There are hordes of people in the Awami League whose understanding of history is misplaced. Or you could say significant segments of history are deliberately set aside in the interest of a dissemination of half-truths. When some years ago Sharmin Ahmad came up with a work on her father Tajuddin Ahmad (Neta O Pita
), many in the ruling party were incensed.
That ought not to have been the case. Works of a political nature almost always evoke public debate, but when debate is pushed aside by invective, it is collective national self-esteem which suffers.
And that self-esteem informs us, in no uncertain manner, that in the absence of Bangabandhu in 1971, it was Tajuddin Ahmad who led the battlefield strategy for liberation. It is a truth underplayed by the Awami League. And, therefore, it is an attitude which turns into a weapon against the party in the hands of its detractors.
Not long ago, the mother and son team dominating the Bangladesh Nationalist Party went stirring up fresh controversy over matters already settled in history. They suddenly stumbled on the truth that Ziaur Rahman was Bangladesh’s first president, that indeed he was the man who first proclaimed the independence of this country.
We were not surprised, for distortions and lies have, with a fair degree of regularity, drilled holes in the history of the sub-continent. In modern times, the very first attempt to undermine history came in 1905, when the British colonial power decided that Bengal needed to be partitioned in the interest of a better administration of the region.
But governance does not have to depend on an exercise of authority through effecting a shrinkage in area of the territory concerned, but the colonizers did it anyway. That original distortion was pushed aside, mercifully, six years later in 1911.
A clear distortion of history and heritage became the goal of the All-India Muslim League when it decided, at its March 1940 session in Lahore, that India needed to be partitioned in order for Muslims to have a state of their own. The otherwise suave, educated Mohammad Ali Jinnah came forth with the discovery that religious communities were indeed nations.
And so it was that he needed Pakistan for his “Muslim nation.” The ramifications of that act are yet being felt, all these decades later.
A major distortion of history resorted to by Jinnah came in 1946, when he deftly and stealthily replaced the phrase “independent states” recorded in the 1940 Lahore Resolution with “independent state” and tried to pass off the original phrase as a typing error. It is amazing that the illustrious figures of the Muslim League had not noticed the “error” in 1940 or over the subsequent six years, that only Jinnah was wise enough to spot the mistake.
Distortion is when foreign diplomats based in Bangladesh condescendingly enlighten us on the ‘moderate Muslim state’ we have fashioned out of Bangladesh
Historical distortion hit a new low when the ruling circles of newly independent Pakistan convinced themselves that an Islamization of the country was in order. And the one surefire way of going about that was to inform Pakistanis that Urdu was the language of the Muslim state, to a point where every other language, especially Bengali, did not really matter. Pakistan paid the price for that bad move.
Jinnah, Liaquat, and Nazimuddin forcefully argued the case for Pakistan in the 1940s. Ironically, they were to become the agents responsible for the future destruction of their country through their misreading of culture and history.
History took a new battering in 1956, when Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy in grandiose manner declared that Pakistan’s constitution, adopted nine years into independence, had guaranteed 98% autonomy for the Bengalis of East Pakistan.
The truth was something else: The 1956 constitution demeaned the Bengalis through undermining their numerical majority and pulling them down to the level of minority West Pakistan. And lumping the Punjab, Sind, Balochistan, and the North-West Frontier Province into a political monstrosity called One Unit was one more shining instance of the state playing footsie with history.
When the Ayub Khan regime, through Information Minister Khwaja Shahabuddin, decreed a ban on Rabindranath Tagore in 1967, it was clearly trying to fashion history in its own mould. Tagore, the imbeciles in the junta let it be known, was a Hindu who had no place in Muslim Pakistan. Tagore was banished, officially. For their part, Bengalis made it clear that the ban was of no consequence, that their heritage was their own to nurture and uphold.
In free Bangladesh, history was dealt a body blow in August 1975 when the assassins of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman brought in the slogan “Bangladesh Zindabad
,” in clear imitation of Pakistan, thereby consigning the militant Bengali slogan of Joi Bangla
to the woods.
Within months, the country’s first military dictator Ziaur Rahman, through extra-constitutional fiat, knifed socialism and secularism in the constitution to dead meat and brought in clear communal elements to replace them.
In the five years in which Zia wielded power, Bangabandhu and the Mujibnagar government were airbrushed out of history, the Pakistan occupation army was referred to as a mere “occupation army” and the murderers of the Father of the Nation were sent abroad as diplomats for the country.
Bengalis were converted, in ignorant manner, into being Bangladeshis. And Bengali nationalism, long our vocal symbol of patriotism, was replaced by the spurious concept of “Bangladeshi nationalism.”
Historical distortion scaled new heights per courtesy of the nation’s second military dictator, General Hussein Muhammad Ershad. He decreed that the state needed a faith, and that faith was Islam. The state of Bangladesh donned the attire of religion. For the country, it was a moment of unremitting shame.
Distortion is when foreign diplomats based in Bangladesh condescendingly enlighten us on the “moderate Muslim state” we have fashioned out of Bangladesh. No one, either in government or in opposition, rebuts that outrage. Someone should be giving these diplomats a pep talk on the history of Bengali secularism. Someone should tell them we are not amused.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist.