Reclaiming the spirit of Bangladesh’s independence war

Nurul Kabir

ডিম পাড়ে হাঁসে, খায় বাগডাসে ।

(The duck lays the eggs and the civet eats them.)

— Bangla proverb

I

THE spirit of the war for national liberation of any country is nothing but the summation of the collective aspirations of a people evolved through a series of their political, economic and cultural struggles that they wage a decisive war against the imperialist/colonialist/neo-colonialist power for. Before the people of East Bengal rose to the armed revolt against the neocolonial state of Pakistan, managed, rather mismanaged, by the Karachi/Rawalpindi/Islamabad-based West Pakistani ruling elite, they had fought relentlessly for the political, economic and cultural equality of the people of the state’s two regions, East and West, for more than two decades since 1948. The West refused to pay heed. Finally, the neo-colonial West refused to honour the popular opinion, expressed through the country’s first-ever general elections based on universal franchise, held in late 1970 that gave the East-based Awami League an unambiguous mandate to govern Pakistan for the next five years. Moreover, in order to illegally as well as immorally retain power, the West’s unholy axis of the landed aristocracy, big businesses and the civil-military bureaucracy imposed an absolutely unjust war on the unarmed people of the East, by way of launching a gruesome genocide in the dead of night of March 25, 1971.

The East, however, heroically rose to resistance against the brutal state of Pakistan, with the clear objective of creating an independent state of its own, which would ensure, as the official ‘proclamation of independence’, made by the war-time Awami League government of Tajuddin Ahmad on April 10, 1971, spelt out ‘equality, human dignity and social justice’ for the citizens of the state to be created — the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Evidently, the social, political and economic aspirations that the people of East Bengal fought for within the framework of Pakistan, which were repeatedly denied by the West, found expression, by and large, in the historic proclamation. The people’s aspirations summed up in a nutshell, which remains, in the least, is the ‘spirit’ of the war of independence that the people had successfully fought for.

 

II

BANGLADESH came into independent existence on the military defeat of the occupation forces of Pakistan, primarily by the heroic armed resistance of the ordinary people, mostly the poor classes of the people of East Bengal, on December 16, 1971. The political leadership of the independence war was provided by the Awami League, the party of the Bengali middle class, while the Left political forces, barring a fringe group, fought the war of independence with all their might — political and organisational.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s aspiration for independence coincided with the Indian geo-political interest of dismantling Pakistan. The Indian political establishments, therefore, came forward to assist the people of Bangladesh to achieve independence. They arranged for armed training as well as weapons for a large section of Bangladeshi Freedom Fighters, and helped mobilise  diplomatic as well as popular supports in different countries of the world. The Indian army even directly joined the Mukti Bahini, at the fag end of the war though, to liberate Bangladesh from the clutches of the Pakistan army. On top of that all, the Indian people, particularly those of the bordering provinces of West Bengal, Tripura and Assam, provided shelter for several millions of Bangladeshis who left the country to escape the brutal Pakistani massacre. Bangladeshis, therefore, have all the reasons for remaining thankful to the Indian people and their political establishments concerned for the multi-dimensional assistance that the latter had provided to achieve Bangladesh’s independence — no matter how and to what a significant extent India has been benefited geo-politically out of the dismembering of Pakistan.

The people of Bangladesh, however, have no reason to care about the atrocious narrative/s of history that a section of the ruling class Indians at times come up with as regards the Indian role in Bangladesh’s war of liberation. The latest of such an atrocious narrative came from the defence minister of India, Manohar Parrikar in early October this year, suggesting that an independent Bangladesh was an Indian gift to the Bangladeshis, which Delhi had handed over to the latter after winning a war against the Pakistan army in 1971! Parrikar said, “Lord Rama won Lanka and gave it to Vibhishana. We did the same in the Bangladesh operation.”  (Times of India, online edition, Delhi, October 2, 2016) Evidently, referring to a Hindu mythological episode in which Lord Rama had waged a war against Rakshasa, the king of Lanka, defeated the latter, and then handed over the conquered kingdom to Vibhishana — the defeated king’s younger brother, Parrikar suggested that India conquered Bangladesh through a war against Pakistan in 1971 and then handed the newly-emerged country over to the Bangladeshis!

The vulgarity of the rhetorical message is clear: Parrikar and the like refuse to respect the fact of history that hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis — men, women and children — had laid down lives for the independence of Bangladesh. Besides, such Indians are conveniently constrained to admit that it was primarily the Bangladeshi Freedom Fighters who had decisively fought the victorious war against the occupational forces of Pakistan while the Indian army joined the Freedom Fighters only at the fag end of the war in the first week of December 1971. Even Lieutenant General JFR Jacob, who was the chief of staff of the Eastern Command of the Indian army in 1971, admits: “By September the operations of the Mukti Bahini were beginning to have an effect on the morale of the Pakistani Army. Raids and ambushes were carried out, culvert and bridges blown up. The Pakistan Army’s will to fight, particularly of the rank and file, was being greatly eroded.” (Generla JFR Jacob, Surrender at Dacca: Birth of a Nation, third impression, University Press Limited, Dhaka, 2004 [1997], p 87)

Besides, many a top-level commander of Bangladesh’s Mukti Bahini observed much earlier that Pakistan forces would have been forced to surrender to the Mukti Bahini alone and, that too without any physical military intervention of the Indian army on December 3, by the last week of December. In this regard, AK Khandaker, who was Deputy Chief of Staff of the Mukti Bahini, says: “The Mukti Bahini is being deprived of its due credit [for liberating Bangladesh]. The war [between India and Pakistan] broke out on December 3. The sign of Pakistani force’s willingness to surrender in Bangladesh started emerging on December 9. It was only a matter of 5/6 days. […] I would say, obviously without belittling the contribution of the allied forces of India, the physical strength of the Pakistan forces had been exhausted, and psychological morale reached down the lowest ebb, before the commencement of the war [with India] on December 3.” (AK Khandaker’s interview in Afsan Chowdhury, Bangladesh: 1971, Volume 4, Mowla Brothers, Dhaka, 2007, p 406)

The late Major General Khaled Mosharraf, who as a major heroically led Sector 2 of the Mukti Bahini in the war of independence, observed on August 28, 1973, “The Indian Army just walked in when we, the Mukti Bahini, had already finished the job.” (Khaled Mosharraf’s interview in Talukder Maniruzzaman, The Bangladesh Revolution and Its Aftermath, second edition, third impression, University Press Limited, Dhaka, 2009 [1980], p 118.)

It was, in fact, Pakistan’s military junta that provided the Indian authorities with the opportunity, by way of attacking India on December 3, to get the latter officially involved in the war, and thus ‘jointly’ win the liberation war of Bangladesh, which was almost single-handedly won by Bangladesh’s Mukti Bahini and its people. By physically drawing India into the war, Pakistan had ‘saved’ its ‘marshal’ army’s ‘prestige’, if there was any, by way of not surrendering to the Bangladeshis, whom they had hitherto propagated to be a ‘non-marshal’ race. India, despite its pathological enmity with Pakistan, happily accepts the latter’s narrative about 1971, for it suits Indian interest in the post-war geo-political contexts of the South Asian region.

There is, therefore, no need for the Bangladeshis to pay heed to the Indian and Pakistani propaganda that Bangladesh emerged as an independent state through a war between India and Pakistan; for it was truly a war of liberation of the people of Bangladesh, fought and won by the Bangladeshis, while India and many other foreign countries helped the people of Bangladesh, to varying degrees though, earn the cherished independence. The cold war-era realpolitik, however, had played a role in determining as to which country would take which side of the warring parties.

 

III

WHILE the Bangladeshis in general fought their own war of independence against the neo-colonialist state of Pakistan, the question remains as to which classes/sections of the Bangladeshis rendered most sacrifices for the independence. Even more precisely, while all classes of the Bangladeshis endured, suffered and fought the war in many different ways, which classes/sections of the population did contribute most to the victory? The history, objective history that is, provides an unambiguous answer: the poor classes of the people — the peasants and wage labourers, in particular.

In any national war of liberation, of which guerrilla warfare constitutes most part of it, it is, indeed, difficult to determine as to which sections of the people plays the most important role, for a guerilla cannot survive, let alone fight the enemy forces, if the people at large do not provide caring shelter, food and health care when necessary, braving the ruthless retribution to be inflicted on the shelter provider by the powerful enemy forces. Still, those poorly equipped youths who fight victorious battles with a professionally trained army of occupation holding most modern weapons must be considered to be the ones who make the decisive contributions to the wining of a national war of liberation. The members of the Mukti Bahini did the job in the case of the liberation war of Bangladesh, while the Muktis in question mostly came from the peasantry and other poor classes of society. The leaders of the liberation war, both civilian and military, admit to this important piece of historical fact.

SR Mirza, an Awami League leader who was a top-ranking director of the Youth Camps, the recruiting centres of the volunteers for fighting the liberation war, admits that ‘as many as 70 per cent of the Mukti Bahini guerrillas came from different poor classes, particularly the peasantry’. (SR Mirza, in Muktijudhher Purbapar: Kathopakathan, Conversation between AK Khandaker, Muyeedul Hasan and SR Mirza, Prothoma Prokashan, Dhaka, 2009, p 120) AK Khandaker, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Mukti Bahini who was in charges of ‘training and operations’ of the Muktis since July 12, 1971, asserts that the percentage of the poor’s ‘direct participation’ in the liberation war was rather higher than what Mirza claims. Khandaker says, “The youths from the peasant families contributed most to the liberation war. They constituted 80 per cent of the Mukti Bahini.” (Interview of AK Khandaker in Dr MA Hasan, Ekatturer Meghe Dhaka Itihas, Tamralipi, Dhaka, 2010, p 296)

If that so happened, and which had really happened, the newly emerged state of Bangladesh had the highest obligation to serve most the poor classes of the Bangladeshis, particularly the peasantry. The state was rightly named People’s Republic of Bangladesh, while its pre-independence promises — equality, human dignity and social justice — was retained in the constitution as the objectives of the republic. It is still there written in the constitution. But, 45 years into the victory of the liberation war, the state has practically become a republic of the rich, while the poor classes of the people, who had created Bangladesh, remain exposed to the pervasive inequality, indignity and injustice. The poor’s victory has been stolen by the rich.

The rich minority of the Bangladeshis, which is connected to the ruling class political parties, gradually arising out of those who constituted themselves as ruling class in the independent Bangladesh, and controlled the state under various regimes — civilian and military — for more than four decades, is now free to get away with making millions out of the public exchequer and deposit them in the foreign banks without accountability, becoming lawmakers without even taking due mandate of the people, and getting the politically weak enemies murdered extrajudicially by the law enforcement agencies, so on and so forth. The poor majority of the people, on the other hand, bear the brunt of all the crimes — political, economic and moral — committed by the rich minority.

 

IV

BANGLADESH, the ordinary people of Bangladesh that is, needs to settle the claim of the history of its painful birth, which can be done only by the democratic transformation of the state and society, based on ‘equality, human dignity and social justice’ for all the citizens — irrespective of their ethnic, religious and gender identity. This is, primarily, a political task that can be accomplished gradually by developing people’s political power vis-à-vis that of the self-seeking class of the rich, which has destroyed the noble spirit of the country’s great war of liberation.

 

Nurul Kabir is editor of New Age.

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