Who has the right to determine Bangladesh’s future?

On March 26 this year, I decided to reflect on the Liberation War that took place 44 years ago, and think about important issues arising from the war which continue to confront us today.

The titular question is a very important and fundamental one for the Bangladeshis to find a clear answer to. The Awami League and Bengali nationalists in Bangladesh feel that they have more rights to govern the country and determine its future than any other group.  Further, they also believe that this right extends to every other matter regarding Bangladesh, for example and especially so, in relation to defining the legitimate boundaries and nature of our national culture and identity. No other political party or ideology in Bangladesh makes such a claim.

Of the major causes behind the current problems of social polarisation and destructive political conflicts in the country, in my view, the existence of the above belief amongst the supporters and adherents of AL and Bengali nationalism stands at the apex. How Bangladesh develops into the future — the development of a culture of peaceful transition of power between political parties, the harmonious co-existence of opposing groups and the ending of the destructive polarisation within the country will all depend on what kind of answer we find to the above question. The AL and Bengali nationalists do not have this right.

The question of who has the right to dominate Bangladesh and all its constituent elements, if examined with critical thoroughness, starting with basic and first principle level analysis, should be possible to answer with definitive clarity. At the moment, because of widespread confusion and an inability on our part to think with critical rigour, we find ourselves unable to tackle the myriad of problems arising from this wrong belief held by the AL and Bengali nationalists.

Do the AL and Bengali nationalists have more rights to Bangladesh under any fundamental principles of governance, democracy and human co-existence within a defined geographical political entity?  The answer to this question has to be a simple no, but the existence of this belief amongst the AL and the Bengali Nationalists in Bangladesh has been determining their destructive conduct in politics, and how they participate in various economic and social processes of the country.

The AL and Bengali nationalists feel, in their minds and from their points of view, that they can use whatever means at their disposal to act on their greater rights to govern Bangladesh and determine its future. In the process they do not care about the rights of others, which they feel are less legitimate, and as a result, they end up creating chaos, polarisation and continuous deepening pain in our society.

Essentially, it seems that there are two reasons. First, they believe that they are responsible for initiating the revolt against Pakistani rule and leading the 1971 Liberation War to victory. Therefore, they argue, they are the ones who properly understand the true spirit of the Liberation War and have the sole right to articulate its nature and perimeters. Second, they believe that one of the main reasons why the Bengalis of East Pakistan fought for the liberation of Bangladesh was because they wanted to preserve and progress their Bengali cultural identity, which was under threat in Pakistan. As such, only by being in power, they feel they can take the country towards the path of the true spirit of the Liberation War and preserve and promote the authentic cultural identity of the country.  Rule by any other group, according to them, is a path that is anti the spirit of the 1971 Liberation War.

How valid are the above two grounds which underpin how the AL and Bengali nationalists feel?   Further, do the deductions made logically follow, in a valid way, from these two assertions acting as axioms?

The Bangladesh Liberation War 1971 took place as a result of the Pakistani army initiating a planned military assault on the unarmed Bengalis of East Pakistan to silence them for demanding the implementation of the 1970 election result.  Just like now, at that time, there were also all sorts of other demands made by a wide variety of groups in East Pakistan and, unlike now, the then legitimate AL’s voice was the strongest. When the war started, the majority from all sections just joined in the struggle to liberate the country. Exactly what the liberated country should look like was not discussed and debated before the process of liberation had started.

The majority of the Bengalis in East Pakistan supported the AL under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib in the 1970 election who achieved an overwhelming victory. But the questions before the election were not about Bengali nationalism, secularism, or socialism. Rather, they were on an altogether different plane and based on Mujib’s six point demands.

As the independence of Bangladesh was not one of the AL’s stated manifesto objectives of the 1970 election, which the party won with overwhelming majority, can they claim to know the true spirit and inspiration behind why people from different walks of life joined in to fight against the Pakistani army’s unjust attack and occupation of the then East Pakistan? If the election manifesto were to include independence as a stated goal in 1970, what would have been the election outcome?

Of course it is impossible to know, but the people in 1970 did not vote the AL into power to deliver a new country, but to implement the party’s six point demands.  The people were only compelled to fight for liberation once the Pakistani army acted unjustly and violently to prevent the implementation of the 1970 election results. Further, as those who fought bravely, including many who opposed the AL and Bengali nationalism, became divided after the war, means that they did not all fight to liberate the country for the same reasons, especially not based on the visions of the AL.

Hypothetically speaking, assume for a moment that the AL and Bengali nationalism, being the leading party and running the government in exile during the war, understood more than any other group the true spirit of the Liberation War. Does this mean they have more rights forever to govern Bangladesh and determine its future?

The answer has to be a simple and clear no. This is because human beings as individuals and groups evolve and change their minds and develop different perspectives and aspirations. As such, no one particular generation can determine the future of all generations to come. Therefore, even if the 1971 Liberation War had a true spirit which only the AL best understands, it does not mean that they have any intrinsic right to impose that on all future generations.

The AL and Bengali nationalists do not know the true spirit of the 1971 Liberation War and their 1970 election victory with their particular manifesto does not give them an automatic right to determine what an independent country should look like. However, hypothetically speaking, even if they had that right after the liberation, all future generations are not bound by how a particular generation in the past felt or did or wanted.

People do change their minds and evolve.  In the case of the Liberation War, not all those who fought bravely did so for the spirit as articulated by the AL, and some who did either changed their minds completely or underwent a process of evolution afterwards. People do and have the rights to change their minds or think differently with regard to small and big things, which happens all the time.

For example, Bengali Muslims overwhelmingly supported the creation of Pakistan in 1947 and then in 1971, in reversal, overwhelmingly supported the 1971 Liberation War struggle to free Bangladesh from Pakistani rule. Each time, the vast majority of Bengali Muslims united to support one side first, in 1947 for partition under the leadership of Jinnah (Muslim League) and in 1971 for liberation under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib (AL), and then quickly changed their minds and became disunited after the main objectives of the movements were achieved.

Source: Dhaka Tribune