Airbrushing, personality cults, birthday thoughts
Had he lived, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would have been 89 today. I have never had much time for those quibbling over his contribution to the creation of Bangladesh. One can play parlour games of ‘what ifs’ until the ocean rises to Dinajpur, but Mujib’s central place in our freedom struggle is undisputed.
Or it ought to be. Sadly, for many in my generation, it hasn’t been that straightforward. When I grew up, under martial law, Sheikh Mujib was never mentioned. I recall one of my teachers, in the Air Force run Shaheen School, being heavily reprimanded by someone in uniform for referring to Bangabandhu during a school function. I remember my father’s excitement when he came across an Indian magazine in Calcutta because the particular issue was banned in Bangladesh for running a cover story on Mujib (along with Indira Gandhi and ZA Bhutto).
Even though he had already been been dead for a decade, and even though the people ruling Bangladesh at that time has walways maintained an on-again-off-again relationship with his party, Mujib’s wagging finger still sent a shiver to the powers-that-be. That’s why Mujib was being airbrushed out of history.
That’s why, despite growing up in a politicised enviornment, I read about Nasser defying the western powers over Suez years before I heard daba-e rakhte parba na. And I grew up in an environment that was much more politicised than most people in my cohort. For most of my peers, Mujib had effectively been airbrushed. For most of them, what remained was a caricature. My writing comrades Asif and Naeem explain this eloquently, and I agree with their broad views completely. Our generation — people born in the 1970s — suffered because the military rulers, and their democratically elected successors, went out of their way to stifle voices on Mujib.
It’s sad to include ‘democratically elected successors’ in the sentence above. Sad, but true. We have had three elected governments finishing their terms. When the party not of Mujib was in power, it could have taken corrective steps. Instead, its leader chose to commit, repeatedly, the crassest act of her political career.
Even sadder though had been the attitude of Mujib’s own party in power. The second Awami League government went out of its way to establish a cult of personality, almost as if to make up for the years when Mujib couldn’t be discussed properly in public. The approach it seemed involved quantity over quality, renaming every institution in the country after him, but not writing a single volume of original, insightful, analytical volume on him.
As bad as the cult of personality had been, worse was the fact that the democratically elected government run by Mujib’s daughter wasn’t above banning pieces — when Badruddin Umar wrote a piece questioning the narrative that Mujib co-ordinated the language movement from prison in an Indian magazine, the particular issue was banned.
And now AL is in power again, promising din bodol. It would be nice to change to a world where Mujib didn’t need to be wrapped in a cult of personality that needed to be protected from errant voices. Errant voice is an understatement for the sorry-excuse-of-poetry. As Asif says here:
It smacks of absolutely horrible taste of making fun of people who were so brutally killed in one of the most brutal assassination in the history of the modern world. He did not even spare Sheikh Russel where he says that ‘he was too young to commit crimes like his brothers did.’
Abu Karim didn’t spare Zia, the man who contributed to airbrushing and himself has become a victim of airbrushing. Ironically, the general let Abu Karim keep his job, but the democratically elected government of change fired him.
ফলে পেশাদার খুনি জেনারেল জিয়া
তাহেরকে হত্যা করার জন্য শেষমেষ
মার্কিন যুক্তরাষ্ট্র থেকে সিনথেটিক ফাইবার আমদানি করেছিল’।
Perhaps Abu Karim was fired because of violating some rule against partisan politics while in public service. If so, then I would suggest Mr Ali Akbar, Deputy Secretary who wrote this piece, look for a job.
Something tells me that Mr Akbar won’t be fired. As fellow blogger Rumi Ahmed puts it caustically: You can say, write, do anything as long as they contain flattery of the people in power. In Bangladesh that is one kind of law. This is toshamodi law.
Asif noted in his piece, Bangabandhu is much bigger than trapping him into these silly controversies. And the generation after mine, the one born in the 1980s, know this. That’s why Dhaka Shohor could write this.
How did his generation figure out Mujib much more easily than ours did? Because the ham-fisted airbrushing doesn’t work anymore. Because his generation can see through the airbrushing and the personality cult. Because thanks to Digital Bangladesh that already exists, his generation can know the facts for themselves.
That generation chose Mujib’s party unequivocally, not to restart the next round of the game of airbrushing and personality cult, but for din bodol. It would indeed be din bodol when posts like this never have to be written again.