The Legacy of the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh - Part-VI
By Rabindranath Trivedi - for Asian Tribune from Dhaka
Part-VI : The Hindu Leaders in East Bengal
Dhaka, 22 July, (Asiantribune.com): After partition, most of the prominent Hindu leaders left East Bengal in despair, having lost all hopes for effective political participation in Pakistan where a single Muslim communal party was monopolizing political power. The remainder of the Hindu leadership concentrated on articulating minority grievances and seeking constitutional safeguards for the community…In an attempt to ally with the Bengali Muslims, the Hindu leaders espoused Bengali causes in the central and provincial assemblies…During the period 1954-58, they shared political power with the majority community both at the center and Provincial assemblies.
In East Bengal, their support was instrumental in determining the fate of the different coalition governments they took part in constitution making. They were successful in getting their most important demand, the joint electorate, incorporated in the Constitution. Jyoti Sengupta wrote: "Sometime in 1948 there was a split in the Congress on the issue of retaining its past nomenclature. Dhirendranath Dutta left the Congress and formed a new party, which was named Pakistan Gana Samity. Later, the name was changed into United Progressive Party (UPP). The UPP came into being after the 1954 general elections in East Pakistan with 13 members of the provincial assembly and 2 MPs. It included the khadi group of the Congress and a section of Forward Bloc and the Pakistan Socialist Party. People, belonging to the minority communities all over the province needed a party and leadership which could take up their cause and help in keeping up their morale. The minorities living in remote villages looked up to the Congress for help.
The scheduled caste members of the Assembly were in majority among the minorities in the parliamentary field. By virtue of this position they were wooed by different political parties for support.
The Scheduled Caste Federation, which maintained an otherwise democratic and secular manifesto, was in favor of separate electorate. The Caste Hindus demand for joint electorate with a clause for reservation of seats for the scheduled castes was a compromise by the caste Hindus for the sake of keeping united the minority communities in the province. "One of the most distressing features of political life of Pakistan has been the continuing refusal to take the Hindus at their word and to treat them as other than a potential fifth column.
During the period 1954 to 1958, the Hindu minority achieved a significant advance toward securing its interests. The situation was completely different in the initial years of Pakistan, when the Hindus could not play an effective role in the politics of the country. They were not successful in achieving a totally secular constitution, but they definitely exerted influence in making the constitution more liberal-democratic, thereby safeguarding the minority interests. Their greatest success was the incorporation of the joint electorate system in the constitution.
From 1955 to 1958 they shared power with the Muslims, both at the centre and in East Pakistan, with the exception of the two months of I. I. Chundrigar ministry in 1957. They received ministerial rewards disproportionate to their size. The Abu Hussein Sarkar ministry had four Hindu representatives in a cabinet of ten. They were also successful in implementing the 23 per cent service quota for the Hindus. Most importantly, Hindu collaboration with the coalition governments resulted in a sense of security among the ordinary Hindus. They shed their fear, and their migration to India dropped considerably. Thus this period has been described by the Hindu leaders as the time when the Hindu minority lived most happily in East Pakistan.
During this period, the Hindus were more compromising than before. When they were coalition partners, they did not insist on amending the constitution to drop the Islamic nomenclature of the Republic or the disqualification of non-Muslims to the office of the head of state. It is notable that they started playing an effective role only when the Muslim political groups of the United Front lost cohesion in 1955. The nearly balanced strength of the two Muslim political parties made it possible for the Hindus to play a crucial role during the period, in the sense that their support could determine the rise and fall of ministries.
In 1954, general elections were held in East Bengal. All the anti-Muslim League forces realised the opportunity to be gained by forming a united front against the Muslims League(ML), the ruling party of Pakistan as well as in East Bengal. A United Front (UF) was formed against the Muslim League on the basis of 21 points to face the League in the general elections in 1954. The United Front drew up a 21-point manifesto which included all the popular demands of East Bengal . The two most important demands of the manifesto were regional autonomy for East Bengal (excluding defence, foreign affairs, and currency) and the recognition of Bengali as one of the state languages.
The UF-coalition won a landslide victory in the election. It captured 227 (Awami League-143; KSP-48; Nezam-i-Islam-22; Ganatantri-13; Khilafat-i- Rabbani-1) out of 237 Muslims seats and minority seats 72 ( Congress-24; Scheduled Caste Federation-27; UPP-13; Ganatantri Dal-3; Communist party-4; Independent-1) in a House of 309, while the Muslim League barely managed to survive by winning only 10 seats. All the important leaders of the ML including ministers of East Bengal cabinet were defeated. The Muslim League suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the United Front in which Awami League was the majority party.
The ML could not concede the defeat in the elections in the good grace. So, they resorted to conspiracies to dismiss the U F government .In third week of May 1954, there were bloody riots between Bengali and non-Bengali workers in Adamjee and other mills and factories in East Bengal.. Finally, on 29 May 1954, the UF government was dismissed by the Central Government and Governor’s rule was imposed in the East Bengal,which lasted till 2 June 1955.
After he becoming the chief minister of the United Front government in East Bengal on 3 April1954, A K Fazlul Huq, visited Calcutta for a medical check-up. He was to meet his long –time friend Dr.Bidhan Chandra. Ray, an eminent physician, then at the helm of affairs in West Bengal. But this visit had more to attain in terms of the man’s glory.
The Sher-e-Bangla was visiting this city after partition for the second time. Earlier he visited Calcutta during the riots in 1950. “Huq Reception Committee” organized a huge crowd at the Calcutta airport to receive him. Huq was overwhelmed. He declared that the medical check-up was not his only purpose in visiting Calcutta, this was his city ,he had spent his best years here, he wanted to resurrect his association with the heart of Bengal to draw inspirations afresh, and if need arose.... He wanted to assure the refugees of better treatment back home so that they could be persuaded to return. He expressed the issue for exchange of visits of intellectuals, academics and artists. ....On his return, he was almost accused of “treason”... he was said to have remarked in the course of an interview given to an American journalist (Mr.John P Callaghan) that “the first task of my ministry will be to achieve independence of East Bengal”.... He was summoned to Karachi (the then Capital of Pakistan) to explain his remarks to Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Bogra, and the Governor General. Ghulam Muhammad.
The explanations did not convince the central rulers of his loyalty. On 30 May, he was forced to issue a statement regretting the anxiety that his statements had caused to the nation. ... On 31 May, he was dismissed from office, Governor’s rule was introduced, Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Bogra in a speech broadcast over radio accused Fazlul Huq of being a “traitor to East Bengal and Pakistan,” a charge repeated in another speech on 16 June 1954..... As the year ended, his role too a full somersault. He felt no further political bond with the Awami League.
He joined the central cabinet (Home Minister), and later became the Governor of East Bengal. The news headline published in the Pakistan Observer was: ‘East Bengal Wishes to be Independent: Haq’s Interveiw with New York Times, Center’s Attitude to Province Deplored’ The vacuous nature of the closing period of his political engagement was mercilessly exposed again shortly after 1954. He (A.K. Fazlul Haq) had to stick to his rump and his follower Abu Hussein Sarkar, thereby, of course, he got everything. He became the advocate-general, then chief minister, then a central home minister and finally the governor of East Pakistan.
The United Front formed the provincial government with Abu Hussein Sarkar as the Chief Minister. Cabinet of Ministers: Syed Azizul Huq ; Mr.Ashafuddin Ahmed Chowdhury; Syed Mostagawsal Huq; Mr. Gyasuddin Ahmed Chowdhury; Mr.Gyasuddin Ahmed ; Haji Md. Nabi Chowdhury; Mr. Provash Chandra Lahiry; Mr. Ahmed Hossain; Mr. Madhusudan Sarkar; Mr. Monoranjan Sikdar.
The UF finally broke up Meanwhile, KSP supported separate electoral system in the Constitution of Pakistan and opposed the joint electoral system, the minority members in the EBLA withdrew support to Fazlul Huq and instead, Hindu Leaders (Congress, UPP and Ganatantri Party) support to the AL on the basis of 5-point agreement. In 1955, AL adopted the path of secularism and non-communalism, erased the word’ Muslim’ from its nomenclature.
A coalition government led by AL comprising minority and left party members formed the cabinet. on 6September 1956. Ataur Rahman Khan became the Chief Minister. on September 12,1956 ,S H Suhrawardy became Prime Minister of Pakistan and remained in power for 13 months . First time Al took power in the centre for 13 months (12 September-18 October 1957) and in East Pakistan for 18 months (6 September 1956- 31 March 1958) Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Dhirendranath Dutta, Monoranjan Dhar, Mashiur Rahman, Mansur Ali,Abdur Rahman Khairat Hossain ,Khafiluddin Chowdhury, Muhammad Ali ,Rasharaj Mondal,Sarat Chandra Majumder and Gour Chandra Bala were also members of the AL Cabinet.
These respected Hindu leaders served terms in prison at different times. Since the early Sixties, the Hindu students in the colleges and Universities came in touch with left-winged politics of EPSU as the Hindu bhadralok (gentleman) had been dominating the Bengal Communist Party since 1930s. The Hindu involvement in the so-called communist groups was more an ideological motivation than to safeguard the minority interests. These Communist Hindu bhadraloks were well educated, suffered great loss after the 1950 riots, when two-thirds of the party members migrated to India.
Badruddin Umar,a noted Bangladesh writer and Marxist ideologue, in his book entitled “The Emergence of Bangladesh : The class Struggles in East Pakistan,1947-1958 (Oxford U P,2004)”is a welcome edition to the list. Chapters dealing with Partition, peasants’ and workers’ movements, formation of the East Pakistan Communist Party and its role, Language Movement in East Pakistan are the best ones. On minority question and partition of India, thus the creation of Pakistan did not solve the” religious minority problems’ (p.-1) holding both Congress and Jinnah responsible for this.
About the failure of Communist Movements, Badruddin Umar, the author, is of the view that the mistaken policy and strategy adopted by the Communist Party were responsible for not being able to play its desired role despite genuine commitment and many sacrifices. First of all, in pursuance of B.T.Ranadive’s thesis, the communist party had to recourse to a militant path in the aftermath of partition when Pakistan euphoria was very much high among the Muslim masses. Secondly, in the early sixties, the party resolved to allow a section of its leadership to operate within the Awami League instead of developing itself as an independent body pursuing the Bengali national question along the line of class struggles.
After the imposition of martial law in October 1958, the Hindu community retreated from the mainstream Bangladesh life. Hindu advancement in politics ended with the collapse of the parliamentary system. The repressive, anti-Hindu and anti-Indian martial law regime forced the Hindus to retreat. Even when Ayub Khan installed a quasi-constitutional government in Pakistan, they did not stage a comeback in the political arena. Survival was the greatest problem facing the community.
The Hindus were always free to migrate to India. This very fact explains the lack of any serious effort on the part of the Hindu leaders to rebuild their political base and their gradual retreat. Had there been no opportunity to migrate to India, they would have made serious attempts to re-emerge politically.
During the regimes of Gen. Ayub Khan and Gen. Yahya Khan’s military regimes in Pakistan (1958-71), the Hindus suffered politically and economically. The Hindus, as a political force, were suppressed to the extent of virtual non-existence. The rule of Martial Law, the Basic Democracy system and the Enemy Property Act (Vested Property Act) pushed them out of the political arena Khushwant Singh writes: “if things go from bad to worse in India, you can be sure they go from worse to the intolerable in Pakistan and Bangladesh .If you want to get some little comfort by comparing our lot with that of the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis I can recommend,” Generals in Pakistan1958-1982 by Retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan. He tells you how in Pakistan civil servants took over from the bureaucrats and how the voice of the people was stifled over the years. In its pages you will meet General Ayub, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, General Yahya, Bhutto and General Ziaul Huq.’
Asghar khan mourns: ‘The face of Islam which Pakistan is presenting to the world and to our own people is of a religion, concerned only with harsh punishments .To convert a great religion, vitally concerned with the welfare of the individual into a mere penal code of crime and punishment, is to do it great disservice.”
Rabindranath Trivedi is a retired civil servant, author and columnist.
- To Be Continued –
- Asian Tribune –