basket we refer to as a distortion of history. It is not merely surprising but shocking as well, for it is a move to inform the country that everything that Bangabandhu did on and around 7 March 1971 had little to do with his leadership but everything to do with these young people, for they guided him all the way to what he would state at the Race Course. That is a travesty of history, for a good number of reasons.

In the first place, all these young student leaders kept piling pressure on Bangabandhu before 7 March to declare Bangladesh’s independence through his speech. The Father of the Nation heard them out, but clearly made his own decision as to how he would place his arguments before the people on the day. In the second place, for these student leaders, Bangabandhu was the guiding figure, the leader around whom they coalesced and under whose shadow they emerged into the national limelight. To argue, therefore, that it was they who showed the path ahead to Bangabandhu is a study in absurdity.

Those who have been making such noises are today busy trying to rewrite history. That attempt has no base. To imagine that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in politics since his student days in Calcutta, would be naïve enough to be beholden to these young men for political guidance flies in the face of historical truth.

It is clearly a new move to undermine Bangabandhu’s role in the making of history. We have by now come across such false narratives as the conclusion of his seminal 7 March address with the slogan ‘Joy Pakistan’. A million people were there at the Race Course and they heard Bangabandhu speak of the coming struggle for Bangladesh’s independence.

They heard him draw an end to his speech with ‘Joy Bangla’. None among that crowd heard him say ‘Joy Pakistan’; and yet some individuals have come forth with such statements, comments which logically do not fit in with the tenor and tempo of the 7 March speech.
There are other people who have, with little of logic to support their contention, sought to convey the idea that rather than leaving Dhaka along with his party colleagues on 25 March 1971, Bangabandhu preferred to stay back and ‘surrender’ to the Pakistan army. These individuals conveniently forget the nature of the Mujib persona. Nowhere in the entirety of his political career did Bangabandhu run from the state and its security agencies or surrender to them when they came looking for him. He was right there, at home, waiting for the police or soldiers to come and take him under arrest.

As an astute political leader whose ceaseless goal was the creation of a constitutional democratic order in pre-1971 Pakistan, he had little reason to flee from the possibility of arrest. Gandhi and Nehru did not run from the police in British-ruled India. Bangabandhu followed a similar policy in Pakistan. And even after he had declared Bangladesh’s independence in the early minutes of 26 March 1971, he stayed home. His belief in democratic politics precluded any thought of his leaving the city in a clandestine manner.

He was prepared to be taken prisoner by the army because such an act was only becoming of a national leader. But his sagacity also came through in that act: he had his lieutenants leave Dhaka, for he knew that in his absence they would build resistance to the Pakistan army.

In the decades since the liberation of Bangladesh and particularly since his assassination, Bangabandhu has been the victim of a falsification of history on several occasions. There have been detractors who have argued that prior to the Pakistan army’s crackdown, he wished to be Pakistan’s Prime Minister. Of course, he was the majority leader in the Pakistan National Assembly and had the assembly been allowed to meet in proper, democratic circumstances after the December 1970 elections, he could very well have taken over as Pakistan’s first elected Prime Minister.

But the Yahya Khan junta torpedoed that opportunity and after the postponement of the assembly session on 1 March 1971, Bangabandhu went for a clear strategy of leading Bangladesh to freedom. He could have compromised on the Six Points but did not. He could have worked out a deal with the army but did not because his politics had always been one of ejecting the military from politics.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was thus no run-of-the-mill politician drawn to the fleeting and pointless glory of power. And so it was that he decisively turned his back on Pakistan in March 1971.

Therefore, forty-eight years after the cataclysm of 15 August we, who have witnessed the making of history in this country, are fed improbable stories of how the young Turks of Nucleus, the Bangladesh Liberation Force and the Awami League were instrumental in preparing the 7 March speech and have Bangabandhu deliver it before a waiting world, we realise we are up against a fresh new assault on history.

Let it not be forgotten that there was a time in the mid-1960s when insinuations flew on the question of the Six Points Bangabandhu had announced in Lahore. The argument was bandied around by his ill-wishers that the Six Points had been prepared by America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and that Bangabandhu was making them public on behalf of Washington. Nothing could be more puerile, as history would show.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in terms of history in our part of the world, towered above every political figure, in Pakistan and Bangladesh. He was a bold, articulate voice in defence of the Bengali national interest. His politics was always a rejection of compromise, before and after 1971.

Bangabandhu’s speeches were well-thought-out, a result of the deliberations he conducted with himself before delivering them in public. His speeches were not written scripts but came in spontaneity, straight from the heart on the strength of political conviction and analyses of objective reality.

The 7 March speech was Bangabandhu’s own. He soared to dizzying heights through his oratory and lifted us to dreams of the Promised Land with it. The record speaks for itself. Those who attempt a new narrative here are doing little service to themselves.

Writer: Journalist and Researcher

Courtesy: Daily Sun