Lack of conviction or loss of memory?
Any nation that has liberated itself from the yoke of foreign domination, either through an armed struggle or through a political negotiation, carried the support of bulk of its citizens, though not the support of each and every of its sons. There were collaborators with the occupation or colonial powers at all times. Even during the Japanese and German occupations of the countries of Asia and Europe during World War II, people collaborated with the occupation forces. However, their numbers were so insignificant as compared to the number of people who fought for and supported their liberation that it was never considered that the nations were divided in their quest for freedom. In the general election of 1946, prior to the creation of Pakistan, the Muslim League got a majority support only in the province of Bengal. Nevertheless, it was never argued that the people of the provinces of the newly created State were divided in their pursuit for a new homeland.
In all the countries that achieved freedom through armed struggle, the collaborators, more or less, met the similar kind of fate in the aftermath of the liberation. In China, many of them met the firing squad after a brief trial. In Singapore, those who were pardoned for their relatively light crimes were never given any government position in the liberated country. In a lecture to the current generation, the founding PM of Singapore Mr. Lee Kwan Yew once elaborated that the principal strength of Singapore's elevation from an underdeveloped country to a modern developed nation in a span of thirty years, came from its determined policy not to involve those traitors in the affairs of the State. In Europe and North America, Nazi collaborators are still being haunted and sent back to the country for trial where the crimes have been committed.
In the liberation war of 1971, there are varying degrees of estimates about the percentage of people who directly or indirectly collaborated with the occupation power. In the words of the Pakistani General Rao Forman Ali, “90% of the people of Bangladesh were taken in by the magical power of Sheikh Mujib, and they were ready to sacrifice their lives for the creation of Bangladesh”. If this estimate had validity, there were 10 percent of people who sided with the Pakistani forces. Out of these people, only the supporters of the Jamati Islami have publicly defended their actions. A few years ago, one of the senior ministers belonging to the BNP certified that the Jamat did not do anything wrong by their active opposition to the creation of Bangladesh. On the other hand, many people who were either indifference or even collaborated with the occupation forces in 1971 still very often like to share the credit by their utterances, such as, “we have achieved the independence through armed struggle”, in order to bolster their right as the sole vanguard of the nation. These days, during the TV talk-show many of the so-called political analysts boastfully utter: “We have not liberated this country from the yoke of foreign occupation to be dictated by another country”, directly referring to India, albeit whose indispensable help steered us through the victory. However, I personally know many of those 'political analysts' who clearly and haughtily sided with the wrong side of the history of 1971. They are, obviously, banking on the loss of memory of our people.
If one looks at the histories of nations that liberated themselves from the colonial dominations, very few had the parallel of such massive support of its people as enjoyed by Bangladesh movement. However, the basic difference that the other nations were able to hold on to the values and virtues that worked as the principle guiding force towards achieving the freedom while Bangladesh miserably failed to hold onto them. This turning point occurred on the tragic night of August 15 of 1975 when the chief architect of nation's freedom was brutally assassinated and so were the virtues on which the newly created State was founded. That was the sad beginning of a backward journey. Over the decades, distortion, deception, destruction, deviation and dichotomy have taken the centre fold in every sphere of the national life. In fact, until 2006 during the era of BNP-Jamaat government, it reached a point where it was difficult for the members of current generation to reflect back why the sons of this soil took up arms and sacrificed their lives in 1971. In fact, had there been no change of government in 2007, the true history of birth of our nation, indeed, would have been an obscure phenomenon by this time.
Over the years, leaders (and those who write in their support) of all the non-AL governments have delivered sermon to the nation not to recollect and reflect too much of the happenings of 1971, which in their views, would further divide the nation. It would be really candid, at this time, to admit that they have been successful beyond expectation in their pursuance. In 1999 when a Dhaka-based Pakistani diplomat attributed the conflicts of 1971 as the works of the AL thugs, the longest serving (in the government) Bangladeshi party did not even condemn the utterly humiliating attribution until the Pakistani government itself issued its dissociation from the observation of its diplomat. The silence of the party, on an issue of such fundamental importance, did not create any dent in its credential in winning back the power in the election of October 2001 and it might have been repeated as well had the party participated in the last general election.
Truthfully, today, not in 1971, the nation is divided into two clear camps. For instance, in 1971 a few dozen Bangalee residents of Toronto were able to march through the street of the city carrying the large portrait of their leader and were in unison in their demand from the international community to prevent the genocide in their motherland and the release of their leader. In contrast, today, more than sixty thousand Bangalees or Bangladeshis in Toronto helplessly look on when thousands of Pakistanis or Indians parade through the streets of Toronto on August 14 and 15 carrying the portraits of M A Jinnah and Mohatma Gandhi, the founding fathers of their nations. Our failure comes from our inability to recite our history in unison voice and carry the portrait of the undisputed hero of our struggle for emancipation and the main force and spirit of the Bengali nationhood.
And today when the issue of war crimes trials believed to have occupied the centre-fold of nation's psyche, the party whose supreme leader unequivocally publicly declared the “trial a conspiracy to throw the nation into chaos in the name of war crimes trial four decades after the general amnesty to the collaborators" and "Awami League is the real anti-liberation force and that is why actions should be taken against them." Notwithstanding the explicit stand of the BNP chief vis-à-vis the war crimes trials as well as her (mis)rule between 2001 and 2006, indisputably being the darkest of all the eras of governance in Bangladesh's history, the party enjoys neck and neck popular support with the ruling alliance as reflected in the successive phases of the ongoing upazila elections. The paradox leads one to question if our people suffer from lack of conviction or loss of memory in crystalizing their political thoughts or in exercising their democratic franchise.
The writer is the Convenor of the Canadian Committee for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh.