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Sunday, 7 September 2014

Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani

Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani

Born 12 December 1880
                Dhangara, Sirajganj, British India (now in Bangladesh)
Died 17 November 1976
                Dhaka, Bangladesh
                Resting place
                Santosh, Tangail, Bangladesh
Nationality Flag of Bangladesh.svg Bangladeshi
Other names Red Maulana
Organization National Awami Party
Movement Khilafat movement
                        Non-cooperation movement
                        Pakistan movement
                        Bengali Language Movement
                        Bangladesh Liberation War
                        Farakka Long March
Parents Haji Sharafat Ali Khan (father)

Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani (Bengali: মাওলানা ভাসানী;12 December 1880–17 November 1976) was a popular political leader in British India, Pakistan and later in Bangladesh. He remained a rural-based and non-colonially educated politician revered for selflessness and solidarity with the oppressed. His long political span takes the student of political history through British colonial India, Pakistan and Bangladesh periods.

He gained popularity among peasants and the higher status emerging leadership of Bengali Muslims. Owing to his leaning to the left, often dubbed "Islamic Socialism", he was nicknamed " The Red Maulana".

Maulana Bhashani is regarded as the proponent of anti-imperialist, non-communal and left-leaning politics by his admirers in present-day Bangladesh and beyond. In 2013 the Awami League Government of Bangladesh reduced his presence in school curricula.

A one-time student of Deoband, and participant of the Khilafat Movement protesting the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire he led the Muslims of Assam in a successful campaign during the 1947 Sylhet Referendum, through which Sylhet chose to become part of the Pakistan national project. He was the founder and President of the Pakistan Awami Muslim League which later became Awami League (AL). Later however, owing to differences with the right-leaning leaders in the AML, such as Shahid Suhrawardy, on the issue of autonomy for East Pakistan, he formed a new progressive party called National Awami Party (NAP). He also differed with Suhrawardhy when he as Prime Minister of Pakistan decided to join the US-led defence pact CENTO and SEATO.

The split among the progressive camp into pro-Moscow and pro-Peking factions eventually led to the breakup of NAP into two separate parties; the pro-Moscow faction being led by Muzaffar Ahmed. After Pakistan's 1965 war with India, he showed some support for Field Marshal Ayub Khan's regime for its China-leaning foreign policy; but later he gave provided leadership to a mass uprising against the regime in 1968-69 with support from Fatima Jinnah.

He played a very critical role in the 1969 movement which eventually led to the collapse of the Ayub regime and the release of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and other co-accused in the so-called Agartala conspiracy case against Pakistan. His decision to boycott the 1970 Pakistan general elections due to his mistrust of the West Pakistani leaders, effectively led to the electoral sweep by erstwhile opponent Mujibur Rahman. His efforts created a sense of fierce nationality and a spririt of independence amongst all Bangalis of East Pakistan.

Early life

In 1880 Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani was born in Dhangara village in Sirajganj, presently a district, formerly a subdivision under Pabna in present-day Bangladesh. He was the son of Sharafat Ali Khan. Between 1907 and 1909 he received religious education at the Deoband Madrasah. The association of Mahmudul Hasan (known as Shaikhul Hind) and other progressive Islamic thinkers inspired Bhasani against British imperialism. In 1909 he started teaching in a primary school at Kagmaree, Tangail. From 1909 to 1913 he worked with political extremists. In 1914 he revolted against the Christian missionaries in the Netrakona and Sherpur areas of East Bengal. Because of his educational background he received the title Mawlānā.

Political life

British period

In 1917, Bhashani was inducted into active politics and joined the Nationalist party led by Desbandhu Chittaranjan Das as an activist. Inspired by Mohammed Ali, he joined the Indian National Congress in 1919. In 1920 he was arrested and imprisoned. After being released, he participated in the Khilafat movement. In 1921 he participated in Das' Non-Cooperation Movement against British imperialism. He suffered imprisonment for some days at that time. He joined the Muslim League in 1930. He was elected a MLA in Assam Legislative Assembly from Dhubri (South) constituency in 1937 and served till 1946. In April 1944 he was elected the president of Muslim League at its Barpeta session where after he devoted himself to Pakistan movement.

Early Pakistan days

Maulana Bhasani at Barkat's Grave

After the establishment of India and Pakistan in 1947, following the exit of the British, Bhashani planned his anti-establishment course of action. On July 23, 1949, he founded "East Pakistan Awami Muslim League. Bhasani was elected its president with Shamsul Huq as its General Secretary. On July 24, 1949 he organized the first meeting of Awami Muslim League at Armanitola ground of Dhaka.

On 31 January 1952 he formed the "All Party Language movement Committee" at the Dhaka Bar Library. The National Democratic Front was established under his leadership on 4 December 1953. He renamed Awami Muslim League as the Awami League by removing "Muslim" from its official name in the council session of Awami League held on 21–23 October 1953. In 1956 Bhashani carried out a large hunger strike in demand of food for the famine affected people from 7 to 23 May.
Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani after the foundation
stone laying program for Shahid Minar (Martyrs' monument).

During the Kagmaree Conference of Awami League held on 7–8 February 1957, Bhashani said "good bye" ("Assalamu Alaikum") to the West Pakistani authority which acted negatively against East Pakistan. On 24–25 July 1957 Bhashani convened the conference of All Pakistan Democratic Activists. On July 25 he formed the East Pakistan National Awami Party (NAP). Bhashani was elected the President with Mahmudul Huq Osmani, the General Secretary. {main|Pakistani presidential election, 1965}

He played a crucial role in the opposition decision to nominate Fatima Jinnah, instead of Azam Khan. Fatima Jinnah was initially scornful of an opposition attempt to nominate her, however on Bhashanis personal intervention, she agreed to be their joint candidate.

Despite this pleged support for Fatima Jinnah, Bhashani is controversially alleged to have gone inactive during the opposition Presidential campaign because of Ayub Khan's pro-China leanings.

He organized the Cooperative for the Cultivators of East Pakistan on 2–3 January 1968. He was elected the founder Chairman. On 15 June 1968 Bhashani founded the Cooperative for the Provincial Fish Tradesmen at Dhaka Bar library. On 12 October of the same year, he was arrested by President General Ayub Khan's government from the Mirzapur hospital, Tangail.

In 1967 Bhashani protested against the governmental ban against Rabindranath Tagore. In 1969 Bhashani launched a movement to withdraw the Agartala Conspiracy Case and for the release of Sheikh Mujib and other co-accused persons, which eventually accelerated the fall of Ayub Khan. When the Bangladesh Liberation War started on 26 March 1971, Bhasani went to India. He did not return to Bangladesh until its independence.

International Kisan Conference

Bhasani had organised an International Kisan conference in 1970 in Toba Tek Singh District.

Jukta Front

The Muslim League Government both in the centre and the province of East Pakistan lost considerable popularity after the Language Movement of 1952. It was seen as not being capable or interested in protecting the interest of East Pakistan. In 1954, election was going to be held in the province and a new political force emerged to challenge the Muslim League. It was called Jukta Front (United Front) and comprised the party of Bhashani, the firebrand left-oriented leader and the Krishak Sramik Party of A. K. Fazlul Huq, former Prime Minister of Bengal. The Awami League, under Shahid Suhrawardy also joined the alliance. Soon there was a grounds swell of a popular movement supporting the Jukta Front. Under the umbrella of Jukta Front, Bhashani played a vital role in spearheading opposition to West Pakistan dominated politics.

In the elections of 1954, Jukta Front successfully defeated Muslim League and its leader Prime minister Nurul Amin lost his parliament seat to a young student leader Mr. Khaleque Nawaz Khan and jukto front formed the provincial government of East Pakistan. However, the government was arbitrarily dismissed and all leaders except Bhashani eventually submitted to the West Pakistani decision-makers, including A. K. Fazlul Huq and Shahid Suhrawardy.

Political philosophy
Independent East Pakistan

Bhashani was the first among the politicians to conceive of an independent East Pakistan. In early 1950s he felt that an integrated Pakistan was no longer maintainable with hegemony of West Pakistan. At the Kagmari Conference, he bade farewell to West Pakistan by saying Assalam Alaikum which soon became a reference quote. He declined to participate in the national election of 1970 saying that it will only help perpetuate rule by West Pakistan. Since 1969 his favoirite slogans were Swadhin Bangla Zindabad and Azad Bangla Zindabad. His dream of an independent Purba Bangla (East Bengal) came true when Bangladesh was established as an independent nation-state in 1971.

Chinese connection

Bhashani was known to have a Chinese connection and was the leader of pro-Chinese politicians of East Pakistan. During the 1965 war between Pakistan and India, Bhashani disappeared for several days. It is said that he flew from Panchbibi, Bogra to China, at the behest of president Field Marshal Ayub Khan, to secure support of China for Pakistan.

War of Independence 1971

Bhasani was fiercely independent and a revolutionary leader who did not believe in compromise with the Pakistanis. He considered India a 'difficult' neighbour and occasionally took an anti-Indian stance when he perceived India to be undermining Bangladesh. At the beginning of the independence war in 1971, while Bhasani was attempting to cross over on a river boat at the border of Assam, he was arrested and taken into custody by Indian authorities. When he expressed his attempt to join the war effort with the provincial government of Tajuddin Ahmad he was misled and taken to a New Delhi government house. After a meeting with Indira Gandhi he was taken and kept in confinement at Dehradun, near abouts Research and Analysis Wing headquarters, during the entire duration of the war. He was barred from participating in any activity.

Once, however, the Indian authorities flew Bhashani to Calcutta, India to give voice to the Advisory Committee conference. An apparent propaganda effort by the government of India to show that all parties supported the acts by the provincial Bangladesh government that India in reality dictated. India was fearful of Bhasani's independent and nationalitic proactions and views. It was apparent that Indira's government did not trust any person or party other than the Awami League.

At this conference Muzaffar, Moni Singh including a number of other faces were kept present amongst other Awami League members and Indira's representatives. Press were invited to come in. Bhashani was the one and only spokesman at this conference. This tactic was planned and executed at the direction and pressure of Indira's government. It was a make belief show that portrayed Bhashani including heads and leaders of all movements and political parties of (then East Pakistan) Bangladesh supported the every decision and move by the provincial Bangladesh government. And that with the support and advice of this Advisory Committee, Tajuddin's provincial government is conducting the affairs and war efforts for the independence of Bangladesh. The United Nations Security Council was informed that such an Advisory Committee to the Provincial government of Bangladesh existed for the Independence of Bangladesh, while is actuality it never existed until and up till that single conference.

Indira was fearful that Bhasani might lead a separate war effort with another provincial government undermining the one India supported. Even though Bhashani gave his full support and made it known through every effort that he supported Tajuddin's government with the Bangladesh Forces under General Osmani. Bhashani wrote to the heads of state of 25 nations regarding the recognition of Bangladesh and for support to Tajuddin's provincial government. This information was displayed by the government of India much later through Bangladesh Documents.

On December 12/13th Bhashani was taken to the temporary camp headquarters of BDF Sector 11 at Mymensingh by four Indian Army officers and was kept there under the custody of the sector commander. He spoke ferociously, nonstop, recounting his experiences and thoughts. Three days later the same Indian officers came and whisked him away to Tangail, Bangladesh. He was released in Dhaka (on 22 December 1971). Later in January, his first demand was immediate withdrawal of all Indian troops and government personnel from Bangladesh.

Politics in independent Bangladesh

Bhashani wanted to play the role of a responsible opposition. The progressive forces quickly gathered around him and strengthened his NAP with Kazi Zafar Ahmed as its General Secretary. But soon factional differences among the progressive forces emerged and weakened Bhashani.

Unfortunately, the new government of Bangladesh failed to utilize the organizational and public opinion making capacity of Bhashani. Instead he was always under suspicion, although he provided constructive advices to the government. He was highly critical of the oppressive style of the government and its extrajudicial killings of the left-leaning activists. He was visionary enough to see the seed of the cancer of corruption in society and offered his help to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to build up an anti-corruption movement. Unfortunately that was not heeded. He also warned Sheikh Mujibur Rahman against his move towards a one party state and declaring himself as lifelong president. He could not believe that a person like Sheikh Mujib who fought all his life for a multi-party democracy could do that. He saw the destruction of Mujib in this action. Bhashani was deeply shocked at the killing of Mujib, for whom he had a lot of fatherly affection, and his family members. The person who conveyed the news of Mujib's demise described how Bhashani cried and then went to his prayer room to offer prayer.

Support for post-Mujib era

Lifelong president of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed in a military coup d'état on 15 August 1975. A turbulent political scenario followed as coup and counter-coup took place. In 1976, Bhashani explicitly supported the change of regime when General Ziaur Rahman was given the helmsmanship of the country. He made it clear that his support was for the restoration of a multi-party democracy and should not be construed as a support for the inhuman killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members and the barbaric act of the conspirators. His support was to bring stability to the country's politics and to consolidate democracy. It was an act of necessity.

Weekly Ittefaq

The Daily Ittefaq has been the most popular Bengali newspaper of Bangladesh since early 1970s. However its precursor is Weekly Ittefaq. After the British left South Asia in 1947, Muslim League emerged as the government political party. Soon opposition movement started and a political party named Awami Muslim League was founded with Bhashani as one of the central figures. Against this backdrop Bhashani started publishing the Weekly Ittefaq in 1949. The popular weekly publication was a critique of the Muslim League government. The journalist Tofazzal Hossain Manik Miah worked as its editor. It remains ambiguous under what circumstances Manik Miah started to use his own name as the owner of the weekly turned a daily.

Weekly Haq Katha

On February 25, 1972, Bhashani started publishing a weekly Haq Katha and it soon gained wide circulation. It was outspoken about the irregularities and mis-rule of Awami League government established after independence of Bangladesh. Rampant corruption by Awami League politicians were boldly reported. In consequence the weekly was soon banned by Sheikh Mujib. It was edited by Irfanul Bari, Bhashani's subordinate.

Farakka Long March, 1976

In May 1976 he led a massive Long March demanding demolition of the Farakka Barrage constructed by India to divert flow of Ganges waters inside its territory, triggering the drying up of river Padma and desertification of Bangladesh. It was the first popular movement against India demanding a rightful distribution of the Ganges's water. Since then Historic Farakka Long March Day is observed on 16 March every year in Bangladesh.

At the time, the government of Bangladesh unofficially supported Bhashani's Farakka Long March. Navy-chief Rear Admiral M. H. Khan in charge of providing logistics. Hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life from all over the country gathered in Rajshahi town to participate in the Long March.

On the morning of 16 March 1976, he addressed a gathering of people at the Madrash Maidan, Rajshahi, from where the Long March commenced. Hundreds of thousands of people walked more than 100 kilometers on foot for days. The March continued up to Kansat, a place near the India-Bangladesh border, close to the Farakka barrage.

Once again, Bhashani played a leading role at a critical juncture of the nation's history by raising the awareness about India's hegemonic attitude. His legacy continues with the national resistance against India's other dam projects in the upstream of common rivers.


He died on 17 November 1976 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, aged 96, and was buried at Santosh, Tangail.

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