The black day for Bangalees have come again. It’s a day for the Bangalees to mourn. The hyenas killed Bangabandhu and most of his family members on the black day of 15th August 1975. The killers didn’t spare pregnant women, nine-year old children, and newly-wed house wives. The animals living in the jungle don’t do such animalistic and cruel acts. These killers are even worst than the animals living in the jungle. I can’t write anything more about the killers and their patrons because I don’t want to degrade my level using words against these killer human beings having qualities less than the animals. I wrote an essay on Bangabandhu a few years ago. It was published in “News from Bangladesh.” I’m posting it again. The readers will find some information about this “Great Poet of Politics – Bangabandhu and the Father of the Nation of the Bangalees.” Shabbir Ahmed Vision for a Decentralized and Secular Government in the Seventies
By Shabbir Ahmed
The myopic supporters of the military dictators in Bangladesh always raise their voice against the one-party rule envisioned by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. To undermine the democratic values of the founding father, these supporters of the military rulers use all sorts of threadbare arguments to show their disdain for him and in the process they only portray the last few months of his long political life. These cynics hardly want to analyze the political contribution of Bangabandhu in a total perspective. They interpret his politics based only on his few months of one-party rule that was not even materialized in any form, never mind its full-scale implementation. Readers may have noticed that if any political analyst sheds any historical truths about the military rule and the proponents of that Martial Ruler, then the anti-BKSALites rear their heads and they throw question regarding BKSAL. While doing so, they spend no time with a deliberate attempt to conceal the heinous, unlawful acts of the military dictators. It’s is a known tactic, which had worn out due to over usage. Should anyone justify the ruthless rule of the military dictators under martial law by questioning the one party rule of BKSAL? Was it justified to have Martial Law under ruthless military dictators to replace the then one party rule of BKSAL? We all know that Soviet Union was under one-party communist rule. The countries under the sphere of Soviet Union came out of one-party rule without imposing undemocratic Martial Law. There is no example of it! Period. The process was Evolutionary not ‘Revolutionary’ as it was the case with Kurmotola-based conspiracy under the aegis of a Major General and his ilk who suddenly became the champion of universal suffrage. It was a blatant lie and the supporters of the vile general know it too well! The ‘freedom’ loving Bengali nationalists did not have to depend on a ruthless military dictator (with all powers in his hands) to transform them from one-party quasi ‘communist’ or ‘socialist’ rule to a multi-party democracy. The vicissitudes of time would have done it a la dismantling of Reagan’s Evil Empire, the Soviet Union and her allies. No military leaders have to sweat for this conversion, either.
The criticisms on the ephemeral one-party rule by the critics of Bangabandhu are rather harsh. One should not exclude his long struggle for democracy during more than two decades of his political life. To establish democracy and non-communal secular politics in Pakistan, he fought relentlessly with the people against the military junta and the political Islamists of Pakistan. Lest we forget, these two forces shook hand to drive out the vestiges of secularism from Jinnah’s Pakistan. Should I remind everyone one more time that Bangabandhu spent prime times of his life (more than a decade, about twelve years) in jail for establishing the democratic rights of the majority Bangalees in Pakistan? No one has to fabricate these facts. All is there in any archives. The fervid critics and faultfinders of Bangabandhu have to do some legwork to find those records in old newspapers in Dhaka and that is all! Furthermore, a Bangalee does not need to be an ardent Awami Leaguer or a political scientist or a historian to fathom out his sufferings and contributions in the democratic movements in Pakistan especially in the sixties when the nation was griped by the military General such as FM Ayub Khan. How could the self-professed Bangalee historians become amnesiac all of a sudden?
As the head of the government, Bangabandhu had to bring tranquillity through improvement of law and order in the war-ravaged nation of 75 millions in the early days of Bangladesh. The government was reluctant to involve army in restoring internal law and order because of the bitter experiences of Pak Army’s interference in taking over power from the civilian government. So, to support the police forces, Rakkhi Bahini was formed. Even civilized nation such as America has National Guard to serve the nation when every county in America has police force. It is ridiculous to see that few critics very often equate Rakkhi Bahini with the Gestapos of Nazis. How come they do not equate America’s National Guard or Canadian Mounties to be a variant of Hitler’s Gestapos? Any thoughts on this? After the independence, there was this necessity of employing a good number of young energetic freedom fighters. No one wanted to see roving bandits of ex-Mukti Bahini members terrorizing the villagers with their arms hanging by their neck and shoulder. It was a smart move of Bangabandhu to bring these armed men under his fold. The nation was spared from absolute lawlessness and mayhem. Thus, it was decided collectively by all concerned in the defense and home ministry to form a paramilitary force named Rakkhi Bahini to support both the army and police to maintain some semblance of law and order in the aftermath of our hard fought independence. We should never forget that most of the Rakkhi Bahini members were the members of the freedom fighting forces, not the members of the Gestapo type forces as few of the critics may hopelessly try to label them. The same group of critics propagated that the Rakkhi Bahini was made superior to army. If the intention of the government was really that to happen, then the tanks used during the midnight massacre in the mid-August of 1975 would have been given to Rakkhi Bahini to protect Bangabandhu and his inner circle. Of course, many members of the Rakkhi Bahini committed excesses. But, the critics of Rakkhi Bahini keep mum in respect of the excesses committed by the army under martial law. They do not equate the army with the Gestapo for their excesses during the Martial Law. I think none of these forces should be equated with the Gestapo of Nazis. Our law enforcement agency people did not and do not have yet a good sense of restraint while carrying out their duties. They need continuing improvement and training suitable for enforcing laws in a civilized, democratic country.
It will always be mind boggling for anyone to rationalize why Bangabandhu, despite his long struggle for democracy, adopted a one-party rule after about only three years of our independence. Bangabandhu took over the charges of the war-ravaged country in 1972 at a time when the country was mostly in a ruin. One should give credit to the then government under his the leadership for preventing famines in 1972 and 1973 in the newly independent Bangladesh. But, he was unable to prevent the manmade famine in 1974. The critics and the political opponents are critical to Bangabandhu, the then food Minister Late Foni Bhushan Majumder, and Awami League leaders/workers for that unwanted famine. Bangabandhu and his party had to pay very dearly for that famine of 1974. But, it is important to note that the then secretary of the food Ministry ‘Abdul Momen Khan’ did not have to pay any price. He was rewarded later after the death of Bangabandhu in 1975. He was made the Food Minister by the military dictator Ziaur Rahman. It was revealed that the Food Secretary ‘Abdul Momen Khan’ and few other bureaucrats convinced Bangabandhu and his cabinet in purchasing rice from USA with the argument to establish and improve trade relation with the USA. Bangabandhu wanted to improve relation with the USA. But, there were conspiracies behind his back, which he could not predict. Finally, at a critical time, when the US government did not allow shipment of rice to Bangladesh, he became helpless in tackling the already ensuing famine. He, the then Prime Minister, a great loving and caring leader of the Bangalees, cried openly in the cabinet meeting for his inability and helplessness in tackling the unwanted famine in 1974 (source: ‘Facts and Documents’ by: Professor Abu Sayeed, page 60). Our leader became a pawn in the on-going strife between the two super powers.
The shock and helplessness made him firm in taking a side in that polarized world. Soviet Union and India supported our freedom struggle in all possible ways. Despite opposition of many US leaders and people, the US government supported the Pakistani military junta for no good reason. The liberation war of Bangladesh was in all accounts a war to get rid of military rule to establish democracy in an independent Bangladesh. In the polarized world in 1971, the oppressed Bangalees did not get support of the government of USA – the democratic super power of the world. But, the people of Bangladesh got both material and diplomatic support in their struggle for an independent Bangladesh from Soviet Union – the communist super power. After independence, Bangladesh was not declared a communist country. Bangabandhu maintained a multiparty-based open democratic system with freedom of press at a time when the war-ravaged country was supposed to be under emergency rule. Our constitution of 1972 although hastily written became an example of true secular democracy. No where in the constitution was written the word ‘socialist’ or ‘Communist.’ Nevertheless, the young nation paid the price in blood (read loss of life) due to an engineered famine whose blueprint must have been drawn by a Washington bureaucrat in a small cubbyhole in Langley, Virginia.
We should never blame Bangabandhu for taking our new republic under the fold of Soviet-India nexus. Bangabandhu being an all time activist for establishing democracy tried his level best to link Bangladesh with other democracies of the globe. Therefore, contrary to all those misinformation campaigns done by the ilk of military junta Bangladesh was not a communist country, after all. In addition, Bangabandhu did not get support from the democratic superpower that he deserved in enhancing democracy in Bangladesh. Instead, he was discredited for the famine in 1974 that he could have averted if he were not eager to enhance relationship with the USA. So, that was a turning point for him to take a side in the ever polarized world at that time. No country in the seventies was truly a free nation. The vicious power play by the two superpowers polarized every nation on earth into two camps. It is rather unfortunate that Bangladesh was reluctantly lumped with the group that had no access to staples.
In a helpless and hapless situation, Bangabandhu adopted the Soviet model of one party rule at a time when Bangladesh did not have a strong opposition party. The opposition parties with insignificant support of the people were either the underground miscreants or overground revolutionaries with arms to establish different forms of socialism. The parliament was not divided with strong opposition as it is now. His party, the Awami League, won 167 out of 169 seats in 1973 election in the then East Pakistan. In that year, his party lost (probably) more than 10 seats in parliament (it is ridiculous to notice that few critics compare this election with the one held in 1978 under martial law aimed at legitimizing a sitting military ruler) maintaining more than two-third majority. So, there was no resistance from a legitimate strong opposition against bringing the country under one-party rule through constitutional amendment. In doing that, he did not conspire or stage a coup or put pressure or kill anyone to grab the post of President. One can notice that Gen. Osmany and Barrister Moinul Hussain disagreed with Bangabandhu on the question of BKSAL. None were imprisoned for their disagreement. Lawfully, Bangabandhu explained the reasons then for an urgent need of constitutional amendment to the Speaker and to the House. At one point, he said in his speech in parliament on 25th January 1975:
‘We must bring discipline in the country. Mr. Speaker, very sadly, we had to consider making this amendment in the constitution. ‘. ‘ ‘ Mr. Speaker, I was a member and leader of this house. I feel sad that I will not be able to remain a member of this house anymore.’ (translation mine; source: ‘Bangabandhur Bhashon’ edited by Mizanur Rahman, pages 179-183)
The above statements indicate that introduction of one-party rule was not an outcome of his inner political philosophy. He did it at a time when internal stability of the country was at risk because of the open and outright hostile declarations of most of the then (minor) opposition parties (such as Jatio Samajtantrik Dal’s armed Gono Bahini, Armed Sarbahara Party, etc.) for armed struggle to overthrow the legitimate government. There were killings on all sides. The miscreants killed four ruling party parliament members. Internationally, the democratic superpower did not cooperate and help his government that he deserved for advancing democracy after 1971 in Bangladesh and even before 1971 as the Prime Minister-elect of Pakistan. The internal and international situation during that time of Cold War era compelled him to take a side after famine in 1974. Contrary to his stand with a long history of his struggle for democracy, he adopted one-party based model only after 1974. All he did was to bring stability and tranquillity for the people that he loved so much. His long struggles with readiness for sacrificing his life for establishing the rights of the Bangalees are historical facts. The overwhelming support and mandate of the people he earned through all his sacrifices and efforts were the major causes of his overconfidence in taking steps that he deemed beneficial to the country at that time. Therefore, we should factor in all these points before we vilify Bangabandhu for ushering one-party rule in the newly born republic of Bangladesh.
It comes as no surprise that critics of Bangabandhu try to highlight only the political aspect of one-party rule. But, all his critics and even many of his supporters ignore the pragmatic steps he took in decentralizing administration, reforming administration, and in augmenting agricultural production with the new system he introduced in 1975. Not many of his colleagues revealed different aspects of his pragmatic programs that he started in early 1975. Mr. Mahbubur Rahman was one of the few bureaucrats who wrote extensively about Bangabandhu’s programs in his memoir ‘Kichu Sriti Kichu Driti’ published in 1987. He worked directly in close contact with Bangabandhu both as a cabinet secretary and as an establishment secretary during all the years till the death of Bangabandhu. He is one of the few bureaucrats critical to the bureaucratic systems in Bangladesh. I have extracted most of the following information from his book. One should know that he was not an Awami Leaguer or was not an appointee of the Awami League government. He was probably the last bureaucrat who joined Bengal Civil Service probably in the waning days of British Raj
Bangladesh is not a big country to divide based on autonomous provinces. But, the huge population (the population of our many districts is even more than the total population of countries like Sweden, Denmark, etc.) entails employing a decentralized administration under a form of autonomous body. Bangabandhu wanted to do just that by bringing district administration under an elected Governor. The district administration under the Governor was supposed to do all the development works. Even now, a small irrigation project or a small bridge project in Sunamganj needs to be approved by all levels of bureaucrats locally in the district and centrally in different ministries in Dhaka including finance ministry. Bangabandhu and his government desperately wanted to curtail that process through decentralization by giving all these powers to the governing council under a governor in a district. For the district level projects, the central government would provide only financial support to the district administration. By doing that, the role of bureaucrats in the secretariat at Dhaka would have been brought to a minimum. The hindrances caused by the red tapes in the secretariat at Dhaka would have been removed. The governors with a governing council were given authorities to formulate and implement development activities in their respective districts. One does not need to be a political scientist to understand that the system was introduced to empower the bureaucrats of the Secretariat Building in Segun Bagicha, Dhaka, but to ensure a decentralized autonomous district administration.
On the agriculture sector, Bangabandhu exerted his all out efforts to overcome food deficiency. He did his politics from and at the grass root level in Bangladesh. He knew well about the poor economic conditions of the farmers in the villages of Bangladesh. So, the plan was that the government would provide machineries and other resources through a cooperative framework in the villages. All those massive plans were undertaken to improve the conditions of the people in the villages of Bangladesh. In 1974, the government ordered to cultivate every inch of land in Bangladesh to increase food production. For that, most of the government lands were brought under cultivation. One can remember that most of the unused lands of colleges, schools, and government organizations were cultivated in 1974. By doing all these, in early 1975, Bangladesh was able to develop a sufficient food stock despite flood in 1974. It was amazing how people trusted and listened to the words of Bangabandhu and worked hard during a short span of his rule.
Most of his programs were abandoned, though, by the military regimes through anti-BKSAL propaganda. Gen. Ershad took a portion of Bangabandhu’s concept of decentralized administration by upgrading Thanas to Upozillas in a distorted fashion. While Bangabandhu gave full power to the peoples’ representatives in the district, but, Gen. Ershad kept Deputy Commissioner above the Upozilla Chairman in the district. One can see that Bangabandhu genuinely wanted to decentralize and upgrade district administration first. Then he wanted to plan for upgrading Thana administration. As he said in a speech given in Bangabhaban:
‘I have exerted efforts to make district council. Within one year, I will upgrade Thana administration with a Thana council.’ (Translation mine; source: ‘Bangabandhur Bhashon’ edited by Mizanur Rahman, page 213)
It is noticeable that the Upazilla administration, introduced by Gen. Ershad became very popular in Bangladesh, which was abolished by the last government for no valid reasons. The present government is yet to revive the Upazilla administration. It is hard to imagine how long will it take for Bangladesh to implement a country-wide decentralized administration envisioned by Bangabandhu more than 25 years ago.
This writing is not intended to elevate Bangabandhu to a superhuman level. He made mistakes because he did try to do some works to modify and upgrade the colonial-type bureaucratic administration with an aim to improve the conditions of the people of Bangladesh that he loved more than himself. Before 1971, he was the majority party leader of Pakistan and the most popular leader of the then East Pakistan. After 1971, the Bangalees regarded him as someone more than a Prime Minister or a President. He could remain as a ‘King Maker’ without involving himself in administering the country. His thoughts on policies would have been implemented even if he were not a Prime Minister or a President. Or, he could have implemented his decentralization policies without going through the ill-fated one-party rule. It was and still is important for Bangabandhu to remain above controversies. A non-controversial Bangabandhu is important for the pro-liberation, liberal, and secular forces in Bangladesh. In a strict and absolute sense, he was not a completely secular political leader. But, relatively speaking, he was a great secular leader who promoted secularism by forbidding politics in the name of religion in independent Bangladesh. His non-communal pragmatic political activities with secular views helped aware Bangalees against the communal political Islamists even before 1971. His hard work at the grass root level (with the support of the secular forces) was the key factor for the defeat of the communal political Islamists in the then East Pakistan. By including secularism in the constitution of Bangladesh after 1971, he helped create a wide platform for the liberal secularists to grow in Bangladesh.
Since Bangabandhu was a politician and a former head of the government, he will be criticized and evaluated in all the years to come. There is nothing wrong in it. I do not think that the historians and chronicler should not criticize because he is dead and not here on this earth to defend himself. Similarly, I also do not think that the critics should remain silent since his maker will judge him after reincarnation. The question arises when certain individuals deliberately undermine him without giving due credit to him for his long struggle for democracy and for the emancipating Bangalee nation from the clutches of Punjabis. Few pro-military critics of Bangabandhu try to equate him (as a democrat) with a military dictator who came to power through backdoor with the ‘able’ help of conspiracy, coup, and killing. Bangabandhu underestimated the sweet-talking and the fulsome army general by taking him in his administration. After 1975, the conspirator military General overestimated him by exerting his efforts to become another Bangabandhu of Bangladesh. The name of Bangabandhu was even forbidden in government media by the conspirator general and his successors. To materialize his dream his stooges in the government actively suppressed the history of our liberation war and the contribution Bangabandhu Sheik Mujibur Rahman made for his impoverished people. By disregarding the policies of Bangabandhu they even tried to take Bangladesh back into a centralized Pakistan style government under the clutches of military-theocracy-bureaucracy. Above all, BKSAL minus one party rule is something that Bangladesh still needs to implement for a decentralized people-oriented administration that will result in nothing but dynamism, prosperity, and growth for the impoverished 125 million people who still call Bangladesh their home
Previously Published at: mukto-mona forum.