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They were no footnotes

  • Published at 06:03 pm October 10th, 2018
In retrospect
In retrospect Photo BIGSTOCK

Mohammad Farhad, Moni Singh, and Mahbubul Haq were milestones in Bangladesh’s history

Mohammad Farhad died 31 years ago. And just the other day, we in Bangladesh observed the anniversary of his death in Moscow. It was a time when the Soviet Union was still around, and communism was still the rage around the world. 

Mikhail Gorbachev was in power in the Kremlin, ostensibly a force to reckon with. Little did anyone know that in a few years, he would preside over the death of the Soviet Union, that indeed he would himself pass into history’s has-been stage.

But, of course, our focus is on Mohammad Farhad today. He was general secretary of Bangladesh Communist Party (CPB), a renowned freedom fighter, and a firm believer in the ability of Marxism to transform societies into proper manifestations of human equality. Men like Farhad have been a rarity in Bangladesh’s history. 

Does history remember their contributions to politics though? The question could be asked about many other prominent personalities in our national narrative as well -- men and women we remember on specific days, but without giving out the specific details of why they happen to be remembered. Farhad is one of those men, a giant in Bangladesh’s communism, whose role in the political evolution of this country ought not to be ignored or minimized.

There is also Moni Singh, the long suffering leader of Bangladesh’s communist movement, Farhad’s mentor. He spent the better part of his life in prison throughout the 24 years in which this country was part of Pakistan.

A quiet thinker with an unshakable belief in the ability of communist philosophy to engineer a socio-political turnaround for Bengalis, Moni Singh, until the end of his life, waged his struggle for change. 

Life was a frugal affair for him, as it was for Farhad. Neither man was able to achieve political power, for both believed in the power of the masses emanating from somewhere deep in the soil. Their commitment to communism was unwavering, unlike the shaky politics of one of their own, Saifuddin Ahmed Manik. If you recall, Manik abandoned, at some point, the high ideals of communism, and plunged straight into bourgeois politics. History has also forgotten him.

Mahbubul Haq is another political fighter who once passed on to us dreams of a socialist order. There was little chance that in the yet semi-feudal, conservative middle class-dominated society, a socialist structure could be put in place. But Haq remained steadfast in his belief. 

His politics was one of strong idealism; and his life was conducted on the plane of simplicity. Many were the moments when he climbed into public buses, in the manner of a common citizen, patiently withstanding the heat and the grime, as he commuted from one part of the city to another. 

He led the Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal, a political organization he loved to no end. Mahbubul Haq did not see socialism take over the country, but his hope did not crumble. The collapse of socialism, indeed of communism, on a global scale dismayed him. It did not kill his dreams. Those dreams have gone into the grave with him.

History sometimes treats some of its more devoted adherents, or call them makers if you will, in cruel fashion. And it does so against a background of the rise of men more powerful, and therefore more influential around them. 

Professor Muzaffar Ahmed, whose National Awami Party was unable to go beyond his persona, ought to have been a more assertive player on the national stage. Close to Bangabandhu, he was part of the three-party alliance, which in the early 1970s was forged between the NAP, the CPB, and the Awami League. 

But Muzaffar Ahmed’s story began further back in time, when his party was a larger entity in the shape of the NAP led by the redoubtable Khan Abdul Wali Khan of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.

The professor fulfilled his historic calling during the Liberation War, and after the cataclysm of August-November 1975, should have played a decisive role in defense of the old values jettisoned by the forces of anti-history. 

He did not, or could not. And yet, that does not cast a shadow on his place in history. Why then, must we forget him?

Studies of history, if they are to be meaningful, must be comprehensive in depth and far-reaching in effect. Selective history is dangerous, almost as risky as distortions of history. In Bangladesh, at this point of time, the politics espoused by the late Shamsul Haq, general secretary of the AL in the 1950s before illness and death claimed him, calls for re-evaluation. 

Not much is known of him, in the same way that little is known about Amena Begum, the fiery politician whose public defense of the Six Points, when the senior leadership of the AL were in incarceration, is necessarily a crucial part of national history. 

If forgetting history is a sin, not remembering the once brilliant stars who tapered off into silence is a bad crime. Historical amnesia compels children to grow into adulthood with half-baked ideas of their heritage. It is a howling of wolves, tempting good men into the sinister forest of forgetting.

Mohammad Farhad, Moni Singh, and Mahbubul Haq painted politics, in some of the more decisive of the times they inhabited, in the colours of socialist ferment. They were no footnotes in the telling of the tale.

They were milestones in the landscape of Bangladesh’s evolving history. 

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist.