East Ben­gal (1971): the un­fin­ished revo­lu­tion

The Pak Banker - - 4editorial - Lal Khan

The first mass re­volt in Pak­istan came not on a na­tional but on a class ba­sis. In 1968 there was a scin­til­lat­ing mass up­heaval that cre­ated a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sit­u­a­tion. For 139 days the work­ing class, the peas­antry and the youth were in con­trol. The episode of the sign­ing of the in­stru­ment of sur­ren­der on De­cem­ber 16, 1971, at Pal­tan Maidan, Dhaka, and the sub­se­quent breakup of Pak­istan has been the sub­ject of con­tro­ver­sial his­tor­i­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tions for the last 39 years. A vast ma­jor­ity of this anal­y­sis re­flects the in­ter­ests of the dif­fer­ent wings of the rul­ing classes of the South Asian sub­con­ti­nent. Hence the of­fi­cial his­to­ri­ans have grossly dis­torted the events and the real as­pi­ra­tions of the op­pressed masses dur­ing the so­cial bliz­zard that swept across the re­gion be­tween 1968 and 1972.

Yet one re­al­ity that no one can deny is the his­tor­i­cal fail­ure of the Two-Nation The­ory that had led to the bloody par­ti­tion of 1947. The frag­ile and ar­ti­fi­cial na­ture of this ide­ol­ogy had al­ready been ex­posed when al­ready in March 1946 Jin­nah had ac­cepted the Cabi­net Mis­sion Plan of re­tain­ing a united In­dia, al­beit in the form of a con­fed­er­a­tion with ex­tended au­ton­omy for the con­fed­er­at­ing units.

It was the provo­ca­tion of Nehru at the press con­fer­ence in Bom­bay that had forced Jin­nah and the Mus­lim League to back out of the plan. Nehru was lured into this act by the charm­ing in­flu­ence of Ed­wina Mount­bat­ten at the be­hest of Win­ston Churchill who, along with the se­ri­ous strate­gists of Bri­tish im­pe­ri­al­ism, wanted par­ti­tion at any cost to en­sure the con­tin­u­a­tion of their pol­icy of di­vide and rule, preser­va­tion of cap­i­tal­ism and sus­tain­ing im­pe­ri­al­ist plun­der of the sub­con­ti­nent.

In the 27 years af­ter the cre­ation of this hy­brid state, so­cial and eco­nomic devel­op­ment un­der the nascent rul­ing classes was of an ex­tremely un­even na­ture. Al­though growth rates had soared in the 60s, their im­pact on so­ci­ety was con­tra­dic­tory. In­stead of cre­at­ing na­tional unity and de­vel­op­ing so­ci­ety, it re­sulted in the ag­gra­va­tion of class dis­par­i­ties and na­tional de­pri­va­tion. Af­ter all, Pak­istan was not born as a nation state but was com­prised of dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties. Pak­istani cap­i­tal­ism had failed to cre­ate the in­te­gra­tion of a mod­ern nation state.

How­ever, the first mass re­volt in Pak­istan came not on a na­tional but on a class ba­sis. In 1968 there was a scin­til­lat­ing mass up­heaval that cre­ated a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sit­u­a­tion. For 139 days the work­ing class, the peas­antry and the youth were in con­trol. It was also the only time that there was a gen­uine unity of the peo­ple on a class ba­sis that had cut across the prej­u­dices of eth­nic­ity, re­li­gion, na­tion­al­ity and sec­tar­i­an­ism.

In East Pak­istan the main lead­er­ship was in the hands of Ab­dul Hamid Khan Bhashani and the Na­tional Awami Party (NAP), while in West Pak­istan the Pak­istan Peo­ple's Party (PPP), un­der the lead­er­ship of Zul­fikar Ali Bhutto, ruled the roost. The state was hung in midair and the mighty Gen­eral Ayub Khan had to con­fess in his part­ing speech: "Ev­ery prob­lem of the coun­try is now be­ing de­cided in the streets."

Un­for­tu­nately at the peak of the move­ment in 1969 when Bhashani was on a visit to China, Mao Tse-tung had bluntly told him that the Chi­nese would wel­come NAP sup­port for Ayub Khan. But the masses in Pak­istan hated and de­spised the bru­tal dic­ta­tor­ship of Ayub. He was the cen­tral fig­ure of the sys­tem against which the move­ment had erupted.

This caused a se­vere set­back to the class strug­gle, es­pe­cially in the East. Hence the move­ment that had erupted on class lines started to di­vert onto a na­tion­al­ist dis­course. This brought Mu­jibur Rehman's Awami League into the arena. The work­ing classes who had em­barked upon the au­da­cious path of over­throw­ing cap­i­tal­ism were se­verely ham­pered by the lack of the nec­es­sary in­stru­ment (a rev­o­lu­tion­ary party) to carry out the so­cial­ist in­sur­rec­tion. They were forced to turn their at­ten­tion to the elec­toral plane to achieve what they had first sought to ac­com­plish on the streets.

The Awami League's land­slide in East Pak­istan was mainly due to the de­ser­tion of the move­ment by the tra­di­tional 'left' lead­er­ship. But the Awami League was a bour­geois re­formist party and had no in­ten­tion of tak­ing on the es­tab­lish­ment. It be­lieved in ne­go­ti­a­tions and com­pro­mise.

In a re­veal­ing in­ter­view with AFP, Sheikh Mu­jib had con­fessed, "Is the West Pak­istan govern­ment not aware that I am the only one able to save East Pak­istan from com­mu­nism? If they take the de­ci­sion to fight I shall be pushed out of power and the Nax­alites will in­ter­vene in my name.

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