The movement in favour of Bengali attracted men even from such rightist groups as the Jamaat-e-Islami, who did not realise that they were walking into a trap. What would possibly be wrong, they said, in supporting the claims of Bengali as a state language? A language was a precious inheritance, and those who spoke Bengali had the right (why shouldn’t they have it) to demand that their mother tongue must be given its rightful place in the political life of Pakistan. That is the way most people viewed the issue.
There was a time when those of us who could perceive the real drift of events, felt that perhaps a concession to the rising sentiments in favour of Bengali would help arrest the rot that had set in. But we were wrong. Each concession that was made was regarded as a victory by the conspirators who used it as a stepping-stone to the next stage in their campaign. No matter what was done to conciliate the students, the enemy was determined to press ahead.
In spite of the lukewarm efforts made by the Nurul Amin government to control, not suppress, the language movement, it spread. Shahid Minars or monuments were built in public places to commemorate those who had died on 21st February. Educational institutions were singled out for special attention. Every school and college had its own monuments, to which worship was paid ceremonially and formally on the anniversary of 21st February and other solemn occasions. State-supported institutions also were allowed to join in the game. These ceremonies evolved into a mystic cult, combining the appeal of the occult with the attraction of a romantic myth. Young people who took part in them discovered that they could thereby achieve an importance and a notoriety which otherwise would be beyond their reach. The imaginative ones among them derived from them, a deep psychological satisfaction which seemed to render their lives meaningful. Each language monument-- (no matter how obscene their shape and structure, for most of them resembled phallic emblems)-- became a visible symbol of something the, young believed to be holy and sacred, mysterious and ful of tremendous potentialities.
One reason why no strong administrative action was taken against this growing threat to Pakistan’s unity was because those in power, I mean the officers themselves, the administrators as distinguished from the Muslim League, ministers, had begun to be infected by the virus of linguistic propaganda themselves. Teachers in the University of Dacca were fully on the side of the students. Some of them later confessed to having taken a leading part in organising the 21st February demonstration. They kept up their encouragement to the students, elaborated the philosophy behind the movement, and built up the cult of Bengali nationalism. Young C. S. P. (Central Superior Service) officers drew their inspiration from the same sources.
Finally---- and there is an air of doom about it----some of the young men who had participated in the language movement were recruited into the Superior Service, the East Pakistan Government, on the advice of its Secretaries, having decided that participation in that movement could not be considered proof of their disloyalty to Pakistan. Nothing could possibly have suited the conspirators better. You could engage in intrigues against the state, and express as a student sentiments prejudicial to the continuance of Pakistan, and yet claim the indulgence of the state you sought to destroy on the ground that whatever you did as a young man was to be condoned as youthful exuberance. Mr A. K. M. Ahsan, one of the three or four young men who insulted the Quaid-e-Azam at the 1948 Convocation was not only appointed to the CSP but in 1970 when General Yahya was looking ground for some East Pakistani civilians to be promoted to the position of Secretary in the Central Secretariat, he figured on the list a handsome reward for his subversive activities, indeed! Likewise, Mr Rab, another person promoted to the same position, was well-known for his rabid antipathy towards the ideology of Pakistan.
I do not know why, but the fact remains that from the time that President Ayub fell under the spell of Mr Altaf Gauhar and Mr Qudratullah Shahab, two CSP officers with leftist tendencies, a sustained and systematic effort was under way to woo the leftists and ignore the rightists. The latter were either taken for granted or treated as fools whose clumsy loyalty to the ideology of Pakistan appeared to the administration to create more difficulties than it solved. Mr Altaf Gauhar’s principal confidant in East Pakistan was Mr Munir Chowdhury. He acted as an intermediary between Mr Gauhar and the entire leftist movement in East Pakistan and must have convinced him that the suspicion harboured against them was baseless. Or is it possible that Mr Gauhar himself had secretly come to the conclusion that the disintegration of Pakistan was a consummation to be desired? I should not feel surprised if this turns out to be true. Mr Gauhar may have served President Ayub Khan loyally, but that does not prove that he did not as a leftist entertain beliefs antithetical to the continuance of Pakistan. There is nothing in Mr Gauhar’s record as a civilian to demonstrate that he had any convictions regarding Islam or the ideology of Pakistan. He was personally a competent person, sophisticated, well-educated, but without any morals. Early on in his career in East Pakistan as a deputy secretary, he had earned notoriety as a womaniser, and had got into a scrape over an affair with a member of visiting Thai dancing troupe. It is rumoured that the Government was obliged to pay heavily in order to extricate him from a first-rate scandal.
Laxity in morals was in the CSP circles never considered a serious lapse. Mr Gauhar continued, in spite of this unsavoury episode, to rise, and when he left East Pakistan to join the Centre, he left behind him a sizable following of admirers drawn principally from the leftist groups who hoped to profit from his personal weaknesses for wine and women. They were not disappointed. Mr Gauhar did not forget his chums, and when President Ayub placed him in a position of authority which enabled him virtually to rule Pakistan, his lieutenants had a wonderful time, basking in the President’s favour and pursuing their nefarious games under his nose. Dainik Pakistan, the Bengali Daily founded and owned by the Press Trust of Pakistan, was manned almost exclusively by leftists. Anyone who knew Bengali well enough to understand subtle hints, allusions, innuendoes and understatements, could see how the campaign against Pakistan was being conducted through an official organ.
It was no use pointing these things out to the administration. The enemies controlled both Press and administration. Outsiders would consider this an unbelievable paradox: a government wedded to Islam and the ideology of Pakistan trying on the one hand to counteract to campaign against them and on the other encouraging and promoting activities calculated to bring about results they were most anxious to avoid. For proof one has only to examine the files of the Dainik Pakistan and also to a lesser degree ‘Morning News’, another Press Trust News paper. As long as Morning News continued to have a non-Bengali nationalism, but the news columns which Bengali editor, its editorial columns were at least immune from the virus of Bengali nationalism, but the news columns which Bengali reporters filled with their poison spouted forth a candid stream of lies calculated to sustain the myth of colonial subjugation by the West Wing.
The other man whom I have mentioned, Mr Qudratullah Shahab, proved equally useful to the leftists. A story writer in Urdu, he wanted around him admirers and flatterers and did all he could to eliminate from positions of authority anyone who did not see eye to eye with him. He gave President Ayub the idea of Writers’ Guild which could be used to procure him the support of the intellectuals. Though one could see through the game, I would admit that in a country such as Pakistan where the majority of the writers were indigent, an officially backed organisation capable of doling out patronage could have achieved its object. But again Mr Shahab’s own sympathies turned it in next to no time into a leftist stronghold.
I recall vividly the first Conference where the decision to form the Guild came formally adopted. This was in January 1959. I was one of the delegates from East Pakistan, and found myself on the Constitution Committee along with two other representatives from this Wing. They were Mr Jasimuddin and the late Mr Ghulam Mustafa. Mr Abul Hussain attended the meetings of the Committee as an observer. Mr Shahab proposed that the Central Executive of the Guild should consist of five or seven members each from Urdu and Bengali and three each to represent the regional languages. The proposal sounded innocuous, but I realised that the moment it was adopted the leftists would start saying that East Pakistan as such had been denied the representation which was its due. For Urdu and the regional languages, Punjabi, Sindhi and Pushto, all meant West Pakistan. That would give the West fourteen or sixteen votes against five or seven for East Pakistan. Neither Mr Jasimuddin nor Mr Ghulam Mustafa would point this out. Finally I opened my mouth and quietly told Mr Shahab that his proposal would produce adverse reactions. He was startled by my objection. He demanded to know what was my alternative. I said that since the Writers’ Guild as an organisation would in any case have a semi-political status, the best course was to adopt the principle of parity between the two Wings; that would be least calculated to breed misunderstanding. Any other arrangement, I said, would unnecessarily tarnish the Guild with a stigma which would make its functioning difficult.
No sooner had I concluded my remarks, than Mr Shahab stood up. He was shaking with anger. Pointing an accusing finger at me, he commanded: “You must not mention the word parity again. All that went wrong in the last ten years has been in the name of parity”.
Mr Shahab was, I should mention in parenthesis, then Secretary to General Ayub Khan. His power and influence were unlimited.
To cross swords with him meant taking a real risk. His tone indicated that he had been offended by my remark. But I felt that to retract would be an abdication of judgement. I insisted that unless he agreed to modify his proposal, I could be no party to it. This made him absolutely furious. He threatened to walk out. I said he could do as he liked, but in my opinion the proposal he had put forward would exacerbate feeling in East Pakistan and give a handle to those who constantly complained of discrimination against this province by the West. Finally, discovering that I would not resile from my stand, Mr Shahab, in a fit of assumed exasperation, offered me the majority of the seats on the Executive Committee rather than agree to parity. I retorted by announcing my acceptance. Mr Shahab felt cornered, and sought a way out of the imbroglio by finally acceding to parity; eleven for East and eleven for West Pakistan.
The occasion was made memorable for me by the utter failure of Mr Jasimuddin and Mr Ghulam Musfata to back me up. I knew that outside the Committee they, particularly Mr Jasimuddin, would have been the first to stigmatise Mr Shahab’s proposal as evidence of Western colonialism. But they would not open their lips. On the contrary, Mr Jasimuddin who poses as one of the great champions of Bengali nationalism extended his support to Shahab when he was called upon to express his views. I could only feel disgusted.
The incident was typical of the manner in which relations between East and West Pakistan were progressively poisoned. The Bengalis would not protest openly, when they felt that something wrong was being done, but believed in confabulating secretly among themselves and complaining conspiratorially of discrimination and injustice. In the present instance, I am quite convinced that had Mr Shahab’s proposals been carried through, the Bengalis would have reacted by adopting a pose of injured innocence. But now that I took upon myself the risk of voicing their grievances, they, in their characteristic fashion started flattering Mr Shahab and pretending that I had exceeded my limits in raising the question of a fairer distribution of seats.
Mr Shahab took his revenge against me later. First, after the first three years I was dropped from the executive. The next step taken was to eliminate me from the panel of judges for the Adamjee Literary Prizes and appoint Dr Sarwar Murshid, the present (1973) Vice-Chancellor, Rajshahi University, one of the chief henchman of the Awami League in the University as a substitute.
I have given some details of this incident intentionally. It shows how things drifted in Pakistan and how the leftists came to power in East Pakistan with the blessings and support of the West Pakistanis themselves. It also throws light on the reasons why the language movement grew from strength to strength, thriving on the nourishment it received from the Centre itself.
I have, however, anticipated things and should go back to an earlier phase in the movement’s history.
The first anniversary of the 21st February incident, which I witnessed myself, passed off comparatively quietly. Precautions were taken against open demonstrations and the government appearing determined to suppress any signs of unrest, nothing was done overtly. But by 21st February 1954 the atmosphere had changed. Celebrations were planned on an elaborate scale. The government tried to stop them swooping down on the University and arresting a large number of students from their class-rooms.
One could notice an ambivalence in the attitude of the police officers. They combined their official, outward ruthlessness with a sneaking sympathy for the students they arrested or beat, believing that the latter were fighting in a good cause.
The next phase in the movement’s growth occurred after the general elections of 1954. Mr Nurul Amin and the Muslim League were swept off the board in these elections, a United Front composed of the Awami League, Mr A. K. Fazlul Huq’s Krishak Proja Party and other groups captured the provincial Assembly and formed a government. The first thing they did was to declare 21st February official holiday; a monument on the spot where the students had died was promised. Actually, when a couple of months later, growing alarmed at the new government’s activities, the Centre felt obliged to denounce it, construction had already started.
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