M. Serajul Islam
I came across a news item in a recent issue of a New York Bangla weekly that left me wondering. A visitor from Bangladesh, one of the many from Bangladesh’s cultural/literary/educational spheres who are regularly invited to the United States by the highly partisan Bangladesh expatriate community in this country, said in a gathering of Bangladeshis in New York that democracy, nationalism, socialism and secularism have been made the 4 principles of state policy in the Bangladesh Constitution on the advice of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru! I was not reading seriously and was casually flipping the Weekly’s pages. When I realized what I was reading, I had to read it again to make sure I was not dreaming. Pandit Nehru died in 1964 and Bangladesh became independent in 1971.
I have been a student of Political Science in Dhaka University in the 1960s and also taught the subject there. The subject that I read and taught required that I read whatever was available on politics, particularly on history of the movement for Pakistan and Bangladesh. I did not lose my interest in politics and history through my long diplomatic career. The news drew my curiosity and attention because it was the first time that I came upon such an astounding story.
The story was dated when Pandit Nehru was the Prime Minister of India. According to what the visitor said as reported in the weekly, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Manik Miah met Shashankha Banarjee, an Indian diplomat then posted in Dhaka and gave him a letter addressed to the Indian Prime Minister from Manik Miah (!!) seeking Indian help for creating the independent state of Bangladesh. The story was datelined sometime in 1962.
It was proposed in the letter that Sheikh Mujib would go to London and declare independence of Bangladesh from there in March, 1963(!!). Sheikh Mujib became impatient when the letter was unanswered because he was convinced that he needed India’s assistance to liberate Bangladesh. He thus went to Agartala and contacted the Indian Prime Minister through the Chief Minister of the province. The visitor, who happens to be a Dhaka University history teacher, did not mention what happened between 1962 and 1968 or about the plan to declare independence of Bangladesh from London. He went on to say nevertheless that because of the trip to Agartala, the Pakistanis brought the Agartala conspiracy case against Sheikh Mujib although according to him, Sheikh Mujib was not deeply involved in that case.
The visitor however indicated that Sheikh Mujib eventually received an answer to his letter from Pandit Nehru. He did not mention when exactly Jawaharlal Nehru wrote that letter to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Nevertheless, he gave some details of the letter. Jawaharlal Nehru “advised” Sheikh Mujib to wait for that day for India’s support when millions would stand behind him for his movement for the independence of Bangladesh. When exactly Pandit Nehru advised Sheikh Mujibur Rahman about the state principles was not clear. The visitor simply claimed that the four state principles have found their way in our constitution because of the advice of Pandit Nehru to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The incredible story that he narrated to his New York audience was based on a book written by an Indian diplomat who supposedly had the meeting in Dhaka with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Manik Miah. As further evidence, the Bangladeshi visitor said that a nephew of Sheikh Mujib corroborated the script of the Indian diplomat in a book he wrote. Jawaharlal Nehru’s connection with Bangladesh and his recommendation to Sheikh Mujib on the state principles of a future state of Bangladesh are based on these two sources!
The weekly’s news had me scratching why someone would make up such an absurd story. Anyone with any sense of Bangladesh’s history would dismiss it as absurd for many reasons. In 1962, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, our deepest respect for him notwithstanding, was a provincial leader. He had not by then emerged as the great leader that he ultimately became in the late 1960s. He may have written the letter to Pandit Nehru but why would the Indian Prime Minister answer that letter from a provincial leader? Cleary the visitor has exposed his ignorance about the rudiments of how states such as India conduct diplomacy.
Even if one accepted that the letter from Sheikh Mujib eventually reached the Indian Prime Minister, why would he answer it? In one applied common sense, the answer is a simple one. Unless for some brief moment Pandit Nehru had lost sanity, he had no business even in attaching any importance to Sheikh Mujib’s letter, let alone answer to it. If Sheikh Mujib’s letter would have interested him in anyway, he would have asked someone way down the political ladder to answer it.
There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of the visitor in his respect and love for Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. His intentions were also no doubt genuine, to project Sheikh Mujib as a great man and a great leader. Unfortunately, he picked upon a fiction with too many wrong plots to harm Sheikh Mujib’s claims to greatness instead of enhancing it. He has raised a host of legal issues that, if correct, would project Sheikh Mujib exactly as the Pakistanis would like; that he was trying to break up Pakistan by means that were illegal as early as 1962. It would only strengthen and justify Pakistan Government’s accusations and actions against Sheikh Mujib.
Sheikh Mujib was a great democratic leader who fought for the rights of Bengalis by constitutional means till he was left with no alternatives by the Pakistanis for constitutional negotiations anymore following the crackdown of March 25, 1971. Even on March 7 when there was under great pressure for UDI (unilateral declaration of independence), he resisted and delivered a speech that alone should place him among the great leaders of modern history. Had he declared UDI that day, he would have given the Pakistanis the opportunity to crack down and still not be blamed for whatever action they would have taken. In the period when this plot was said to have been conceived, any attempt to break a country by any means was unacceptable. Right of self determination then was worth no more than lip service up front and cracked down under the principle of territorial integrity of a country that was simply sacrosanct with brute force if need be. That was what happened to the attempt by the Biafrans.
It was the waiting game that Sheikh Mujib played that forced the hands of the Pakistanis leading them to commit crimes against humanity. That is what gave the Bangladesh movement the great stamp of legitimacy and won for Sheikh Mujib instant recognition as a great leader and statesman and the Bangladesh movement for liberation, instant support of peoples all over the world. Earlier of course Sheikh Mujib had won the national elections of November, 1970 comprehensively emerging as the unquestioned leader in the then East Pakistan. Even then, because the emergence of Bangladesh threatened to legitimize secession, except for India and the Soviet Union, at the government level, our war of liberation did not receive support anywhere.
Many in Bangladesh love and respect Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as a great nationalist leader. They also feel proud that under his leadership the people of Bangladesh rose and liberated the country through the glorious liberation war in which military leadership was given by heroes like Ziaur Rahman who announced the independence of Bangladesh once the Pakistanis incarcerated Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. To be told now that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had approached India in 1962 for liberating Bangladesh destroys his credentials as a nationalist leader and shows him as a conspirator. It also casts shadow on our glorious war of liberation in which our brave freedom fighters showed the world that we were more than capable of earning our liberation on our own.
India of course supported our liberation war for its own interests. Today it has a benign neighbour in Bangladesh instead of a nuclear Pakistan. It is the importance of that India in Bangladesh’s history and politics that the visitor has tried to propagate by giving Pandit Nehru the credit for our state principles. Unfortunately here too, he ended by humiliating him and India by showing that as early as 1962, India was actively engaged in breaking Pakistan that is not going to do the image of the great Indian leader any good.
Panditji was the great leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, propagating to the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America the principles of peaceful co-existence. In fact, with China, he had established the Five Principle of Peaceful Co-existence or Panchasheela, of which the first and the third principles specifically prohibited any country from interfering in the internal affairs of another country.
The Bangladeshi visitor has shown Panditji as a leader who said one thing in public and practiced the opposite in reality; the very contrast of the principles of Panchasheela with which he found for himself a place in history. Of course, Panditji remains a great leader of his times who would do nothing like what was attributed to him. It was the Bangladeshi visitor’s misrepresentation of history with intentions that do not appear to be honest that has placed doubts on the impeccable credentials of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
The visitor left me convinced by what he said that his intention was primarily to project India and its importance to Bangladesh. He is not alone in trying to do what he did in New York. There are quite a few of our compatriots who try to make us believe that India is a great country and that it was a mistake that we have made in opting out of it in 1947. I have no doubt about India’s greatness. In fact, since 1947, India has become even greater and more powerful. However, for those who try to give this twist to our history, the facts need to be recounted. Pakistan was created in 1947 primarily because of the support of Bengal. In fact without Bengal’s support, Pakistan would not have seen the light of day. It is one of the ironies of history that Pakistan remains in the hands of those who opposed its creation in 1947 and was discarded by those who created it.
It is regrettable that the Pakistani leaders twisted the contributions of Bengal and instead treated us with contempt even to the extent of trying to impose the minority Urdu language over the majority Bengali language of Pakistan together with imposing on us a neo-colonial style of governance. That failure of the Pakistani leadership gave the cause of Bengali nationalism its greatest impetus. However, these facts are in no way any indication that we would have been better off without the partition of 1947. If the 1947 partition had not occurred, we would have remained no better than Paschim Bangla (PB) that is now one of the weakest of India’s provinces.
In fact, if India had not been portioned in 1947, we would have been weaker than PB and in the same bracket as the seven impoverished provinces of India in its northeast. Instead we are today a sovereign country with a GDP over US$ 100 billion and over 8 million of our people living abroad and a future that could have been immensely better than what it is had our political house been in order. But as it is unquestionably better than it would have been without the 1947 partition. Besides, we are free which is priceless! To understand and appreciate this freedom, we need to take a look at the status of Muslims in India. In PB, Trinamool came to power after 3 decades of Communist rule with the support of the Muslim vote. Although Muslims makeup 33% of the population of PB, their representation in government jobs was less than 3% before the elections that brought Trinamool to power. The Trinamool has been in power for nearly a year with no good news yet for the Muslims of PB. Instead its Chief Minister has come in the way of Bangladesh’s legitimate interests from India.
The Bangladeshi community in the US is now close to a million. A lot of them are doing exceptionally well in their adopted country. In places such as New York they are emerging as a community with leverage in both state and national politics. None of them are ever going to return to Bangladesh to live again. It is good that they love Bangladesh but the same cannot be said of their inclination to bring visitors such as the one on whose controversial statement I have written this piece. They come and spread the same venom that they spread within the country to keep the community from realizing the vast potentials that it has in USA. The Bangladeshi expatriates should consider spending more time if it is politics they are interested in for politics of their adopted country instead of wasting it on politics of Bangladesh. No other expatriate community in the USA or anywhere else does that.