Lessons of De­cem­ber 16

The Pak Banker - - 4editorial - I.A Rehman

TO­DAY, Dec 16, Pak­istan's opin­ion­mak­ers will once again raise a loud wail and lament the fi­nal act in their coun­try's dis­mem­ber­ment al­most half a cen­tury ago. It will again be a rit­u­al­is­tic dis­play of grief and no one will be con­vinced of its gen­uine­ness.

Noth­ing will be gained by beat­ing chests, like Mary, Queen of Scots, did over the loss of Calais. The mourn­ing will have mean­ing if the peo­ple of Pak­istan took stock of their es­tab­lish­ment's acts of com­mis­sion and omis­sion that drove the Ben­galis out of the state that they more than any other com­mu­nity had helped cre­ate barely 24 years ear­lier. This ex­er­cise, which should in­clude re­pen­tance as well as a le­git­i­mate reap­praisal, is nec­es­sary if Pak­istan is to ward off the dan­ger of its demise as a demo­cratic polity and the threat to its in­tegrity.

Pak­istan's found­ing fa­thers were so greatly car­ried away by the Mus­lim League's 1945-46 elec­toral vic­tory across the sub­con­ti­nent and the eu­pho­ria cre­ated by par­ti­tion just a year later that they ig­nored the chal­lenge posed by the pro­vin­cial units' ris­ing as­pi­ra­tions for au­ton­omy. The 1919 scheme of diarchy had given the pro­vin­cial au­thor­i­ties con­trol over agri­cul­ture, ed­u­ca­tion, pub­lic works and lo­cal bod­ies, key de­part­ments be­cause of their rel­e­vance to the largest sec­tions of their pop­u­la­tions. It was this heady feel­ing of em­pow­er­ment in one's own yard that had em­bold­ened Fazl-i-Hu­sain to tell the Quaid to stay away from Pun­jab and Sikan­dar Hayat to present an al­ter­na­tive to the scheme sug­gested in the La­hore Res­o­lu­tion. The same was the feel­ing in other prov­inces, a fact con­ceded by the au­thors of the La­hore (sub­se­quently Pak­istan) Res­o­lu­tion while de­cid­ing on its lan­guage - and which has haunted the rulers of Pak­istan all of its 63 years.

The East Ben­gal peo­ple's as­pi­ra­tions for max­i­mum power at the pro­vin­cial level had an ex­tra di­men­sion. They had had a share in the Ben­gal govern­ment for 10 con­tin­u­ous years (193747) - led by Mus­lim pre­miers. But they had not for­got­ten how much more power they had en­joyed when Ben­gal had been first di­vided in 1905. The par­ti­tion of 1947 gave them the prov­ince they had in 1905. Only full au­ton­omy could mit­i­gate the pain of loss of author­ity over West Ben­gal, es­pe­cially Cal­cutta.

How­ever, they were more than will­ing to re­strain their de­sire for power for the sake of mak­ing Pak­istan a suc­cess. They agreed to elect Mus­lim League lead­ers from mi­nor­ity prov­inces to the con­stituent assem­bly, they ac­cepted the for­mula of bu­reau­crats' pro­mo­tion whose ben­e­fi­cia­ries were all non-Ben­galis ex­cept one, they also ac­cepted Karachi as the new state's cap­i­tal and the fact that the of­fices of the gover­nor-gen­eral, the prime min­is­ter, the pres­i­dent of the con­stituent assem­bly and the East Ben­gal gover­nor were held by non-Ben­galis. These ges­tures were not ap­pre­ci­ated; in­stead a ten­dency to take the peo­ple of East Ben­gal for granted started tak­ing root.

Be­fore par­ti­tion ac­tu­ally took place the Quaid-i-Azam briefly ac­knowl­edged East Ben­gal's yearn­ing for au­ton­omy by al­low­ing Suhrawardy to make a bid for keep­ing Ben­gal united but af­ter that Pak­istan's lead­ers closed their ears to au­ton­omy de­mands, be­gin­ning with their un­wise lan­guage pol­icy. Mu­jib might have in­dulged in ex­ag­ger­a­tion when he said that the de­nial of per­mis­sion to a Ben­gali mem­ber to make oath in his mother tongue at the first ses­sion of the con­stituent assem­bly marked the be­gin­ning of his peo­ple's alien­ation from Pak­istan, but the fact is that the coun­try's es­tab­lish­ment failed to re­alise that de­nial of a peo­ple's lan­guage is one of the first warn­ings of their loss of iden­tify and sovereignty.

The poli­cies of the cen­tre took lit­tle time to make the peo­ple of East Ben­gal aware of their sta­tus as a colony. Pro­vin­cial elec­tions were held in the western wing in 1951-52, the Ben­galis were made to wait till 1954 and then the elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives were not al­lowed to rule in peace. A strong man, Iskan­der Mirza was sent to drill them into sub­mis­sion. By and by the peo­ple of East Ben­gal be­came aware of the scale of de­nial of their rights.

Ayub Khan tried a trade-off be­tween the Ben­gali peo­ple's rights and mega-projects and set Monem Khan af­ter them. At the same time the hol­low­ness of the strat­egy of de­fend­ing East Ben­gal by mak­ing the de­fence of La­hore strong was ex­posed. This was a strat­egy ef­fec­tive in the Mid­dle Ages when de­fence was an ex­clu­sively mil­i­tary af­fair and the peo­ple's re­la­tion­ship with the state did not mat­ter.

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