‘No single organisation can claim war credit’

The Awami League does not need to distort the history of independence. If the Awami league did anything to the history of independence, it did that for the need of the history and its continuity. It is the BNP and the Jamaat party that are responsible for all kinds of distortion of the history of independence, Rashed Khan Menon — president of the Workers Party of Bangladesh and civil aviation and tourism minister of the government of Sheikh Hasina who along with other left and democratic parties formed the Coordination Committee for the Liberation of Bangladesh in June 1971 — tells Mahamudul Hasan in an interview with New Age

Rashed Khan Menon

Rashed Khan Menon

New Age: The competing political parties of the ruling class, the Bangladesh Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party in particular, accuse each other of distorting the history of our Liberation War. What is your view about the alleged distortion of the history?
Rashed Khan Menon: People of Bangladesh and also the international community know it well that the military rulers, including Ziaur Rahman, had completely distorted the liberation war history during their tenure in state power spanning one decade and a half after 1975. Later the BNP-Jamaat alliance government accelerated the process of distorting the history. During his lifetime, Zia never claimed that he had proclaimed the independence of Bangladesh. But when the BNP came to power along with the Jamaat-e-Islami in 1991, it started claiming that Ziaur Rahman had proclaimed the independence. The BNP’s efforts to establish Zia as the proclaimer of independence are still on.
Here the Awami League does not need to distort the history of independence. If the Awami league did anything to the history of independence, it did that for the need of the history and its continuity. It is the BNP and the Jamaat that are responsible for all kinds of distortion of the history of independence.
New Age: There is no doubt that the Awami League, under the active leadership of Tajuddin Ahmad, politically presided over the nine-month liberation war against Pakistan, and that the Tajuddin government conducted the liberation war in the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. But the Awami League often claims to be the sole champion of the country’s war of liberation. What role did you party, or other political parties for that matter, play in the liberation war?
Rashed Khan Menon: We had started our fight against the then West Pakistani rule and repression on the people of East Pakistan long before 1971 under the leadership of Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani. We formed a coordination committee named Sarbadaliya Chhatra Sangram Parishad in 1969. We, the leftist force, had the preeminent role in organising and consolidating the mass uprising of 1969 under the leadership of Maulana Bhashani. Actually, at a grand rally of our coordination committee on February 22, 1969, we declared the independence and sovereignty of our country. We also secretly started making preparations for an armed struggle for the independence from that day.
New Age: At what point of political development in Dhaka, did you or your party resolve to start the liberation war against the occupation forces of Pakistan?
Rashed Khan Menon: It became evident that there was no option left for the nation but to go for an armed struggle against the Pakistani occupation force for our independence as the political situation plunged into a deep crisis after the 1970 general elections. In 1970, we, the left-leaning student organisations, intensified our preparations for an armed struggle aiming to drive out the Pakistan occupation forces from our soil. Later, all these events led to the armed struggle and finally we earned our independence and sovereignty.
We could start the war against the Pakistani occupation forces after they had launched a brutal assault on innocent people at midnight on March 25 as we had made the preparations beforehand.
If you want to know whether there had been any reasons for the midnight attack on unarmed innocent people by the Pakistani forces, I will tell you that there were no reasons for the Pakistani forces to carry out such a massacre that night. The only reason they had was to establish their dominance over the people of the erstwhile East Pakistan and not to hand over state power to elected representatives of 1970 general elections.
They carried out the attack on the unarmed people in a planned way. There was no remarkable development on the Bangladesh side that had forced the Pakistani forces to carry out the attack. The Pakistani authorities even did not say it anywhere in its history.
New Age: There are allegations that the government-in-exile of Tajuddin Ahmad and the Indian authorities refused to provide training and weapons to leftwing political activists? Why? How was the issue eventually resolved?
Rashed Khan Menon: This is true that the government-in-exile and the Indian authorities expressed their reluctance at giving arms to leaders and activists of left-leaning organisations. They had reasons for their reluctance. There was a perception that the war of liberation might have merged with the Naxal movement going on that time in West Bengal if left organisations were supplied with arms. It was also believed that they could lose their control over the war of liberation if arms were given to the leftists as the Bangladeshi leftists were mostly loyal to China that time.
We think that no single political organisation can claim the credit of the liberation war. In the circumstances, we informed the government-in-exile of Tajuddin Ahmad about our Communist Party’s decision to extend allout cooperation to the government-in-exile. Besides, we did not wait for the nod of the government-in-exile. We started taking part in battlefields where the sector commanders were fighting. Our activists also took part in the front war on their own in different parts of the country, including Bagerhat, Pirojpur, Barisal, Chauddagram in Comilla and Sylhet.
New Age: It is common knowledge that Awami League leader Khondaker Mushtaque Ahmed wanted to compromise with the Pakistani authorities during our liberation war. Was any other leader or faction of the Awami League supporting Mushtaque’s move? How was the suicidal move thwarted?
Rashed Khan Menon: The government-in-exile of Tajuddin Ahmad foiled the conspiracy of Khondaker Mushtaque Ahmed by removing him from the charge of the foreign ministry. Besides, the all-party advisory council that was formed for the war of liberation had played a significant role in thwarting the move of Mushtaque for a confederation. The contribution of Maulana Bhashani here was very significant as he had boldly said that in no way the people of Bangladesh would go for a compromise with the Pakistani authorities.
I do not know whether any other Awami League leaders were involved in the conspiracy hatched by Mushtaque. Some bureaucrats, including Mahbubul Alam Chashi, were, however, involved in the conspiracy. Some Awami League leaders were later became involved in Mushtaque’s conspiracy after 1971.
New Age: There are allegations that youth leaders of the Mujib Bahini, formed and specially trained by the Indian authorities, did not properly cooperate with the the government of Tajuddin Ahmad during the liberation war. Why was, in your view, the Mujib Bahini formed in the first place and how did it affect the process of our liberation war?
Rashed Khan Menon: It is true that there was a conflicting relationship between the government-in-exile and the Mujib Bahini, which was formed with young supporters of the Awami League. The Indian authorities had especially given training to the Mujib Bahini aiming to establish a political dominance over the war of liberation as the Mukti Bahini was highly dominated by the army personnel. Later, we could see a hostile relationship between the Mujib Bahini and the Mukti Bahini for this reason.
New Age: Allegations also have it that in order to take control of the war, the Mujib Bahini often engaged itself in the clashes with the Mukti Bahini. Did such clashes upset the morale of the freedom fighters on the ground?
Rashed Khan Menon: Obviously, it hinders progress when a group start  suspecting another group. Similarly, the division and suspicion between the Mujib Bahini and the Mukti Bahini hindered the progress of our liberation war but could not affect the whole war as the Mujib Bahini was formed during the concluding part of the war. The Mujib Bahini could have established its influence over the liberation war if it had lingered. Actually, the Mujib Bahini could not play any role during the Liberation War. I do not have any information that the Mujib Bahini had directly participated in the war of independence.
New Age: Different sections of people of Bangladesh took part in the liberation war. Did all sections of people had the same expectations from an independent Bangladesh? What were the aspirations of the poor masses who had made the greatest sacrifice?
Rashed Khan Menon: Ordinary people joined the liberation war for political and economic emancipation while the upper-class people joined the armed struggle during the liberation war for power and in their interest. As for the country’s independence, interests of all quarters flowed in the same direction — the country’s independence.
First, I want to talk about the aspiration of ours. We joined the war with a specific political programme. But after the liberation, we could not implement our programme. The main reason is that left politicians became divided during and after the liberation war.
The leftists had acceptance among the people before the liberation war but they lost it because of divisions among the leftist groups and anti-liberation activities by some leftists. This also created a negative impression on the people about us.
On the other hand, after the 1975, the mainstream of the liberation war took a U-turn and fell into the grip of the defeated force. As a result, the dream that led us into the war of liberation could not be materialised till date.
I, therefore, cannot not say that aspirations and expectations of ordinary people were fulfilled. But I can say that after a long interval, we are back on track. Bangladesh is progressing fast.
New Age: What are the impediments towards meeting aspirations of people at large that were generated out of a successful war of liberation in 1971?
Rashed Khan Menon: I have already said that all the achievements of the liberation war had fallen into the grips of the defeated force and it hindered the process of fulfilling aspirations of the people. Now the pro-liberation force is in power and it is sincerely working to meet people’s aspirations.
New Age: There is some documentation, inadequate though, about the sacrifice of women in the liberation war but their sacrifice is not yet discussed in public forums. How should the problem be addressed?
Rashed Khan Menon: I agree that contributions of women to our war of liberation were not focused much after 1971. We could not highlight women’s contributions because of our social realities. But now contributions of women are being brought into focus.
There is no doubt that women had played a significant role in our war of liberation behind-the-scenes. They served a lot during the time through various means. They cooked food for freedom fighters and gave them shelters risking their own life. I can tell about my wife who carried grenades, supplied food and gave treatment to freedom fighters. But women’s contributions of this sort was not focused in history. This is a big weakness of the history of our liberation war. We have taken initiatives to honour the women who had lost their dignity during the liberation war.
New Age: There is still controversy at home and abroad over the actual number of martyrs in our liberation war. What is the scientific way to put an end to the controversy?
Rashed Khan Menon: It is a Dhaka-based British journalist, David Bergman, who first raised the question about the three million figure of the liberation war martyrs. Before him, none had raised the question about the figure. I think that there is an ill motive and purpose behind questioning the figure of martyrs. No controversy was created about the figure before.
It is an established fact that three million people sacrificed their lives in the liberation war. None could question it and hurt the sacrifice of the martyrs. Besides, it is not possible now to justify the figure. It was also not possible to count the martyrs shortly after the independence as the killing grounds are still being detected. It does not matter what the number is. But the most important thing is their sacrifice for the nation.

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