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As West Bengal starts to become West Bangladesh, time to remember how Bangladesh was formed to realize the goals of Lahore Resolution

The ruling party of West Bengal is popularizing the 'Joy Bangla' slogan to transform West Bengal into West Bangladesh to make their vote bank happy

Fifty years of the formation of Bangladesh is being celebrated quite enthusiastically in West Bengal. The spiritual bond of the Bengali language and culture between two Bengals is being rediscovered and championed. Bengali language movement of 1952 by the students of Dhaka University is also almost universally being accepted as the basis of the Bangladesh independence movement. The creation of Bangladesh is being portrayed as the emergence of a secular space on the eastern border of India. At this juncture, it is very important to expose this lie on the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of Bangladesh.

Whenever the word Pakistan is uttered, a negative picture of a strict Islamic country emerges. When East Pakistan became Bangladesh, most people felt relieved that there would be no Pakistan on our eastern border. There was hope in West Bengal that it would no more be plagued with the constant influx of Hindu refugees from Islamic East Pakistan. And ‘secular’ Hindu Bengali historians, artists, intellectuals, political parties (even some Hindutva activists) painted a rosy sentimental picture about the newly formed country called Bangladesh.

But if we turn the page a little back, we will see that even after the partition of the country into Pakistan, the eastern wing of Pakistan was called East Bengal. In 1955 it was officially named East Pakistan. The name Pakistan (meaning Holy Land) was coined by Chowdhury Rahmat Ali after the names of the states of Punjab, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan. There was no mention of Bengal in it. There is no mention of the word Pakistan in the Lahore resolution of 1940 which is considered as the basis and fundamental guide for creation of Pakistan. The Lahore resolution explicitly mentioned that “that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North-Western and Eastern Zones of India, should be grouped to constitute “Independent States” in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign”.

Eminent writer and political leader of East Pakistan/ Bangladesh, Abul Mansur Ahmed has explained it very clearly in his autobiographical book – “One Pakistan has been replaced by two Pakistans in accordance with Lahore Resolution. The Government of India has assisted us in implementing the Lahore Resolution …. The Lahore resolution does not mention the word “Pakistan”, only the Muslim majority states. This means that the name of the states should be decided by the people later. The western people have named their state ‘Pakistan’. We, Easterners have named ours ‘Bangladesh’. There is no reason to be confused. ” (Amar Dekha Rajnitir Panchash Bachhar [Fifty Years of Politics As I Saw It] –pp. 808 3rd Ed. by Abul Mansur Ahmed, Naoroj Kitabistan, Dhaka, 1975).

East Bengal and West Bengal were formed on 20 June 1947 by a vote in the Bengal Legislative Assembly. All the Muslim members of the Bengal Legislative Assembly were against the division of Bengal and voted in favour of annexing the whole of Bengal to Pakistan. Those Muslim members demanded a united Bengal not to protect the language and culture of Bengal but to gain control over a larger landmass including the rich and prosperous city of Calcutta. Two most prominent political leaders in favour of a united Muslim-majority independent Bengal were Shaheed Suhrawardy and Sarat Chandra Bose. Muslim Leaguer Shaheed Suhrawardy was then Primer of Bengal and also infamous as ‘butcher of Calcutta’ because of his role in Great Calcutta Killings.    Congressman Sarat Chandra Bose was the brother of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

Debates on the status of the Bengali language in Pakistan started from the time of the creation of Pakistan. Was it due to love for Bengali language and culture? After the partition of the country, all the Bengali newspapers published in East Bengal and who spoke in favour of the Bengali language had Arabic names – Paygam, Dainik Azad, Ittefaq, Insan, Insaf etc. The name of the most important organization championing Bengali language was Tamaddun Majlis. This is an Islamic example of love for the Bengali language. Bengali-speaking Muslims still name their children in Arabic.

On 23 February 1948, Dhirendranath Dutta, leader of Congress Party in in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan demanded that Bengali be made the state language. He was supported by three Hindu members namely Premahari Barman, Bhupendra Kumar Dutta and Srishchandra Chattopadhyay. Prime Minister Liaquat Khan (elected from East Bengal) and Chief Minister of East Bengal Khwaja Nizamuddin vehemently opposed it. No Muslim member of East Bengal supported this demand. However, shortly the movement to make Bengali the state language was intensified due to economic reason.

In the words of Abul Mansur Ahmed, “If Urdu is made the state language, the educated society of East Pakistan will become ‘uneducated’ and ‘unfit’ for government service overnight. By replacing Persian with English as the state language in the mid-nineteenth century, British imperialism made the Muslim educated society “uneducated” and incapable of public service overnight.” (Purba Banglar Bhasa Andolan O Tatkaleen Rajnity [Language Movement of East Bengal and Politics of that Time]vol , pp 19 b Badaruddin Umar, Anandadhara Prakashan, Dhaka, 1970).

This was the crude reality of the Bengali language movement. Of course, the students of Dhaka University and a section of intellectuals added some emotional components associated with mother tongue. But love for mother tongue was not absolute. In an article published in December 1948, the eminent linguist and scholar Muhammad Shahidullah wrote: “Language of religion has the place next to mother tongue. For this, I will say with all my heart, like Bangla we want Arabic. The birth of the state of Pakistan will be meaningful on the day when Arabic will be accepted as the state language of the whole of Pakistan”. (Pakistaner Rashtrabhasa Samasya [Problem of State Language of Pakistan], Dainik Azad, 29 July, 1947). The process of the Arabization of the Bengali language has been going on since then.

In 1954, Bengali became the state language of Pakistan. In all official notifications from currency notes to postage stamps Bengali was used along with Urdu. The language movement was over. But this victory of the Bengali language did not affect the ongoing persecution of Bengali speaking Hindus in East Bengal / East Pakistan. It continued as usual. In 1950, during the language movement, Jogendranath Mandal, the law minister of Pakistan, a leader of the Scheduled Caste Society, a supporter of the Pakistan movement, fled to India to save his life.

In this context, another myth about the sacrifices of Bengali speaking Muslims only for the Bengali language needs to be demolished. It is true that in 1952 police fired on agitating students of Dhaka University and four Bengali speaking Muslims (none of them were students of Dhaka University) were killed. But ‘secular’ intellectuals of both the Bengals consciously ignored the sacrifices of eleven Hindu Bengalis in the Bengali language movement in Silchar, Assam in 1961. Out of eleven martyrs nine were Hindu refugees from East Pakistan including a young girl named Kamala Bhattacharya. So Bengali speaking Hindus never had any mercy from the Bengali speaking Islamists in East Pakistan/ Bangladesh.

Since the creation of Pakistan, almost all the political parties of East Bengal/ East Pakistan had complained against discrimination by West Pakistan in all facets of life – jobs, education, industry, agriculture, trade. The first democratic election of East Bengal (not yet East Pakistan) was held in 1954. The United Front which won the election massively, was composed of four political parties of East Bengal, namely Awami Muslim League (later Awami League), KrishakShramik Party, Nezam-e-Islam and Ganatantrik Dal. The United front announced 21-point package programme in the election manifesto, drafted by Abul Mansur Ahmed of Awami Muslim League. The 19th point of the programme was – “The Lahore Resolution proposed full autonomy of East Bengal leaving defence, foreign affairs and currency only under the central government. In the matter of defence, arrangements shall be made to set the headquarters of the army in West Pakistan and the naval headquarters in East Bengal and to establish ordnance factories in East Bengal, and to transform Ansar force into a full-fledged militia equipped with arms”. However, the United Front government did not last long.

After a long period of military rule, a general election of Pakistan was held in 1970. Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won almost all the seats in East Pakistan and claimed to be invited to form the government. The basis of this huge election victory of Awami League was the six-point charter of demands framed in 1966.The first sentence of the first paragraph of the charter was, “Pakistan must be built into a true federation based on the historic Lahore resolution.” In other words, the Awami League had never deviated from the raison d’etre of creation of Pakistan. The six-point demands were all about East Pakistan’s economic issues. The last demand was the formation of an armed force for the security of East Pakistan (from Indian invasion). There was no mention of Bengali language and culture in the charter.

The military government of Pakistan and the major political parties of West Pakistan did not accept this victory of the Awami League and the following military intervention compelled Awami League to demand total separation from Pakistan. A so-called liberation war (MuktiYuddha) began. Historically such liberation wars go on for years and decades. Here, only nine months later, with a 14-day Indian military intervention gave birth to a new country – Bangladesh.

Politically, Bangladesh became a newly independent country with a new secular constitution. But, shortly within three years, Bangladesh rolled back to the old mould of Pakistan. The secular constitution was scrapped, Islam was made the state religion. The opening words ‘bismillah-ar-rahman-arrahim’ (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful), were added in 1997. Following the tradition of Pakistan, persecution of Hindus continued and at least ten million Bengali Hindus had been kicked out from Bangladesh in the last 50 years.

How are the Bengali Hindus Living there? After the attack on idols, temple vandalism and attacks on the Hindu community across Bangladesh during Durga Puja last October, 2021, prominent Bangladeshi educationist and writer Muhammad Zafar Iqbal (brother of the legendary writer Humayun Ahmed) wrote in one of his social media posts on October 19, 2021, “for last few days I am feeling myself impure. It seems that I am immersed in a dirty sewer. Not only me, but many people like me in this country have the same feeling, it seems that a large part of the nation is drowning in depression. The reason must be understood by everyone. Durga Puja, which is considered to be the biggest festival of Hindus, is at the center of the biggest violence this time. I can’t even comfort myself that this is an isolated incident. Starting from Comilla, it did not stop in Comilla, it spread all over the country. Which means there are horrible communal people all over the country, they are not hiding, they are open in public, proudly carrying out their operation. … ..When the time for Durga Puja comes, the work of making idols starts all over the country, since then I feel a kind of suppressed unrest inside myself. Inevitably I get the news that the idols are being smashed here and there in the country. When the puja starts, I hold my breath”. Do you find any difference between Bangladesh and (East) Pakistan?

Famous Bengali writer and thinker Annadashankar Roy wrote – (during a visit of Dhaka after formation of Bangladesh) “We asked Sheikh (Mujibar) Saheb, ‘When did the idea of ​​Bangladesh come to your mind?’ –  He smiled and said, in 1947. I was a part of  the team of Mr. Suhrawardy (then Prime Minister of United Bengal under British rule and known as ‘Butcher of Calcutta” for his alleged role in riot in Calcutta). He and Sarat Chandra Bose (brother of Netaji Subhash) wanted United Bengal. I (Mujib) also wanted a country for all Bengalis. ” (Indrapat, Kando Priyo Desh, Kolkata, 1979, Quoted in Bangabandhu Kibhbe Amader Swadhinata Enechhilen [How Bangabadhu Gave Us Independence] pp15 by Muntasir Mamun, Maola Brothers, Dhaka, 2013)

Do the people of West Bengal smell anything? The slogan of ‘Joy Bangla’, very popular in Bangladesh, is nowadays being heard in the streets of West Bengal too. The ruling party of the state is popularizing this slogan to transform West Bengal into West Bangladesh to make their vote bank happy. In the fiftieth year of the formation of Bangladesh, the heirs of Sarat Chandra Bose and Suhrawardy are again dreaming of merging Hindu majority West Bengal into Islamic Bangladesh to fulfil the spirit of Lahore resolution. Even Hindutva activists have now become Gandhites and care less about these ‘communal’ issues.

Now it is time to wait for West Bengal to become West Bangladesh.


Author- Mohit Ray

The author is a well-known environmentalist, refugee rights activist and state committee member of BJP in West Bengal. He has authored a number of books on the environment and Bangladesh issues.

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