Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujijb was personally loyal to Suhrawardy till his death.
One generally will not ask if there were any differences between the ideals Sheikh Mujib had and the ones held by his mentor. But Sheikh Mujib was not a derivative of Suhrawardy, and his political history has its own trajectory.
On several basic issues there seems to be differences, which includes their attitudes towards Pakistan and for an independent state of “Purbo Bangla” as he said in his March 7 speech.
Suhrawardy was trashed for his role as chief minister for the Kolkata riots of 1946. While this was a massive failure on the part of his administration, it was also a massive failure of accumulating history as no one on either side saw the true level of conflict that existed in society.
The denial of the reality of the two community identities, and insisting on one identity by erasing the other, was a historical mistake that contributed to the rise of conflict and, ultimately, bloodshed all over.
Riots had occurred in Bengal before -- in 1907 led by Faraizis against Hindu zamindars and the conflict continued as the peasant-landlord/bhadralok
question was never resolved. One man who had tried to make a difference was Chittaranjan Das of Swarajya Party through his 1923 Bengal Pact.
Proposed to ensure a functioning Bengal Legislative Council, it tried to resolve the community-based conflict by ensuring economic parity for the Muslims, the group left far behind in Bengal although a majority. But resistance from the Hindu middle class was high as it meant quota for Muslims and so loss of existing privileges for them.
The deputy mayor of Kolkata under CR Das was HS Suhrawardy, but his experience at the City Corporation was bitter as he faced resistance from Hindu councilors at every step. It created a bitterness which never went away and it probably informed and influenced his politics later.
In 1957, Sheikh Mujib’s support for Suhrawardy was clear as he saw no future in the left-led politics
The politics of the Muslim elite
Suhrawardy and MA Jinnah had much in common. Both came from upper-class backgrounds, though Jinnah was more middle.
Suhrawardy, of course, was a member of an elite family that had made extreme achievements in art, culture, and academia. Both were barristers, they were both urban and urbane, and were uncomfortable with peasantry and its culture.
Both more English than Indian.
Suhrawardy hankered for acceptance by the central ML, something that body had no intention of doing. Perhaps one last effort on his part was stewarding the 1947 Delhi Legislators Conference of ML’s vote to make two states of Pakistan into one going against the letter and spirit of the 1940 Lahore Resolution.
But even then, Jinnah didn’t offer him a central post and soon Suhrawardy joined the United Bengal Movement, the last desperate attempt to keep Bengal as one in 1947. It failed due to many reasons, but perhaps the biggest missing link was lack of a common history for both communities of Bengal.
The Purbo Bangla syndrome
Sheikh Mujib never did care much about the Pakistan for which Suhrawardy had struggled. His loyalty was more towards Bengal and within it Purbo Bangla, his socio-historical identity. His father was a court clerk in a small town, not a barrister.
He lived in a hostel while studying in Kolkata and had lawyerly ambitions that came to an end after he was expelled from DU in 1949. Unlike his mentor who came from Midnapore or the UBM visionary, Abul Hashim from Burdawan or “Poschim Bangla,” Sheikh Mujib was from the heartland of peasant Bengal, “Purbo Bangla.”
This Purbo Bangla identity factor began to rise steadily after the Bengal partition was annulled in 1911. When in 1936, AK Fazlul Huq formed Krishak Praja Party (KPP), its leaders and supporters were largely from Purbo Bangla and it was not until 1946 that ML had overwhelming presence in that zone.
But by 1947, Pakistan had become a minority-dominated country, UBM had failed and Kolkata-led Bengal Muslim League had become weak. And, in continuation, several leading young cadres of Bengal ML had decided to form an independent country through a clandestine nucleus called the “Inner Group/”
Purbo Bangla Awami Muslim League vs Suhrawardy’s Pakistan AML?
When the Awami Muslim League (AML) was formed in 1949, the founding leaders were all from Purbo Bangla led by Bhashani. Suhrawardy had trouble reaching Dhaka due to bans by Pakistanis but did join and by 1954 had led the AL headed United Front to its famous victory ending whatever feeble footprint that Pakistan had in the delta land.
But his loyalty to Pakistan never wavered, despite whatever mistreatment he got from Pakistani leadership.
Suhrawardy believed in a fair, democratic Pakistan, which was not to be, and suffered much as Pakistanis never trusted or wanted him. But Mujib was never more than a forced Pakistani smarting from that 1947 decision that changed the Lahore resolution by creating one Pakistan from two.
In 1957, Sheikh Mujib’s support for Suhrawardy was clear as he saw no future in the left-led politics, and history vindicates him. But by 1962 he had already started to move to form a new state in continuation of the older Purbo Bangla. The biggest shock on the part of people who met him on this was: “Aren’t you with Suhrawardy?”
He would answer that his politics was his own.
He visited India with the help of his old friends from the Inner Group but decided a future at that point with Indian co-operation was not possible. After Suhrawardy’s death, the All Pakistan AL virtually ended and it became a Purbo Bangla party.
Whether it was the parity issue, the two-unit concept, the provincial autonomy debate, etc -- Sheikh Mujib and Suhrawardy stood on opposite ends. One was loyal to Pakistan and the other to what is now Bangladesh.
After the mentor’s demise came the six points in 1966 and Sheikh Mujib led the politics which was closer to his heart and nursed since 1947. Understanding that difference between the two helps understand history better.
Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist, researcher, and political commentator.