I will be writing a series on the history of 1971 in a simple, non-academic and easy to access manner. The main target is the general public who can't find too many works that are not politically biased or burdened by glorification or political trashing. With this end in mind, the first episode is released. Feedbacks and questions are welcome and each will be responded to. Thanks.
The objective of this series is to introduce the history of 197 which means the birth of the independent state of Bangladesh. It will be in the form of questions and answers and answers in most cases. However, introductory and explanatory articles will also be introduced.
The main background areas are
• Political history under colonialism.
• Social resistance and class identities
• Emergence of state making and social politics
• Historical continuity and Bangladesh
• History, thematic categories and events of 1971
The first episode is a general introduction:
Bangladesh: Historical convergences
Alliances, state making and history
The roots of the 1971 liberation war linked to state making goes back to the people's resistance against British colonialism and its local agents. It went through several stages of maturing before reaching 1971. This progressed from (a) socio-economic resistance to political action in 1857. (b) Sub-state making in Bengal in 1905 and its political resistance: (c) 1.Lahore Resolution based independent state making phase that was later cancelled by Jinnah and All India Muslim League in 1946. 2. United Bengal state Movement in 1947 voted out by the Indian Congress in 1947: (d) Birth of the subsumed state of "Bangladesh" in 1947 and movement for a full state from 1947 to 1971.
The liberation war of 1971 therefore has a long continuous history.
In this process, the peasantry played a critical role in alliance with other classes.
Under British colonialism, the conflict was with the zamindar and other collaborationist classes, first at Bengal and later at the All Indian level. Under Pakistan it was with the central capital Karachi/Islamabad and its collaborators in East Pakistan including pro- centre politicians. During 1971, it was with the Peace Committees and Razakars. The objective of the collaborators under both regimes was the same, sustaining external domination.
The country's experience under Pakistan rule and British colonialism was a continuation of the same type/system of governance. But just as oppression was continuous so was resistance. The conflict peaked in 1971 as a point of historical conclusion.
Peasants/poor made up the overwhelming majority of people under both regimes with a smaller middle class ally. Demographically dominant, the peasantry, in alliance with middle class political leadership is the main state making force in this region.
The peasantry doesn't/ didn't fight alone nor did they lead the struggle in either regime including in 1971. They formed the bulk of the forces of resistance but its their alliance with other groups particularly political groups that ensured victory. Historical achievements in sub-state and state making process over time was a result of many such alliances. All the participants had been negatively affected by Pakistani and British rule.
From colonial Bengal to independent Bangladesh
The process of Bengal becoming Bangladesh can be clustered under several phases.
1. (1757 - 1857.) Social protest and resistances: This phase begins with the Fakir -Sannysin resistance in 1760, an alliance of Hindu and Muslim rural religious leaders supported by the peasantry against British taxation. This was followed by a series of peasant resistances that declined only when peasants were granted limited voting right in 1909. (1)
Many resistances including the Faraizi movement (1812- 1850) created large scale social networks of the majority community peasantry and the middle peasantry who became significant political players later on. It was also helped by the economic rise of these classes in the rural areas. (2)
During the Sepoy Mutiny (1857), the zamindars of Bengal supported the British but the peasantry joined the resistance. After 1857, the Muslim middle class grew across India including Bengal which the British promoted. They wanted another group to depend on other than the dominant Hindu elite. Both groups were privileges based not faith based communities. These two elite communities conflicted too which influenced Bengal history as well. (3)
However in Bengal, the peasants and activists followed an independent stream of history rooted in resistance. Within 1857, the politicization of social resistance began. (4)
2. 1857-1905-11 - Birth and resistance to sub-state formation: Collaboration, resistance and competition were all prominent as colonialism weakened from 1857 onward. Notable milestones were:
* The birth of East Bengal sub-state (1905), supported by the peasantry and resisted by the Kolkata elite.
* Elections of 1937 that turned peasant power from armed resistance to votes and electoral victory leading ultimately to state making.
The internal divisions in Bengal indicated that the colonially imagined "One Bengal" could not be sustained though it served the Kolkata elite class of the Swadeshi's interest. Rise of the Bengal sub-state was interpreted by the Kolkata elite as a threat to their well being but the peasantry saw it as an opportunity. (5)
Through this sub-state production, Britain not only intended to promote a counter elite to the Kolkata elite to extend its rule but was hoping to diffuse the challenge from a militant peasantry also.
The opposition to the new sub-state by the Swadeshi movement didn't signal the birth of a new hostility. It was a recognition of a long standing one that had grown under colonialism between the elite and the peasantry. The established and the aspirant elite also conflicted over the sub-state formation and annulment.
The sub -state making movement and the mainstreaming of peasant power into national politics was a game changer. Social resistance was formalized not just at socio-economic but at territorial levels as well. Voting rights granted to the people manifested its power through the elections of 1937 and 1946 that made the political conclusion almost inevitable. (6)
3. 1905- 1947: From sub-state to subsumed state.
This period saw the final political milestones under British colonialism. These are:
* Annulment of the East Bengal sub-state in 1911.
* Recognition of full state status for Bengal (Lahore Resolution , 1940) by Muslim League which ultimately led to 1947 state making of Pakistan.
* Changing of sovereign independent full state status for Bengal by the Muslim League to a single Centre dominated state (1946) (7)
* Rise and ending of the United Bengal independent state movement by the Indian/Bengal Congress in 1947 followed by its resolution for the "partition" of Bengal. (8)
Peasantry in colonial politics
In this formal period of politics under colonialism, the victory of Bengal Muslim League and Krishak Proja Party under Fazlul Haque changed power equations within Bengal in 1937. In Lahore 1940, the "sovereign independent" state resolution was passed by the Indian Muslim League which defined politics in Bengal. Various groups began to discuss "Independent East Pakistan". ( 9) The victory was possible largely due to peasant power exercised through votes which was later confirmed in 1946 when absolute majority was won by the BML in Bengal. (10)
But in 1946, as in 1970, "Pakistan" refused to hand over power to an independent East Pakistan/ Bengal. Jinnah's Muslim League changed the status from "states" to a single "state" at a Delhi meeting after the elections. By denying an independent state status in 1946, Pakistan became a centralized state, located in West Pakistan. It was dysfunctional from birth lasting only 24 years.
In 1947, Bengal Muslim league initiated a "United Bengal Movement", an attempts to create the "Third Dominion" but in June 1947, Bengal Congress under pressure from All India Congress led by Nehru squashed the move and took the resolution for the "Partition of Bengal." (11)
It was an admission of a reality that the Kolkata elite led Bengal belonged to another history from the peasantry of Bengal and its political allies and leadership. (12)
4. 1947- 1971 : From birth of a "false " state of Central Pakistan and subsumed state of "Bangladesh"/ East Pakistan in 1947 to independent Bangladesh in 1971.
Key milestones are:
* The birth of Awami (Muslim) League in 1949, effectively a continuation of the marginalized and the peasant based Bengal Muslim League. (13)
* Opposition to mono state language policy which would exclude educated Bangla speakers from government jobs, media etc In 1952, police fired on language issue protesting students generating militancy among the middle class lasting till 1971. (14)
* United Front victory (1954) in East Pakistan which sealed the political unity of the subsumed state confirming its political separation from "Pakistan". (15)
* Martial Law of Ayub Khan (1958) and various "independent state" initiatives by political groups including AL members. (16)
* 6 points movement of the AL (1966) and counter attack by Pakistan including the Agaratala conspiracy trial and public resistance in response. (1969). (16 and 17)
* Martial law by Yahya Khan to secure an at-risk Pakistan. (18)
* Elections of 1970 swept by the AL based on 6 points (19)
* Non-cooperation and resistance from March 1971 onwards after power hand over refusal by Yahya Khan. (20)
* Speech of 7th March signaling a return to resistance from voting as a strategy after six decades by the Bengal peasantry and its allies. (21)
* Crack down of 25th March and formal independence declaration as the war of 1971 began.
The next episode will deal with the transition of East Pakistan to Bangladesh as the "false" state of Pakistan died and the historical state of Bangladesh rose to full implementation.
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