August 15, 2007

Ekti Mujiburer Thekey....

I don't like simple stories, but I'll make an exception for the one that follows because even this is an improvement from the over-simplified bullshit we are asked to believe by political parties and their embedded intellectuals. If you disagree on the details, remember these are simplified stories.

August 15th marks the end of two over-arching symbols and the birth of two legacies. It marks the end of British rule in the subcontinent. Some scholars talk about the two divergent, almost contradictory, strands of the British Imperial legacy: the monarchic viceroyalty and parliamentary democracy. Like everything else, those North-Indians divided - excuse me, Partitioned (note the capital) - the legacy between them, with the authoritarianism going to the Land of All-Muslims-except-those-not-from-Punjab and the parliamentary democracy going to "Oh-My-Don't-We-Look-Secular-As-Our-Army-Takes-Over-Goa-Hyderabad-Kashmir-and-Manipur"-istan. Thus, their divergent political fates. That is how one story goes.

Equally, if not more, importantly, August 15th marks the barbaric death of one man and his family.

I say "more" deliberately.

I say "more" because this man was the leader in creating the closest approximation to a nation-state in the subcontinent, no mean feat.

I say "more" because he was not a "derivative" of any Imperialism, brown or white: not for him foreign languages and degrees, affairs with foreign women and the adulation of foreign culture and choice phrases, or speeches in English and only English, that most Islamic of languages.

I say "more" out of protest that intellectual elites of every hue in South Asia are so overcome by the narrative of power and guilt emanating from Delhi, Islamabad and their own consciences that they do not look at this man, his words and his actions as supreme instances of anti-Imperialism or Islamic humanism - but are ready to wax lyrical about their Netaji, their Punditji, their Allama or their Quaid for pages on end.

I say "more" out of sheer desperation that even the very people he freed are ready to talk about either Jinnah or Nehru in glowing terms, but remain sure that he was somehow lesser. I hope the "more" makes them think.

Yet his legacy might have proved in the end to be more potent than anyone else's, for it had the potential for creating the most inclusive, egalitarian, and single-mindedly nationalistic polity in South Asia. It was after all his dream, and he had two words for it that you could understand from Teknaf to Tetulia: Shonar Bangla. These last 36 years have been largely lost, and that perhaps is the magic of the story and the bitterness I taste in my mouth.

For within that legacy there were two strands, pre-'71 and post-'72. Pre-'71 is the lost legacy: the uncompromising championing of the most marginalised people on Earth, his own. Do I exaggerate both our marginality and his role? Ask yourself in what cosmopolitan, pan-national scheme do Bangalis from the East come up - except at the margins. Not Western pan-humanism, nor Islamic Ummahtocism, nor South Asian Desi-ism (but never "Deshi-ism"! Tsk tsk, these Bungaaalis with their barbaric pronunciations, yaarrr!) and lastly, certainly not Kolkata-centric pan-Bengalism. Of course, intellectuals from both sides mix up that last statement with communal sentiments. This is not to say that Hindus and Muslims are two nations. That "theory" was as fake as Jinnah himself. This is to say that Hindus and Muslims of Purbo Bangla got a raw deal from "West Bengal" at most times.

Forever at the margins, one man took us by the scruff of the neck and shoved us into the centre of it, battling off all hegemonies. This was a man proud to be Bangali, proud to use our language unapologetically in the forum of the world, proud of his roots and convinced that his people deserved better.

So what happened?

The reality of a war-ravaged country hit, with a heavy dose of power to match. He became dictatorial, suspicious, overwhelmed, not really quite sure of what he had unleashed: the power of millions. He said things that went against the very grain of his inclusion, of his feelings for the marginalised. He did things that went against the very pluralism he had once worn as a proud embelm. And the people that we are - accustomed to the margins, losing out forever, suspicious of each other, and unaccustoned to being masters of our own destiny amidst the tides of empires and rivers - we took all these little lessons to heart and forgot the rest. We even tried to erase him, because no matter what he did in those three short years, he could not dull the gloss of what he had once been.

So he was killed along with his family and we went our merry way, forgetting. We shut down newspapers, beat up reporters, killed people in crossfires and forgot about the marginalised, of whom the dead were the first. We helped people only when our leaders told us to, gave flood relief only when photographers were present, talked about "national security" while selling, starving and exiling our people. And we constantly - constantly! - denigrated and killed our fellow Bangladeshis - ironically at times in the name of their Father. His shining legacy lived on - in name, stashed away behind glass cases, to be admired but not practised. Too impractical you see. These hujugey Bangalis, there's no pleasing them...

In the meantime, 36 years went on by and maybe another 36 will go before people wake up and realise that the other half of his legacy, the pre-'71 one, has either been denigrated or never been tried, even by his own admirers.

Welcome to the country of sell-outs. They only fight over whom to sell-out to. And that is the sad story. Simple, not pretty, but a thousand times more honest than what Awami intellectuals or BNP apologists or Jamaati pan-"Islam"ists or CTG bhodrolokes will tell you.

August 15th marks the day that we lost the one person who refused to sell us out in word or deed. May we remember him like that.


Saif said...

Well said, AsifY bhai.

Anonymous said...

Liked your piece very much!

Rumi said...

Yes Boy. You have the anger. We are badly missing the anger lately.

Keep going.

Probashi said...

wah wah...

Darun....this should go out to the mass.

tacit said...

He didn't sell us out..

Yes, that does make him different.

Anthony said...

There has been many pieces about Mujib in the past week. Most of these have been either 'Bangabandhuke jemon dekhechi' type or rare pieces of 1970s articles and declassified government documents. This one is clearly neither. This is different because this describes how the post-1970s generation views Sheikh Mujib.

In addition to this very violent coup, 15 August also marks partition and the end of the empire in the subcontinent. As has been noted in UV and other blogs, identities can get really confusing - Bangladeshi / Bengali Muslim / Muslim / Bengali / Indian / Ghoti / Bangal - it's not always clear where one ends and the other begins.

This write up also shows how the post-1970s generation - born in the free country, with no hang ups about our neighbours or former compatriots, comfortable in our surrounds, focussed on our needs, and at ease with the world - tackles these identity issues.

I've lamented about there being no clear articulation of what it means to be a Bangladeshi. Yes I know there is a line in the 7th March speech, but that's not the sentence that gives you goosebumps. May be this articulation will come from some future leader.

Not everyone from his generation is as articulate as Asif. Not everyone has the opportunities he has had. But while words may vary, message is the same. And that, much more than the lamenting of the past, is why this should be shared more widely than the internet.

rumi said...


There may be multiple reason why Asif's Generation is ready to accept Bangabandhu as the father figure. One I can see is the safe temporal distance from this generation with Mujib. For those who've been through Mujib rule may have a different take, either more positive or the opposite.

Asif's generation, as Asif articulated well, will not put Bangabandhu's last 3 1/2 years on the way to their respect.

The question now will come, whether this same generation will be as forgiving to the current day (immediate past or or the one before) leadership, who are accused of committing the same mistakes Mujib made during his rule.

Probashi said...


A key issue is our younger generation is not taught politics the way it should be ? If you ask a BRAC U student or any other uni for that matter, anything about socialism , capitalism, world politics, nationalism etc, the blank look that you will get will scare you. We need to start thinking about getting these conversations out in the mass. PAB's tv program is the first step in this direction.

for my generation (Asif's one generation senior), here is a take on Mujib that I did two years ago.

Probashi said...

Here is the link for the article again

Probashi said...

Here is Naeem's take

asif said...

I've been meaning to respond to this for some time now, but recent events did overtake us fast!

First of all Asif bhai, fashay dilen to amakey!:) I'm expecting my readership to drop off sharply, because lets face it most people don't think young people have much to contribute (present company deservedly excluded).

I'm a lot more skeptical than all of you that my generation thinks of Mujib in similar terms. There are less partisans in my generation, but they are definitely there or waiting to be formed. A survey of American voters once found out that most voters vote the same way as their parents did. Most...

Apathy is even greater as Naeem bhai's article makes clear. Who cares about Mujib? I certainly didn't when I was in Bangladesh. That 7th March speech wasn't something that is sacred anymore, but played at every corner come election time or August 15th. Given the huge gulf between the circumstances of 1971 and our current problems in Bangladesh, that speech made little sense except another political ploy. So it was easy to ignore. And who cares about people dissing Mujib? The meaningless things BNP-ites say about him, they simply flew past my ears.

It was only once I came here that Mujib became more relevant, especially in interactions with my Indian and Pakistani friends. I think you see that in the article itself.

I realised what a great disservice the BNP and other anti-ALers were doing to the nation by focussing their anger on Mujib. What pissed me off even more was that this sort of rhetoric undermined out sense of being Bangladeshi, our greatest asset in the face of Indian hegemonic ambitions and Pakistani attempts at hogging the "only Muslims in South Asia" label for itself.

We need to have bi-partisan consensus on Mujib if we are to have a nation. Dissing Mujib while chest-thumping about India as the BNP did is the stupidest idea possible. But then, BNP really hasn't had many bright ideas since 1981. (sorry Rumi bhai)

In this, we should at least praise the current CTG and general Moeen for trying to do that. That the general is the batch of '75 also says a lot about generational differences within the army. And I'm not saying all this because of recent events/comments on UV. :)

In talking to people older than me, I got a sense of what Rumi bhai says. We can take a relaxed attitude towards Muib precisely because we've never had to deal with him. Friction takes place everywhere.

Asif bhai, those articles were really good to read, don't know how I missed them back in the day. I really haven't added much more to what you guys had to say.