Fifty four years ago, on 30 September 1965, a cataclysm came over Indonesia. It was given out that an attempt at a coup d'etat, which claimed the lives of six generals of the Indonesian army, had been foiled by a seventh general named Suharto. It was also made known that the abortive coup had been planned by the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI), the largest communist organization outside China and what was then the Soviet Union and led by the brilliant politician D.N. Aidit.

In the aftermath of the coup attempt, which as the years have shown did not involve the PKI at all but was part of a larger conspiracy by Suharto and his fellow soldiers to seize power from President Ahmed Sukarno, Aidit was seized by the military and was never seen again. Over a period of nearly two years after September 1965, a million Indonesians would die in a pogrom that had the active involvement and support of the army. Sukarno's foreign minister Subandrio, a physician who had become a powerful diplomat for Jakarta in the councils of the world, was taken into custody, tried for what was touted as his complicity in the coup attempt and sentenced to death. The death sentence was later commuted to imprisonment for life.

Subandrio spent three decades in prison before being allowed to go free in 1995. He lived for nine years after his release and in all that period never spoke about his ordeal in prison or about his views on the tragedy that pushed Indonesia into the dictatorship and eventual kleptocracy the country mutated into under Suharto and his cohorts. By his silence, necessarily caused by fear of the state that yet had Suharto at its helm before the dictator was shown the door, Subandrio was unable to leave behind his account of the darkness which fell across Indonesia in 1965. His leader, President Sukarno, his wings clipped by Suharto and finally pushed out of office in early 1967, died quietly in 1970. Like Subandrio, he too went to his grave without saying a word about September 1965.

In the modern history of the world, the silences of men who once strode across the globe proudly demonstrating the power or influence or aspirations of their nations have been disquieting for historians and researchers of the stories of nations. Subandrio's and Sukarno's were not the only voices of silence. In that year of darkness for Indonesians, Col Houari Boumeddiene, Algeria's defence minister, launched a coup against his leader, President Ahmed Ben Bella. The month was June and Algeria had been an independent nation for barely three years. Ben Bella was, in those tumultuous 1960s, the face of the future. Having led his country to freedom from French rule, he was clearly on the way to turning Algeria into a bulwark of development in the third world. Feted all over the world for his struggle and its success, Ben Bella was a politician regarded as the romantic face of a post-colonial set of circumstances.

The romance which Ben Bella personified came to an end with the Boumedienne coup. He was swiftly placed under arrest and spent fourteen years in a dungeon and then in house arrest, a sign of the medieval behaviour his enemies had decided to subject him to. It would be many years before Ben Bella would be freed. He tried to make a comeback in politics, but the world had changed enormously by then. He had little impact on the future, not a happy one, his country was taking. He could have left behind his account of the coup which had overthrown him in 1965; he could have enlightened the world with a narrative on the conditions in which he had been kept in prison. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Ben Bella died quietly, a shadow of his former self, in 2012.

The world would have profited enormously, in terms of getting an insight into the history of communism and the struggles within it, had Alexander Dubcek left behind his version of the 1968 Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, followed by the Warsaw Pact invasion in August of the year, his removal from power and the years he was compelled to spend as a minor forestry officer away from the centre of things. Dubcek returned to glory with the success of Vaclav Havel's Velvet Revolution and took over as speaker of the country's parliament. His death in a road crash put paid to any chance of his ever speaking out on the past and on his life and career as they were made --- and broken when Leonid Brezhnev decided to punish him and his country over Prague's brief flirtation with socialism that had, in Dubcek's words, a human face.

Subandrio, Sukarno, Ben Bella and Dubcek passed into history, into the region of mortality, in silence one wishes had not been. There is too Liu Shaoqi, once President of China and a powerful presence beside Mao Zedong. His gentle demeanour masked the steely personality which defined his character. He fell foul of Mao, who had no qualms in unleashing the Red Guards against him. Humiliated and beaten, Liu was thrown into prison. It was not known until years later that he had died in incarceration in 1969. What if he had survived, as Deng Xiaoping did? What if the new politics inaugurated once Mao and the Gang of Four passed from the scene had allowed Liu to return to centre stage and in the end permitted him to enlighten us on his lifelong experience as a communist of conviction?

Tajuddin Ahmad was not to emerge alive from the darkness of prison, characterized as it was by the brutality of his and his colleagues' murder in November 1975. If he had been freed, if indeed circumstances had freed him, we would see him soldier on with the politics he and Bangabandhu had so decisively articulated and brought to fruition through the War of Liberation. The intellectual that he was, Tajuddin Ahmad would have given the nation a dispassionate analysis of the history he had been part of. And we would have been the richer for it.

There are those who make history and there are those who write about it. There are, again, those who make history and at the same time possess the power and the skills to write objectively about it. Our tragedy is that those who would make history and then write about it either fall silent or are not given the freedom by circumstances to let us in on their thoughts of the world they have had a hand in reshaping and creating.

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