By S. M. Hali
The recent publication of The Unfinished Memoirs of Bengali leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as his autobiography "Ausamapta Atmajiboni" in Bengali language and translated into English by Fakrul Alam have rekindled the scars of the secession of East Pakistan. Some Pakistani journalists have become enamoured by the Sheikh’s version of history and are castigating Pakistani leadership for its alleged misdeeds, without delving deeper to seek the truth. As a student of history, having been a virtual witness to the events that took place in erstwhile East Pakistan and having suffered personal losses, this scribe too has a right to present my two cents’ worth.
The discovery of the unfinished memoirs is also an interesting coincidence. Reportedly, Sheikh Mujib, a student leader in 1947 and an ardent follower of one of the stalwarts of the Pakistan Movement and Pakistan’s fifth Prime Minister Husyen Shaheed Suhrawardy, started writing his autobiography in his notebooks during his sojourns in jail as a state prisoner between 1967 and 1969. He suffered incarceration for conspiring with India to dismember Pakistan. Reportedly, Mujib gave the notebooks to his trusted compatriot Sheikh Fazlul Haq Moni to prepare a typed copy. Ironically, after the assassination of Sheikh Mujib and Moni, the notebooks slid in oblivion and remained so until one of his relatives discovered four notebooks in a drawer of Sheikh Moni in 2004. By then, the notebooks' pages became discolored and brittle. In his memoirs, Mujib has narrated his ancestry, birth and childhood, days in school and college, and social and political involvements. The book recounts historical events witnessed by Sheikh Mujib – famine, communal riots in Kolkata and Bihar, partition, politics of Kolkata-centric State Muslim Student League and Muslim League and description of Pakistani officials’ discriminatory attitude and his version of the Agartala conspiracy.
Many Pakistani journalists are taken in by Mujib’s participation in the Pakistan Movement. It is a historical fact that Bengali Muslims were in the forefront of the struggle for Pakistan. At a later stage some of them became disgruntled with the highhanded attitude of West Pakistani leadership and bureaucrats posted to erstwhile East Pakistan, who used to treat it like a colony, while maintaining an uppity manner. The declaration of Urdu as the only official language of Pakistan in 1948 was an unjust decision and most Bengalis reacted violently to it with a volatile Sheikh Mujib in the vanguard. While more mature Bengali leaders were willing to discuss the parity rights of East Pakistanis with their West Pakistani counterparts in a civilized manner, Sheikh Mujib adopted the path of surreptitious plotting and conspiratorial machination in collaboration with Pakistan’s arch enemy and nemesis India. Mujib has conveniently omitted from his “unfinished memoirs” his surreptitious visit to Agartala on a Top Secret mission to meet Indian co-conspirators on 5 February, 1962. This fact is corroborated by a diary note endorsed by Khowai SDO Smarajit Chakravarty who wrote on the same date: “Today at about 1300 hrs one Mr. Mujibur Rahaman, Amir Hussain & T Choudhury arrived through Asharambari. They have been sent to Teliamura under instruction from D.M”. This essential piece of evidence, the missing link in the Agartala Conspiracy case has belatedly been provided by Manas Pal, in his Op-Ed titled ‘A Diary Note On Mujibur Rahman’’, published in Agartala’s daily Bengal Newz of November 5, 2012. The article also includes a scanned copy of the diary enclosure depicting the incriminating evidence.
The Sheikh has also excluded the fact that his mentor Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy had formed the Awami Muslim League in East Pakistan but after the demise of Mr. Suhrawardy, the Sheikh decided to break away from his guru Suhrawardy’s anti-Communist preaching and adopt socialism as his path and also drop the word “Muslim” from the party’s title.
Mujib’s objection to his province being labeled “East Pakistan” is also a matter of record. During a speech in the assembly on the proposed plan in order to create the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in accordance with the 1956 Constitution, Mujib demanded that the Bengali people's ethnic identity be respected by naming it as “East Bengal”.
Mujib was arrested and tried for the Agartala Conspiracy Case for sedition and attempts to destabilize and dismember Pakistan but despite irrefutable evidence being presented to convict him, the government released him bowing to public pressure in East Pakistan. The Sheikh’s “Six-Point” program was a virtual demand of independence, on its rejection by the government, on December 5, 1969 Mujib made a declaration at a public meeting held to observe the death anniversary of Suhrawardy that henceforth East Pakistan would be called "Bangladesh":
"There was a time when all efforts were made to erase the word "Bangla" from this land and its map. The existence of the word "Bangla" was found nowhere except in the term Bay of Bengal. I announce today that this land will be called "Bangladesh" instead of East Pakistan."
West Pakistani leaders made another grave error by succumbing to doubts regarding the Sheiks integrity and not inviting him to form the government despite his landslide victory at the polls. Mujib called for independence and asked the people to launch a major campaign of civil disobedience and organized armed resistance at a mass gathering of people held at the Race Course Ground in Dhaka:
"The struggle now is the struggle for our emancipation; the struggle now is the struggle for our independence. Joy Bangla!..Since we have given blood, we will give more blood. God-willing, the people of this country will be liberated…Turn every house into a fort. Face (the enemy) with whatever you have.” Bengalis responded by indulging in genocide of West Pakistani troops and non Bengali civilians in hundreds of thousands which was witnessed by my family but the fact has also been corroborated in a number of publications like Sarmila Bose's book "Dead Reckoning". The West Pakistani troops acted in retaliation, which is no excuse.
The matter of Pakistan asking for forgiveness from Bangladesh has been overstretched. Both sides committed mistakes, indulged in mass killing but both should now bury the past and move forward. History however, cannot be selective!