The Battle Cry: Independence is humanity’s yearning. Independence is humanity’s lifeline. Independence is bud for humanity’s blooming. Rangalal Bandyopadhyay, a poet from Bengal under British boot, affirmed the position with two questions: Shaadheenataa-heenataay ke baacheete chay …? Daashatta-sreenkhal balo ke pareebe pay …, is there anyone liking a life without independence? is there anyone willing to have a shackled life? (“Shaadheenataa-Sangeet”, Padmini Upakhayan, 1858) [FC welcomes suggestion on this translation.] These make independence humanity’s battle cry.
Independence is a political question on the bedrock of conflicting economic interests as the issue is within human society segmented by classes, fragments and factions of class(es), and by socio-economic parts yet to get developed as class. Role and capacity of classes related to the issue determine character of independence: real or pseudo, free from imperialist clutches or neo-colonial, forward looking or in appeasement with vestiges of decaying socio-economic forces. It was impossible, as for example, to attain full independence by the bourgeoisie in pre-1947 India because of its ties with imperialists. The transfer of power by the imperialist British Empire was organized in the shape of two states neo-colonial in character. The battle cry for full independence continued to reverberate across the concerned lands pregnant with aspirations of nationalities.
Pakistan, a neo-colonial state, being steered by an alliance of comprador-bureaucrat capital and traces of feudalism had no power to colonize East Bengal/Poorba Baanglaa, which was christened as East Pakistan by the Pakistan rulers. The Pakistan state, as a mere underling in the world imperialist system, was exploiting East Bengal, today’s independent Bangladesh. The imperialist capital was appropriating profit, and its orderlies were taking their share. Process to maximize profit made exploitation of East Bengal ruthless. Immaturity and incapacity of the orderlies further animalized the already bestial exploitation process. Rate of profit of the capital involved, and violent acts, measured on a scale, the state machine carried in East Bengal are two of the indicators for identifying the extent of brutish exploitation process. These sharpened related contradictions, which were identified by a part of political leadership, and ignored and not understood by another. The later group’s destiny was a pure failure, although the group failed to foresee its failure in waiting – a problem with blissful ignorance.
The group waiting to face its destiny of failure had to rely on a political process mechanical in appearance – unrestrained use of force in the shape of total curtailment of all rights tax payers and surplus value producers are allowed to live with for the sake of reproduction of capital in East Bengal/East Pakistan. It was retrenchment of free expression and free movement, and demolishing of peaceful way of living, safety, security and life of an entire population in an entire land, East Bengal; it was segregation and hate-politics, a form of indignity imposed; it was indiscriminate loot and arson at mass scale targeting ordinary tax payers, whose nod is needed to have legitimacy by rulers; it was killing at mass scale, which ultimately was organized as a genocide in the land; it was an organized act to impose dishonor and indignity on an entire people of East Bengal, today’s Bangladesh. It was a show of stupid arrogance. And, it was part of a process of failure.
The failure was of the concerned capital steering the politics, which had no capacity to resort to any process other than the imposition of the process of suppression and repression of the people in East Bengal. The failure was in imposing capital’s will on the people of the land – the Baangaalees. The capital failed to find out or devise mechanism and arrangement for non-use of violent force, for resorting to peaceful means, for winning over the already trampled and throttled down people. The capital’s capacity was up to that level – a historical incapacity. This historical limit in capacity and the extent of failure was embodied in the persons, especially the military officers with limited or no-knowledge about calculus of politics, which is different from logarithms used in warfare, in game with guns.
There was imperialist capital in the alluvial land – East Bengal. There was the exigency to secure that capital as the people had already got radicalized to many extents. Imperialism had its global strategy, which covered the land also. Therefore, imperialism firmly stood by its sentinels of interest in the entire act of using brute force, a tactical act, for the purpose of imposing capital’s will, a strategic necessity, on the Baangaalees – the people in Bangladesh. An unbridgeable gap emerged as a tactical act was being imposed to fulfill a strategic necessity. Moreover, imperialism assessed that a sharp strike would demobilize the “coward” Baangaalees, which was totally a wrong assessment built on archaic imperialist propaganda.
But, the people in the plains inundated by annual floods, the people living on the shores of the magnificent Ganga-Paddaa (also spelled Padma), on the mighty Meghnaa (also spelled Meghna), on the meandering Brahmaputra-Jamoonaa (also Jamuna) defied the dictates of the lords of the day. Resistance grew organically in the face of the powerful war machine unleashed against the peace-loving people. The resistance was an act of defiance. It was also politics. It was politics by the people with the intent of handling a few contradictions, it was politics of resistance. In front of rolling tanks on city streets, in front of charging guns, the resistance seemed pebbles at first sight.
But, the pebbles were part of the rock named dignity, the rock named defiance. Those were the pebbles of people’s politics, which the powerful ignore most of the time. There in rustic communities, in urban hovels, in middle class neighborhoods, sense of dignity kindled up as the common persons in millions rose in resistance, as they found the lifeline in their yearning for independence, as they stood up with arms to defend honor of all the people.
The question of dignity and honor is not of a few hundred thousand. That was the question of dignity and honor of all the people as dignity and honor is not determined by mathematical number, not by number of mothers and sisters, as dignity and honor of a single mother or a single sister is the dignity and honor of all the people. Killing of a single child is an act of dishonor. Killing of a single toiler is an act of dishonor. The rationale is: Life can’t be killed, can’t be dishonored, can’t be disgraced, can’t be pushed into a state of indignity; life isn’t an object to demolish wantonly or in a motivated method; citizens’ lives are not that cheap that can be trampled by boot of ruler. The common people felt in the way. Their sense of dignity and honor was not waiting to get kindled till a huge number arrives. Rather, the act of inflicting dishonor, not dependent upon number, by the tormentors emboldened the sense of dignity among the people.
The reality enlivened the battle cry: Independence. The reality that emerged was: assault on rights and life. Rights and life are connected to the question of dignity. Dignity is knifed out whenever any right and life of citizens are curtailed. There’s no dignified life with any curtailment of any right flowing out of the fountain of humanity. The people in Bangladesh took that stand in 1971 that defends life, rights, and, as a whole, dignity.
Their stand grew more glorified and dignified as imperialism was opposing them; and a stand that makes imperialism assess opposed is equal to standing in defense of world humanity as imperialism is opposed to humanity.
Dignity: The spirit of independence that gained momentum in Bangladesh in the blood-soaked year of 1971 was the question of dignity as (1) a people pinioned is void of dignity; (2) a nation pushed to the ground by occupiers’ boots is void of dignity; (3) an exploitation-ridden, poverty-tormented life is void of dignity; (4) a life submerged in ignorance and backwardness, and without the light of knowledge is void of dignity; (5) a life languishing with diseases, and slumbering in slums is void of dignity; (6) a life void of democracy is void of dignity as democracy creates sphere for participation to take decisions centering life of people; (7) a life haunted by fear and insecurity is void of dignity. Bengal’s Tagore sang: Mookta karo voy, get rid of fear. A life, a people is not crowned with dignity while fear of ruler, fear of state machine and torture, fear of dishonor and indignity, fear of hunger, unemployment, begging pity, uncertainty, losing face, segregation and exclusion overwhelm life and the people. The people in Bangladesh stood against these fears in 1971, the historical period of initiating the splendid War for Liberation. It was the period the people defied plots hatched by imperialism.
The people handled existing contradictions in their own way. There were contradictions within the neo-colonial state and the society, and with imperialism. The people had to resort to the force of arms as hostile forces armed to the teeth was demolishing people’s self-evident rights for a dignified life, as the people found no alternative in self-defense. It was a development in the contradictions existing at that historical time.
A few of the contradictions were settled while a few remained unsettled. That was the reality, material foundation, on which the spirit – dignity – dwelled. As the contradictions were being handled by the people to some extent leadership by class and the leading politics of the class in the endeavor was there with big questions, a few of which are puzzling while the rest are amazing. Seemingly baffling equations emerged in the realm of class leadership beginning from tiny villages to hot theater of geopolitics.
A calculus: With a perspective different from 1971, rekindling the spirit of independence (RSI) requires assessment of class forces, alignments and alliances these have made/entered into, historical capacities and limitations these bear. The dominating capital, its internal and external relations, its role and limitations are also to be assessed. Democracy and role of imperialism are two other fundamental issues to be examined.
There’s no scope even at miniscule level to ignore the question of imperialism while planning or pondering with RSI as imperialist capital allows none to have senses of self-respect, dignity and honor, to have sovereignty, to have politics, institutions/organizations, tools capable of determining and shaping self-destiny, to have appropriate form of democracy. To imperialist capital, its interest is the only and best interest, its definition is the only and correct definition, it’s the only moral judge with its decadent morality, its logic and rationality are the only yardstick, it’s the single mirror to reflect, it’s the only power to own the single grinding stone to reshape everything on this Earth, it’s the only master with dignity.
All social, economic, political moves require leadership of class. Capacity of the class determines success or failure of any of the moves. Which class shall lead the task of the RSI is a fundamental question as RSI is a political issue, as it’s connected to economic interests, and there are similar other basic issues related to the question. Decadent part(s) of a society/class(es) is/are incapable of carrying out a forward looking task. These also decline (incapable also) to carry forward any economic task that come into conflict with its interest but are necessary for materializing the RSI as RSI is not merely an issue connected solely to emotion. A few of the tasks are in direct conflict with imperialist capital, and class(es) with economic ties to imperialist interest shall not carry on the tasks. It’s, rather, an economic and political issue capable of inspiring and mobilizing an entire people; and all economic and political issues are in coherence with a certain group of class interests while are in conflict with others. Issues capable of inspiring and mobilizing an entire people are in conflict with economic interests that thrive and prosper on appropriating and disenfranchising people, and hurting/harming/undercutting their interests. This fact of coherence-conflict is one of the factors determining the RSI process.
Rest of the RSI issue – ideological/educational/cultural/social, etc. – will be determined by the class, its related contents, and the contradictions these generate. A forward-looking class with the capacity to move forward and its allies can make an onward move with the task of materializing the RSI. Forward-looking all political programs turn into a mere paronomasia, and float on thin air of emotion in absence of the moves by the class, and political-economic interests leas away from people profit from the emotion, and utilize the emotion to boost legitimacy.
[The article was originally published in New Age, Dhaka it its Victory Day Special issue on December 16, 2016 celebrating victory of the Bangladesh War for Liberation in 1971, the day the occupying Pakistan army surrendered.]
Farooque Chowdhury is a freelancer from Dhaka, Bangladesh