Victims of the History Wars
…আমরা বুঝি বঙ্গবন্ধু মানুষ চিনতে কখনো কখনো ভয়ানক ভুল করেছেন, ট্র্যাজিক নায়কদের মতো, যেমন খন্দকার মোশতাক আহমদকে, খালেদ মোশাররফকে; হুমায়ূন আহমেদ তাঁর প্রাপ্য মর্যাদা দিয়েছেন; কর্নেল তাহেরকে পুনরধিষ্ঠিত করেছেন তাঁর বীরের আসনটিতে। এ দুই চরিত্রের এক আশ্চর্য নিরাবেগ চিত্রায়ণ করেছেন হুমায়ূন আহমেদ ইতিহাসের দায় থেকেই। এ উপন্যাসে জিয়াউর রহমানও আছেন এবং আছেন তাঁর ভূমিকাতেই। জিয়ার প্রাণ রক্ষাকারী বন্ধু কর্নেল তাহেরকে যখন ফাঁসিতে ঝোলানো হলো, দেখা গেল কর্নেল তাহেরের কোনো অভিযোগ নেই কারও বিরুদ্ধে, শুধু অসম্ভব এক স্থিরচিত্ততার প্রকাশ ঘটিয়ে তিনি বীরত্ব এবং দেশপ্রেম কাকে বলে তার এক অসাধারণ উদাহরণ সৃষ্টি করে গেলেন।
… we understand that like many tragic heroes, Bangabandhu made terrible mistakes in recognising people such Khondoker Mushtaq or Khaled Mosharraf; Humayun Ahmed has given him his due recognition; and restored Col Taher in his valiant seat. Humayun Ahmed has painted an unsentimental portrait of these two characters because of the debt of history. Ziaur Rahman is also here, in his role. When Zia’s saviour friend Col Taher was hanged, it appeared that Col Taher had no complaints against anyone else, he just created an extraordinary example of valour and patriotism by expressing an impossible tranquility.
That’s what Prof Syed Manzurul Islam says about Humayun Ahmed’s yet-t0-be-published-but-already-banned novel set in post-liberation Bangladesh. I have no idea what “অসম্ভব এক স্থিরচিত্ততা” actually means. But it’s pretty clear that Syed Sahib likes Col Taher, and Humayun Ahmed’s depiction of Taher.
As far as I understand, Syed Manzurul Islam’s politics is that of pro-liberation/pro-1971/progressive/secular/Awami/Bengali nationalism variety. What exactly did Taher do for that brand of politics? If anything, more than anyone else in November 1975, it was Taher who was responsible for the defeat faced by that kind of politics. So why is Taher a hero to Syed Manzur?
Simple. Because Ziaur Rahman is the villain in the eyes of the likes of Prof Manzur. And because Zia approved Taher’s death, Taher retrospectively becomes a hero to the professor. That’s the classic example of the shallow, pathetic, personality-driven nature of our History Wars. If these historical arguments had anything to do with actual ideas and visions that were in contest back in the 1970s, then instead of praising Taher’s valour and patriotism, Syed Sahib would be analysing Taher’s political platform and tactics. But out arguments are about Mujib and Zia being good or bad, and therefore we contort and twist everyone else to fit our narratives.
Col Taher had long been the prime victim of our history wars. But lately, he has company. Tajuddin Ahmed has joined Taher as a prime victim of the history wars.
As the soap opera around his son’s non-resignation continues, I’ve noticed a good deal sympathy for the first prime minister of Bangladesh among the media/cyberspace/TV pundits of the nationalist/Islamist/pro-sovereignty/BNP/anti-hegemony/Bangladesh Zindabad variety.
And why do these people like him? Mainly because to them Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is a not-so-good guy (and Sheikh Hasina is a baddie), and because Mujib fired Tajuddin (and Hasina refuses to accept the son’s resignation), Tajuddin must be good.
The irony here is that if Banglavision talking heads or Amar Desh columnists took their ideology more seriously than Syed Manzurul does his, they would have known that Tajuddin, much more than anyone else, opposed their politics.
Consider a few examples.
Tajuddin’s finest hour was 1971. He headed the Mujibnagar government in Mujib’s absence. He made the contact with the Indian authorities. He had to manage the factionalism and opportunism of his party colleagues. He had to keep the army officers and Mujib bahini extremists in line. And he did manage all these. The Mujibnagar centre did hold, against all odds.
But this carried a price. In December 1971, after the Pakistan army surrendered, there were news reports that Indian army would be present for an extended period of time to oversee the pacification of the country, while Indian bureaucrats would assist with civil administration. Meanwhile, there were reports that the Mukti Bahini were to be disarmed and transformed into a national militia, and the new country was to have no military.
These were policy decisions taken by Tajuddin. I don’t wish to debate the merits of these decisions. Perhaps with Mujib presumed dead and faced with a potential multisided civil war among former Mukti Bahini comrades, these were the best options before Tajuddin. Perhaps. But it does seem odd to me that when our nationalists/anti-hegemony types bemoan Tajuddin and criticise Mujib, they forget that it was Mujib who sent the Indians home.
Or consider Tajuddin’s stance on secularism. Tajuddin was instrumental in inserting secularism as a high ideal in the 1972 constitution. He opposed Mujib’s trip to Lahore in 1974. Isn’t it peculiar then that the Islami mullobodh types now have a soft corner for him?
Or consider economics. Tajuddin was the finance minister between 1972 and 1974. He was an ardent statist. He believed in the nationalisation of industry and commerce, not out of necessity — when the Pakistanis left, someone had to run the banks and factories, and there weren’t enough Bangladeshi capitalists — but ideologically. He even wanted state control over land — collectivisation and communes. Never mind the theory, he showed limited appreciation of the impracticality of these ideas — state control over the economy requires competent bureaucrats, something he did not have. This is all laid out clearly in the academic works of Ataur Rahman and MK Alamgir — hardly anti-Awami folks.
Tajuddin’s stewardship of the economy turned Bangladesh into a basket case. And when the donors demanded macroeconomic stabilisation (the term Washington Consensus wasn’t coined yet), Tajuddin advised Mujib to ‘go it alone’. It was in this circumstance that Mujib fired Tajuddin in late 1974. To castigate Mujib for the 1974 famine and shed crocodile tear for his mistreatment of Tajuddin — why, it’s just another front in our history wars.
And the tears are definitely not sincere, because somehow the last days of Tajuddin’s life is never mentioned by his new acolytes. While most of Awami League joined Khondoker Mushtaq after 15 August 1975, Tajuddin refused. And he paid for that with his life in November 1975. But we never hear about that tragedy. Somehow, Mujib fired him, that’s the bigger tragedy.
The most ridiculous aspect of this particular theatre of the history wars is the title Bangataj. What the hell does that even mean? I know literally it translates as ‘Crown of Bengal’. But what does it mean politically? Tajuddin certainly never claimed to be crown of anything. In fact, when asked by the Indian bureaucrats what the official name of the new country would be, he said People’s Republic as a shout out to various red republics of Eurasia. So is Bangataj meant to be some kind of counter to Bangabandhu?
Tajuddin Ahmed and Col Taher stood on the opposing sides in the violent November 1975. They both lost then. Now, in death, they are together as victims of our history wars. Pathetic.