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Friday, April 20, 2018

The tide of nationalism for the rise of Bangladesh

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Shuva Das illustrates the inner inception of independence movements ofBangladesh as unveiled by the author

Professor A. F. Salahuddin Ahmed is an intellectual celebrity and a renowned historian of Bangladesh. In his 'Bengali Nationalism and the Emergence of Bangladesh: An Introductory Outline', he depicted a vivid image on regional nationalism which at first demonstrates the partition of India and then the break-up of Pakistan. The full magnitude of Ahmed's intellectual work is still being appreciated and debated. This English version book is 'Poet Matiur Rahman Memorial Lectures' delivered by the writer in Bengali at Dhaka University in March 1991.

Ahmed vastly emphasized the Muslim Bengali nationalism. The harmonious orientation between Hindu and Muslim relations was existent before the British control of the region. Furthermore, it is mentionable that among Muslims of both the undivided India and the united Pakistan there was virtually no strong unity. Since the British era, they were relatively in backward position than Hindus because they could not willingly accept the Western cultures. Extreme Hindu nationalism and the biased behaviors of the foreign ruler forced Muslims to walk along a separate line.

The author pointed out that not before the last part of the 19th century when this backward community felt a separate political consciousness for the advent of some Muslim leaders such as Abdul Latif, Syed Ahmed Khan, Amir Ali etc. Unfortunately, they were Urdu-speaking; they avoided standing with Bengali Muslims.

The establishment of the Muslim League in 1906 was a milestone for Muslims. Yet, Bengali Muslims did not get any space in political arena of the Sub-continent until the rises of Sher-e-Bangla Fazlul Huq, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Maulana Bhashani, and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, nevertheless.

After the end of British rule in 1947, two countries emerged -- India and Pakistan. The West Wing and the East wing were the combination of Pakistan, which gave a bizarre look to it. The former exploited the latter cruelly in social, economic, political, and cultural aspects. The book shows that only religion was the dominant similarity between them. Language, territorial bond, common heritage, life-style, political values and so on of East Pakistan which were the base of the Bengali nationalism were almost completely different from its counterpart.

Because of its discriminatory acts, the popularity of the Muslim League declined in the eastern part of Pakistan and the Awami League immediately captured the mindset of the population of this region. From the 1952 Language movement, Bengali nationalism came out and people of here started struggle to achieve independence from Pakistani rulers.

In 1971, after breaking away from Pakistan in a bloody war, Bangladesh emerged as an independent state by unparalleled leadership of Bangabanhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of our nation. But, after Bangabandhu's assassination, having taken an exclusive stance, the military-turned rulers transformed 'Bengali nationalism' into 'Bangladeshi Nationalism' since the term 'Bengali' would incorporate Indian Bengalis. Considering the united Arab nation that spreads over West Asia and North Africa and that contains several countries with different political identities, Ahmed criticized this move.

This thought-stimulating book is academically so flexible that the reader community can easily comprehend the author's ideas. It also hugs the actual contexts for the appearance change of South Asia and recognizes nationalism can be good for the repressed, underprivileged section of population.

I think the author brought his nationalist elements from professor Benedict Anderson's most acclaimed book on the origin of nationalism 'Imagined Communities'. Strictly speaking, Ahmed used some ambiguous ideas on nationalism; for instance, he proposed that like religion language cannot be the basis of nationalism, but Bengali nationalism's main pillar was language. Besides, he belittled Hindus through monopolizing and reiterating the phrase 'Bengali Muslim Nationalism', particularly in Bangladesh's independent acquisition, and sidelined Bangabandhu's leadership.

Despite having criticisms, this four-chapter slim book is a treasure trove to know our evolutionary identity, precedent processes of the emergence of Bangladesh, and our after-identity change.


The reviewer is schooling with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science & Technology University (BSMRSTU)

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