Two factors have greatly influenced the history of Bangladesh. One is the formation of leadership -individual and collective - and the other is the alliance making among various class groups and segments based on common objectives and enemies. In general, we look upon leaders as producers of history but a wider view would be that leaders are produced by society and together, history as well. While it's true that individuals play major roles, they can't go beyond the framework of society, ultimately historical inevitabilities.

One of the reasons why we have sometimes focused more on the individual rather than society, including marginalized groups, is because it's easier to comprehend complex historical development using personal biographies. It's also useful for production of privileged connected networks and groups. However, history can be comprehended only when it makes a link between the self and society.

The idea of individuals triumphing all odds is very tempting to subscribe to. It makes humans capable of unlimited free will. This is a contentious issue but in the case of any history, at least the interactive relationship is very important to recognize the full comprehension of history. As Bangladesh history shows, humans are very much driven by history and its will is carried out by individuals who are located at the right time and place, able to recognize historical consciousness. But to do so, they require organizations and networks that make reaching historical objectives possible.

In the case of Bangladesh, the so-called 'isolated' villages had become part of a collective consciousness that challenged conventional notions of historical analysis and become agents of change beyond Eurocentric notions of people's role in history.

In the second episode we deal with some of the leaders of the Bangladesh movement: The leaders discussed are Sk. Mujibur Rahman, Maualana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, A. K. Fazlul Haque, H.S. Suhrawardy and Abul Hashim.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: Political roots and Historical identity

Central to the understanding of Sk. Mujib is his autobiography, "The Unfinished Memoirs" where he discusses the social conflicts and convergences of his early life which shaped his mind. The semi-rural Gopalganj and his emergence into Kolkata politics can be linked together to form a common political narrative.

Unlike other leaders - Gandhi, Jinnah, Nehru, Subhash Bose or even Suhrawardy - he didn't have a London education which probably influenced them to adopt a centralized notion of the Westphalian state. He was more indigenous, more free from Western ideas about decolonization.

Sk. Mujib was not a peasant but a person from a class/group who have historically been linked with peasant resistances as their mentor and leaders. The turmoil around the establishment of East Bengal, the resistance by the Swadeshis led by Kolkata, the rejection of Bengal Pact (1923) which proposed equity between the privileged minority and denied majority middle class, all impacted on rural Bengal too. The stirrings that began in peasant resistance never quieted down and it pushed up into the national space.

Opposition to East Bengal sub-state's emergence ended almost all efforts to bring communities together. History was interpreted along faith community lines by the Kolkata elite ignoring economic and social history. This interpretation may have helped retain some control in the interregnum in central Indian politics but not long.

In the Margin of Bengal, the agro hinterland where the majority lived symbolized for our purpose by Sk. Mujib's home - the Gopalganj area - it made them more hostile to Kolkata.

The rejection of the Bengal Pact (1923) by the Hindu minority leading Bengal Congress indicated the actual nature and state of conflict in Bengal. It was possible to refuse to share middle class access to jobs and resources through resolutions and protests but peasantry was going to be the critical player if there were votes to decide governance policy as history shows.

Colonial Bengal lasted only a decade after the 1937 elections. And the main player was the peasantry whose votes brought the BML and KPP to power and ended colonial Bengal in 1947. The refusal of the UBM proposal officalized the fact that the "One Bengal" concept was probably perceived and based on dubiously interpreted history.

Politics of votes and political militancy

SM's conflict with the local establishment was initially at the social level and he had to spend a few days in jail for that. (29) He was not cowed down by any one. To Sk. Mujib it was clear that it's the institutions that were oppressive not communities, faith or otherwise. ("It was also true that Muslim landlords were treating their Hindu tenants shabbily."

He was respectful of Bengal leaders like Das, Bose and others but not of the Congress organization which he felt favoured the oppressor. That he would gravitate towards the Bengal Muslim League and KPP alliance which won the 1937 elections was therefore given.

His militancy was obvious in his pre political life too but became prominent when he foiled local Congress youth from preventing Haq and Suhrawardy from holding a meeting. By 1946 was the most powerful youth leader in Bengal. When he mentions guarding the slums of Kolkata in 1946, most residents of those were from East Bengal.

He was also close to Abul Hashim, BML leader of radical ilk, as his bio says, with many others which also influenced him. (33) When the Delhi Resolution (1946) was passed and the United Bengal Movement (1947) failed within a short span, several BML youth formed a clandestine cluster called the "Inner Group" to establish an independent state outside India and Pakistan.

The leader of this group, a close political colleague, Moazzem Ahmed Chowdhury mentioned that they always thought that the only man who could lead such a movement was "that tall man from Goplaganj".

This "tall man" man shared a history of denial and aspiration with the peasants from the Margin and hinterland. In a way Gopalganj summed up the situation of the then socio-political world of Bengal. That was his historical identity and it was shared with the peasantry, a mutually loyal relationship.

Politics of identity, politics of alliance

Politics is produced by alliances of many identities. This is more so in the Margins which works on the basis of multiple functional relationships not just access to middle class benefits. It also works together with other relationships and identities if and when needed.

The transition from British to the Pakistani phase is a good example. States are resource accessing mechanisms so for the oppressed people any states that do so are good, but don't expect loyalty. This was the case with East Pakistan/Bangladesh peasantry and middle class too.

Bangladeshis were never close to the ideological Pakistan but wanted an equitable resource distributing state system. While India and Pakistan may have been led by ideologues like Jinnah and Nehru/Gandhi, Bangladesh leadership had a different socio-political constituency and history.

Of the younger lot, Sk. Mujib and many others considered 1947 a "betrayal." His political colleague Moazzem Ahmed Chowdhury says that, Sk. Mujib believed that it would be a colony of Pakistan. In fact, the formation of AML in 1949, shows the en masse rejection of the ideological state by which India and Pakistan defined each other by the politicians of East Bengal and East Pakistan.

Muslim League like the Congress was a party of convenience and the peasant based politicians were quick to break the tie when it longer suited them. Thus Awami Muslim League (AML) was a far more authentic political construct that was based on history. It's here that the historical identity was realized.

There were many elements in the construction of the political movements after 1947 but the focus on linguistic nationalism may have been overdone. It's a very important element but not the dominant one. Ethnicity was not the main player of history ever, socio-economic experience was.

SM's speech on 7th March is significant because it mobilized the peasantry all over Bangladesh. Although their role is sidelined in mainstream liberation war history, research shows that no war was possible without their support. A war against 75 million people can't be militarily won.

The peasant connection

Bangladesh in all the four major stages of history was based on multi-class and multi community alliance. The peasantry was the prime player due to its number and its commitment to resistance as it was a livelihood struggle for them. It was not an ideological or community identity but a history based identity.

What connected the peasantry to Sk. Mujib was a shared experience of history particularly in his formative years that shaped his political self. It's not a contest of cultural identity that motivated him but socio-economic history and right to equity whose denial he himself experienced firsthand.

It's this shared identity that held together the movement for a state for the Marginalized, a continuous struggle under two variations of colonialism. It's this historical identity that defined the role and relationship of the alliance members too that aspired for Bangladesh and its leader in 1971 - Sk. Mujibur Rahman.

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