‘In my beginning is my end’- T. S. Eliot
The more one tries to understand analytically the chain of events leading to the fall of East Pakistan in 1971, the more puzzled one is apt to feel. I am not alluding to the logistics of war; I am not referring to tactics and strategy. What I have in mind is the reversal in the feelings of the people that the Awami League had successfully brought about as regards the historical necessity of Pakistan. The Awami League did not represent the whole of East Pakistan, but it had by 1970 achieved, by a combination of political tactics and subversion, a position which had become unchallengeable. Those who opposed it did not dare to call its bluff, its rivals sought to beat it on its own ground by trying to prove themselves more ardent champions of provincial interests than the Awami League itself.
I remember the crowds which marched continually through the streets of Dacca in 1968 and 1969 shouting that they wanted deliverance from the yoke of Rawalpindi. 'The yoke of Pindi'! How did they come to believe that they had been chained to Rawalpindi against their wishes? What was it exactly that they wanted to renounce or repudiate? Across the border, the Indian press and politicians benevolently encouraged the rebels, assuring them of their sympathy and moral support in their struggle against tyranny and repression. Oblivious of the past role of the Hindus, the East Pakistani masses started to think that their friends lay in India, and that once they could free themselves from Pakistan's clutches, they would, with India's help, march from strength to strength. Those of us who had not lined up with the rebels could only feel bewildered at the turn events were taking.
I do not know whether there is another instance in contemporary history of the kind of political fickleness which the people of the region have displayed. Once before in 1911, the Hindus of Bengal had outwitted them forcing the British to annul the partition of 1905 and depriving the Muslims of Eastern Bengal of whatever chance of political and economic progress they had obtained in the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam. Behind the denominational labels represented by the words Hindu and Muslim, lay a deep abiding antagonism between the backward undeveloped regions in the east and the comparatively more advanced areas in the west. Geographically also the two regions showed marked differences; Eastern Bengal was riverine, with a moist atmosphere, a humid climate, used to annual inundations and cyclones. Western Bengal was comparatively dry, with less humidity, fewer rivers, more urban in its ways, partly because of the influence of the great industrial city of Calcutta. The British had for historical reasons and in their own commercial interest concentrated on the development of the west. The new society which the imperial masters had fostered into being had grown up around Calcutta. The Hindus who collaborated with the new conquerors in building up a new system of administration in place of the Mughals, desired the relationship between Eastern and Western Bengal to be perpetuated into a permanent pattern. Lord Curzon in proposing the creation of a new administrative unit comprising Eastern Bengal and a part of Assam had been actuated by considerations of administrative convenience. But seeing that what he wanted would redound to the advantage of Eastern Bengal, an area where the population was predominantly Muslim, the Hindus immediately opposed the proposal. Terrorism and second thoughts about the advisability in the long run of alienating the Hindus eventually compelled the British to go back upon what they themselves had termed a 'settled fact'.
When announcing the annulment of the partition in 1911 along with the transfer of the imperial capital from Calcutta to Delhi, the British promised Eastern Bengal a University as a consolation. This was intended as an assurance that her educational development would be taken care of. But even this small concession---if concession it can be called at all---proved unacceptable to the Congress. A delegation on its behalf waited on the Viceroy impressing on him the folly of an expensive institution like a University in a backward area populated mainly by illiterate peasants. They said all this in the memorial presented on the occasion, adding that a University at Dacca would materially injure the Calcutta University, reducing its revenues. An astounding, shameless argument, perhaps unsurpassed in both effrontery and selfishness by any other known development in the history of Hindu-Muslim relations! Imagine the situation for a moment. They had gained their object of an undivided Bengal, but even within the framework of unified administrative structure. they demanded--- yes expressly demanded--- that the eastern part of it must not be given any opportunities of educational progress!
When after years of delay the University was finally set up in 1920 rather 1921 when it was formally inaugurated, the Hindus promptly termed it Mecca University. Their reason for so describing it was that it had, along with the usual departments of English and Bengali, a department of Arabic and Islamic studies, which they thought, would benefit the Muslims exclusively. In point of fact it was staffed predominantly by the Hindus. The number of Muslim teachers outside the two departments of Arabic and Islamic studies and Urdu and Persian, did not exceed four or five in 1921. There were Dr Shahidullah in Bengali, Mr A. F. Rahman in History, Dr M. Hasan in English and Qazi Motaher Hussain in Mathematics. I cannot recall any other names. When we came up in 1938, that is, seventeen years later, this figure of five had increased but slightly. Dr Shahidullah was continuing in Bengali; Mr Rahman had left; Dr Mahmud Hussain had replaced him; in English, a young man, Mr Jalaluddin Ahmad, had been appointed to the post of Lecturer Class II. Mr Mazharul Huq in Economics and Mr Abdur Razzaq in political Science were two additions. Dr Fazlur Rahman, who later resigned, briefly joined the department of history for a few months in 1938. In Science, Qazi Motaher Hussain was still the lone Muslim teacher continuing as a Class II lecturer.
In the interests of historical truth, I would say that the comparative exclusion of Muslims from the University faculty was not wholly the result of Hindu intrigue and conspiracy. Trained Muslim talent was rare, so rare that it was difficult to find suitable candidates for vacancies. Against one Muslim candidate who seemed to meet the required qualifications, the Hindus could fill half a dozen with better qualifications and greater experience. Muslim members of the University Governing Body, called the Executive Council, had a tough time justifying the appointment of a person like Mr Jalaluddin Ahmad who had a second class degree. Mr Abdur Razzaq was a headache to Hindus and Muslims alike. His unconventional ways, lack of discipline, and habitual negligence provoked criticism from the former and caused embarrassment to the latter. Mr Mazharul Huq got into trouble on several occasions because of his refusal to conform to rules. There were times when the appointment of even a Muslim clerk in the University was regarded as a triumph by the Muslims and as a serious inroad into discipline by the Hindus.
The University was in the thirties a small organisation with fewer than a thousand students on its rolls. The majority were Hindus. Of the three Halls of residence, one was reserved exclusively for Muslims, one for Hindus, and third, though supposedly non-denominational actually meant a Hindu Hall. There were far too few Muslim students. Salimullah Muslim Hall, with residential accommodation for two hundred and fifty, was seldom filled to capacity. Dacca Hall, renamed after Dr Shahidullah in 1970, though cosmopolitan in theory, was used by non-Muslim students only. The Hall meant exclusively for Hindus was called Jagannath Hall.
It was in the forties that the enrollment of Muslim students began to swell. A second Hall for them was demanded, but when the demand came up for consideration before the provincial Cabinet which had to sanction money for it, Mr Nalini Ranjan Sen, the Finance Minister opposed it and suggested instead an additional cosmopolitan Hall. Khwaja Nazimuddin, however, insisted that what they needed immediately was a second Hall for Muslim scholars, and he refused to be sidetracked into an academic discussion on the merits of communal versus cosmopolitan Halls. This second Muslim Hall, named after the Chief Minister, Mr A. K. Fazlul Huq, was temporarily housed in the University building itself; the first floor was vacated for the use of Muslim students. That is how Fazlul Huq Muslim Hall had begun its life before the construction of the present premises.
The period from 1936 to the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 was both at home and abroad a period of stresses. At home Congress rule in a major part of India proved beyond doubt that it was impossible for Hindus and Muslims to live together politically. The price demanded of the Muslims was that they must give up their identity as a separate cultural group. Their chief national language, Urdu, was threatened; their religion could not be practised freely; the Vidya Mandir Education Scheme seemed designed to convert Muslim children to a form of diluted Hinduism. But what was the solution? A few constitutional safeguards? How could one believe that the Congress would respect them when they had control over the army? There was vague talk of separatism. But what form could it take? We did not know the answer.
Abroad the rise of Hitler in Germany, the Spanish Civil War, and the ever deepening crisis in Central Europe appeared to be pushing the world towards a fresh conflagration. Hitler's cynical disregard for treaties, the rearmament of Germany, the persecution of the Jews, and the strange racial theories, propagated by the Nazis, represented a setback, a retrogression in the history of civilization such as had seldom been experienced since the sixteenth century. Italy's Abyssinian campaign had exposed the impotence of the League of Nations earlier, and now Hitler, a much stronger force than Mussolini, was putting an end to its life.
The situation in the Far East was also grim. Japan continued her aggression in China, was talked of a co-prosperity sphere in the east, which was her way of masking her imperialistic designs. But it seems to me in retrospect that we, young College students, were much less aware of happenings in the Far East than of those in Europe. The newspapers we read stressed events in Europe more prominently than the corresponding drama in the Far East. At least that is the impression I have.
For news in those days we depended on the Calcutta Statesman, an English language daily modelled on The Times of London. Edited by Europeans, it maintained a standard of journalism far ahead of its Indian contemporaries. There were scarcely any Muslim newspapers worth the name. The Star of India, an evening Daily, had been founded in the late thirties by Khwaja Nazimuddin; no qualified Muslim could be found to edit it. Mr Pothan Joseph, a south-Indian Christian was appointed to the editor's post. The Azad, a Bengali daily owned by Maulana Akram Khan had since 1936 been battling courageously for Muslim rights, but it had a limited circulation, but its coverage of international news was unsatisfactory. The Amrita Bazar Patrika, Forward, the Ananda Bazar Patrika, Jugantar and the other Hindu dailies used to fulminate day in and day out against the Muslims. Any concessions given to them were criticised; if a job, even a minor one, went to a Muslim, and if somewhere in the establishment there happened to be a Muslim, this was held up as an example of nepotism or communalism. Mr A. K. Fazlul Huq had a rough time as Chief Minister justifying the appointment of Muslim clerks or officers to redress partially the balance between Hindu and Muslim bureaucrats.
Until the Muslim League ministry in Bengal under the 1935 constitutional Reforms opened up fresh avenues for them, Muslim graduates had little to look forward to. I remember a scene in 1933 or 1934; a young man who had obtained a first class degree from the University of Dacca came once to see a relation of ours, Khan Bahadur M. A. Momen. The latter was a very important person holding high office and having influence in high places. The young man introduced himself as the most unfortunate person in the whole province and, when asked why he thought so, said that he had wasted a valuable part of his life earning a good degree which was now proving useless in practice. This mood was symptomatic of the despondency facing the Muslims.
The political future seemed as bleak as the economic. The Hindus were reluctant to part with a fraction of the undue advantages they had gained; the Muslims were expected to be content to remain a minority in the provincial legislature. The Communal Award announced by Mr Ramsay Macdonald had been denounced even by such persons as Rabindranath Tagore. Its only fault lay in the fact that it represented an attempt to do political justice to the minority communities. The Congress said it was inspired by divide-and-rule motives. They particularly resented the weightage given to lower-caste Hindus and the recognition of their right to separate electorates.
Speaking for myself, I had the feeling in those days that separate representation, or agreement on the distribution at political power within the framework of a United India promised us no salvation. Of Partition we had not yet started to think. But though we offered emotional support to the Muslim League and felt attracted by the personality of Mr M A Jinnah, vagueness about the future continued to worry us. Mr Jinnah's famous press debate with Mr Nehru on the issue of the separate identity of the Muslims thrilled us. Mr Nehru had asserted that there were in India only two parties the British and the Congress, and Mr Jinnah had replied that there were actually four, the British, the Hindu, the Muslim, and the princely States. The thrust and parry of their polemics was a matter of absorbing interest to us students. But we, at least I, felt troubled by the thought that no final solution seemed in sight. My dissatisfaction at one stage grew so great that I was almost convinced that if we had to live in a United India, we must do our best to forget that we, Muslims, had a separate identity of our own.
It was at this point that speculation about partition as a solution began. My heart throbbed with a strange excitement. I remember that first serious criticism of the partition plan in the Statesman of Calcutta by one Mr Alakh Dhari. He pooh-poohed the whole idea, saying that Hindu and Muslim communities were so intermingled that it was impossible to separate them politically except by cutting India up into small jigsaw bits. I wrote a long letter to the Editor, pointing out why Mr Dhari was wrong and why partition seemed the only way out of the intractable communal problem. It was, if my memory serves me right, the first letter of this kind to appear in the Statesman. I felt tremendously elated. I had not yet earned my first University degree, and the thought that circumstances had forced upon me temporarily the honour of being a spokesman for my people was exciting. I have lost my copy of this letter. Like much else, it disappeared in the confusion of 1971. But, I remember that I had claimed both Hyderabad and Kashmir for the Muslims as well as areas like Bhopal and certain districts in the United Provinces where Muslims were numerically preponderant.
The date and year of the letter have escaped my memory. Most probably, the time was immediately before the adoption of the Lahore Resolution of 1940. But I am not sure. What is clear is that we were very vague and uncertain as to how the Muslims were to organise themselves into separate States. We visualised a number of such states dotted all over the Himalayan sub-continent and had no idea whether they would form a federation or exist as independent entities. The point worth remarking is that no sooner had partition been mooted as a possibility than we began to breathe freely, realising that this was a way out of the complexities of Indian politics.
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