Mujib or Zia? The Distortion of History in Bangladesh. Taj Hashmi, York University, Canada


Since history is always subject to distortion, there is hardly anything surprising about what the BNP-led government has done with the documents of the Liberation War of Bangladesh. It has revised sections of the fifteen-volume official history of the Freedom Movement (which is not free from distortions and lies as well) by inserting some absurd information about the so-called declaration of independence by Ziaur Rahman on March 26th 1971. I personally believe that this sort of distortions will eventually be flushed out of history not long after the BNP Raj is over in due course. This blatant imbecility of the BNP government reminds us of similar revisionist lies and concoctions of history made by Awami intellectuals and politicians, who have left no stone unturned to prove that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the first to declare independence on March 26th after the killing had started around 11 pm on the 25th. It is claimed that Mujib instructed Bengalis to fight back the Pakistani marauders to liberate Bangladesh by sending a telegram through the EPR on the 26th. Nonsense. Pakistani soldiers picked him up around 11pm, March 25th. One may raise the question: “Why on earth would Mujib declare independence through a telegraphic message instead of writing it down with his own hand, duly signed and passed over to Tajuddin or some other trusted lieutenants prior to his arrest?” We also heard another Fairy tale told by several Awami leaders/intellectuals that during the Language Movement of 1952, Sheikh Mujib “used to instruct Bengali language activists outside Dhaka Medical College Hospital from his cabin in the hospital with slips of paper passed through the window (while he was in detention and under treatment at DMCH)”. After Badruddin Umar lambasted them with solid documents challenging the veracity of such an absurd claim as Mujib during the Language Movement was in confinement NOT at Dhaka Central Jail but at Faridpur jail, there has been slight remission in this fever of lies and deceit in the Awami camp. Now, what does one gain by concocting history? “Legitimacy” and “self-confidence” would be the answer. Whenever ruling parties, oligarchs and dictators feel to strengthen their grip on the masses to legitimize and lengthen their regimes, they invent history. And sycophants and pseudo-intellectuals are always around to help them re-write the history. It happened in Bangladesh not long after its emergence. Sheikh Mujib himself was responsible for serving the people pseudo-history with a view to glorifying himself and his party. He not only deprived most non-Awami freedom fighters (with the exception of the pro-Moscow groups) from the undue benefits of liberation but also denied their due role in the liberation of the country, within one hour of his arrival in Dhaka on January 10, 1972. He gave the full credit for the liberation to his party and indirectly to himself. I was present at that meeting where Sheikh Mujib blatantly manufactured history in presence of at least a quarter million people at the Race Course Maidan. So, why should there be such a big fuss and brouhaha about this silly concoction by the BNP oligarchs and their sycophants? Don’t they have the aspirations to perpetuate their dynasty-the crown prince after the Ammajaan? Why not? This has become the norm in Bangladesh. Having said this, I have no doubt that eventually people will flush out both the Awami and BNP versions of history. In fact, the ordinary masses do not have any time to waste on the debate as to who declared Independence. They only care if the so-called liberation has actually liberated them from hunger, distress and anarchy. The poor and the lower middle classes in Bangladesh are most definitely worse off than their counterparts in pre-1971 Bangladesh (East Pakistan). A rickshawwalla or a schoolteacher in pre-1971, ironically, consumed more calories and had better standard of living than their present counterparts. In short, what one could buy with one taka in 1971, one needs at least 80 taka today. Meanwhile, the middle class has almost disappeared (along with the middle class values)—thanks to the unbridled plunder of the nouveau and traditional rich and powerful and the hypocritical thugs who promote neo-colonial Globalization through NGOs and other exploitative means. And consequently the promised utopia of Golden Bengal—a socialist, secular welfare state—has never emerged in East Bengal. The most tragic aspect of the saga of Bangladesh is that some people are even talking in terms of “a failed state” with reference to Bangladesh. One may contradict them by displaying the cars and houses of a small section of Bangladeshis and the wealth of our bank defaulters, NGOwallas and thousands of thugs and godfathers. Nevertheless, Bangladesh remains one of the least developed, poor and chaotic countries in the Third World. No aspect of the prevalent chaos in the country, including the distortion of its recent history, can be understood in isolation without understanding the prevalent political chaos, social disorder and economic distress of the vast majority of the population. However, the beauty of the vicious and diabolic elite’s (Awami, BNP, Jamaat and others) nefariously malevolent game lies in its art of hiding the reality by diverting the real issues with non-issues like religion, patriotism, “pro” and “anti” liberation etc. In Marxian parlance, the bourgeois elite often hegemonizes mass consciousness by certain “false consciousness” through pseudo-ideologies or wrong ideologies for the sake of power. What has been going on in Bangladesh is that the rival elites (Awami, BNP, Jamaati and others) have been trying to hegemonize mass consciousness with doses of “false consciousness” in the names of “Liberation”, “Bengali” or “Bangladeshi” Nationalism, “Islam” and what not! Unless we talk about the real issues, discarding the gibberish once for all, there is no way out of the quagmire. While bank defaulters, tax evaders, corrupt officials, ministers, NGOwallas and their petty associates (the lumpen intellectuals) and godfathers reign supreme and where men like Ershad, Ghulam Azam go scot-free (and considered respectable by many), there is no point crusading against concoction of history. These futile debates, whether from within Bangladesh or from a safe distance from abroad, will not do anything substantial for the country— I mean the non-elite masses. If you really mean business, then hit hard the political-business-professional elite, which unfortunately includes the bulk of the civil society, university teachers, poets and writers. There is a rat race for quick and easy money, out of survival instincts, greed and prevalent lawlessness. The whole nation seems to be under a collective schizophrenia—busy fighting the windmill in a quixotic manner. Now, to turn to the question, “how we can effectively protest such a despicable act [doctoring history]”, my suggestion is that instead of being selective we must address all the previous concoctions of our history made by both the “pro-“ and “anti-liberation” people and by the “genuine” and “pseudo freedom fighters” in the last thirty odd years. Let me catalogue some of the concoctions and distortions of our history: “Three million Bengalis were killed during the nine months of the struggle” (i.e. Pakistanis killed more than 10,000 people per day! What happened to the skeletons, especially 3000,000 skulls? In Cambodia around half a million were killed during 1975 and 1979 and their skulls are on display. It is noteworthy that during the last 21 years of Tamil-Sinhalese civil war in Sri Lanka, around 50,000 got killed. And the corresponding figure in Indian held Kashmir during the last 55 years’ of conflict is around 92,000.) There has been a concerted effort by the Awamis to prove Sheikh Mujib as the sole architect of the Six-Point-Programme while we know that several Bengali intellectuals and bureaucrats were the real proponents of the famous “Two-Economy-Theory” and the Six-Points. Both Mujib and his followers shamelessly distorted history by denying the truth behind the Agartala Conspiracy Case. Since Ayub Khan out of vengeance and stupidity implicated Mujib in the Conspiracy to dismember Pakistan with Indian help (while he was in detention from 1966 to 1969), Mujib had every right to deny his involvement in the Conspiracy because he had no involvement in it. But denying Agartala altogether smacks of one’s meanness (lest Shamsur Rahman Khan, CSP, Commander Muazzam Hussain, Sergeant Zahurul Haque and others overshadow Mujib and other Awami leaders!), even after the Liberation. What a shame that one of the 37 co-accused in the Agartala Case, Muhammad Abdul Aziz of Bhola, who was a soldier in the Pakistan Army’s elite SSG Commando regiment, is languishing under poverty. No Agartala convict (released in 1969) got any state award, land, pension or even simple recognition, most ironically, neither from the Mujib nor Hasina governments. Denying the valiant heroes of Agartala their due is far worse than concocting the history vis-à-vis who declared independence. Neither Mujib nor his associates ever recognized the fact that during Mujib’s detention (1966-69) several student leaders under the leadership of Sirajul Alam Khan first organized the Bengal Liberation Front with some of my very close friends (We used to visit Sirajul Alam Khan [then clean shaven] at the then Iqbal Hall of Dhaka University (Room No. 143) as students of Dhaka College in 1965). No body ever recognized the fact that it was Sirajul Alam Khan and his associates who first coined the slogan “Jai Bangla”. It is also a fact that Mujib objected to the slogan. In March 1969, when the slogan first appeared at the main entrance of a Paltan Maidan meeting of the Awami League on a black and white banner, he had strong reservations about “Jai Bangla”. But eventually the students prevailed. Who designed the first national flag of Bangladesh? Why no body in the Awami camp recognizes the fact that it was not Mujib but some of the co-accused in the Agartala Case who designed the green, red and golden flag of Bangladesh (and so goes the official Pakistani allegation against the Conspirators-I have got the original document). Why nobody tells us that A.S.M. Abdur Rab and his associates from Dhaka University first raised the green-red-golden flag on March 2nd at DU Arts Building and later handed it in to Mujib at his Dhanmondi residence? Had Agartala been fabricated, why was there striking similarities between what the Pakistanis had “invented” and the actual flag that appeared on March 2nd, 1971? THE MOST SIGNIFICANT DISTORTION OF THE LIBERATION WAR IS REGARDING WHO ACTUALLY FIRST DECLARED INDEPENDENCE. THE FACT IS THAT LONG BEFORE MUJIB AND ZIA, THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE SPONTANEOUSLY CAME OUT ON THE STREET AROUND 1 PM ON MARCH 1ST IMMEDIATELY AFTER YAHYA KHAN’S INFAMOUS DECISION TO PROROGUE THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY SESSION SUPPOSED TO MEET ON MARCH 25TH. THERE WERE TWO SLOGANS RAISED BY THE DEMONSTRATORS: “BIR BANGALI ASTRO DHARO, BANGLADESH SWADHIN KARO” AND “CHHAI DAFA NA EK DAFA? EK DAFA-EK DAFA”. I WAS AN EYE WITNESS TO THIS DEMONSTRATION AROUND DHAKA UNIVERSITY AND ELSEWHERE IN THE CITY. THIS MEANS, BENGALIS DECLARED INDEPENDENCE ON MARCH 1. AND I THINK MARCH 1ST SHOULD HAVE BEEN DECLARED AS OUR INDEPENDENCE DAY (THEN WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED TO THOSE WHO ‘DECLARED” IT ON MARCH 26TH AND 27TH RESPECTIVELY?). How many Bangladeshis are aware of the fact that Mujib publicly declared “Jai Pakistan” after “Jai Bangla” in several public meetings. I attended one such mammoth meeting at the Race Course Maidan on January 4th 1971. I could not attend the famous March 7th meeting at Race Course where Mujib is said to have uttered “Jai Pakistan”, later deleted by his followers who had gone much ahead of him towards the path of complete liberation. Despite the popular versions of the story that Mujib declared independence on March 7th and 26th, solid documents tell us an altogether different story. On March 25th Mujib told journalists that his talks with Yahya Khan were “constructive” and “fruitful”. This may be verified through newspapers. According to the US State papers, released in 1999, Mujib sought US intervention in early March so that Yahya Khan could be forced to transfer power to Awami League, installing Mujib as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He urged Boster, the US consul general in Dhaka (later the first US ambassador to Bangladesh), to do something in this regard otherwise he (Mujib) apprehended the leftists within Awami League (those who later formed the JSD under Major Jalil and Abdur Rab with the blessings of Sirajul Alam Khan) would kill him and install a communist Bangladesh (I have already used this document in an article, “Bangladesh—History”, in the Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, Berkshire Publishers, New York 2003). Another distortion of Bangladesh history lays in the false claims about Awami League leaders’ and intellectuals’ “dreams” about independent Bangladesh “dreamt” as early as 1948! Kabir Chowdhury, Sufia Kamal, Showkat Usman, Rafiqul Islam (Bengali Prof, DU) and several politicians are the leading “dreamers”. It is an irony that those who admired Jinnah, Pakistan, Ayub Khan, Monem Khan and Ayub’s “Basic Democracy” (and there are documentary evidences to prove my assertion) later claimed to be “freedom fighters” long before the actual fighting started in 1971. The late Sufia Kamal wrote at least three poems in admiration of Jinnah (one of her poems was in our school text) where she admired Jinnah as “Mahan Neta” (the Great Leader). There is no harm in praising Jinnah in the 1940s even Mujib did so. But what amounts to distortion of history is the convenient deletion of such poems from the complete works of Sufia Kamal. Whoever has done so has distorted the history of our literature. Do you know that National Professor Kabir Chowdhury publicly touched Ayub’s Governor Monem Khan’s feet in 1965 at Mymensingh Circuit House? If not, read retired CSP P.A. Nazir’s autobiography. While Nazir was the DC of Mymensingh, Chowdhury was the principal of Ananda Mohan College. According to Nazir (and among others, famous Bengali writer, Prof A.K.Fazlul Haque, Bengali Dept. DU) Chowdhury wanted to meet Monem Khan. Accrordingly an interview was arranged and that in front of hundreds of local people, Kabir Chowdhury bent and touched Monem Khan’s feet (qadam busi) telling the Governor that as the principal of the college he would ban all anti-government student politics. Since Kabir Chowdhury has not publicly contradicted P.A.Nazir, we should not question the veracity of the claim. Anyway, what happened soon afterwards was that Kabir Chowdhury was promoted as the director of National Institute of Public Administration (NIPA) and “lived happily ever after”. Later on, he became the DG of pro-Ayub/pro-Pakistan Bureau of National Reconstruction (BNR), which promoted Pakistani Nationalism and Integration of the two wings of the country and published “Pakistani/Islamic” trash books and booklets. But what we hear from his post-independence statements is that he had been actively promoting Bengali nationalism since 1948. Another stalwart of Bengali literature was my teacher, Showkat Usman. In the 1960s he regularly contributed to the pro-Ayub Khan Bengali weekly, Pak Jamhuriyat (Pakistani Democracy). He even toured whole Pakistan with Ayub Khan in a special train to promote Pakistani nationalism. This history has been erased and what we hear is that Showkat Usman since the 1940s opposed Pakistan. What a distortion of history! Professor Rafiqul Islam of Dhaka University (Bengali) along with the late Prof Nurul Momen (Law Dept, DU, who also wrote several Bengali plays) used to conduct an avowedly anti-Hindu and anti-Indian radio programme after the 1965 War called “Hing Ting Chhat”. Later on we hear that he also dreamt of Bangladesh throughout the Pakistani period! To him, Sheikh Hasina was his “best student” during his entire teaching career at DU. I give another example of distortion of our history. Captain Mansur Ali (one of the unfortunate victims of the jail massacre in November 1975) was an able, educated Awami League leader with strong principles and commitment to Sheikh Mujib, unlike most of his colleagues in the Mujib cabinet who joined Khondkar Mushtaque cabinet after August 1975. In the latest edition of the Banglapedia we find that Mansur Ali was known with the prefix of “Captain” as he was an honorary captain of the Bengal Regiment in 1948. What a blatant lie! In fact, Mansur Ali was the captain of the Muslim National Guard (an offshoot of the Muslim League) while he was a student at the Aligarh Muslim University in the 1940s. The author of the article on Mansur Ali, for the obvious reason, concealed the fact lest people trace the Captain’s Muslim League connections. I am not going to dwell on this issue any further. What I am trying here is to point out that Bangladesh history (and for that matter that of India and Pakistan) is full of concoctions, lies, distortions and half-truths. And that fact is always stranger than fiction. While we have so many other unresolved socio-economic and political problems, let us not digress the main issues for the sake of a phony debate as to who declared our independence. It was neither Mujib nor Zia but the people declared independence. And there would have been a Bangladesh without the presence and participation of the Bengal Regiment, EPR and police. A civilian upsurge has been hijacked by the military. Hence almost all the gallantry awards went to members of the armed forces. Half educated majors were overnight promoted into major generals and later into the sole spokesman of the Bengalis. What a disgrace! Let us talk about the exigencies—economic, social and political problems of Bangladesh. Meanwhile we condemn all genres of revisionist writings on our history by members of both the Awami and BNP camps.

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