Review of Nurul Islam’s 'India Pakistan Bangladesh: A Primer on Political History'
Nurul Islam is one of Bangladesh’s pre-eminent economists. His theories and analyses, entwined as they are with politics and history, have guided us through the turbulent 1960s and towards a pro-people economic policy in post-independence Bangladesh. In his illustrious career as an economist, he’s worked with many nationally and internationally acclaimed organizations. Currently, he is a Research Fellow Emeritus at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRPI). He was the Director of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, and the Chairman of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS). He was part of the first government of independent Bangladesh as the Deputy Chairman of the first Planning Commission.
Nurul Islam has written twenty five books. His latest, India Pakistan Bangladesh: A Primer on Political History, published in 2019 by Prothoma Prokashon, has attracted our attention because it seems to be more about history than economics.
A primer is referred to as any book that presents the most basic elements of a subject. This book is a brief but very well written history of Bangladesh. In only ninety-two pages, Nurul Islam successfully describes the political factors behind the emergence of Bangladesh, starting from the factors that had led to the partition of India in 1947.
The book is mainly divided into four sections: Toward the Partition of India, The Creation of Pakistan, End of Pakistan and Emergence of Pakistan. The circumstances and political issues that led to India’s partition and later the issues that led to the division of Pakistan are discussed. At the end of the book, Islam reflects on the challenges that were faced by the newly independent state of Bangladesh as well as how the government and the state responded to these challenges.
In this book, Nurul Islam tries to understand whether partition was inevitable, and consequently, whether it was inevitable that East and West Pakistan be divided as well—issues both of which continue to be widely debated by historians till today. In his crisp language, he discusses how the partition of India was caused by the fact that the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority of India could not agree on a constitutional agreement about power-sharing. Resultantly, Pakistan became a theocratic state created on the basis of religion. It was also a state that was divided into its Eastern and Western wings, despite significant cultural and language differences, not to mention the huge geographical distance between them. In fact, the only thing that united the two was religion, which was simply not enough, especially when the income gap between the Eastern and Western wings kept widening.
Then he moves on to how the West Pakistani ruling clique tried to impose Urdu as the state language when only a small portion of erstwhile East Pakistan spoke it. As the autocratic government refused to accept Sheikh Mujib’s six-point demand, the breaking up of Pakistan’s two wings was inevitable.
In his preface, Nurul Islam explains that this book aims to cater to the younger generations. However, this primer is a must read not only for young people but also for anyone whose area of expertise is not the political history of Bangladesh.
Preeti Huq writes book reviews for Arts & Letters.