Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Bangladesh: A book that burns

Photo: Maj Gen (retd.) M A Matin, Bangladesh Home Affairs adviser

BHASKAR ROY

In this exclusive column for Sify.com, he dwells on the vitriolic attack on India, on Hindus, Awami League Leader Sheikh Hasina and on all secular and progressive sections of Bangladeshi society by Bangladesh’s Home Affairs Advisor, Maj Gen (retd.) M A Matin

“THE PEOPLE of Bangladesh must sit up and ask whether their Home Affairs Advisor, Maj Gen (retd.) M A Matin, Bir Pratik, Pakistan Staff College (PSC), has lost his mind.

In a book written sometime earlier this year, the decorated freedom fighter launched a vitriolic attack on India, on Hindus, Awami League Leader Sheikh Hasina and on all secular and progressive sections of Bangladeshi society.

The book Succession of our Struggle for Freedom and a Few Contextual Words also commits the ultimate sin by scurrilously attacking Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led Bangladesh to liberation and independence.

Through selective quotes from sources and mischievous juxtaposing of sentences and phrases, Matin tries to insinuate that Mujib was more interested in negotiating with Pakistan for provincial powers than in independence.

Cleverly using Mujib’s negotiations with Pakistani leaders President Yahya Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for provincial self-rule, Matin argues that in his historic March 7, 1971 address to the people, Mujib kept the door for discussions open, despite pressure from students and the people.

Instead of an open declaration of independence, Mujib had only declared that “now the struggle would be for freedom,” says Matin. He then notes that the Sheik had invited Yahya Khan for talks in Dhaka, and simultaneously put forward his “four point” proposal which, apart from lifting of Martial Law and the trial of organised killers, largely acceded to the Pakistani points.

Since Mujib did not want to declare outright independence, it was Col Zia-ur-Rehman who went ahead and declared independence from the Kalurghat radio station in Chittagong on March 25, 1971, Matin notes, obliquely suggesting that it is Zia, and not Mujib, who should be recognised as the ‘Father of Bangladesh’s Independence.’ (Major general Zia-ur Haq became the 6th President of Bangladesh on April 21, 1977. His wife Khaleda Zia, who took over his Bangladesh Nationalist Party after his assassination in May 1981, has been Prime Minister of Bangladesh twice.)

Matin also notes that while Mujib is popularly described as the ‘Father of the Nation’ that title has not been officially bestowed upon him.

Taking the third issue first, a person of Matin’s mettle should understand that such honorifics are not listed in official decorations or honour lists of countries. These are given by the people of a country. This honorific was given to Sk Mujibur Rahman overwhelmingly by the people of Bangladesh.

Matin, who now holds a very senior position as the Advisor for Home Affairs in the current caretaker government of Bangladesh, has openly challenged the esteem that Sk Mujib is held in. This may be his personal opinion, but since he has written this while holding a post of such responsibility, it assumes importance. No person holding a public post can declare his private opinion on national issues. Since Matin has stated his position, it is for the people of Bangladesh to debate the issue and put the record straight.

As for the declaration of independence by Zia-ur-Rehman on March 25, this is an old BNP argument and part of the deliberate distortion of the country’s history. Zia declared independence on behalf of Mujib, and had himself admitted this. Mujib did not have access to a radio station, while Zia had. The message had gone to Zia through non-traditional channels. Mujib,who was waiting to be arrested by the Pakistanis, had already given the call for “freedom” in his “March 7” speech.

Mujib had to negotiate with the Pakistani government in order to buy time. If Matin thinks the people of Bangladesh were ready for a war of liberation at that time, he is wrong.

The main demand of the people was the supremacy of the Bengali language, which Matin describes as the Bangladeshi language in East Pakistan. The people also wanted the due share of the revenue for their wing of the country, and development of industry. The next demand was autonomy.

The spirit of total independence was really ignited by Mujib’s public address of March 7.

Matin perhaps does not understand that a democratic revolution has to be raised from the grass-roots. Breaking away from Pakistan required tremendous effort. Islamabad had strong supporters in the US and China. Some international support or, at least, empathy had to be generated for the breakaway cause.

Bengali army officers and other ranks split from the Pakistani army mainly after Pakistan ordered them to disarm, forcing many to defect to the freedom fighters. They included some of Mujib’s killers. M A Matin was probably one such reluctant army officer forced by circumstances to switch to the freedom fighters’ side. The bottom of Matin’s arguments have just fallen off.

While pretending to be an honest broker, Matin barely touches on the anti-liberation forces. He meticulously avoid any mention of the Razaakars, the Al Badrs and Al Shams, the pro-Pakistani radical elements who took more glee in raping and killing Bengalis than the professional Pakistani army did. His book does not spare a single word for the hapless people who were ravaged, suggesting his sympathies lie with the rapists and killers.

There is no mention of the Jamaat-e-Islami either, the mother of the groups mentioned earlier, and its role in running the country in the last government led by the BNP and Jamaat.

Apart from a vitriolic attack on Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina for her friendly disposition towards India, he faults her for trying to bring her father, Mujibur Rahman’s killers, to book.

The “killer majors” as they are popularly known, not only assassinated Mujib and his family on the fateful night of August 14-15, 1975, but also killed Awami League leaders like Tajuddin Ahmed and others in jail. This was not a revolution but a criminal conspiracy at the behest of a foreign master, and cognizable under international law.

Matin’s book also leaves a huge hole by not discussing Zia-ur-Rehman’s post-1975 role. Zia, as President, appointed some of these “killers” to diplomatic posts as a pay off. Some discussion as to how Zia used and then secretly executed Colonel Abu Taher would have exposed Zia’s character. But Matin has kept away from such pernicious issues.

Instead, he lambasts Sheikh Hasina and all secular elements as Indian agents. Not only does he spew venom at India, he uses India to charge the secularists and liberals as anti-Bangladesh.

Matin also dangerously distorts history, starting with the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny against the British. He claims Hindus had done little or nothing for independence from the British, that the Hindus always denigrated Muslims, and Muslims and Hindus are two different “races” and cannot exist together.

First, he confuses between “race” and “religion,” perhaps deliberately. But more alarmingly, his discussions on the Muslim-Hindu issue suggests that he could be endorsing or even inciting communal riots in Bangladesh and ethnic cleansing of Hindus.

Matin’s support for the Taliban, the religious radicals that ruled Afghanistan before being routed post 9/11, comes through loud and clear as he denounces the US for pressuring Pakistan because it supported the Taliban. He also asserts that the new friendly policies of the US and China towards India stems from the commonality of their views against Talibanised Islam.

Matin’s book, originally written in Bengali, is not meant for the informed and the discerning urban population. But it is circulating among the simple, innocent people in the country’s semi-urban and rural areas.

The book is a recipe for the destruction of Bangladesh, and it is the people of Bangladesh, and not outsiders like India, the US or China, who must address this propaganda.

However, while it clearly is an internal matter for Bangladesh at the moment, it has the potential to become an issue of grave regional and international concern if it snowballs further. #

First published in Sify.com, India, June 05, 2008

Bhaskar Roy, who retired recently as a senior government official with decades of national and international experience, is an expert on international relations and Indian strategic interests