Politics of history and history of politics

On partisan narratives of Bangladesh’s liberation war – XIV

by Nurul Kabir

In their narratives of Bangladesh’s liberation war, the Awami League and its band of partisan intellectuals hardly mention the horrible power struggles over the wartime leadership and the politically opportunistic debates over the idea of abandoning the liberation war to save the life of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in which many a different Awami League faction had remained engaged during the entire period, plaguing the entire process of the liberation war that people were fighting tooth and nail. The Awami League and its intelligentsia, again, seldom recognise the great contribution of Tajuddin Ahmad who had successfully carried forward the war towards a victory facing patiently all the difficulties from within the Awami League, as well as without, that came his way.
The Awami League intellectuals, some even pretending to be historians, keep silent about the wartime internecine conflicts of the party leadership, understandably, to hide the shameful role that the different factions had played in those politically critical months between March and December 1971. They do not properly recognise the contribution of Tajuddin Ahmad, perhaps, in fear that an unequivocal recognition of the man would affect the cult of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, carefully created and deliberately nurtured, keeping alive as the sole leader of the people’s struggle for national independence — a cult which the ideologically bankrupt Awami League of the day cannot do without.
However, the Awami League and its intelligentsia not only keep completely silent about the great contributions that the left political camps had made to and the great sacrifices that they had rendered for the liberation war but also make efforts to erase their role from the history of the independence war. When they who refuse to recognise the determining contribution of the general secretary of their own party cannot be expected to appreciate the contributions of those belonging to the opposing political-ideological camps; but the problem is that they, at times, even deliberately malign the left parties and groups, particularly those in the pro-Piking camp, as they were called those days, by propagating that the left in question did not fight for the national war of liberation — an ugly lie that not only belittles the great contributions of the left to and their enormous sacrifices in the liberation war but also contributes further to the distortion of the country’s liberation war history.
The fact remains that China had sided with Yahay’a killer regime during Bangladesh’s war of liberation in 1971 while all the leftist forces of the country, aligned those days to the Chinese camp in the global socialist movement of the time, excepting a tiny group led by Abdul Haque had been publicly campaigning for wrestling out national independence from Pakistan through an armed struggle since much before Yahya’s military junta resorted to the deadly crackdown on people of Bangladesh on March 25, 1971. As noted earlier, Maulana Bhasani, known as the symbol of the pro-Piking forces in mass politics, had been publicly preaching for the struggle for independence much before the Pakistani crackdown. The Maulana did not take time, after the beginning of the gruesome Pakistani crackdown, to leave the country for India with a view to organising the war of independence from abroad. The Maulana sent a long telegraphic message to Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in April, and that too in consultation with Tajuddin in Kolkata, explaining the political legitimacy of Bangladesh’s liberation war. In the letter, the Maulana also unequivocally observed, “Ideology of socialism is to fight against oppression…. If your government do not protest this brutal atrocities committed on oppressed masses of Bangladesh by the military junta with the help of vested interest of West Pakistan, the world may think that you are not the friend of oppressed people.” (Maulana’s message to Mao is quoted in Muyeedul Hasan, Muldhara Ekattar, footnote 91, p 92) The Chinese silence over his message did not stop him from dedicating all his time and energy although being under the perpetual Indian intelligence surveillance, working for the liberation war. He rather discharged all possible responsibilities on his part ranging from mobilising political opinion against Khandakar Mushtaq Ahmad’s move for forging a confederation with West Pakistan to heading the five–party Consultative Committee to advise the Bangladesh government-in-exile.
However, all the pro-Piking left parties and groups heroically fought the liberation war. Purbabanglar Sarbahara Party, led by Siraj Sikdar, who found the erstwhile East Pakistan ‘a colony of Pakistan’ as early as 1968, ‘started fighting against Pakistan right from the beginning’. Haider Akbar Khan Rano writes that the Sarbahara Party ‘fought heroic battles against the Pakistanis in some areas of Bangladesh’. (Haider Akbar Khan Rano, Shatabdi Periye, Tarafder Prokashani, 2005, p 266) Even Kazi Aref, who was head of intelligence of the Mujib Bahini that put up the most vehement resistance against the recruitment of left activists into the Mukti Bahini, admits: “Siraj Sikdar founded an organisation of the activists believing in the independence [of Bangladesh] in 1968 and even made an attempt to develop a link with Karen rebels in Burma for waging an armed struggle for independence of Bangladesh. His party… fought the war of liberation war in 1971… in the Jhalakathi areas of Bangladesh’. (Kazi Aref Ahmed, Bangalir Jatiya Rashtra, (ed) Sqn Ldr (retd) Ahsanullah, International Historical Network, Dhaka, 2014, pp 144–145)
The Awami League and its intelligentsia not only keep silent on the glorious contributions of Siraj Sikdar and the Purbabangla Sarbahara Party that he led but they also have not yet expressed any remorse over the fact that a great freedom fighter like him was the first high-profile victim of extra-judicial murder by the state during the government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
However, as said earlier, the entire pro-Peking Left, except for a politically confused group led by Abdul Haque, successfully fought for the liberation war and many of their comrades embraced martyrdom for the liberation while heroically fighting against the occupation forces of Pakistan. The political combine of some of the left group in question even proposed to work together with the Awami League, accepting the latter’s leadership but the political parochialism of the Awami League stood in its way to accommodate the left in question and provide government-sponsored trainings for hundreds of leftwing youths ready to die fighting for the country’s liberation war. Even, Tajuddin Ahmad failed to overcome his political and ideological parochialism to accommodate the left in the liberation war, in fear that the left might take over the liberation war process in the long run — the reason the pro-Piking left had to fight the war separately.
Notably, leaders of some pro-Peking communist parties and groups such as Purba Banglar Communist Party led by Deben Sikder, Bangldersher Communist Party led by Nasim Ali, Communist Sanghati Kendra led by Amal Sen, Communist Kormi Sangha led by Dr Saeef-ud-Dahar and Communist Biplobider Purba Bangla Somonnoi Committee led by Kazi Zafar Ahmed, assembled in Agratala of the Tripura state of India to work out a left front of their own, on the one hand, and forge broader national liberation front with the Awami League, on the other. They successfully formed the left alliance, Jatiya Mukti Sangram Samanway Committee, with Maulana Bhasani as its chair, on April 30 for fighting the liberation war. The meeting of the Jatiya Mukti Sangram Samanwoy Committee, on the other hand, called on the Awami League to lead the liberation war unitedly. Besides, the committee urged on ‘all the leftwing parties and patriotic forces to fight jointly with Awami League’ against the occupation forces of Pakistan, which was reported in the media in different countries including India.
However, the newly formed leftist combine assigned the Kazi Zafar-led group to contact Awami League leaders. Accordingly, Kazi Zafar Ahmed, Rashed Khan Menon and Haider Akbar Khan Rano managed to meet Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad in Kolkata on June 1 and discussed the participation of the leftists in the liberation war alongside the Awami League. But they were disappointed. Kazi Zafar reminisces: “Tajuddin Ahmad gave us a patient hearing, but refused to keep confidence in us and recruit our workers in the government-led Mukti Bahini. In this regard, he referred to the class struggle, which was being carried out by a leftwing group. We told him that the largest body of the leftwing workers had nothing to with the isolated activism of the group. We also told him that he was not only the general secretary of the Awami League, but also the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, and therefore it was his responsibility to accommodate all those aspiring to participating in the struggle for national liberation. Tajuddin Ahmad then told us that in that case he had to consult intelligence reports [about us], and in the absence of any Bangladeshi intelligence agency, he had to depend on the reports of those of India. At this stage, our conversations turned bitter and the appearance of Abdus Samad Azad at this point saved the awkward situation. We returned, broken-hearted.” (Kazi Zafar Ahmed, in Hassan Hafizur Rahman (ed) Bangladesher Swadhinata Juddha: Dalilpatra, Vol 15, p 136)
As Kazi Zafar and Haider Akbar Khan Rano were returning home from Kolkata to fight the occupation forces in their own ways, he was detained by the RAW men in Agartala and taken to a rest house in Shillong. He was ‘interrogated by the chief of the RAW’s eastern zone of India, Mr Subramonium, for seven consecutive days’. Freed after a week, Kazi Zafar and Haider Akbar Khan Rano entered Bangladesh and concentrated on their party efforts to put up an organied armed resistance against the occupation forces of Pakistan.
Kazi Zafar says, “After the failed discussion with the prime minister of the provisional government, Tajuddin Ahmad, we mustered whatever strength we had and continued to fight. We did not reject the Mujibnagar government but we did not keep in touch with the government nor did we get any cooperation from them.” (Ibid, p 137)
The leftist group led by Kazi Zafar and Rashed Khan Menon developed its own ‘Guerilla Fauj’ while in many places members and supporters of the group fought jointly with the Mukti Bahini. Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, a leader of the group, raised a fouj of some 10 thousand guerillas in the vast area of Shibpur, Manohardi, Raipura and Kaliganj who had kept the entire zone free from the Pakistani occupation for the entire period of the liberation war.
The leftwing Communist Biplobider Purba Bangla Somonnoi Committee raised many such guerilla groups of freedom fighters in different areas of the country such as Comilla, Tangail, Satkhira, Atrai, Madaripur, Chittagong town, Raujan, Feni, et cetera. They successfully fought against the occupation forces independently in some areas and jointly with the Mukti Bahini in other areas.
Kazi Aref Ahmed writes, “The left faction led by Deben Shikdar and Abul Bashar fought the liberation war separately in Noakhali and Chittagong, Nasim Ali in Munshiganj and Kalkini, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan in Shibpur, Rafiqul Islam in Bagerhat, Kamal Bakht in Sathkhira and Ohidur Rahman fought the war of independence in Naogaon.” (Kazi Aref Ahmed, Bangalir Jatiya Rashtra, p 145)
Freedom fighters of the leftwing parties and groups were, however, exposed to attacks from members of the Mujib Bahini in some areas, for the latter, extremely opposed to the left ideology, used to feel threatened by the growth of left political hegemony in society of the post-independent Bangladesh. The pro-Peking left in question, therefore, had to fight in some areas simultaneously against the Pakistan army, on the one hand, and the Mujib Bahini, on the other.
To be continued
Nurul Kabir is editor of New Age.

One Comment

  1. Sajjad Hossain says:

    Thank you very much, Nurul Kabir, for this series.

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