Rekindling the spirit of independence

by Farooque Chowdhury

The battle cry: Independence is humanity’s yearning. Independence is humanity’s lifeline. Independence is bud for humanity’s blooming. Rangalal Bandyopadhyay, a poet from Bengal under British boot, affirmed the position with two questions: Swadhinata-hinatay ke banchite chay…? Dasatwa-shringhkal balo ke paribe pay… (Is there anyone liking a life without independence? Is there anyone willing to have a shackled life?) (‘Swadhinata-Sangit’, Padmini Upakhyan, 1858) These make independence humanity’s battle cry.

spirit-of-independenceIndependence is a political question on the bedrock of conflicting economic interests as the issue is within human society segmented by classes, fragments and factions of class(es), and by socio-economic parts yet to get developed as a class. The role and capacity of classes related to the issue determine character of independence: real or pseudo, free from imperialist clutches or neo-colonial, forward looking or in appeasement with vestiges of decaying socio-economic forces. It was impossible, as for example, to attain full independence by the bourgeoisie in the pre-1947 India because of its ties with imperialists. The transfer of power by the imperialist British empire was organised in the shape of two states, neo-colonial in character. The battle cry for full independence continued to reverberate across the lands concerned pregnant with aspirations of nationalities.

Pakistan, a neo-colonial state, being steered by an alliance of comprador-bureaucrat capital and traces of feudalism had no power to colonise East Bengal/Purba Bangla, which was christened as East Pakistan by the Pakistan rulers. The Pakistan state, as a mere underling in the world imperialist system, was exploiting East Bengal, today’s independent Bangladesh. The imperialist capital was appropriating profit, and its orderlies were taking their share. Process to maximise profit made exploitation of East Bengal ruthless. Immaturity and incapacity of the orderlies further animalised the already bestial exploitation process. The rate of profit of the capital involved, and violent acts, measured on a scale, that the state machine carried out in East Bengal are two of the indicators for identifying the extent of brutish exploitation process. These sharpened related contradictions, which were identified by a part of the political leadership, and ignored and not understood by another. The later group’s destiny was a pure failure, although the group failed to foresee its failure in waiting — a problem with blissful ignorance.

The group waiting to face its destiny of failure had to rely on a political process mechanical in appearance — unrestrained use of force in the shape of total curtailment of all rights that tax-payers and surplus value producers are allowed to live with for the sake of the reproduction of capital in East Bengal/East Pakistan. It was retrenchment of free expression and free movement, and demolishing of peaceful way of living, safety, security and life of an entire population in an entire land, East Bengal; it was segregation and hate politics, a form of indignity imposed; it was indiscriminate loot and arson on a mass scale targeting ordinary tax-payers, whose nod is needed to have legitimacy by rulers; it was killing on a mass scale, which ultimately was organised as a genocide in the land; it was an organised act to impose dishonour and indignity on an entire people of East Bengal, today’s Bangladesh. It was a show of stupid arrogance. And it was part of a process of failure.

The failure was of the capital concerned steering the politics, which had no capacity to resort to any process other than the imposition of the process of suppression and repression of the people in East Bengal. The failure was in imposing capital’s will on the people of the land — the Bengalis. The capital failed to find out or devise mechanism and arrangement for non-use of violent force, for resorting to peaceful means, for winning over the already trampled and throttled down people. The capital’s capacity was up to that level — a historical incapacity. This historical limit in capacity and the extent of failure were embodied in the persons, especially the military officers with limited or no knowledge about the calculus of politics, which is different from logarithms used in warfare, in game with guns.

There was imperialist capital in the alluvial land — East Bengal. There was the exigency to secure that capital as the people had already got radicalised to many extents. Imperialism had its global strategy, which covered the land also. Therefore, imperialism firmly stood by its sentinels of interest in the entire act of using brute force, a tactical act, for the purpose of imposing capital’s will, a strategic necessity, on the Bengalis — the people in Bangladesh. An unbridgeable gap emerged as a tactical act was being imposed to fulfil a strategic necessity. Moreover, imperialism assessed that a sharp strike would demobilise the ‘coward’ Bengalis, which was totally a wrong assessment built on archaic imperialist propaganda.

But, the people in the plains inundated by annual floods, the people living on the shores of the magnificent the Ganges-Padma, on the mighty Meghna, on the meandering Brahmaputra-Jamuna defied the dictates of the lords of the day. Resistance grew organically in the face of the powerful war machine unleashed against the peace-loving people. The resistance was an act of defiance. It was also politics. It was politics by the people with the intent of handling a few contradictions, it was politics of resistance. In front of rolling tanks on city streets, in front of charging guns, the resistance seemed pebbles at first sight.

But, the pebbles were part of the rock named dignity, the rock named defiance. Those were the pebbles of people’s politics, which the powerful ignore most of the time. There in rustic communities, in urban hovels, in middle class neighbourhoods, sense of dignity kindled up as the common persons in millions rose in resistance, as they found the lifeline in their yearning for independence, as they stood up with arms to defend honour of all the people.

The question of dignity and honour is not of a few hundred thousand. That was the question of dignity and honour of all the people as dignity and honour are not determined by mathematical number, not by number of mothers and sisters, as dignity and honour of a single mother or a single sister are the dignity and honour of all the people. Killing of a single child is an act of dishonour. Killing of a single toiler is an act of dishonour. The rationale is: life cannot be killed, cannot be dishonoured, cannot be disgraced, cannot be pushed into a state of indignity; life is not an object to demolish wantonly or in a motivated method; citizens’ lives are not that cheap that can be trampled by boot of a ruler. The common people felt the way. Their sense of dignity and honour was not waiting to get kindled till a huge number arrives. Rather, the act of inflicting dishonour, not dependent upon number, by the tormentors emboldened the sense of dignity among the people.

The reality enlivened the battle cry: Independence. The reality that emerged was: assault on rights and life. Rights and life are connected to the question of dignity. Dignity is knifed out whenever any right and life of citizens are curtailed. There is no dignified life with any curtailment of any right flowing out of the fountain of humanity. The people in Bangladesh took that stand in 1971 that defends life, rights, and, as a whole, dignity.

Their stand grew more glorified and dignified as imperialism was opposing them; and a stand that makes imperialism assess opposed is equal to standing in defence of world humanity as imperialism is opposed to humanity.

Dignity: The spirit of independence that gained momentum in Bangladesh in the blood-soaked year of 1971 was the question of dignity as (1) a people pinioned is void of dignity; (2) a nation pushed to the ground by occupiers’ boots is void of dignity; (3) an exploitation-ridden, poverty-tormented life is void of dignity; (4) a life submerged in ignorance and backwardness, and without the light of knowledge is void of dignity; (5) a life languishing with diseases, and slumbering in slums is void of dignity; (6) a life void of democracy is void of dignity as democracy creates sphere for participation to take decisions centring life of people; (7) a life haunted by fear and insecurity is void of dignity. Bengal’s Tagore sang: Mukta karo bhay, get rid of fear. A life, a people is not crowned with dignity while the fear of ruler, the fear of state machine and torture, the fear of dishonour and indignity, the fear of hunger, unemployment, begging pity, uncertainty, losing face, segregation and exclusion overwhelm life and the people. The people in Bangladesh stood against these fears in 1971, the historical period of initiating the splendid war for liberation. It was the period when the people defied plots hatched by imperialism.

The people handled existing contradictions in their own way. There were contradictions within the neo-colonial state and society, and with imperialism. The people had to resort to the force of arms as hostile forces armed to the teeth were demolishing people’s self-evident rights for a dignified life, as the people found no alternative in self-defence. It was a development in the contradictions existing at that historical time.

A few of the contradictions were settled while a few remained unsettled. That was the reality, material foundation, on which the spirit — dignity — dwelt. As the contradictions were being handled by the people to some extent leadership by class and the leading politics of the class in the endeavour was there with big questions, a few of which are puzzling while the rest are amazing. Seemingly baffling equations emerged in the realm of class leadership beginning from tiny villages to hot theatre of geopolitics.

A calculus: With a perspective different from that of 1971, rekindling the spirit of independence requires assessment of class forces, alignments and alliances these have made/entered into, historical capacities and limitations these bear. The dominating capital, its internal and external relations, its role and limitations are also to be assessed. Democracy and role of imperialism are two other fundamental issues to be examined.

There is no scope even at miniscule level to ignore the question of imperialism while planning or pondering with rekindling the spirit of independence as imperialist capital allows none to have senses of self-respect, dignity and honour, to have sovereignty, to have politics, institutions/ organisations, tools capable of determining and shaping self-destiny, to have appropriate form of democracy. To imperialist capital, its interest is the only and best interest, its definition is the only and correct definition, it is the only moral judge with its decadent morality, its logic and rationality are the only yardstick, it is the single mirror to reflect, it is the only power to own the single grinding stone to reshape everything on this earth, it is the only master with dignity.

All social, economic, political moves require leadership of class. The capacity of the class determines success or failure of any of the moves. Which class shall lead the task of rekindling the spirit of independence is a fundamental question as rekindling the spirit of independence is a political issue, as it is connected to economic interests, and there are similar other basic issues related to the question. Decadent part(s) of a society/class(es) is/are incapable of carrying out a forward looking task. These also decline (incapable also) to carry forward any economic task that come into conflict with its interest but are necessary for materialising the rekindling of the spirit of independence as rekindling of the spirit of independence is not merely an issue connected solely to emotion. A few of the tasks are in direct conflict with imperialist capital, and class(es) with economic ties to imperialist interest shall not carry on the tasks. It is, rather, an economic and political issue capable of inspiring and mobilising an entire people; and all economic and political issues are in coherence with a certain group of class interests while they are in conflict with others. Issues capable of inspiring and mobilising an entire people are in conflict with economic interests that thrive and prosper on appropriating and disenfranchising people, and hurting/ harming/ undercutting their interests. This fact of coherence-conflict is one of the factors determining the process of rekindling the spirit of independence.

Rest of the rekindling the spirit of independence issue — ideological/ educational/ cultural/ social, etc — will be determined by the class, its related contents, and the contradictions these generate. A forward-looking class with the capacity to move forward and its allies can make an onward move with the task of materialising the rekindling of the spirit of independence. All forward-looking political programmes turn into a mere paronomasia and float on the thin air of emotion in the absence of the moves by the class, and political-economic interests lead away from people the profit from the emotion, and utilise the emotion to boost legitimacy.

Farooque Chowdhury is a Dhaka-based freelance writer.

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