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The need for focused historical research

  • Published at 12:02 am March 28th, 2019
Digging up old stories BIGSTOCK

Preserving our history for scholars and future generations 

Not so long ago, the publication of Secret Documents of Intelligence Branch on Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Volume-1: 1948-1950) added a new chapter to history in Bangladesh and in the larger South Asian sub-continent. 

Politics always having been in a parlous state in our part of the world, beginning with the rise of British colonialism in the 18th century and proceeding all the way to these present times, it is important that history be preserved in absolutely objective fashion for students, researchers, scholars, and indeed for the generations to come.

In recent years, it has been the nation’s good fortune to have a spate of writings on and by Bangabandhu (that latter bit manifested through his unfinished memoirs and diaries) emerge in the public domain. They can only have deepened our understanding of the events and incidents that went into the making of Bangladesh. 

In similar manner, research has also gone into bringing before Bangladesh’s people the contributions of the nation’s wartime Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad. Published works on Tajuddin Ahmad have largely been the result of strenuous efforts made by his children, and included among such works have been the several volumes of his diaries. There is too the insightful Muldhara 71 by Maidul Hasan.

Obviously, the discovery and dissemination of new information, as part of academic research, will be purposeful additions to our understanding of the long, tortuous story that has gone into the making of our political heritage. While such publications are indelible testaments to a past which has contributed to the making of our present, they are also a call for more intensive research into the lives and politics of the illustrious men who transformed history in our part of the world. 

And, of course, there are some very clear reasons why research must be relentless. One of them has to do with the fact that during his nine-month imprisonment in Pakistan during Bangladesh’s War of Liberation in 1971, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman kept a regular diary. 

This revelation was made by his former Pakistani jailor Raja Anar Khan in the course of an interview on a Pakistani television channel more than three years ago. The diary has not been traced since Bangabandhu was freed from solitary confinement in December 1971 and placed under house arrest in a rest house outside Rawalpindi. 

The Bangladesh government will be undertaking a justified step if it approaches the Pakistan authorities for assistance in tracing the diary, which quite likely was impounded by prison officials before Bangabandhu was freed to return to Bangladesh. The diary will be a reflection of Bangabandhu’s thoughts in those dark moments in our national history. 

Additionally, at the diplomatic level, Bangladesh should be approaching Pakistan for copies of the proceedings of the secret trial of the Father of the Nation before a military tribunal in Mianwali in 1971. The Pakistan authorities never released those files and efforts expended by this writer to come by them have not borne fruit. Now that we are beginning to have fresh insights into the activities of Pakistan-era intelligence bodies vis-à-vis their tailing of the future founder of Bangladesh, it makes sense to inquire from Islamabad about the availability of documents related to Bangabandhu’s trial on charges of waging war against Pakistan in 1971. The announcement relating to the trial, to be conducted on camera by a military tribunal headed by Brigadier Rahimuddin, was made by the Yahya Khan junta on August 9, 1971. The trial commenced two days later.

History in the overall sense is a matter of scholarly research, which is why it becomes important to launch a hunt for the diary which Tajuddin Ahmad wrote in the final few months of his life in Dhaka Central Jail. There are reasons to think that the diary came into the possession of those who seized power in early November 1975. It may well be that the diary was spirited away immediately after Tajuddin and his colleagues were brutally cut down in the early hours of November 3. 

Those who are in possession of the diary today can be traced; and the government will be doing the nation a huge service if Tajuddin Ahmad’s last diary is retrieved and published for the larger interest of the country.

There are other steps that can be taken towards making more document-based publications available to students and scholars of history. In all our preoccupation with highlighting significant facets of history, we have quite neglected the struggles and the travails of such illustrious political figures as Syed Nazrul Islam, M Mansoor Ali, and AHM Quamruzzaman. 

The time is now here for researchers to be commissioned by the government to undertake purposeful studies of the contributions of these three political giants to the evolution of history in Bangladesh. Did they keep diaries or notes? We need to inquire into such questions. Meanwhile, we are in need of proper, intellectually rich biographies of these men whose leadership of the country in 1971 was pivotal for us.

In the era of Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan -- and we speak of the 1960s -- AHM Quamruzzaman and Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury represented the Awami League in the Pakistan National Assembly. Their statements in the House need to be collected and collated into volumes as part of an expansive historical project for the country. Similarly, Bangabandhu’s statement at the Round Table Conference in Rawalpindi in February 1969 can be added to the national research project on Bangladesh’s political evolution. 

A rich source to be tapped for insights into the details of the RTC in 1969 as also the abortive negotiations involving the AL, the Yahya Khan junta, and the Pakistan People’s Party in March 1971 is certainly Dr Kamal Hossain, the last surviving member of Bangabandhu’s brilliant team in a crucial phase of national history. 

Kamal Hossain’s recollections will certainly add a fascinating volume to the national history project. Where a Pakistani view of the March 1971 talks is concerned, there is Dr Mubashar Hasan. He was part of the Pakistan People’s Party team to the talks and later served as minister for finance in the Bhutto government.

And, of course, it is an imperative today for the proceedings of the Agartala Conspiracy Case to be published in a volume or two for Bangladesh’s political heritage to be shown for the wealth it holds for history buffs in the country and beyond. Additionally, newspaper reports of the times can only enhance the quality of research in the area.

History is fundamentally the degree and quality in which it is preserved in published form. That is research, to be worked on further by scholars in the interest of future research. 

Syed Badrul Ahsan is Editor-in-Charge, The Asian Age.