Published:  07:56 AM, 11 November 2023

Political Odyssey: Life & Work of the Genius behind Bangladesh

Political Odyssey: Life & Work of the Genius behind Bangladesh Title: Bangladesh: Political Odyssey of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Author: Syed Badrul Ahsan, Published by Pathak Samabesh Year of Publication: 2023, Price: BDT 895, USD 20, GBP 10

Liton Chakraborty Mithun

If the Bengali nation-state of Bangladesh is a collaborative artwork, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is the single most prominent artist whose genius stroke of artistic excellence remains the biggest creative push behind the project. It is as if he was born with the mission to lift a people ravaged by centuries of neglect, ignominy, oppression and diminution to the plane of glory: free nationhood. His politics epitomizes the Bengali aspirations denied time and again by the crooked forces of history. In him lies the “mahamanav”, the messiah of Bengalis as dreamt-for by poets like Rabindranath Tagore and writers like S. Wajid Ali. With all his human limitations, he embodies the best in the Bengalis. But, the challenges he has faced in his bid to steer his people into the ultimate quest for identity are enormous. Syed Badrul Ahsan’s latest book Bangladesh: Political Odyssey of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (2023) is a laudatory endeavor to sketch out the portrait of the political artist as he evolves from a protesting rural teen to be the founder of a dream project: Bangladesh.

The book covers the entire lifespan of the great leader. It contains the gradual transformation of an angry young man– always ready to raise voice against any events of injustice and vigorously support a just cause–into a firebrand nationalist with a vision for a free homeland for his people. It vividly portrays the trials and tribulations he has undergone along his political odyssey. The book foregrounds the phenomenal resilience he has shown in the face of continuous challenges thrown his way by his political adversaries. As is the case, Bangabandhu shows typical Bengali adamancy when being adamant is the right call. He hardly minces his words, and is usually straightforward to the point of bluntness on most occasions. Well articulated with a tremendous grasp on an everyday, idiomatic Bengali that strikes chord with his people. Pragmatic in most cases, he sets his political strategies and programs by drumming up support from his compatriots Bengal; conviction in the collective power of people is his biggest strength. Wily as a strategist, liberal in attitude and friendly in manner, he can sway the minds of even many of his avowed adversaries. The book sheds light on these aspects of Bangabdhu’s character.

Political Odyssey also encapsulates the multidimensional personality of Bangabandhu for whom the personal is political. It comments on the personal attributes of the great leader that correspond to his political vision. It shows how Bangabandhu obtains his primary political training with his mentor Husseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and how he differs with his guru on certain points. This is because Sheikh Mujib knows what W.H. Auden puts in the following words:

…they grow small who imitate
The mannerisms of the great,
Afraid to be themselves, or ask
What acts are proper to their task.

The young Mujib develops his own brand of political ideology and does not shy away from doing acts “proper to [his] task.” This individualism puts him in good stead, especially in the context of the split in the Awami League following the Kagmari conference in 1957. As Syed Ahsan puts: “A shrewd operator, Mujib was unwilling to desert Suhrawardy, though he was gradually coming round to a formulation of radical ideas that would either have the state of Pakistan reform in the interest of all its people or take leave of the people of East Bengal” (06).In other words, although Mujib does not see eye to eye with his mentor on all matters but remains his adherent out of loyalty and political pragmatism.  That Mujib becomes the number one nemesis for the (West) Pakistani establishment within a few years into Pakistan’s independence is telling. The uncompromising young man can pose a threat to the semi-colonial state of Pakistan in favor of a separate Bengali identity–a fact that keeps on becoming a reality. As early as in the 1950’s, the Pakistani authorities spare such veteran figures as Bhasani, Huq and Suhrawardy in the aftermath of the dissolution of the state government under the United Front. However, it is Mujib in his mid-30s, Syed Ahsan mentions, “who remained on the central government scanner” (24). It is obvious that the successive actions of Mujib would prove the insecurities and apprehension of the Pakistani establishment to be painfully true (for them).

Syed Ahsan’s book devotes a remarkable portion to Mujib’s courageous encounter with the Ayub regime. This remains a defining period for Mujib and his Bengali compatriots as the ground for an independent state for the Bengalis is becoming consolidated. The high-handed manner with which the military regime treats Mujib makes him stronger and his stature increasingly unassailable. He places the historic 6-point demand, the magna carta for the virtually disenfranchised Bengalis and paves the ground for a definitive self-identity for them. The Agartala Conspiracy case, framed up by the Ayub regime, to do away with the Sheikh once for all backfires, eventually making him the supreme leader of the Bengalis. He obtains the title Bangabandhu–friend of Bengal from his grateful people.

The subsequent history is more or less known. His charismatic leadership, unflinching patriotism, shrewd political moves, extraordinary eloquence and solid character makes Bangladesh a reality through a bloody war of independence. He becomes the Father of the Nation, the highest honor one can ever think of in the political arena. In the liberated Bangladesh, he employs every ounce of his energy to build up his long dreamt-for “Sonar Bangla” (golden Bangladesh). He undertakes many initiatives to reconstruct a war-ravaged country and garner diplomatic recognition from as many countries as possible. However, a host of crises typical of a post-independent country exacerbated by a multiplicity of conspiracies hatched by devilish local and foreign powers put up a formidable challenge for him and his nationalist government. He defies many of the challenges with grit and guts. However, a group of miscreants from the armed forces encouraged by the rogue elements inside and outside the country commit the nastiest of crimes on this soil by assassinating Bangandhu and almost all his family members. Thus the mortal man in Bangabandhu becomes immortal in death and is getting increasingly stronger now with the prosperity of Bangladesh.

 Bangladesh: Political Odyssey of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman encompasses a wide range of events and matters pertaining to Bangabandhu. It presents his life and work in a nutshell. Rather than being a dry presentation of facts, it manifests itself as a beautiful analysis of the actions that define the leader and also how he defines the political path for a nation. Besides, the non-communal, secular, progressive and humanist bent of Bangabandhu’s ever-evolving character enjoys significant coverage in the book. Anyone interested in knowing about Bangabandhu will find the book as a trusted guide. The veteran journalist and author Syed Badrul Ahsan’s linguistic flair, analytical prowess and passionate research remain a highlight of the book. However, quite a few words have got jumbled together and names misspelled. Apart from these errors, this is an unputdownable book deserving a wide readership.

The reviewer teaches English at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science & Technology University, Gopalganj and
can be reached at [email protected].

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