The Sound of Me Pulling Out My Hair One at a Time Because
People Partisan Hacks Live Down to My Expectations
As requested by my loyal(?), patient readers, a critique/list in no order whatsoever. (For the handful of readers who have visited since this post was up, there's an update on #7):
1. From his writings, it seems to me that SBA is an intelligent man and therefore it pains me to see him involved in what is essentially the politics of whose-picture-is-on-the-wall, which I thought would be beneath him. What's worse, he's simply indulging in politics by crying out "history": a false position. If he seriously thinks that "history" is dictated from the top by governments, debates about history are settled by picture-hanging or that hanging a picture is NOT about today's politics but rather about consensus on past history, he is seriously mistaken. Since I don't believe him to be a fool, I must believe him to be a partisan.
2. Let me first state that I agree with him wholeheartedly: there is no equal to Mujib in Bangladesh's history. The man is unique. I don't think I need to prove my genuine respect for Mujib after writing generally favourably about him on this blog for the past few months. But let me say this: as long as Mujib remains the most potent AL symbol rather than the most important historical figure AND as long as AL remains a viable party within the system, there is no separating him from current politics. We blame Khaleda Zia for desecrating his memory (someone from BNP should seriously have rebuked her for her birthday shenanigans), but we should also blame the AL (if not in equal measure) for trying to capitalise on it instead of leaving him for the historians.
3. Having said all that, let me begin dissecting. I am all for accurate history, but my historical understanding is more in terms of systemic movements rather than important individuals. Making over-reaching statements about Mujib's greatness does not exactly serve the goal of accuracy. Case in point:
When you think back on the long, concerted story of the growth of Bengali nationalism, you realise only too well that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the man behind it all.
To argue again and again that Mujib is the single most important individual in the growth and sustenance of the Bengali nationalist movement would be to state, repeatedly, the obvious. To suggest, however, that there are other men who must be permitted to share that glory with him runs counter to political morality.
Now what if I were to say that he rode the wave of that nationalism rather than instigate it and that is why we call him (rightly) Bongobondhu? If you were to tell me that a single man was behind the "growth and sustenance" of what was essentially a new mass consciousness for the Bangalis east of Benapole, I'd have to say that he must have been a mind-controlling wizard of some sort. Since he was clearly human and not a wizard, I'll have to say that he was simply a great leader when the time came, but giving him credit for the GROWTH of "Bengali nationalism" is too much.
4. "Bengali nationalism" - I had no idea that the "Bengalis" of West Bengal were also part of this new-found consciousess. Did Mujib want them to achieve independence/autonomy from Delhi too? As soon as you hear him say this, you know he's a partisan hack. And if you look through the archives (too lazy to link right now), you will find me using him as an example of why Bengali nationalism is simply a partisan term with no real-world meaning for anyone except hallucinating dinosaurs like him. (I also advocate that we save "Bangladeshi nationalism" from the partisan/chauvinistic/bigoted hands of the BNP).
5. He uses different measuring sticks to measure Suhrawardy and Bhashani. Suhrawary was not pro-Bangali and his loyalties were more to what SBA calls "Pakistan", but what I'd call the Punjabi-Urdu-speakers' alliance. Bhashani on the other hand, he concludes, was too pro-Bangali-autonomy:
A good deal has been made of Bhashani's role in the making of Bangladesh. There certainly were fireworks in his personality. When he told us, three days before the general elections of December 1970, that East Pakistan should declare itself an independent country, quite a few people felt exuberance re-igniting their spirits.
But sit back and reflect on whether or not Bhashani's precipitate move was a dangerous form of adventurism.
Basically, damn you if you do, damn you if you don't. The only way not to be damned is if you've declared your goal for autonomy on the 7th (or 25th night in written form: take your pick, I'm least interested). Surprise surprise, guess who's done that? Now I can say that Sheikh Shaheb made a mistake not announcing it sooner before the Pakistani military build-up. If he had, maybe we could have had less loss of life. But he did what he did, and I have no criticisms based on what didn't happen rather than what did. Unlike SBA who criticises Bhashani because he may have precipitated a crisis but didn't! Real historians deal with what happened, rather than judge people on counterfactuals.
6. Nothing is more ridiculous, more deceptive than his ramblings about Sher-e-Bangla A.K. Fazlul Huq:
Huq moved the Pakistan Resolution in 1940; and when he took charge as chief minister of East Bengal in 1954, at the head of a Jugto Front administration, he did so not as a Bengali nationalist but as part of a team engaged in the noble, necessary job of sending the communal Muslim League dispensation packing.
Huq later became Pakistan's interior minister, before taking charge as governor of East Pakistan. Nothing in his entire career suggests that he dreamed of a sovereign Bangladesh supplanting East Pakistan someday. Must it be our job to give him a place he did not work for, and would surely not have wanted? To convince ourselves that Huq was a forerunner of Bengali political freedom would be launching a grave assault on his political beliefs.
If guilt by association is a problem, then let it be remembered that Sheikh Shaheb was a Muslim Leaguer too at one point (check out Wiki or simply ask the next hardcore AL-er you meet). That does not "implicate" him, but shows that he had his hand on the people's pulse as he did almost to the end of his life. If it doesn't implicate him, it doesn't implicate Fazlul Huq. Moreover, the Lahore Resolution he moved called for two autonomous states on two sides of the subcontinent, not the state of Pakistan as it was born in 1947. For that little piece of deception - in which he tries to prove the greatness of Mujib by misleading his audience about the nature of the Resolution - SBA has pretty much earned my eternal disdain. Surely Mujib deserves more honest defenders than this!
And yeah, Sheikh Shaheb too once served as a minister in an East Pakistan government. Oh the horrors!
7. Take this particular gem about Bhashani:
Reflect, too, on the political position he began to adopt soon after liberation, when the leftist in him suddenly began to spot the beauty of rightwing politics.
His advocacy of a Muslim Bangla was a clear assault on the secular statehood of Bangladesh. His criticism of the Mujib government followed by his acceptance of Baksal, followed by his obvious relief at the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman are quirky as well as disturbing episodes in Bangladesh's history.
Ummm... was BAKSAL not a u-turn for Mujib? Rather than hold the creation of BAKSAL against Mujib, he holds Bhashani culpable for supporting it! SBA's categories of left and right are laughably based on the binary of religion/secularism (which I don't think he understands at all), rather than on the binaries of inclusive/exclusive or on private property/state-control. I'm yet to be convinced that the religion binary is the most important. Fact: no one on the political spectrum trumpeted about "democracy" at that point, simply misguided notions of "left-right-Islamic". *Shakes head at the Decade of Dinosaurs*
Update: Take a look at the circular logic he uses: it was Mujib/Tajuddin/AL's vision of a secular Bangladesh that Bhashani contested. In SBA's argument, this opposition to Mujib makes Bhashani less than Mujib. So we when we ask, "Why is Sheikh Shaheb the greatest?" SBA's answer is, "Because the ones who opposed him were not as great as he is". "How do we know that the others are lesser?" SBA's answer is, "Because they opposed him". "How does that make them lesser than he was?", SBA's implication, "Well, you have to be to oppose the greatest. After all, Sheikh Shaheb never opposed himself."
Wonderful logic. Stephen Colbert's gut rests easy with SBA's balmy words. Remember, you've got more nerve endings in your gut than anywhere else!
8. I'm not even going to say anything about his complete lack of review of Zia's legacy (arguably more pervasive to post-Independence Bangladesh than Bhashani's or Huq's). It speaks volumes about the audience he is writing for, one that sees Bhashani/Huq as having more of an impact (positive/negative) than Zia. For all his flaws, Zia remains the Deng Xiaopeng to Mujib's Mao in our (Generation 71) consciousness *. Good luck fighting that battle Mr. Ahsan! And no I don't think that Zia's picture should be put up in any government building either, simply because it's another political symbol rather than a historical tribute.
9. The only place I agree with him comes too late and offers too little:
If you have no place for Tajuddin Ahmad, Syed Nazrul Islam, M. Mansur Ali and A.H.M. Quamruzzaman in your assessment of national history, everything else you do is rendered meaningless
The enormous gaps in his narrative are ok, but the enormous gaps in others' narratives are not. Even when I agree with him, I can't stand it.
Lastly, let me just say this. His is as biased a view of history as those of the new party or Qureshi. What's worse is that his is biased in favour of an existing political party. If there's one thing about him that does not indicate that he has been stuck in Awami League circles for too long, let me know. If he's a bit more honest and admits that he is simply pushing that version of history that aligns with a certain power centre, then I'll have a bit more respect for him. However, I find it hard to respect anyone whose views of history (an academic matter) is shaped by power. It's a hard struggle for many people to separate history from power. SBA isn't even trying.