‘War glory belittled if AL claims all credits’

The erstwhile East Pakistan was not undivided either. It was divided into different classes with 95 per cent of working class proletariats and people from the middle- and lower middle-class and less than 5 per cent of the rising business class and the rich Bengalis, Khalequzzaman — general secretary of the Socialist Party of Bangladesh — tells Taib Ahmed in an interview with New Age.

Khalequzzaman

Khalequzzaman

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?
Khalequzzaman: The bourgeois political parties in the ruling class, particularly the Awami League and the BNP, have all along tried to capture history instead of conducting research on history and doing research. They have tried to capture history in order to safeguard their existence and to display the glory of their rule. As a result, their past has reappeared repeatedly with a distorted outlook in a way their present is colourless and the future is abject. So they are trying to avoid their responsibility towards history through blame game.
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 party often claims to be the sole champion of the country’s liberation war. What role did your party, or other political parties for that matter, play in the liberation war?
Khalequzzaman: The great liberation war in 1971 was a people’s war. The Awami League was in the leadership. But the greatness of the liberation war is belittled and limited and history is distorted if the Awami League claims all the credit of the war. When the Awami League betrays mean-mindedness in recognising the role of its own leader and war-time prime minister Tajuddin Ahmad, how is it possible for it to recognise the role of other forces? The leftwing political parties played a significant role in the liberation war although there is controversy over the outlook of a small faction of leftists to the war. I had served as the district commander of freedom fighters’ force in the erstwhile Comilla district during the war.
New Age: At what point of the political development in Dhaka, you or your party resolved to start the liberation war against the occupation forces of Pakistan?
Khalequzzaman: As the elected president of the trade union at Barabkundu Chemical Industry (later complex) at Sitakunda in Chittagong and as one of the regional leaders of the labour movement, I was able to understand that any consensus or compromise on the Six-Point Charter is almost impossible and a war was inevitable. I took part in different programmes in the 1969 non-cooperation movement in Dhaka from the beginning of March. I went to India on April 2, 1971 and received training at Kathalia’s Ampinagar Training Camp. Taking a position in Melagar in Sector Two and in the Nirbhaypur sub-sector, I commanded the freedom fighters. I had no relations with the Communist Party those days. I was, however, active in the labour movement and in the ongoing struggle for democracy.
New Age: There are allegations that the government-in-exile of Tajuddin Ahmad and the Indian authorities refused to provide training and weapons for leftwing political activists? Why? How was the issue eventually resolved?
Khalequzzaman: India took time in deciding to give military training to young civilians who went to India from Bangladesh. There were restrictions on giving training to leftists from the very beginning. A solution was made in this regard much later with efforts of the erstwhile Soviet Union and leftwing government and political parties of West Bengal state of India.
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 Mustaque’s move? How was the suicidal move thwarted?
Khalequzzaman: A large part of the AL leadership was sceptical about a successful culmination of the liberation war. There were, particularly, fears among many about how long the uncertainty and refugee-like situation would continue. The prime minister Tajuddin Ahmad was determined about independence. Not only on his own but also in line with suggestions of a certain quarter, Khondaker Mushtaque took initiatives to find a solution such as the establishment of a confederation. It was not unknown to the Indian government. The internal situation in Bangladesh and the fighting spirit of the mass people, people’s growing participation in the liberation war, active support and assistance from Indians, the people of West Bengal in particular, the Soviet Union backing and freedom fighters’ confidence — all reversed the formula of compromise and the dismantled design to establish a confederation with Pakistan.
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 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?
Khalequzzaman: The Mujib Bahini or the Bengal Liberation Force was formed with Awami League people, particularly activists of the Chhatra League, under a special arrangement by the Indian government. The freedom fighters’ force was composed of youths and teenagers and the Mukti Fauj was composed of armed forces members, Bangladesh Rifles and the police. A small group was trained as navy commando. On special considerations, an arrangement was made to give training to leaders and workers of the Communist Party and NAP. All the forces, except Mujib Bahini or the BLF, were controlled by the government of Tajuddin Ahmad. The BLF was under a special command set up by the Indian army. The prime minister Tajuddin and the military commander General MAG Osmani thought it to be against the military discipline and against the establishment of the political authority of the government-in-exile. Sector commanders too did not see it positively. Although the AL leadership, which went into exile, could remain in the leadership during the war, a perception was all around that the BLF was built up to ensure that AL leadership could remain at the helm of the country after the independence.
New Age: Allegations also have it that in order to take control of the war, the Mujib Bahini often engaged itself in clashes with the Mukti Bahini. Did such clashes upset the morale of the freedom fighters on the ground?
Khalequzzaman: Sporadic clashes and hostility took place between the Mujib Bahini and the freedom fighters although they fought together in many places. But the clash was not widespread. A kind of disappointment, on a small-scale and for a little while, was, however expressed by freedom-loving people as they did not want to see them divided.
New Age: Different sections of people of Bangladesh took part in the liberation war. Did all sections of people have the same expectations from an independent Bangladesh? What were the aspirations of the poor masses who made the greatest sacrifices?
Khalequzzaman: Before the independence, Bangladesh [the erstwhile East Pakistan] was not undivided either. It was divided into different classes that time too. On the one hand, there were 95 per cent of working class proletariats and people from the middle- and lower middle-class and, on the other hand, there were less than 5 per cent of the rising business class and the rich Bengalis. The majority of people wanted independence to get rid of all kinds of repressive and suppressive rules of the Pakistanis while others wanted to have an independent land in order to drive out the 22 families [known to have controlled Pakistan’s economy] and have their own space. The two classes were united here [in the liberation war] but their aspirations were opposite. People wanted a government which would reflect their aspirations, opinions and interests in a democracy. They did not want a mere replacement of non-Bengali repressive rulers with Bengali repressive rulers. They wanted an exploitation-free society. They did not want people being killed in the name of religion and wanted secularism against crimes against humanity on the basis of the principle that the state is for everybody while religion is personal. They wanted to keep their head high with self-dignity and bravery. Shortly after the independence, it was not possible for the rulers to deny aspirations for independence and that is why the constitution reflected many of the people’s aspirations despite some limitations.
But over the past 43 years, the ruling class ruled the country going against aspirations of the mass people and helped the rising richer Bengali class to make fortunes and power up to its peak. Autocracy and looting have replaced democracy, 22,000 families have replaced 22 families and the use of religion in politics has replaced secularism. Efforts are on to bow down to imperialist forces if they are favourable and try to anchor elsewhere if they are not favourable. These are not the aspirations of the people who made the supreme sacrifice during the war of independence.
New Age: What are the impediments towards meeting the aspirations of people at large that were generated out of a successful war of liberation in 1971?
Khalequzzaman: Going beyond the bipartisan autocratic cycle, an alternative political force composed of leftists, liberals, patriots, democratic progressive parties, individuals and professionals to establish a democratic system through a democratic struggle need to be built to ensure the empowerment of the mass people, to establish an exploitation-free society and socialism which was a fundamental spirit of the liberation war and through which the lost spirit of the liberation war could be revived.
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?
Khalequzzaman: In order to uphold the spirit of the victory, the women who sacrificed their lives will have to be recognised as freedom fighters. We are about to lose our national dignity by not recognising the struggle of women. So women freedom fighters should be given recognition without further delay.
New Age: There is still controversy at home and abroad over the actual number of the martyrs in our liberation war. What is the scientific way to put an end to the controversy?
Khalequzzaman: There is no benefit in questioning the number of martyrs of the liberation war. We need to prepare and publish lists of freedom fighters, martyred freedom fighters, collaborators and criminals involved in Pakistani auxiliary forces such as Al-Badr and Al-Shams. We have not counted numerous martyrs because of our negligence over the past 43 years. We will need to continue with our task with utmost sincerity and maximum attention in coming days to come out of that shame and injustice.

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