THE glorious war for liberation in Bangladesh turned powerful with the participation of people — the downtrodden, the exploited. They came from poverty-ruled rural areas; they came from machine shops chained to capital; they came from educational institutions — teachers and students primarily identifying with the aspiration of the exploited.
To this huge human spirit, the bell of liberty was ringing the song of liberation from an exploitative property relation. The communists, broadly identified as left, were at the forefront in conveying this message of smashing down the exploitative property relation: a life liberated from all forms of exploitation as exploitation chains life, exploitation cripples and distorts life, exploitation stifles life.
The masses of the exploited people in Bangladesh were always with these fighters in the left camp engaged with a relentless fight in ideological and cultural, political, economic and organisational areas. Despite deviations and delusions, flaws and failures, the Bangladesh left — fractured into factions — always upheld the banner of liberation. The camp followers, with a history of organising people’s struggle in different parts of the country, always laboured to organise the marginalised, the muzzled.
The major part of the left camp was always standing for an armed struggle. The effort gained momentum since March 25, 1971, the black day the Pakistan state unleashed its genocidal military campaign on unarmed civilian population engrossed in its political fight in the form of a peaceful, non-cooperation movement. It was a major stroke by the state itself to make it wither away from this land mass.
A few factions of the left were preparing them in advance for such an encounter with the Pakistan state. However, these factions had to experience limitations originating from history and class that grounded many of their political and organisational moves.
Nevertheless, they organised and carried on the fight since the earliest moments of this phase of Bangladesh people’s struggle for emancipation — encounter the state with an armed form of struggle. Rifles and bullets replaced festoons and banners, protest marchers and demonstrators turned into guerrilla fighters, unarmed street barricades were left behind for making an ambush targeting the enemy. It was a transformation in struggle in form and organisation — armed struggle as the main form of political fight and guerrilla units and armed organisations as the main form of organisation. The form and organisation spanned all over the country with variance in proportion, force and intensity. Sacrifices were very high, many of which are yet to be accounted.
But this saga mostly goes unreported, the bravery goes unsung and the martyrs go unnamed. Haidar Akbar Khan Rano as editor has assembled writings — descriptions and analyses of politics and power of the left in the glorious war for liberation in 1971 — in his Muktijuddhe Bampanthira, The Left in the Liberation War in Bangladesh (Tarafdar Prakashani, Dhaka, December 2018). The 480-page book of history and politics presents writings and interview from most of the factions of the Bangladesh left, irrespective of shade of red and change of colour at a later stage. The 13 writings in the book are, among others, by Moni Singh, leader, now deceased, of the once-Moscow-leaning Communist Party of Bangladesh, Kazi Zafar Ahmed, once a fire-brand left student and labour leader turned prime minister under a military ruler, and Haidar Akbar Khan Rano, once a fire-brand student and labour leader and now a presidium member of the CPB. It also includes writings by Manjurul Ahsan Khan and Mujahidul Islam Selim, former and present presidents of the CPB respectively, both of whom played a leading role in securing the CPB from liquidation during the Gorbachevite wave in Bangladesh, Haidar Anwar Khan Juno, a student and cultural leader and one of the main organisers of a guerrilla force in an area that remained liberated all through the nine months of the armed struggle. The volume includes a number of political documents also.
‘The problems of contemporary history’, writes R Palm Dutt, ‘raise in an especially sharp form all the problems of history in general.’ (Problems of Contemporary History, ‘History and truth’, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1963) Dutt, in the preface to the book, also raises the problem as he writes, ‘Contemporary history is a dangerous subject to handle. It is full of explosive material. Much essential information will not be known until many years later, as documents are released and memoirs published. Passions and partisanship can obscure objective judgement. Anyone who attempts to write contemporary history in any more durable form than a current journalistic article is laying his head on the block for the executioner.’ Muktijuddhe Bampanthira is not free from the problems Dutt mentions. The reality is impossible to escape.
Haidar Akbar Khan Rano, the editor of Muktijuddhe Bampanthira, writes:
‘The war for liberation in 1971 is the most glorious chapter in the history of Bangladesh. People of this country spontaneously began resistance war against the raiding Pakistan army. The people began the resistance war everywhere in this land. Armed forces and units, relatively smaller and bigger in size, got organised in different areas of the country. Nationalists as well as communists and lefts organised these armed units and forces.’
The editor tells about the communists and lefts:
They fought heroically, organised liberated zones; and all these were done without any external help. More than a hundred martyrs are from the ranks of the communists and lefts. But the bourgeois information/publicity media never refer to or mention these acts and sacrifices.
So, Haidar Akbar Khan Rano, with his own initiative, took up the responsibility for documenting this heroic chapter of the struggle of the exploited of Bangladesh. A great job, no doubt. One may say, this is today’s fighter’s one way of admitting debt to the fallen comrades and to the people.
The book is part of a people’s history. It tells struggles for the cause of the exploited. This book will be dug into for composing a people’s history in future. ‘If history is to be creative, to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should’, writes Howard Zinn, ‘I believe, emphasise new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win.’ (A People’s History of the United States, Longman, London, 1980) Muktijuddhe Bampanthira has done this — disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when […] people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win — within its capacity.
Limitations are difficult, almost impossible, to avoid. This book is no exception. There is possibility that a researcher would question a number of facts presented in the book but that does not nullify the premise of and rest of the facts presented there and that does not deny the fact of millions of the poor’s participation in the glorious war for liberation. This poor part of society, the multitude, was the main strength of the war for liberation. The book once again announces this fact.
A few snippets
Muktijuddhe Bampanthira presents a lot of facts, from which following are only a few in brief:
Moni Sing writes:
The CPB, National Awami Party and Bangladesh Students Union [all these had inclination to pre-Gorbachev Moscow] organised a guerrilla force with 5,000 members. They joined the war for liberation. Moreover, the two political parties and the student organisation organised 12,000 youths and sent them to the Liberation Force under the provisional government of Bangladesh. Thus, for the war for liberation, these left political parties and student organisation organised in total 17,000 young freedom fighters. Our guerrilla teams entered all the districts of occupied Bangladesh. These guerrillas conducted actions in Dhaka, Cumilla, Noakhali, Chattogram, Rangpur and in different parts of the northern Bangladesh. Our comrades died during the war. Comrades staying within the occupied Bangladesh built up organisations for the war and helped the guerrillas conduct operations. Our guerrillas sunk a ship at the Chattogram Port. At Betiara on the Dhaka-Chattogram Highway, nine members of our guerrillas died in a fight with the occupying Pakistan army. The Pakistan army killed Shahidullah Kaiser, member of our central committee. (‘Muktijuddha o Communist Party’, pp 15–30)
Rashed Khan Menon writes:
The single uniformity of idea among the squabbling pro-Peking communist factions and sub-factions was: an independent Bangladesh to be achieved through an armed struggle. The slogan that dominated the peasants’ conference at Sahapur, Pabna in 1968 was Workers and peasants rise-up with arms for an independent Bangladesh. Maulana Bhashani (dubbed as the Red Maulana by a part of the MSM) convened this conference. Thousands of peasants from all over Bangladesh joined the conference defying prohibitory order issued by the martial law authority. The East Pakistan Students Union (Menon group) and the East Pakistan Sramik Federation, student and labour organisations of Purba Bangla Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (East Bengal Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries, henceforth CR, a pro-Peking faction) issued the call for an independent, people’s republic of East Bengal. The call, along with an 11-point programme, was made at a public meeting held in Dhaka city on February 22, 1970. The call was made following the CR’s decision. The student and labour organisations were rechristened as Purba Bangla Biplabi Chhatra Union and Purba Bangla Sramik Federation. Immediately after March 25, 1971, the fateful day the occupying Pakistan army began its genocide in Bangladesh, the CR began organising armed struggle. The centre of this activity was Shibpur, Narsingdi, a few dozen kilometres from Dhaka. Golam Mostafa Hillol died while collecting arms. He was the first martyr from the rank of the CR. An armed struggle was initiated in Bagerhat by organising peasant and student members of the peasant and student organisations under the CR. This force in Bagerhat continued armed fight against the occupying Pakistan army. The CR members led the seizure of firearms from a local armoury of the police in Pirojpur. That was at the formal beginning of the armed struggle. Fazlu led the seizure. He was later caught by the Pakistan army and brutally murdered. This unit in Pirojpur kept the Pakistan army on its heels throughout the entire period of the armed struggle. Many members of the CR joined armed fights in different areas under a number of sector commanders. Shahidullah Khan Badal played the main role at the training facility for the freedom fighters at Melaghar, Tripura. Most members of the urban guerrilla unit (popularly known as the Crack Platoon) were members of the student wing of the CR. They carried on heroic operations within the Dhaka city. The platoon paid a heavy price with a number of martyrs, who were brutally tortured and, then, shot or bayoneted dead. I [Menon], on behalf of the CR, assisted our armed fighters in Dinajpur, Rangpur and Rajshahi. In this task of coordinating armed struggle in the northern districts, I had to work in close collaboration with sector commanders Wing Commander (later Air Vice Marshal) Bashar and Lieutenant Colonel Kazi Nuruzzaman, Captain Noazesh and Squadron Leader (later Air Vice Marshal) Sadruddin. Mohammad Toaha, a leader of East Pakistan Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) (a pro-Peking faction following the Naxalbari approach) successfully organised the liberated zone in the river shoal areas in Noakhali. Under his leadership, land was redistributed among the landless peasants in the liberated zone. Moreover, he had no skirmish with the freedom fighters operating under the provisional government of Bangladesh. He established contact with the provisional government also. (‘Bangladesher swadhinata o mukti juddhe bampanthieder bhumika’, pp 31–41)
Kazi Zafar Ahmed tells:
The National Coordination Committee for Liberation War was formed in a meeting in June. Deben Sikdar of Purba Bangla Communist Party, Nasim Ali of Bangladesher Communist Party — Hatiyar group, Amal Sen of Communist Sanghati Kendra, Dr Saif-ud-Dahar of Communist Karmi Sangha and I from the CR were members of the committee. The CR guerillas, about 10,000, fought in Shibpur, Manohardi, Raipura and Kaliganj, places within dozens of kilometres from Dhaka. The occupying Pakistan army failed to organise any auxiliary force in support of its occupation in this area. Our headquarters was in this area. About 5,000 CR guerrillas operated in the southern part of Cumilla. About 5,000 guerrillas organised by the CR joined the liberation force under the leadership of Kader Siddique in Tangail area. In Satkhira area, a force of 2,000 CR guerrillas was organised. About 3,000 CR guerrillas operated in Bagerhat-Bishnupur-Raghunathpur area. A force of about 2,000 CR guerrillas was organised in Atrai, Naogaon. A force of a few hundred CR guerrillas was organised in Boalmari and Madaripur. A few hundred CR guerrillas operated in Chattogram and Raojan area. These guerrillas mainly operated in the city area. In the Feni area, a force of a few hundred guerrillas operated. (‘Kazi Zafar Ahmader sakkhatkar’, pp 71–80)
The book carries many such information by other leading left leaders/theoreticians/fighters.
THE book presents six documents of a number of communist parties/factions/alliance. These documents, from 1968 to 1971, are related to the war for liberation and independence.
In the book, reminiscences, three in total, remind readers of the brave people looking into the eyes of death while they joined the armed struggle. These tell people’s courage and their ever-ready heart to make supreme sacrifice for their best love — motherland, to all of us, Bangladesh, Amar sonar Bangla, my golden Bengal.
Farooque Chowdhury writers from Dhaka.
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