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Mainstream, VOL L, No 1, December 24, 2011 (Annual 2011)

New Stature, New Tasks | Meaning of Mujib

Tuesday 27 December 2011, by Nikhil Chakravartty



Both India and Bangladesh have on December 16 this year befittingly observed and celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the liberation, with New Delhi’s generous and unstinted assistance, of what was known as East Pakistan from the exploitative and oppressive West Pakistani yoke. On this occasion we are carrying two pieces by N.C. that appeared in Mainstream soon after Dhaka’s emancipation from Islamabad’s brutal rule. The first piece appeared as ‘Political Notebook’ and the second one (written after Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s triumphant return to Dhaka after nine months in Pakistani prison) as ‘Editor’s Notebook’.)]

New Stature, New Tasks

It is like the end of a long night for men, women, and children of this country as Bangladesh proclaims her independence from Pakistan’s military junta. The rejoicing is not merely in the feat of arms—though the military defeat of the much-vaunted war machine of Pakistan has brought no little credit to this country’s armed forces, officers and men alike.

What is of abiding value is that this confrontation has demonstrated that democracy in this country has not only come to stay but has strengthened the content of our independence. The spirit of defiance that one could breathe even in the political backwaters of New Delhi as the news of Nixon’s Seventh Fleet steaming up the Bay of Bengal went round, is the measure of the nation’s anti-imperialist consciousness doubly reinforced by recent experience.

What has been uppermost in the minds of many is the contrast provided by this country’s statesmanship in unilaterally offering an immediate ceasefire to Pakistan the moment its forces surrendered in Bangladesh, with the unbalanced ravings of Mr Bhutto on becoming Pakistan’s President, riding on the back of one faction of the same old militry junta. One cannot help noticing how with every round of the ordeal of Bangladesh, the pronouncements of India’s Prime Minister reflected the enriched wisdom of a mature political leadership while with every step in the decline and discredit of the military junta the outbursts of Pakistan’s President betrayed the degeneration of a clique, bereft of democratic support.

All this is not just a passing euphoria, nor is it an irredentist jubilation at the break-up of an unfriendly state next door. What is most conspicuous in the spontaneous feelings of joy at Sonar Bangla achieving her libertion is the sense of triumph that this has been achieved by defeating a military set-up which has been reared over the years by the biggest of imperialist powers and today enjoys the backing of another military power. The fact that this nation can no longer be humiliated into submission by bullying and blackmail is at the very root of the new sense of strength and fulfilment that permeates all segments of public opinion in this country today.

The warmth with which solidarity with Bangladesh is being expressed at the govern-ment as well as the popular level gives the lie to the reactionary communalist propaganda in this country which has tried for decades to spread the anti-Muslim poison. Equally signifi-cant is the repeated declaration by the govern-ment and responsible leaders of democratic opinion that this country harbours no animosity towards Pakistan; the clearest proof of which was provided by the decision not to let the war continue despite the fact that the Indian forces in the west were able to occupy over 4500 square miles of West Pak territory as against less than 200 square miles of Indian territory occupied by the Pak Army in the same sector. It would have been a natural temptation for any military leadership to push ahead and teach the enemy a lesson, particularly when the adversary had been holding out threats to capture Kashmir for over twentyfive years. But a sense of realism coupled with loyalty to democratic norms could be discerned in the fact that it is the leadership of India’s armed forces which has throughout refused to play the hawk in this conflict.

The conspicuous absence of a spirit of jehad on India’s part is in marked contrast to President Bhutto’s intemperate call for revenge and his mulish refusal to recognise that Bangladesh has delinked itself irrevocably from Pakistan. In fact, the process of stabilising the cease-fire line by an armistice to be followed by creating conditions for a durable peace, is obviously hampered by such megalomaniac antics of the head of a state which has not only to lick the wounds of military defeat but to refashion its entire economy with the loss of the very province which was so long fleeced for the benefit of West Pakistan.

The official US position—coupled with Peking’s bellicosity—has been tirelessly trying to help Pakistan by getting whatever concession it could extract even on the question of cease-fire. The fact that it is Pakistan’s President that is now taking up a warlike posture—refusing to learn anything from his predecessor’s fate—does not bother his mentors in Washington and Peking. In essence, the US grouse is against this country for having the impudence to flout its wishes. Mr Nixon’s pettyfogging reply to Smt Gandhi’s letter brings out the contrast in the calibre of leadership at the helm of the two governments.

Herein lies the importance of the present developments over Bangladesh. The very force which could drive out British imperialism from this country has once again emerged with all the glory of resurgence against the US imperialism today. And this is not confined to the question of Bangladesh alone.

The refusal to devalue the rupee in the wake of the devaluation of the dollar is a very important political landmark. Although Sri Subramaniam has not changed his spots and is ready to plead for the devaluation of the rupee with the same vehemence with which he did so in 1965, in the company of Sri Asoka Mehta and Sri L.K. Jha, the fact that his writ has not run this time indicates how far this nation and its government have travelled along the road of self-respect in these five years. Of interest should be Lyndon Johnson’s bouquets to Sri Subramaniam for holding similar ideas, as quoted in the former US President’s memoirs.

Another significant development is the current debate that has been going on the question of US aid. The Nixon embargo on economic aid as a pressure move against this country over the Bangladesh question, has boomeranged. There are, of course, pundits in the Finance Ministry and Planning Commission—once again Sri Subramaniam is in their company—who cannot think of any development programme without a generous dose of US aid. But the growing volume of opinion in the government against getting any more US aid—reflected in the Prime Minister’s talk to the Planning Commission this week—is the reflection of the same spirit of independence which refuses to kowtow to the Almighty Dollar. One has only to recall the day when Sri S.K. Patil congratulated himself ten years ago for having secured from Washington the largest quantum of PL-480 bounty. One more indicator to show how far this nation and its government have travelled along the road to economic independence.

At the same time, New Delhi is not unaware of the magnitude of the tasks to be faced. Bangladesh poses a formidable challenge; it is multidimentional, embracing all manner of very sensitive problems from the role of the Indian Army to the long-range question of development programme, the building of the new state’s administrative infrastructure to the evolution of a mutually beneficial trade policy. In all this, Indian expertise and guidance cannot be with-held since it is asked for by a government which regards New Delhi as its friend in need.

From the Marwari businessmen in Calcutta to the Big Business interests assembled in the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in New Delhi, are all calculating their investment prospects in Bangladesh. It will be necessary for the Government of India to take a firm stand against private sector spoiling national assets in terms of political goodwill in Bangladesh.

In the national sphere, New Delhi has to chalk out concrete measures for the country’s economic development. The mid-term appraisal of the Fourth Plan, due to be released shortly, brings into sharp relief the tasks ahead if the objective of growth with social justice is to be realised. The minimum programme chalked out at Bangalore in 1969—which marked the parting of ways between the Syndicate and the present leadership of the Congress—is yet to be realised.

The excitement of coming elections to the State Assemblies by next March, can no longer be used as an alibi for urgently required concrete steps to put the economy into the right gear.

The experience of Bangladesh has also been a tremendous education in the handling of foreign policy on New Delhi’s part. Here too a sense of realism pervades which is a sign of self-confidence as also of maturity in understanding. The massive vote in the UN General Assembly on the Bangladesh crisis has neither unnerved nor angered this country’s policy planners. It is realised that much more of spade work has to be done to bring home to the Afro-Asian nations about the significance of Bangladesh. It is this realisation that has led the Foreign Minister himself to spend a long period in the UN, and he has taken along with him two of the most distinguished intellectuals in this country from among the Muslim community—no doubt to effectively counteract Pakistan’s propaganda in the Arab countries which do not seem to have registered the fact that Bangladesh has the largest Muslim population in the world, next to Indonesia.

A conspicuous development is the manifestation of Anglo-American contradictions over Bangladesh, which New Delhi is not only aware of but is capable of using in a positive direction.

An important region with potentialities of closer understanding and economic ties for this country is Latin America. It is worth noting that two countries with the most significant developments to their credit in recent times—Cuba and Chile—have demonstrated their positive under-standing with regard to the Bangladesh developments.

Few will deny the strengthening of India’s relations with the socialist world as a result of the Bangladesh crisis. Even the most conservative elements in Parliament have come out with unequivocal appreciation of the Soviet Union’s support for India, and equally widespread is the praise for other members of the socialist world which have stood by India.

Apart from Peking’s aberration, what is intriguing, however, is the stand of Rumania and Yugoslavia; both, it is to be noted, have recently taken up a pro-Peking posture in contrast to their cooling off towards Moscow. Belgrade’s position has no doubt annoyed New Delhi, particularly after Marshal Tito’s recent visit to this country when he expressed his support for India’s stand with regard to Bangladesh. The subseqent Yugoslav explanation that its stand in the UN is largely guided by its own difficulties with regard to Croatia has carried little conviction in New Delhi; rather, the fact that Belgrade is under the double pressure of Washington and Peking explains its strange posture with regard to Bangladesh.

As for Bucharest, there was hardly any illusion in New Delhi about its attitude towards Bangladesh after President Giri’s encounter with the Rumanian President during the Persepolis celebrations in October. The impression has strengthened since then that in its present acrobatics as the go-between for Washington and Peking, Bucharest can hardly be expected to annoy either over any issue affecting Pakistan.

On the whole, there is no feeling of pessimism in New Delhi with regard to its foreign policy, nor is there any isolationist trend, just because many countries in the Afro-Asian world have yet to understand the significance of Bangladesh. Rather, New Delhi has taken this up as a challenge, and there is litle doubt that in the months to come, this inadequacy will be overcome as Bangladesh herself proclaims her will to live and grow in friendship with India.

The sense of pride and glory is invested with a new sense of responsibility as the nation comes to the end of a momentous year which opened with the excitement of a massive election victory for Indira Gandhi, and is about to close with the elation over the liberation of Bangladesh.

(Mainstream, December 25, 1971)

Meaning of Mujib

When Dacca, in the grip of an unprecedented mass upsurge on the triumphant home coming of Bangabandhu, heard lakhs of voices spontaneously calling for “Joi Indira Gandhi”, it was not only an expression of well-deserved personal tribute to the Prime Minister of India for all that she has done for the libertion of Bangla-desh and for the freedom of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It was much more significant: a memo-rable landmark in India’s contribution towards the building of a better world of peace, freedom and democracy in Asia.

It was this time last year when the Indira Government’s critics—not only outside her party but quite a few inside it—used to say that our standing in the world abroad had gone down, that we had made no advance worth the name in redeeming our prestige in foreign affairs while other countries from Japan to West Germany had gone far ahead. Such carping criticisms formed part of the Right Opposition’s platform in the mid-term parliamentary poll campaign, while the Left Opposition attacked the government for being weak-kneed in standing up to the US imperialist offensive particularly in Asia.

Today, such prophets have turned out to be empty-headed pundits oiut of tune with the emerging reality in the Indian scene which Smt Gandhi and her team have correctly assessed and accelerated its advance. It is because they have been able to detect the mass mood for radical move forward that they have scored phenomenal success both at home and abroad. There is a common link between the expulsion of the Syndicate from the Congress, the nationalisation of the banks and the amendments of the Constitution, on the one hand, and the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty, the diplomatic recognition of Hanoi and the liberation of Bangladesh, on the other. All the outstanding events of the last three years can be pieced together to form a coherent pattern of radical advance; but if any of these is taken in isolation, one is bound to either get stuck in doctrinaire sectrianism or land in idealised optimism.

Smt Gandhi’s claim that the three promises made by her government—help in the liberation of Bangladesh, ensuring the return of one crore refugees in self-respect and security, and get Sheikh Mujib released from captivity—have been redeemed, provided eloquent testimony to the newly gathered strength of India’s democracy wedded to non-alignment. In contrast, the dictatorial regime based on US-propped military blocs today presents the sorry spectacle of a state, the majority of whose population has opted out into freedom.

India’s pride and glory lies not in humiliating the people of Pakistan but in helping in the birth of a new nation-state in Asia, liberated from the heels of militry dictatorship and broken away from war blocs sponsored by US imperialism. It is a significant commentary of the fast growing radicalism in this part of the world that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who in the fifties did not demur at Pakistan continuing in the CENTO and SEATO, has today led his people to victory over those very forces reared by the military-bloc policy inside Pakistan, and has pledged himself to the ideals of democracy, secularism and socialism.

IF the journey so far has been strenuous though rewarding, the road ahead promises to be no less uphill, but the prospect beckons us to the challenges that only a great nation has the privilege to take up.

New Delhi will have to create new norms of mutual cooperation and assistance which will reinforce the present bond of solidarity forged through the struggle for liberation. By the time Bangabandhu touched down on Sonar Bangla, the first step towards the evolution of this new relationship was already taken during the very fruitful talks that Bangladesh Foreign Minister Janab Samad had with different Ministries and experts in New Delhi. The joint communique at the end of the talks opens up new vistas of cooperation in different spheres. Almost simulta-neously has come the relaxation of restrictions on trade in many items, while India has offered supply of crude for Bangladesh’s refinery requirement. Already exploratory talks have started on joint projects of mutual benefit. In other words, the realisation is evident in New Delhi that a strong and viable economy in Bangladesh will benefit this country in cooperation and mutual advance.

The struggle for independence in Bangladesh has brought a new dimension in the outlook and attitude of India’s armed forces. In the British days, the Indian soldier had to fight Britain’s imperial wars; even in the later stages of the Second World War when the struggle against fascist conquest of many countries brought a new content into the war itself, the perspective of freedom was kept back from India’s armed forces under British command. After Independence, the jawan was invested with the responsibility of defending the country’s frontiers and he did it with dedication even when the brass let him down as in 1962 at the time of the Chinese attack. But this time in Bangladesh, India’s jawan has emerged in the new role of a liberator and he has earned his spurs as men and women in Bangladesh, from Bangabandhu downwards, offer him their gratitude and affection.

This metamorphosis of the Indian soldiers in thirty years from a mercenary under an imperial master to a fraternal liberator of a friendly neighbour struggling to be free, provides one more proof of the new reality in world politics today which injects radical content into the traditional institutions of a bygone age. Those who assess developments by looking at the form without scrutinising the content, miss the revolution that is on despite all the profundities of paper revolutionism that they claim for themselves.

BANGLADESH’S liberation has provided an acid test of statesmanship for many powers in the world. It was the USA which had kept Pakistan as its own preserve for two long decades. While rearing up the military junta in West Pakistan, it tried to extend its tentacles over the political elite in the eastern wing. In fact, there was no conspicuous sign of bitterness against US agencies in East Bengal even up to the time of Yahya’s crack-down on democratic forces on March 25.

But through its own misdoings Washington has today lost its political standing at Dacca. The Kissinger strategy has practically lost for Nixon the entire state of Bangladesh. It is not just a coincidence that the Seventh Fleet’s Enterprise turned its course back into the Pacific Ocean the very day Sheikh Mujib set foot on independent Sonar Bangla. The crisis of the US global policy is writ large from Vietnam to Pakistan despite the billions of dollars spent on arms and aid by policymakers in Washington. In these ten months what Nixon has been able to achieve in this subcontinent is a major debacle of US policy with the crack-up of Pakistan, coupled with the strengthening of Moscow’s standing not only in this country through the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty but in Bangladesh as well through the active appreciation of the positive content of the liberation struggle.

With regard to India, the slump in American statesmanship is nowhere more sharply brought out than in the diplomatic exchnges during this crisis; and it is to be noted that the diplomatic exchanges often provide a very good touchstone for a government’s capacity for statesmanship. One conspicuous example will bear this out: Smt Gandhi’s letter to Nixon during the Indo-Pak conflict in December bears the imprint of maturity in statesmanship unruffled by the blatantly anti-India posture of the Nixon Administration. In contrast, Nixon’s reactions have the hallmark of cowboy politics, as shown in his reply and more sharply in the Anderson exposures of Kissinger’s intrigues.

It is an irony of history that Peking which has been tirelessly proclaiming its claim as the sole guardian of all liberation struggles in all the continents today, came out as the ardent champion of Yahya Khan’s bloodthirsty hordes and vied with the USA in the United Nations to denounce the Bangladesh liberation struggle and to condemn India for supporting that struggle. The consequence of Peking’s policy today has been that its political foothold in Bangladesh has practically been liquidated and it will not be easy for it to get over the wall of bitter misunderstanding which is its own making.

In this case also New Delhi has displayed a sense of rare statesmanship. Not only did it restrain the temptation of matching invectives with counter-invectives—which is both easy and natural to indulge in—but it never ceased to appeal to the dictates of reason and sense of good neighbourliness. Against the vitriolic outpourings of the Chinese delegation in the United Nations, Smt Gandhi did not hesitate to appeal to Mr Chou En-lai to exercise his undoubted influence over Islamabad to restrain it from the mad venture of war. If the Chinese Premier has not cared to reply, New Delhi had nothing to lose but a lot to gain when today’s momentous developments would be assessed tomorrow in their proper perspective.

SHEIKH MUJIBUR RAHMAN faces today perhaps the biggest challenge in his eventful political career. His phenomenal mass popularity will itself demand of him the capacity for handling multi-dimensional problems which few leaders in the world have to face. While his own people will expect him to lead them on to new heights of success in rebuilding a shattered nation, the magnitude of the problems themselves can over-power men of ordinary mould.

Bangladesh as a nation today is united as never before, and this granite unity will have to face attacks, both open and clandestine, from the agents of the Right and organs of the ultra-Left; sometimes the forces of the Right will put on the mantle of revolutionaries. All this calls Banga-bandhu to a battle which is no less formidable than the one waged to overthrow the Pak military rule. Some may argue openly—or question in whispers—if Sheikh Mujib will be able to stand up to this mighty challenge. No doubt it will be a folly to be carried away by the euphoria of today; there are many precedents in history when leaders have lost their charisma much faster than they have acquired it.

But the one single guarantee of Bangabandhu riding the storm ahead is his capacity to move with the masses: they are not only his friends but his master as well. Nearer home, we have to take into account the phenomenon of Indira Gandhi to understand the meaning of Mujib. Five years ago, nobody in this country could believe that she would earn for herself the place in history that she has today. This has been possible for her to achieve because learning from the reserses of her first year in office, she has been trying to reflect the radical urges of the awakened masses in this country. In the same way, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman can reach new heights of glory as he will constantly endeavour to translate the radical expectations of his people into an abiding reality.

The makers of history are in their turn made by the awakened masses that throw them up.

(Mainstream, January 15, 1972)

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