Being a student of English Department of Dhaka University and a serious activist of left politics at the same time has always been very difficult. I had this difficulty or disadvantage. But, ours was literally the generation of Seventy-One, and we were perhaps differently tempered. So, some of us anyhow made this difficult job, if not easy, possible. And these few enjoyed some advantages also. I remember, for example, how I got a gift of some precious long-play gramophone records of Beethoven symphony from the East German delegates to the first national conference of Bangladesh Chhatro Union in free and independent Bangladesh.
These I got for working with them as an interpreter, in appreciation; but I didn't have a record-player then. I was chosen for this task of interpreter spread over some three days for being both a reliable activist and a student of English Department. I remember Bangabandhu inaugurated that Conference of Chhatro Union, and along with the foreign delegates, I was on the same dais with Bangabandhu at its inaugural session. I relish this memory now so very much. It happened again when the World Peace Council, led by its legendary leader Ramesh Chandra, awarded Bangabandhu the very prestigious Julio Curie Award. Again on the dais of that program I was interpreting the proceedings and speeches to members of one of the delegations of I don't any more remember which socialist country. And, memories of coming quite close to Bangabandhu that time are fresh with me. I remember how I felt proud then even on the count of our national leader's physical height and impressive appearance.
Otherwise, I belonged to a family whose head, my father, had his typically 'left' criticism of nationalist leaders and Bangabandhu also. And, you cannot write him off for that. My father spent eleven years in prison during the British and Pakistan time for his swadeshi and left politics. And, when he failed to continue in communist politics during the very difficult early years of Pakistan, he, like many of us of present time, would not go to do anything, even for bare survival. I take pride that with one almost equal commitment he then created a stainless record of 23 years' dedicated service of a successful Headmaster's at our village high school in Barisal. He produced scores of humans who have proved immensely valuable to Bangladesh and her people. He thus earned enough strength to talk politics for or against any one. 'Demagogue' was added to my vocabulary quite early by him, and I still remember how he would often utter this word about politicians of the nationalist brand.
I have a very special reason to mention in this context my father who finally had another kind of a contender in Bangabandhu. Police in 1975 would attribute my parenthood to the Sheikh. On the night of 30th October, 1975 I and Showket Hossain (presently Managing Director of TACK International, Dhaka) got arrested from the gate of our rented house at Katasur, Mohammadpur. Shawkat was then a city leader of Bangladesh Chhatro Union. Earlier that day I had distributed among students of some schools and colleges of Muhammadpur area of Dhaka city leaflets about a day of national mourning for Bangabandhu. That was a very risky and throw-and-run manner of distributing.
The mourning was to be observed on November 1, '75. It was a joint program of Chhatro League and Chhatro Union, declared at a very dark time of our national history. After arrest, we two were taken to Mohammadpur Thana. While interrogating and beating us up mercilessly, one question police put to me repeatedly was, "Sheikh Mujib tor bap lage?" ("Is Sheikh Mujib your father?") And the question they asked Shawkat again and again, indicating me, was, "Tui oi malauntar loge gechhosh kan?" ("Why did you join that infidel?") My father's face came to my mind. He had his unrelenting habit of rising early since the days of his swadeshi politics.
And he had one one-band transistor set as his 24-hour companion. Very early in the morning of 15th August, 1975, he alone had got up from bed, and heard the shots of all kinds of arms from the direction of Dhanmondi Road no 32. He then switched on his transistor set the station which was still Bangladesh Betar. And then that voice rang up, "Ami Major Dalim bolchhi. Sheikh Mujibbke hotya kora hoechhe." etc. My father, worried and anxious, ran up to our beds and awakened all of us, giving the tragic news in a trembling voice.
He had all signs of the gravity of the situation on his face then. I recollected my father's face at that time, as he was dwelling on the coming threats of first martial law rule in Bangladesh. However much he might have wanted it otherwise, I could not escape his legacy! Though anything much worse could have happened to me during that night of arrest, I was, at the very least, going to be put into prison. I realized also that my father's politics was far away from our people's life. We had failed to save even secular nationalism in independent Bangladesh! Murder of Sheikh Mujib clearly indicated that. It struck me later on how, in the perception of a section of police and others also, Sheikh Mujib was invariably associated with the Hindus. This is still a problem with Awami League politics. And this is so because it is communalism that orients thoughts and ideas of most of us here.
At the Police Control Room of Shahbag, they threatened us with Major Dalim coming and interrogating us. We were actually interrogated at some other levels. For that, they had taken us to the Special Branch of Police, Malibag also. And, may be, because of the abortive coup of 3rd November, '71, they didn't get the time for one person like Major Dalim to come. The Dalims had to leave Dhaka at that critical juncture of history.
At Shahbag, I remember to have briefly marked across a dark corridor the familiar and re-assuring face of Gazibhai's, Mr. Gaziul Haque's. I met this popular veteran of our Language Movement later at Central Jail where he embraced me turbulently, saying how happy he felt that we two (I and Shawket) could anyhow reach the Central Jail; for, many had vanished then for ever right from the Police Control Room. May be, Gazibhai thus habitually placed one old idea rather, of people always remaining physically safe in British or Pakistani jail. In Bangladesh we broke that record. Right after reaching the Central jail, we came to know that just during the previous night, the four national leaders-Mr. Tajuddin Ahmed, Mr. Syed Nazrul Islam, Captain Mansur Ali and Mr. M. Quamruzzaman-- had been killed there.
We were in jail for some two and a half months, and then got release on bail. We had, however, to go on appearing before the district court in old Dhaka for trial of the criminal case of attempt to murder they had cooked up and lodged against us. At the time of arrest, the police officer, Sergeant Ibrahim, had pushed us two inside a near-by glass factory and the attempt we made to escape by pushing and pulling the gate-keeper there was dressed up as an attempt to murder that man. That criminal case continued for three years and was finally dismissed.
It was an experience of life-time for me and an invaluable one. Advocate Nurul Alam and Advocate Altaf Hossain, both belonging to National Awami Party (Muzaffar), pleaded for us at Dhaka district court. My mejda, Kamal Banerjee, took many troubles like tracing me up at Mohammadpur thana, meeting me at jail-gate, coming to a deal with a doctor in the jail to send us to the jail hospital, engaging a lawyer, arranging for release on bail, etc. Barda, Amal Banerjee, kept away from these; for, he himself was a strong political element, and had his own risks. But, his connections were put to use.
I had tenacity, and, on release from the jail, didn't give up anything of my earlier life. That happened though I could point out lapses on the part of Chhatro Union and CPB leaders in keeping minimum contact with my family-members who had to face all the tribulations over my arrest totally by themselves at a very dark time of history. On like kind of grounds I could grumble and turn inactive or less active. But, so far I remember, nothing like that was my response. In the following February, taking advantage of its undeniable scope, some of us in Jagannath Hall Chhatro Union planned for bringing out a small booklet or folder in protest against the August-killing.
I still remember its title, Dekha Pelem Falgune. I remember one part of the editorial declaration also: "Kicchu-kichhu katha aj eka-ekdin eka katha bohu hobe, satya hobe … ", etc., indicating how our lone words of that time about Bangabandhu's killing would surely get multiplied and find wings. The words there, poetic and suggestive, came from my pen. There were other courageous and daring statements quite literary and poetic in it made at a dark time of fear and terror unimaginable now. I remember Mrinal Sircar, Manoj Mandol and others who put hands and heads together for making that risky publication possible. Sometimes we circulated it in a guerrilla tactic.
I pay our salute to Afzalbhai of Khelaghar also who crucially helped us from his position of the manager of a press. Though our prediction there about Bangabandhu's restoration to honour, popularity, state-dignity, etc. has come true, his killers have been tried and executed, I cannot suppress my deep frustration on so many other counts. And, it is to share such grief and dissatisfaction that I am trying to share first some personal memories with my readers.
Bangabandhu was killed when he was making some clear strides forward. And, that's why he was killed right at that time. One can thus mark how he had made some irreparable delay. But, his people both in the party and country were much more unprepared or late, so far as the right time and due actions were concerned. Who doesn't remember how Bangabandhu lamented over widespread corruption and people whom he called chatar dal. It's for those plunderers that he got isolated from bigger masses.
What sounds most unacceptable is how he is yet blamed for one-party system, scrapping of press-freedom, etc. These were steps he should have taken much earlier, and then he could have both saved himself and stopped such mouthers. And, but for the thieves he could have completely done without such steps. I remember how Awami League mostly backed away from the final decisions in Bangabandhu's life. If the party does not own the Leader, will the country go to do that? I very personally know how very few from all the Leagues taken together made themselves available right after August, 1975. It was rather workers and leaders of CPB under the leadership of Mohammad Farhad who played one historical role in facing both the repressive measures of Mushtaq and Zia Governments and the vitiated campaign against what they still call One-Party system.
But, Bangabandhu was not of the brand my words hint at. He was a grand mix-of so many topical and transitional currents. He was a colorful confluence-of so many variegated forces. Who doesn't know how he was too generous? He was dangerously accommodative, letting his sworn enemies exploit his traits and hone their knives. It was exactly how he was killed. Matters were not resolved inside him-he held in tension in him ends of very opposite tentacles. And, when his dear Tajuddin got estranged from him, the country was almost doomed. Anyhow that happened, and the nation has paid the price of psychology's very queer ways of working. Matters of ideology also were not resolved in him.
He relished by making secularism one of the state-principles, but then he joined the OIC Conference in Lahore. Poet Allen Ginsberg did not believe when Nirmalendu Goon told him that Bangabandhu had been murdered for going to introduce in Bangladesh one pro-socialism set-up. Fidel Castro also is known to have checked with Bangabandhu himself how exactly he was going to build up socialism in Bangladesh.
But, he was our great, our national icon; and had he got some more time, he and things would have taken a shape. He would have risen nearer to some other greats of the world. But that would not be. He was generous; his enemies were cruelly narrow and venomous. That's how it happened. And, they would, again, exploit religion, Islam. The beneficiaries of his murder clearly indicate how that was an 'Islamic' act or act of Islamic politics. Subsequent politics of the killers also prove that. And so effective that trading in religion proved that probing into and punishing that murder could be indemnified for long twenty years. People accepted that. How else could the BNP-Jamat alliance win the '91 election and form the first elected government after a long military rule? These 'Islamic' forces were the allies and protectors of the killers! And, still we would befriend the traders in religion!!
My frustration is not limited, I said, to Bangabandhu's over-generosity, etc. It's more over the lapses with our people and our politicians; and one such lapse that appears very funny and glaring is how Bangabandhu's killers are so often said to be some 'misled soldiers' only. I can never make out what they exactly mean when so many-even Awami League intellectuals--are found to be using that phrase. There should be a limit to chauvinism, chauvinistic thought and idea? Whom are we trying to save or hide? Are they Bangladeshis or Muslims, whom we find it difficult to accept as killers of the founder of their state?
When there are numerous proofs of widespread non-acceptance of Bangabandhu in Bangladesh, how more funny, do we think, we make ourselves by attributing the murder to a few 'misled soldiers' only? Still now the biggest row in Bangladesh politics is over some of Bangabandhu's ideals as pursued by Awami League or embodied in the 1972 Constitution. And that indicates how our state Bangladesh is yet almost no 'state', with almost nothing there that we do/can agree over. But, still then we would hide that, and seek/claim the complacency of thinking that every thing is alright with us! We would not admit that we have no national leader, so to say.
But, it is truly so; otherwise, we would not require legislation to ask people to mount the portrait of Bangabandhu at offices and other places. In India also Mahatma Gandhi got killed. But, that proved to be one isolated act of violence when there has not been any subsequent quarrel over his position or place. The sorry rift that nullifies our state has one more expression in how the BNP Chairperson, after changing it for a number of times, fixed her date of birth finally to be the date of Bangabandhu's killing, and how she has gone on celebrating that birth-day for years. I have no language to express my awe and contempt for a portion of our voters who, in spite of this, vote for her and her party in so big a number that they matter so very much in Bangladesh politics. Can there be any language to condemn the inhuman and bad taste manifest in this? Many such situations remain enigmatic and deeply frustrating for me. I'm saved only by thinking that this is proof of a crisis, of denying what is undeniable. When Bangladesh is the state, Bangabandhu is undeniable.
And that leads one to mark the pair-crisis, of naming-so many institutions, organizations and bodies-- after Bangabandhu. Whenever it is an Awami League government, there is no dearth of enthusiasts bent on promoting their naked self-interests by singing Bangabandhu's true and false praise. They would go also for naming this or that body after his name. And, finally, again it is that old scene of grabbers and lickers--chatar dal -that Bangabandhu himself condemned.
It is that old problem with nationalism and nationalist politics, of amassing of wealth by exploiting people's patriotic and nationalist sentiments. But, for people at large, there remains no way out of the vicious circle-of exploitation in the name either of the Prophet or the Leader. Is plunder in the name of Bangabandhu's sacrifice or contribution not plunder? Did we create Bangladeshfor plunder and exploitation by our own people, namely followers of either Bangabandhu or Ziaur Rahman?
Bangabandhu was given the proposal of forming a national government much earlier than when he actually went to form BAKSAL. But, with his mindset of the leader of a big party, he called upon those people giving the proposal to dismantle their small parties and come back to Awami League. That was characteristic conduct, leading to literally fatal loss of time and scope. But, as one can easily recollect, he had called upon the ethnic minorities also, to become Bengalis. This might have been a slip of tongue, some of us thought then. There was conflict over this-Manabendra Narayan Larma and other CHT leaders taking serious exception to this. And, who would not do so? From what is cropping up in recent times, through the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution, it appears that the scepters of old mistakes are unnecessarily haunting the followers of Bangabandhu.
Either they did not get Bangabandhu correctly or are following him blindly. The other important point is that he was not infallible. For, Muslim or Islamic nationalism was not more unacceptable to the Bengalis in East Pakistan than Bengali nationalism at later times to the Chakmas or Marmas in Chittagong Hill Tracts and some other area of Bangladesh. And, however much we Bengalis may be Bengalis, we shall have to either accept Bangladeshi nationalism for our total population or finish by declaring their Bangladeshi citizenship only. It is not wise to go by a leader's words only. What have we learnt from the long and bloody war in CHT, if we impose one identity on them? What have we learnt from our long struggle for independence that started with the Language Movement?
I deeply lament over how some very sorry mistakes are now being made for a second time, at an unexpected time, and how they appear to have their origin in lamentable ignorance or ill-wishes of certain quarters. We cannot deny a status to the non-Bengalis, only because that would harm the Bengali settlers in CHT. Arrogance or obstinacy is not anything different, only because it is now there in this or that leader. Bangladesh is going to earn a very questionable image, also for trying to fuse secularism and a state religion in her Constitution. There can hardly be a bigger mismatch than these two put together. Shall we learn from Bangabandhu's courage or follow him in his confluence-kind of irresolution? What does the mean time mean then?
And, I'm of that other, old feeling also. We would not have needed to go for the sonar pathar bati-kind of gonjamilan (courtesy: Rabindranath Tagore) in case of the 15th Amendment of the Constitution, if we had not let numerous misdeeds to be committed. The Government then would have the strength of passing such an amendment as they had pledged in their Election Manifesto.
We needed one Ata for the Bengalis and others of Bangladesh. For, we needed formation of one nation, setting up of a state. We had many leaders, of the religious communities, but almost none of the nation and state. We almost got that. But, no situation is other than interactive. As I have repeatedly hinted, we, his followers, are those who made Bangabandhu's task much more difficult. And, finally, we, not the Pakistanis, took his life. Interactivity means this kind of mutual creating or destroying. The way we are even now sticking and catering to our age-old theocratic ways is ominous.
We thought that Bangabandhu would succeed without his/our mentioning the points of theocracy in Pakistan or the menace of imperialism. But, that did not happen; trying to be tactful or avoiding confrontation in this manner did not work. How much will it work now? Should we not mark that some of his erstwhile enemies guarded and supervised when his killers were finally being tried and executed? Did we feel bad over it? How much is this a true trial or execution? One may point out the compelling factors of our time, a changed one. But, that is marking those. If you even do not mark factors and forces attending, how can you claim victory? Marking and measuring is how at a future time you can have a bigger victory and its satisfaction. I think we needed and still need Renaissance before and more than we need one Ata.
Let me finish by mentioning two books. One of them, A Study of History by Arnold Toynbee, Salah Uddin Al Faruk, one of my students at Dhaka College, could purchase from a footpath stall. As it appears from the scribbled words on one of the opening pages, it was gifted to Bangabandhu by Mr. Phanibhushan Majumder-one well-known leader of Awami League and a Minister in his first Cabinet in independent Bangladesh. Perhaps, along with others, this book also was looted from Bangabandhu's hoouse of Dhanmondi Road 32; looking at it may bring tears to one's eyes. But, it indicates one culture of and interest in books among politicians of a certain standard also that may not be there anymore.
I remember another book, Farewell to Arms that I was carrying when I came back to my Department for the first day after release from jail on bail. That novel was on our MA syllabus at that time. Looking at the cover, one of my class-mates, I recollect, taunted me by saying, "Ekhuni Farewell to Arms?" (So soon Farewell to Arms?") The meaningful glee in the voice of that fellow, widely known for his zealous kind of pro-Pakistan activism in 1971, was clear. He was over-joyous at that point of time of killing of Bangabandhu. And, I was about to be locked in sort of a duel with him; for, can that-farewell to arms-ever be?! And can such jest ever be tolerated? But, I truly wish we could really-really bid farewell in our country to skirmish over certain very old, definitely rotten, issues! The bigotry-limited level of our people's, politicians' and intellectuals' consciousness is which would not let that happen.
The wrtier is professor of English, University of Dhaka
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