Monday, November 26, 2012

The Unfinished Memoirs of a Complete Past!

Book Review: Non-fiction/The Unfinished Memoirs by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Penguin/Viking, 323 pp; Rs699 (Hardback)
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s diaries, on a very important phase of twentieth century, came into the light in 2004 and now have been compiled as a book in the English. These memoirs were written during the prison days of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, when he was a state prisoner in the epochmaking years: 1967-1969. His autobiography begins with him recalling his days as a student activist during the movement, aimed for the creation of Pakistan in the early 1940’s. Further, the book covers his experiences of the Bengali language movement, besides offering new insights on the initial struggle of the Bangladeshi independence movement and self-rule. The major events and political planks up to the time of struggle for democratic rights in 1955 are given prominence in Mujib’s memoirs.

His notebooks have some remarkable details and it is hardly surprising since he was catalyst behind the birth of Bangladesh. His autobiography, though doesn’t enable a reader to judge the status of his convictions but at a different level, gives enough space to introspect those early conditions that came into existence after the creation of Pakistan and not very lately, with the birth of another nation-Bangladesh. Troubled and impatient, yet that was a very interesting timeframe in the Indian subcontinent. Mujib’s autobiography, remotely distant from any soft ends, leads to the unusually abnormal past that affected the geography and psyche of south Asia.

Though compelled by bitter circumstances, patriots of highest order were not less accountable for carrying out the procession of partition. Indeed, Pakistan was born as the outcome of those unfortunate tussles, but the creation of Bangladesh, was more the result of Muslim League’s failure to live up to Jinnah’s dream of ‘working democracy’, than any other factors. This book establishes some vital facts, such as, why more than India’s role, the idea of Bangladesh materialised under the unrelenting failures of Muslim League’s leadership which maintained ‘disconnect’ with the people of East Bengal for long time.

The top Muslim League leaders were appearing more as the representatives of the party than people. Institutionally, democracy was functional in Pakistan, since it became a nation state but its liberal attributes were missing and that caused impractical maneuverings on socio-political fronts. Later on things went the wrong way and progresses were not as normal as desired. Shockingly, a leading Muslim League leader, Liaquat Ali Khan, was too not ready in any case to accept the existence of other parties, apart from Muslim League-his speech underlines it more clearly…
“I have always said, rather it has always been my firm belief, that the existence of the League, not only the existence of the League, but its strength is equal to the existence and strength of Pakistan. So far as I am concerned, I had decided at the very beginning, and reaffirm it today, that I have always considered myself the Prime Minister of the League. I never regarded myself as the Prime Minister chosen by the members of the Constituent Assembly.” (Page-144)

And from the opposite side, Suharawardy and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was not less vocal towards the chasm, the new nation was running with. This statement of Mujibur Rahman highlights the geographical/cultural divide Pakistan affronted those days…
“I am from East Bengal, a land where one can go through an entire winter with only a light blanket. Here you have to wear layer upon layer of warm clothes and wrap yourself in blanket after blanket. And yet it is so cold that sleep evades you despite the layers of clothes and the blankets!” (Page-149)

In its part, the Muslim League leaders failed to understand the repercussion posed in downsizing the leadership from East Bengal, on which, the discomfort was being felt by culturally distinct and much reserve natured Bengali speaking population. Most surprisingly, Jinnah too was unaware of the truth, holding that Pakistan’s way ahead was not rosy and as easy, thought out by few in high degree of complacency. More than an assumption, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman got the political height in ‘isolation’ that the Islamabad’s bureaucratic machinery allowed him in unmindful.

Post 1947, the whole political processes were being controlled by the distorted aspirations of political elites. Then in Pakistan-two nations were making strides. Marginalization of real issues for the deviant political policies harmed in general and caused for the condition that led to the brutal partition and immense shock to the people at both sides of the border. Later, similar fear haunted in 1971, when hawkish situation again made people the easiest target of irrational power play.The birth of Bangladesh happened under the ‘guise of cultural isolation’ of East Bengal’s population, but the real reasons were more political.

This was clear to few, as the euphoria was at sky high and Mujib had so far established himself an unchallengeable authority in Bangladesh. But his edge couldn’t sustain for long. Though initially, Mujib received an unprecedented response on his call to move for the economic freedom by uniting the entire nation. The economy picked up rapidly. Production increased substantially. The prices of essential came down sharply. With greater hope, the new conditions for inclusive growth were near the reality but all ended shortly!

On 25January 1975, the country switched to the Presidential system of government and as expected, Mujib took over the charge as first President of Bangladesh. But not very late, in August 1975, he was assassinated in Dhaka along with his family (barring two daughters)-that immediately caused for Martial law in the country. The basic democratic rights were withheld. Thereafter, the politics of killing, camps and conspiracy were revitalized. Nine years later, almost similar scene was replicated in India too after the assassination of Indira Gandhi-in both the countries, innocents’ people were seen at margin in those ugly days, on the wake of violent reprisals from authority!

With straight talking and revelations, an autobiography makes its place prominently established. This book broadly qualifies in that category with its less ‘conformist’ stand-it allows readers to engage on the pages without any epistemological load. In simple words, Mujib’s biography tells the history of making of a nation, not of farce.

In the wish lists of serious readers on modern south Asian history, any miraculous turn out of Nehru and Jinnah’s hidden autobiographies would make the picture of regional politics much comprehensive than it has been over the decades with feeble documentary sources. More than the technicalities of wardrobe, theirs descendant can produce anything ‘exclusive’ on the passed fate of subcontinental history!

Atul Kumar Thakur
(Published in The Kashmir Monitor, dated on November11th, 2012)

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