History made on the streets
SLOGANS, if you reflect deeply, have occupied a very large portion of the political canvas in Bangladesh. That is a truth Abu Sayeed Khan reminds you of. And he should know, seeing that he has played a diversity of roles in life. He has been a freedom fighter, his politics has tended to be inclined to the Left and he is a journalist as also a political analyst. In this pretty revealing work, one that appeared quite some years ago, Khan simply takes you back on a journey through Bangladesh's political history.
And that history is mirrored in the slogans generations of Bengalis have shaped and raised in their struggle for democratic rights and, eventually, political sovereignty. Khan begins with British colonial times, when the urge for freedom in undivided India was increasingly coming to be punctuated by such purposeful political slogans as Inquilab Zindabad, Bharat Mata Ki Jai, Netaji Ki Jai, Bande Mataram, Allahu Akbar and Jai Hind. These are slogans later generations have come across in history textbooks and sometimes in patriotism-oriented movies. Imagine the degree of inter-religious unity expressed through such slogans as Hindu-Muslim Ek Awaaz Khatam Karo British Raj. But, of course, such unity gets frayed at the edges soon enough, and what you have is a demand such as Haath Mein Birhi Muun Mein Paan Larhke Lenge Pakistan.
Abu Sayeed Khan moves on to the post-partition era, indeed to the moments soon after India stands severed into two states. There are few people who will not recall the pithy Yeh Azadi Jhoota Hai Lakho Insaan Bhooka Hai. There have been, through the times, the various forms of zindabad and murdabad slogans, in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, or East Bengal as it was in the early 1950s, Rashtra Bhasha Rashtra Bhasha Bangla Chai Bangla Chai turned out to be a rallying cry for a nation risen in defence of its language. Some slogans of a gory nature were fashioned around Khwaja Nazimuddin and Nurul Amin, for instance, Rashtra Bhasha Bangla Chai….. –er Kolla Chai. By 1953, two years after the tragedy of Ekushey, the more peaceful slogan of Shaheed Smriti Amor Hok was raised on the streets of Dhaka. By the next year, as the United Front speedily moved towards an electoral victory over the ruling Muslim League, slogans took on a more potent nature. Observe: League-er Batti Nibhilo Hai Hai Korilo, Bhashani Bhashaichhe Nouka Haq Shaheb Tar Majhi, Hurricane-e Tel Nai Muslim League-e Vote Nai and Ghore Ghore Slogan Dao Muslim League-er Dakat Bhagao.
The Kagmari conference convened by Moulana Bhashani in 1957 threw up some new slogans, as Khan demonstrates in his work. There were such distinct anti-West sentiments as expressed through Ingo-Markin Shamrajyobaad Dhongsho Hok Nipat Jaak and Seato Cento Batil Koro Batil Koro. Political sloganeering attained new dimensions, especially toward the end of the Ayub Khan regime. With the Agartala conspiracy case going haywire for the regime, Bengalis began to coin slogans of increasing militancy, such as Jail-er Tala Bhangbo Sheikh Mujib Ke Aanbo and Ayub-Monem Bhai Bhai Ek Dorhi Te Phanshi Chai, Jail Julum Huliya Nite Hobe Tuliya and Ayub Shahi'r Godi Te Aguun Jalo Ek Shathe.
Abu Sayeed Khan draws our attention once again to some of the decisive slogans that once served to unnerve the political establishment in pre-Liberation Bangladesh. As it prepared to go to the general elections of 1970, the Awami League prepared posters showing the level of discrimination East Pakistan had been going through at the hands of the ruling classes of West Pakistan. At the top of the posters was a simple, powerful question: Shonar Bangla Shoshan Keno? By 1971, when the Pakistan army had plunged into a genocide of Bengalis, the artiste Quamrul Hassan drew global attention to our plight through his defining poster of a fiendish Yahya Khan, with the heading, Annihilate These Demons. Slogans like Tomar Amar Thikana Padma Meghna Jamuna successfully served as a reminder of the country's nature heritage both before and during the War of Liberation.
Slogans were not, however, the monopoly of the progressive forces. Reactionary parties like the Muslim League and the Jamaat-e-Islami too had their own phrases to hurl at their opponents. Among the Jamaat's refrains was Pakistan-er Utsho Ki Lailaha Illallah. And the Muslim League, Jamaat and Pakistan Democratic Party had a rather below-the-belt slogan, Joi Bangla Joi Hind Lungi Chhaira Dhuti Pind, that it raised at convenient moments.
Slogan-e Slogan-e Rajniti is a recapitulation of the past in its many manifestations. Some of the choicest of slogans Abu Sayeed Khan notes in this work relate to the besieged Ershad regime of the 1980s.
In its own way, this work is a testament to our moving history. It deserves a place on your shelf.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is with
The Daily Star.