Thursday 16 January 2014

Mukti Juddher Chetona

Mo Chaudhury

The Spirit of 1971

January 16, 2014



Mukti Juddher Chetona (MJC), in principle, should refer to the spirits/values that guided the 1971 Liberation War and inspired its brave conduct. This commentary intends to catalogue the historical perspective and evolution of the MJC in a succinct manner.

MJC really started to shape up first through the Language Movement (Bhasha Andolon) of 1952, and then became more defined, mature and widely shared through the 6-Point mass movement of 1966 and the 11-Point student movement of 1969. At the time of 1947 partition and leading up to it, religious nationhood dominated linguistic/cultural nationhood (Bangali) among both Bangali Muslims and Hindus. In 1947, members (mostly Muslim League) of the Bengal Legislative Assembly representing the Muslim majority areas voted in favour of the undivided Bengal joining Pakistan. But ironically the members representing the Hindu majority areas voted against undivided Bengal that, under the Mountbatten Plan, led to the splitting of Bengal.

A few years later, the Bhasha Andolon marked a monumental shift in the chetona of the Muslims of East Pakistan. As their ethnic (linguistic/cultural) majority was turned upside down against them by the minority non-Bangali rulers of Pakistan sharing the same religion, the chetona of religion-based nationhood gave away to the chetona of linguistic/cultural (Bangali) nationhood. This led to massive realignment of political allegiance away from the Muslim League and catapulted the Awami League (formed in 1949) into the voice of the rediscovered Bangali nationhood. Instead of being prisoners of gratitude, shunning loyalty to the party that led the creation of the country they wanted in 1947 was pragmatic in 1952, and lending support to the newly born Awami League was a dynamic choice that reflected their audacity of hope for a future consistent with their reconfigured Bangali nationhood chetona, and freedom of expression and democratic rights in a broader sense.

In the decade that followed the Bhasha Andolon, it became apparent to the Bangalis of Pakistan that they have also become victims of economic colonialism by the non-Bangali rulers of Pakistan. This expanded their chetona to include economic freedom and justice that was soon incorporated in the demand for more provincial autonomy and power to self-govern in the 6-Point movement of 1966 led by Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Importantly, the 6-Point movement also strengthened the chetona of democratic norms by demanding the supremacy of a parliament elected on the basis of universal adult franchise.

A critical development during the next three years was the coming together of the Chhatra League and leading left-wing student organisations and the formation of the Sharbodoliyo Chhatra Shangram Parishod (SCSP). The SCSP launched the 11-Point movement in early January of 1969 that added to the 6-Point, demands for the rights of workers and nationalisation of bank, insurance, jute and large scale industries. This was also the first time that the dream of transforming East Pakistan into an independent country captured the imagination of a wider array of student organisations  as they openly chanted "Tomar Desh, Amar Desh, Bangladesh, Bangladesh" and "Joy Bangla", although some left-branded organisations appeared to have circulated in print the call for an independent Purba Bangla in 1968 (David Ludden, Forgotten Heroes,

The above historical perspective allows a clean articulation of the MJC and the goals of the Liberation War as they stood at the onset of and during the 1971 Liberation War. No less important it is to discern what values/spirits were not in the MJC and what the Liberation War was not about at the time.

First, the most primitive and overriding of the spirits/values in the MJC, in a literal sense, was the Bangali nationhood. But importantly the Bhasha Andolon of 1952 and the movements later did not want to take away the linguistic/cultural freedom from the non-Bangalis although Bangla was clearly the majority language. This means that the underlying core chetona was the freedom of expression (speech, language/culture, religious, political) without inhibition and with security for all, Bangalis and non-Bangalis. The religious freedom of expression and security was the principal chetona in 1947 and was behind the spontaneous support and martyrdom of Bangalis in the 1965 War against India. This requires territorial sovereignty and defence against predominantly non-Muslim neighbours, as forcefully advocated in the 6-Point Movement as well as in the 11-Point movement. To secure both religious and linguistic/cultural freedom, Bangali Muslims needed political freedom or more concretely a political jurisdiction where they will be majority both in terms of religion and language/culture. They won the right to this political freedom in the December 1970 elections, but when it was denied at gunpoint, there was just one way to achieve this, namely an all-out Liberation War.

Second, Bangalis have always cherished democratic norms and pursued democratic means of expressing and achieving their aspirations despite military regimes, distorted democratic forms of government and brutal suppression inflicted by the non-Bangali rulers. The demand for parliamentary democracy based on universal adult franchise in the 6-Point and 11-Point movements formally and clearly captured this chetona. Even to the last hopeless moment of March 25, 1971, Bangabandhu pursued ways of salvaging the fragile democracy of Pakistan. The democratic norms were so strong that the widely popular Chhatra League and Awami League joined hands with left-branded parties and formally adopted socialism as a chetona in 1969 for the first time. This was to widen the mass movement and also to strategically position the Awami League to win a landslide in East Pakistan that was necessary to gain exclusive majority in the Pakistan Parliament.

Third, economic justice and freedom became a prominent component of the overall chetona through the 6-Point movement and it remained as a cornerstone of the mass movement leading up to the December 1970 elections. With free enterprise and private property rights as the historical norm of the region and the Islamic tradition, the pre-liberation adoption of socialism as a chetona by the Chhatra league and Awami League was a temporary strategic move to win crucial support for the Liberation War from the left, and from Russia and its allied parties in India. But, instead of being held as prisoners of gratitude, the regimes (including the Awami League) after 1975 showed enormous pragmatism and dynamism in shunning socialism as a chetona in light of the epic global shift away from it.

Fourth, the most controversial use of MJC by the political parties since liberation concerns secularism (religion-independent governance). But Bangabandhu included secularism as one of the four pillars of the state of Bangladesh only after independence (Joseph T. O'Connell, 1976, Dilemmas of Secularism in Bangladesh, pp. 68-69). There was no reference to secularism, communalism and religious fundamentalism in the 6 Points, 11 Points, or in Bangabandhu's historic March 7, 1971 speech. Thus, as desirable as it is, secularism was not a part of the MJC. Eradicating communalism and religious fundamentalism is also a noble chetona shared by this author like most Bangladeshis, but it simply was not part of the historic MJC either since it didn't have to be at the time. The 1971 genocide took place to retain East Pakistan within Pakistan, not because the non-Bangali rulers were religious fundamentalists. In fact, the communal forces and fundamentalist parties (like Muslim League, Jamaate Islam) were cleanly defeated by the secular parties in West Pakistan in the December 1970 election.

The 1971 Bangali traitors (mostly Jamaat/Shibir) were communal and fundamentalist, and there is no compromise in prosecuting their crimes against humanity. But the freedom fighters sacrificed their lives principally to free Bangladesh from the (West) Pakistani invaders, and neutralising the traitors came only by the incidence of their collaboration.

Note that communalism and religious fundamentalism exist in most societies and are on the rise even in developed secular democracies like USA. In India and Israel, communal and fundamentalist parties even came to share governance power through the democratic process. These are extremist psyches as is effectively one-party rule and autocratic democracy (neo-communism), and they must be fought off and marginalised through democratic means and nurturing tolerance in all matters and at all echelons.

To conclude, the Mukti Juddher Chetona (MJC) is a historic collection of values/spirits that evolved from the 1947 partition to the 1971 Liberation War, and as such it must be recollected truthfully and respected gracefully. But, as the history of Bangladesh amply demonstrates, to succeed as a people, Bangladeshis need to practice strategic pragmatism and adapt dynamically to evolving circumstances instead of being held as prisoners of gratitude to chetonas, political allegiance and external relationships that made sense in the past, but may not be warranted driving forward.

Mo Chaudhury, Ph.D., is a Professor of Practice at McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

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