Sheikh Mujib : A poet of Politics
Monaem Sarker: Though Bangabandhu was the leader of a small and poor South Asian country, it is doubtful whether any contemporary leader achieved world wide fame like him. London’s Sunday Times dubbed him as “A poet of politics. A famous columnist from Sunday Observer said “There is no other real Bengali leader like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in terms of his physique and facial features. The tall, handsome man has a resounding voice. He can really mesmerise his people.”
His success was hardly limited to guiding Bengalis towards their independence. The success he showed in re-building the war-devastated country within the span of only three and a half years is remarkable. Yet one of the major criticisms is that he was a rabble-rouser but a failure as a statesman and administrator. This was totally wrong. If he did not return immediately after the independence, it would not only be impossible to rebuild the country, but it may have been impossible to protect the independence as well.
Let me give a small example of his success : Within three months of the war he managed to persuade the Indian’s Prime Minister Indira Gandi to withdraw their troops. The West European countries could not remove the American soldiers and their military establishments in 40 years. The Pakistani army had completely destroyed the communication network of Bangladesh. Within a few months, 567 bridges including the Hardinge and Meghna Bridge were rebuilt. 1851 rail wagons and passenger bogies were restarted. The Chittagong and Mongla sea ports were cleared of mines and export-import business started. Within a week of the independence the national flag, national song and the war song were decided. For the peasants, it was decided that there will be no tax for holdings under 25 bighas. Within a year, the Constitution was drafted and implemented. Pakistan did not manage to make a constitution even in eight years.
Bangladesh gained membership of the United Nations in a few years. Communist China needed 20 years to become a UN member. In 1976, Bangladesh became a member of the Non-Aligned Movement. In the Algiers summit of NAM Countries Bangabandhu and Bangladesh was declared as the New Rising Sun of South Asia. Within a very short period of independence nearly two hundred countries recognised Bangladesh. This is no mean feat of Bangabandhu. Even Pakistan recognised Bangladesh and invited Bangabandhu to visit the country in 1974. All these were possible because of Bangabandhu’s powerful personality, charisma and his role befitting a statesman. The World Peace Council awarded him the prestigious Julio Curie Peace Medal because of his contributions. The organisation also dubbed him as “The Friend of the World.”
When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated George Bernard Shaw said, “It is too dangerous to be too good.” This applies to Bangabandhu as well. Of course Bangabandhu made a few mistakes while running the country. However, he never compromised with his principles. He never wavered from his ideals. If he had compromised with the Yahya-led junta over his six-point programme, he could easily become the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Bangabandhu never hesitated to embrace even his sworn enemies. However, at times he failed to recognise his true friends. Bangabandhu’s weaknesses can be analysed in this way. When there was leadership crisis in AL’s two strong fronts– Chhatra League and Sramik League – he did not become strong enough to end the crisis. This widened the crack between the two fronts. The creation of JSD. just after independence was a real part of conspiracy against Bangabandhu. Actualy JSD killed Bangabandhu politicaly since they were former Chatro Leage, Awami Leagers and Bangabandhu’s followers. He considered Shiraz Shikder and some of the isolated, militant left parties more dangerous for the country. He did not give due importance to the ultra right cliques that were being patronised by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. He also accepted without screening each and every officer and soldier who had returned from Pakistan.
Bangabandhu did not think much of the conspiracy of the Moshtaq group within the party and did not give much recognition to the conspiracy of a highly ambitious General Ziaur Rahman in the army. From various intelligence sources he was aware of Zia’s controversial role as a sector commander during the War of Liberation; his keeping in touch with the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and USA; keeping his Z Force inactive towards the last leg of the War of Liberation; decision of General Osmani to try him in Court Martial (Who was saved by Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed) and lastly Zia’s dubious connections even after independence. Instead of removing him from the army, he was promoted to the rank of General and given the post of Deputy Chief of Staff.
On one side there was the Pakistan trained and Pakistani minded officers who looked for opportunities to stage a military coup and on the other, a section of bureaucrats unhappy with the idea of losing power to BAKSAL where district governors would govern, quickly welcomed any idea of removing the government. Similarly, businessmen who opposed socialism and nationalisation of banks and industries showed interest in joining the opposition camp. And it hardly needs emphasising that the defeated communal and fundamentalist forces of 1971 also rallied around them. It is now known to all what role Bhutto government of Pakistan and Kissinger administration of the USA played to create the famine of 1974 to make the Mujib government unpopular. This also created the backdrop of the 1975 killing of Sheikh Mujib and his family.
Now the question is, was Bangabandhu wrong in trying to win the hearts of his enemies? Could the tragedy of 1975 be avoided had he been strong and tough as Fidel Castro of Cuba or Nasser of Egypt? There would be difference of opinion on this. But I feel that had he been tougher and had not drifted away from his real allies, the anti-liberation forces could not have succeeded in gaining so much ground within such a short time.
Having had the opportunity to watch Bangabandhu from close quarters, I feel that there was a blend of both revolution and orderliness in his character. He gave leadership in a revolution to obtain independence. But he did not want to govern with the spirit of revolution. Rather he thought of using his power and personal charisma to reach the goal of attaining democracy and socialism in a peaceful manner. Which Bangabandhu termed as democracy oppressed. The counter-revolutionaries seized this opportunity to strike and destroy both-Bangabandhu and his newly created Bangladesh.
In 7th months speech Bangabandhu said, ‘This time it is the fight for (Muktir Sangram) independence, this time is the fight for freedom.’ But didn’t mean independence as freedom too? Then why did hw mention freedom separately? According to Bangabandhu, “A nation may not get freedom though it may attain independence. Even after the ouster of foreign rulers from a country the common masses may not become free from hunger, poverty, exploitation, illiteracy, disease and repression. It is my wish that I would start a second revolution to free the people from discrimination, inequality and poverty. Independence might have returned democracy to us but this is not the democracy of those exploited. It is the democracy of the gentlemen, educated and rich. This democracy gives gentlemen the right to say some words about democracy from the books. But it does not arrange for food for the poor, nor does it bring back smile in the face of the poor. Once the democracy of the gentlemen settles down, I would start my work for the establishment of democracy for the poor to end exploitation.”
But, even after 42 years of the killing of Bangabandhu, no one could bring any evidence to prove the accusations. This has remained as propaganda only. Bangladesh Krishak Soromik Awami League (BAKSAL) had existed only for 7 to 8 months. Proper analysis of a government is not possible in such a short time. Had BAKSAL lived for 2 to 3 years, critics could have said whether it was a single party rule or an alliance of many parties.
After independence, communal politics and forming of religion based political party was banned. But taking advantage of the loopholes in the laws of the land, political parties like Muslim League, Jamat etc changed communal names and carried on with their anti-independence activities. BAKSAL had taken under its fold all the political parties that had taken part in the Liberation War and as a result all communal and defeated political parties were thrown out. Many people today agree that even at the cost of normal flow of democracy, it was necessary to take those steps in consideration of the prevailing situation soon after the War of Liberation.
Giving emphasis on secularism in the constitution, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman wanted to free the country from the grip of communalism and fundamentalism. By including socialism in the constitution he had made provisions for building a future socialist Bangladesh. Secular Bengali nationalism was to create a non-communal Bangladesh. And to ensure implementation of these steps he had introduced BAKSAL. But to deny him the fruits of success, his opponents connived to kill him on 15 August 1975.
I have no doubt that if the assassination of 15 August had not taken place, Bangladesh would not have been so poor and miserable in every sector. If Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia could brush aside the brow-beating of the imperialists then why Bangabandhu, with his international image, could not have built a prosperous Bangladesh?