"Bangabandhu: Lost legend" was an hour-long panel conducted at the Abdul Karim Shaittyabisharad auditorium on the second day of the Dhaka Lit Fest. The panellists included the renowned Indian writer and politician Shashi Tharoor, Bangladeshi historian and liberation war researcher Afsan Chowdhury, and Kamal Chowdhury, a member of the Bangladesh Civil Service; the session was moderated by Shamsad Mortuza.
The session commenced with a brief history of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s life and political history, which can be traced all the way back to his youth. The panellists then delved into deconstructing his political motivations prior to, during, and following the Liberation War.
Afsan Chowdhury stated that often-times the peasantry are omitted from history books and what he referred to as typical middle-class narratives of the history of Bangladesh’s liberation war. However, if one maintains the continuity between colonial and post-colonial times, the peasantry can be seen to continually be one of the driving forces of history throughout.
“The idea that the peasantry doesn’t understand what is good for him is absurd. The peasantry did, and Sheikh Mujib understood the power of the peasantry,” the historian said.
In reply to this statement, Shashi Tharoor argued, “But I would still insist that there was a very strong element of cultural attachment and linguistic nationalism embedded in this approach. Because ultimately, to modernize a peasantry, you need issues and symbols. And I think clearly, for Mujib, appealing to the emotive power of culture, identity, and language was always a part of his appeal from the early ’50s onwards.”
The speakers engaged in further dialogue about how it was not just the peasantry that was a driving force behind major historical movements, but that they were most certainly a significant one.
However, it was agreed upon that it would not be possible for a movement to succeed if it were only the peasantry who were acting. “Exclusive, single, uni-class movements have not succeeded in history. You need multi-class movements. You need assimilation. And Sheikh Mujib understood that,” said Afsan Chowdhury.
The session ended with a question-answer segment with the audience.