Rebirth of People

Rehman Sobhan

 For the first time since the Battle of Plassey, Bengal is free. This is not freedom in the juridical sense. Nor does it ignore the guns which remain pointed at us. But today, for the first time in two centuries, decisions are being made by the people of Bangladesh directing the course of their politics and economy without reference to the vested interests of alien ruling groups. The presence of these groups has, in the course of 10 days which shook the nation, been restricted to fortified enclaves within Bangladesh.

Here they remain islands in a hostile sea with not a friendly face to turn to. To re-impose their will on Bangladesh will, for all practical purposes, represent to the people, an act of aggression, analogous to the French and Dutch attempts to re-occupy Indo-China and Indonesia from “free” governments set up after the people’s anti-Japanese war. No longer will this act of re-conquest be seen as the act of a legitimate government enforcing its writ, but will appear to the people as an act of re-usurpation against which resistance will become a sacred act. To dream of any return to domination by the West ruling elite is absurd from the very outset. All that they can hope for is to continue their genocide until the bullets are exhausted. They can seek to cripple the economy through a scorched-earth policy and thus bring death and chaos to this land. But they cannot rule us again, no matter how much they reinforce their isolated enclaves. Awareness of this reality can point to only one course for any civilized and rational human being. Yahya must come to terms with Sheikh Mujib by accepting his four points. The four points merely ask for legal recognition of a de facto situation and require no concession on Yahya’s part. Yahya must know that the trade and aid on which Mr. Bhutto thought to break Pakistan are lost forever since no exchange can accrue to them without exports moving out of Bangladesh. Nor can resources be drained with a total boycott in operation against West-wing goods and no taxes accruing to the center. This, however, pre-supposes rationality. If the bloodlust alone predominates they may yet seek revenge in death and destruction and leave us a wasteland before they pull out.

Against the threat of economic war, the people must be vigilant and all factories and economic assets must be guarded by the workers and the people as the property of Bangladesh. We should here expect democrats, socialists, and all people of human impulse in West Pakistan to see that this holocaust does not take place. Our war was never with them and they must now from shared humanity and history see that sanity prevails amongst their rulers. To socialists, it may be said that a just society in West Pakistan can never be built from the blood and bones of the peasants, workers, and students of Bangladesh. We will rise from the ashes of destruction to rebuild a new order but for their connivance, they will forever be held under the jackboot which tried to crush us. Baluchis, Pathans, Sindhis, and even the common man of Punjab will be bound to dictatorship with the progressive leader of today becoming the slave-master of tomorrow. To the world at large; again, Bangladesh makes its appeal. Chinese guns, American ammunition, British and Soviet equipment are being used in this act of genocide. Today, the selfish interests of the great powers leave Bangladesh without sympathy. If these powers were to simply express their displeasure at the course of events and indicate that their own tools could not be used to commit genocide, this ramshackle machine of repression would grind to a standstill. Till then, we must stand alone and appeal over the heads of governments to the people and ask them to tell their governments that the status quo itself is ephemeral and that any future they seek in this region lies only with the people and not their oppressors.

Today, only our will, courage, unity and capability to resist remain our assets. Out of adversity have emerged new reserves of strength from the people. Today, the middle class is a camp follower rather than the leader of the movement. They are uneasy of the consequences of confrontation. They will continue to breathe fire into their now tax-free beer and take violent resolutions to fight to the last drop of someone else’s blood but secretly they can safely abuse compromise whilst enjoying its fruits. Before setting out to a day of rhetorical aggression, they see that full use has been made of drawing right from the banks. Vital supplies are hoarded for emergencies and cars are full of petrol. Whilst troops are away they will march the streets but will make sure to be indoors during curfew whilst praising the courage of curfew breakers.

Luckily for Bangladesh, the movement is no longer led by these forces.

Today, the character of the resistance has changed. It is the students, workers, the lower middle class, the bustee dweller and rickshaw puller, even the escaped convict, who dominate the mood, who are no longer afraid of death, the threat of genocide itself springing from this new courage. If people were cowards, the spray of bullets would tranquilize any movement. But today, millions are there to replace the thousand who are fallen, and this must haunt their leaders as much as their oppressors. The character of the movement must therefore not only condition the response of the leadership but the social order. These men are not shedding their blood so that their bourgeois masters can safely emerge from their homes to dominate the economy and return to a good life. This must be one war where the warriors share the spoils. Seeing workers and clerks taking responsible decisions on how to run their enterprise, one sees that they must be made the owners of the wealth they produce. A socialist order must emerge out of this upheaval, for then it will be the people who will fight to defend their gains. We must never again repeat the experience of 1947 when all the enthusiasm generated by the struggle was dissipated in building a society of privilege and greed. We have had the rare opportunity of second birth.

Let us build with and for the people.

Rehman Sobhan (born 12 March 1935) is a Bangladeshi economist and freedom fighter. He played an active role in the Bengali nationalist movement in the 1960s. He was also a member of the first Planning Commission in Bangladesh and a close associate of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He was awarded the Independence Day Award in 2008. Presently, Sobhan heads the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a non-governmental research organization in developing countries.

Scroll to top