Forgotten pioneers of ‘free Bangladesh’

Afsan Chowdhury | Published: 16:51, Mar 27,2018


INTENT and activism to establish independent ‘Bangladesh’ existed even before August 1947, before the formal birth of Pakistan that is. The ‘Pakistan’ that came into being on August 14, 1947 was not what was envisaged in the Lahore Resolution of 1940. That spoke of two independent states but in 1947 through a resolution of the Muslim League legislators, held at Delhi, from a loosely joined federation, it became one centralised state, with all powers vested with the minority and a relationship of dominance by the centre over the rest.

The process of systemic exclusion practised by the new ‘Pakistan’ ruling class which began by using language as a tool to limit entry into the mainstream made its life itself limited from the beginning. The configuration of Delhi Resolution, Pakistan was isolated in principle from the Lahore Resolution, The later Pakistan was based on central elitism which made conflict with the rest inevitable. As expected, this conflict began as soon as the new ‘Pakistan’ was announced in 1947 cancelling the earlier 1940 Muslim League resolution.

This negative reaction came in the form of the United Bengal Movement led by the Bengal Muslim League and supported by the Bengal Congress in 1947. But a shared Bengal history of the two communities and the parties was absent; so, this combination failed to fire the movement and it collapsed. As it did, a group of Bengal Muslim League leaders formed a secret cluster called ‘Inner Group’ to establish an ‘independent’ state outside Pakistan. It was led by Bengal Muslim League student leader Moazzem Ahmed Chowdhury of Sylhet who was a close friend of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The person the group had in mind as the leader of the new state was Sheikh Mujib, the charismatic student leader of the Bengal Muslim League.


Inner Group activism

THE group was greatly influenced by Subhash Bose and his model of leading an army to free India. Closely linked to the Indian intelligence, they made plans and spent months in India in the 1950s but the expectation that people would rush to them and form the BNA never happened. However, they continued to mobilise and keep in touch with politicians. While talking to political activists of that era, we learnt that Moazzem Chowdhury was actively promoting an independent ‘Bangladesh’. The Inner Group again became active after Ayub Khan had imposed martial law in 1958.

Although several names have come forward as members, we can definitely confirm four names who formed the core. It was led by Moazzem A Chowdhury and supported by Tarek Chowdhury, (his son was the slain movie star Sohel Chowdhury), one Md Nasser who died in the 1960s and late journalist Foyez Ahmed. Others could be members but we are not certain. When we came to know of the Inner Group, only Moazzem Chowdhury and Foyez Ahmed were alive.

By 1962, Sheikh Mujib had decided to move for independence too, but as he was associated with Suhrawardy, a loyal pro-Pakistani, he was not taken seriously by some. But Sheikh Mujib’s startegy was to sustain the Awami League which was the largest political party in the country and not loyal to Pakistan like his mentor. And Suhrawardy from Kolkata had no direct constituency in East Pakistan and depended entirely on Mujib for political survival. The Communists on whom Mujib initially depended for backing his independence move failed as their politics was controlled by Moscow that did not want this move. He then turned to his old friend Moazzem Chowdhury.

Mujib’s visit to India was abortive and although he travelled from Sylhet to Agartala and then met some low-end officials, Delhi did not support the move. It was during this visit that Sheikh Mujib may have lost confidence in India for support and from then on, he mistrusted India. Even on the March 25  night, he refused to go to India when offered a safe passage by Moazzem Chowdhury. After 1962, the Inner Group faded out of history and Mujib, who never had much commitment to clandestine politics, went on to the way of the Six-Points in 1966.


East Bengal Liberation Party

WE FIRST came across the EBLP in 1978 when working for the 15 volumes of the Documents of 1971 project. It was mentioned in Pakistani intelligence files which we found rusting in an official archive. Later, we made contact with several people who belonged to that group, particularly Abdur Rahman Siddiky. It was led by one Ali Asad from Jamalpur, an Awami League activist, and they formed the EBLP group in 1958 after General Ayub Khan had taken power.

This effort is significant because it was not a Dhaka-centred activity but occurring in a small town. Several people were involved, including Abdur Rahman Siddiky, Nuruddin Ahmed and a few others. They met several senior Awami League leaders including Sheikh Mujib, Tofazzel Hossain Manik Miah of Ittefaq. They claim that they also made plans and went to India but failed to get any support. However, an Indian MP who was originally from Bangladesh helped them with some money. They returned home and printed leaflets and posters urging people to ‘rise against Pakistan’. Several posters were pasted on the walls of the then secretariat and leaflets distributed in darkened cinema halls.

However, they were tracked and several were caught and a few fled away. Two were arrested, questioned and tortured. The late politician Oli Ahad also mentions meeting them in his autobiography. The leader Ali Asad managed to flee to India but nothing is known of him after that. He disappeared from history.

Pakistan intelligence services express unusual shock at this attempt. An official giving note on the EBLP said that the most disturbing part was that ‘East Pakistanis were not protesting such activities. Such posters and leaflets distribution would be unthinkable in West Pakistan.’


Old Pakistan was over early, new Pakistan in 1958

BY THE time martial law was clamped and later lifted in 1962. Many parties barring the Moscow Communists had ‘independence cells’. The biggest one was the ‘Nucleus’ located in the Chhatra League and led by Sirajul Alam Khan. The pro-Peking left were also in this stream, though fragmented. These small groups were not interested in preserving Pakistan.

The trend has certain points in common. India was willing to help but up to a point. Even Sheikh Mujib was rebuffed though Indians officially organised the visit in 1962. They rebuffed the EBLP but gave shelter to Ali Asad. Both the Awami League and NAP were in this process as both came from the same political stream. Sheikh Mujib often knew about the movements but after his visit in 1962, he was not involved as he discarded clandestine politics preferring the street agitation model of Six-Points that led to the 1969 movement and on to 1970 elections.


Did Pakistan ever make a landfall in subsumed state of Bangladesh?

HISTORICALLY, Pakistan may have never taken place as envisaged by the Lahore Resolution. The August 14 Pakistan was largely a product of the Delhi Resolution. The fundamental flaw of the 1947 Pakistan may have been its elitist character represented by the Jinnah model, which never survived 1971.

The revised Delhi Resolution-based Pakistan of 1947 was fundamentally different from the Lahore Resolution Pakistan of 1940. In the immediate defiance manifested by the support to the United Bengal Movement by the Bengal Muslim League in 1947, followed by formation of the Inner Group in 1947, next by anti-Pakistan strike in 1948, formation of the Awami Muslim League in 1949, Ekushey of 1952 and the first election of 1954 — all within seen years — means that the Delhi Resolution-based Pakistan may never had a landfall in the area which is now Bangladesh.

Bangladesh was a subsumed/covert state which became an open/overt state in 1971. In that, the roll call of people who participated are many that began even before Pakistan came into being in 1947.


Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.

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