By Farooque Chowdhury
A People Brutalised By A Neo-Colonial State
A PEOPLE’S life dispossessed, plundered and brutalised by the neo-colonial state of Pakistan rekindled the spirit of liberation among the daughters and sons of the soil — Bangladesh.
The period — 1947-1971 — in East Pakistan, the eastern wing of Pakistan, today’s Bangladesh, was signed by all acts the ruling elites in a neo-colonial state carry on within its capacity: attempts to snatch away identity of the Bengali people; injustice; muzzling down of aspirations, dreams and voice; disparity; repression and killing; pauperisation of the majority and fattening of a few; non-representative government and mal-governance.
Pakistan was made a stepping stone for imperialists. The country was made to join imperial war efforts as it was entangled into CENTO (Central Treaty Organisation, initially Baghdad Pact) and SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation).
The state tried to snatch away the language of the Bengali people and the alphabets the people use. It attempted to change culture of the people. It even tried to stop singing a type of songs — songs by Rabindranath Tagore — by the Bangladesh people as the state considered Tagore as Hindu. The state even changed wordings in poems and songs by Nazrul Islam, the poet considered a rebel and imprisoned by the British colonial masters. The word Shamshan, crematorium ground of the Hindu community, in Nazrul’s poem was replaced by the word gorostan, graveyard used by Muslims. Curricula at pre-secondary and secondary levels were remodelled.
These designs and acts, Lilliputian in terms of historical process and contradictions in a society, available to the rulers were the acts within the capacity of an immature, inefficient, corrupt ruling elite group armed with the most reactionary and backward ideas and concepts and backed by its imperialist masters.
All spirit of the Bangladesh people were censored and shackled by the state, and the people essentially lost their voice and found all parts of their life encroached by the profiteering interests that controlled the state. Only the interests of the minority social classes dominating the state prevailed.
The Pakistan state was always at dagger’s point with the Bangladesh people, and the people found no other way but to unfurl the flag of rebellion as people’s spirit everywhere in the world is indomitable throughout all ages and eras.
The ruling elites’ power of Farman, diktat, was actually a force—a savage economic and political force—that was only capable of plundering, and creating disparity and dispossession. ‘Directly the system [the Pakistan state] worked to divert the major part of revenue and development resources to West Pakistan [the western wing of the country at that period, now the wing is Pakistan]. In the two decades between 1950 and 1970 Rs. [Rupee, the Pakistan currency] 113,340 million was spent in West Pakistan on revenue and development account compared to Rs 43,400 million in the East Wing. This put the East Wing’s share at 28 per cent of total expenditure. Of the total net inflow of external resources in the way of grants and loans as between 1948-49 to [sic] 1968-69 of Rs. 65,070 million, the East Wing’s share was Rs. 19,333 million or 30 per cent. This pattern of development and external resources flow implied a measure of direct surplus extraction from Bangladesh of Rs. 15,310 million in these two decades and Rs. 31,120 million if one assumes that East Pakistan should have got a share of foreign assistance based on its population size’ (Rehman Sobhan and Muzaffer Ahmed, Public Enterprises in an Intermediate Regime, A Study in the Political Economy of Bangladesh, BIDS, 1980).
Documents and census and survey reports of the state display more facts of disparity.
These were exclusions, and the act of exclusion was made in the case of the majority of the citizens — the Bengalis — by the state. That was, inversely, the limit of power of the neo-ruling elites with limited capacity to co-opt. It, a fundamental weakness, was a contradiction that the state and the elites that owned the state machine failed to resolve, and the fundamental weakness originated in the class character of the ruling elites.
A ‘Peaceful Revolution’ By an Armed Force
NO ONE, but the members of the ruling elites exposed their slouch appearance. ‘For the last two years,’ Major General Iskander Mirza, the first president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, said on October 7, 1958, ‘I have been watching, with deepest anxiety, the ruthless struggle for power, corruption, the shameful exploitation of our simple, honest, patriotic and industrious masses, the lack of decorum, and the prostitution of [Mirza here mentioned the name of the religion practiced by the majority of the population, which is omitted in this article to minimise scope for distortion by certain quarters] for political ends’ (Proclamation, October 7, 1958).
His proclamation ‘suggested’: ‘[T]he country must first be taken to sanity by a peaceful revolution’ as the constitution of the country was ‘full of dangerous compromises so that Pakistan will disintegrate internally if the inherent malaise is not removed.’
It turned out, from Mirza’s proclamation, that the country went insane. Actually, it was not the country, but the ruling elites’ way of handling governance that was synonymous to ‘going insane’ — incompetence, indiscipline, etc that was not helpful to exploit and rule the people, and the rulers failed to remove ‘the inherent malaise’.
Mirza’s, actually of a part of the ruling elites, ‘peaceful revolution’ was done with the brute force of martial law that abrogated constitution, dissolved national and provincial legislative assemblies and abolished all political parties. The political process of martial law replaced the political process carried out with those abrogated, dissolved and abolished organs/tools/mechanism/arrangement [not specifically identified in this article] of rule.
Prior to the ‘revolutionary’ act, realignment within the ruling elites occurred to forcefully impose the ‘peaceful revolution’ as the elites were failing to carry on their rule with the existing political process, etc.
Within weeks, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the highest court of law of the country, extended legal sanction to the absolute power of ‘peaceful revolution’ made by martial law as the usurpation of state power by a group of self-appointed persons was a political process of a part of the ruling elites with an appearance of strength, but weak inside, which was a limitation the ruling classes were carrying.
Within days, General Ayub replaced Mirza, the accuser, the ‘hero’ of abrogation, dissolution and abolition. Proceedings in the military courts initiated by the martial law authorities showed intrigues by and dirty hands of concerned factions among the elites, and the entire episode was an exhibition of the state of the elites.
Political incidents prior to the ‘peaceful revolution’ were no less significant in the state of Pakistan. One example is enough in this article: In a Karachi municipal corporation election, 20 per cent of the electorate, it was shown, voted, and ‘out of these, about fifty per cent were bogus votes’. The claim was made by none but the president of Pakistan (The cited Proclamation by Mirza).
It signifies one aspect of the ruling elites if the assertion is a fact, and signifies other aspects if the claim is a lie. Whatever it is, the incident or/and the claim, as a whole, signify the state and character of political process, institutions, etc of the ruling elites in Pakistan at the period.
A Collapsing State of a Band of Louts
IDENTIFYING elites help understand state of the group/class, and properties in its control help identify it. This is required to ascertain state of rule. One description of the Pakistan ruling elites is enough in this article.
While addressing the Pakistan legislature on January 21, 1956 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman said: ‘Can they prove that Islam means some people working in mills for Rs. 30 per month and other people going around the world squandering people’s money?…. What do we find in Punjab [west Punjab, part of Pakistan], Frontier [north-west frontier part of Pakistan, now renamed] and in Sind? You tour for a whole day and you see the property of one man. Whose property — Talpur’s property; whose property — Daulatana’s property; Mian Iftikharuddin’s [political leaders of the period] property. It is not the property of the man who works on the field; it is not the property of the poor “Musalman”… The rich “Musalman” are going to London and Paris and wasting the money of the people who work whole day… Here the ruling junta and the privileged classes want to keep power intact in their own hands. Can you expect justice in such conditions where the Executive Branch wants to control the Judiciary?’ (Speeches of Sheikh Mujib in Pakistan Parliament (1955-56), Vol. I, compiled by Ziaur Rahman, Hakkani Publishers, Dhaka, March 17, 1990)
Mirza had a few more to add: ‘the masses there [East Pakistan] suffer…’ The major general comments about a group of politicians: ‘The same group of people who have brought Pakistan on the verge of ruination…’ (Proclamation cited above).
Dominance by the Pakistan ruling elites with all forms of their crushing power and force were doing and undoing a lot in the life of the Bangladesh people, in the spheres of economic and political activities the people were carrying out with the dream of a peaceful, democratic, prosperous life.
It was a frustrating output: deprivation and ruination. The people’s endeavour for materialising the dream was turned into a struggle for mere survival in a day-to-day life full of dishonour and indignities as the ruling elites tried to snatch away and demolish the people’s dream. The people were treated as second-class citizens, inferior, incompetent, and coward. But the neo-ruling elites failed.
They failed in another ‘area’: proper handling of contradictions within the economy, society, culture and politics.
With a fool’s dream the neo-rulers had an aggressive attitude towards the Bangladesh people as they denied existence of contradictions that they failed to resolve. Their tool was mechanical in a socioeconomic reality: threat and coercion. It was destined to fail.
But denying of contradictions by a band of palooka doesn’t take away contradictions from socioeconomic reality. Contradictions are indispensable in the reality that encompass class allies and class enemies the leading social segment ‘nourish’, political programme declared and politics implemented, interests upheld and interests trampled, relations in the spheres of production and distribution.
The Pakistan ruling classes and its state were no exceptions. Both were passing through a decaying process. More than half a century ago, it was written: ‘If representative government collapses [in Pakistan], it will be because its legs are not strong enough to sustain its own body’ (Keith Callard, Pakistan, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1957).
Keith has not mentioned the real factors that make the ‘legs’ weak. The contradictions and processes, obviously based on classes, acting against the state were not also identified by Keith. The Pakistani flock of ruling louts also refused to recognise the reality. Their pawky acts turned loutish, a type of act that fails in the world of contradictions.
What’s the identity of the loutish bunch? A part of it was described by Mian Jaffer Shah in the constituent assembly of Pakistan on August 24, 1955: ‘A few ex-servicemen have conspired together to rule the country according to their whims’ (Herbert Feldman, A Constitution for Pakistan, Oxford University Press, 1955). From any angle of view, it was a description of decay.
Bourgeois politics is not free of conspiracies. Politics of compradors, lumpen elites in neo-colonies resort to worst forms of conspiracy, intrigue, betrayal and treachery. It turns barbaric in a number of neo-colonies as the ruling elites there fail to keep the institutions of rule functioning, which were handed down by their colonial masters. Political process in these neo-colonies embraces the same fate. This level of rule can’t properly handle contradictions within its domain.
Pakistan was one in this group of neo-colonies. The state of the rule may appear funny but the fact was: to legitimise rule, at one stage, a part of the ruling elites under the command of Ayub had to resort to whipping gold smugglers. Who knew where was kept the key to legitimisation? Was it in political process and institutions or in whipping?
Democracy, even if it’s democracy of the ruling comprador, lumpen interests, can’t develop in such a reality. It was a historic limitation the neo-rulers were born with. More than half a century ago, Professor William Cantwell Smith in his Modern Islam in History (Princeton University Press, 1957) expressed the possibility of a breakdown of democracy in Pakistan.
Level, way and pattern of ‘behaviour’, deals, etc that show the state of rule of such a state under the command of such ruling elites can’t be a benevolent one in case of a subjugated people. It will not only be notorious, but barbaric, bloody and brutal also.
A People Aspires For A Democratic Life
THIS, the socio-economic-political reality narrated above in extremely summarised form, was part of the ‘incendiary material’ that formed, shaped and reignited the spirit of liberation among the Bangladesh people. ‘The mode of production of material life’, writes Marx, ‘conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, it is their social being that determines their consciousness’ [‘Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’).
The Bangladesh people’s ‘socio, political and intellectual life process in general’ was conditioned by the reality of the neo-colonial state of Pakistan, by the state’s ‘mode of production of material life’ while the ruling elites were waging a war against consciousness of the Bangladesh people.
Moreover, the Bangladesh people come through a long historical period of struggle against colonialism, imperialism and feudalism. But the ruling elites tried to send the Bangladesh people’s experience from its history into oblivion. The ‘adventure’ was futile.
For a better life, a number of demands were constantly raised by the Bangladesh people since shortly after the neo-colonial state of Pakistan was formed. The demands included democracy, equality, justice, socialism, dignity, democratic state and society, democracy in the sphere of economy, fundamental rights, and universal franchise. [These are mentioned here and in the following paragraphs separately despite appearing a repetition, and are not also dissected in this article.]
Demands were also raised for establishment of a new political and economic basis after demolishing colonial political relations and economic system, socialisation of forces of production, abolition of feudalism, reorganisation of agriculture, land to the tillers, equitable distribution of land, industrial revolution, interest free agricultural loan, nationalisation of large industries, banks, insurance companies and jute trade, state-owned and state-controlled basic and key industries, confiscation of imperialist capital in banks, tea plantations and mining.
Demands for just wages for the agricultural workers, minimum/fair living wages, eight-hour working day, improvement of workers’ living standard, decent emolument for teachers, unemployment insurance by the state, trade union rights, democratic rights for women, freedom of belief, safety of minority communities, free food for the destitute, cooperative, eradication of illiteracy, free and compulsory primary education, reorganising urban and rural areas, shelter for slum dwellers, state’s assumption of responsibility of health care in urban and rural areas, free health care for workers, peasantry and the poor, social security scheme, reorganization of corrupt bureaucracy handed down by the colonial masters, eradication of corruption, black marketeering and nepotism were also raised repeatedly.
There were demands to get free from imperial relations, oppose imperialist intervention, opposition to imperialist war efforts and abolition of world imperialist exploitation.
Resolutions adopted at the East Pakistan Activists’ Conference held on September 6-7, 1947, Demands of the Poor People, a pamphlet by Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, manifesto and resolutions adopted at the Rajshahi divisional youth conference (September 1948), draft constitution of the Pakistan Students Rally, address by the president of the East Pakistan Muslim League Activists’ Conference (June 23-24, 1949), Manifesto and 14-point programme of the East Pakistan Youth League, programmes and charter of demands of trade unions, peasant and student organisations/rallies/conferences, and movements by labour, peasantry, teachers and students in Bangladesh organised throughout the Pakistan-period carried the demands and programmes cited above.
Bangladesh political leaders including Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, and the communist party and communist factions were persistently making the demands.
Maulana Bhashani said almost immediately after Pakistan was established: ‘Independence turns meaningless without social equality and economic development for millions of poor, oppressed people. Social equality can never be attained without achieving economic equality. Islamic socialism has to be established in Pakistan by demolishing feudalism and capitalism…. Independence turns worthless to the starving people….We cherish people’s economic emancipation’ (The booklet cited above).
Similarly, Sheikh Mujib in the speech cited above said: ‘If they [the ruling elites] are sincere and honest to Islam, let them give an Islamic constitution based on equity and justice, where equal distribution of wealth is assured.
‘How long will they bluff the people of Pakistan in the name of Islam?… Do they contemplate distributing the wealth of the country to the poor cultivators? ... Distribute the properties… The whole property should be equally distributed… Take their [the elites’] other properties and give it to the masses.’
Parties/groups of communists, at the latter part of the period 1947-71, raised the slogan for an independent people’s democratic East Bengal. With the slogan they had the idea of New Democracy defined by Mao Tse-tung.
A Blood-Stained Verdant Land
‘Tyranny,’ Thomas Paine writes in The Crisis, ‘like hell, is not easily conquered …’ It was not an easy task to challenge the ruling elites of Pakistan. The state machine was well-organised and powerful compared to the Bangladesh people.
But something was rotten in the state of Pakistan. It was destined to disintegrate. Only dumb minds kept hope on it, and dumber minds became followers of the dumb minds, and vowed to save it.
But the ruling elites and their state were incapable to keep the state intact. The game was over long ago. Mindful observers noticed the process of decay in the state, and the night of March 25, 1971 wrote the final verdict on the state: disintegration, death of the Pakistan state spread over two wings.
Boozing Yahya and his scandals while he was conducting his Bangladesh and India wars were simple shows of the decay of the ruling elites. Stories of wine and accessories and Niazi, the general dubbed ‘tiger’ and commanding Pakistan’s war in Bangladesh, are not denied nowadays as the report by the Hamoodur Rahman Commission in Pakistan brought to light criminal conspiracy of Pakistan generals to usurp power, corruption, wine and womanising, atrocity, mass murder and genocide the Pakistan army committed in Bangladesh during the period of March-December, 1971.
It’s impossible to ignore Anthony Mascarenhas’s report ‘Genocide’ (Sunday Times, UK, June 13, 1971): ‘An eyewitness account of a systematic, killing spree at mass level, which was described by Pakistan army officers as the “final solution”.’ ‘Final solution’ sounds Nazi.
Mascarenhas found massacre as he got his ‘first glimpse of the stain of blood which has spread over the otherwise verdant land of East Bengal. … [I]t was massacre, deliberately carried out by the West Pakistan army.’ His report said: ‘The pogrom’s victims are not only the Hindus of East Bengal … but also many thousands of Bengali Muslims. These include university and college students, teachers, Awami League and Left-Wing political cadres and every one the army can catch of the 176,000 Bengali military men and police who mutinied …. What I saw and heard with unbelieving eyes and ears during my 10 days in East Bengal in late April made it terribly clear that the killings are not the isolated acts of military commanders in the field.’
But curious history laughed with its own solution. Two opposite processes, a dialectics it seems, gained momentum in 1971: Disintegration of Pakistan and the rise of independent Bangladesh.
A Class Question and Liberation
LIBERATION, the ages-old yearning of the Bangladesh people, turned concrete. It’s emancipation. By that time, March 1971, it was not an abstract idea.
Liberation is, concretely, liberation from all forms of indignity, fear, tyranny, oppression, exploitation and deficiencies in economic and political life. This makes liberation humane, and this makes liberation part of humanity, and thus opposing liberation turns into opposing humanity.
Thus, the Bangladesh people’s struggle for liberation is part of the world people’s struggle for liberation. Thus the Bangladesh people’s struggle is part of the world humanity’s struggle for emancipation. Thus the Bangladesh people, part of the world humanity, carry forward the world humanity’s struggle for emancipation.
However, class content and politics of classes don’t leave the sphere of liberation and its spirit. The spirit of liberation of a serf was not of a slave, and Robespierre never articulated Roman slaves’ spirit of liberation as it was not possible, and war, as Lenin tells, is a continuation of politics, and economy is expressed in politics. The Bangladesh people’s War for Liberation having its anchor in a society divided into classes doesn’t surpass these facts.
Economy, politics, political organisations, institutions and leaders, ideology and ideas, intellectual pursuits and cultural activities, economy as the base of and the rest around liberation and its spirit in concrete form, are not free from conflicting class interests. These/they can’t surpass class.
Thus, the spirit of liberation of the masses of people is defined by the interests of the classes that form the people, not by the interests of classes standing opposed to the people. Conflicting interests confront and one dominates the rests, and the dominance, if not by the people, distorts the spirit of liberation of people.
Farooque Chowdhury is a Dhaka-based freelance writer.\