Rehman Sobhan: A Journey To Bangladesh

Sohrab Hassan

Have we been able to see the disparity of Bangladesh, noted economist Rehman Sobhan dreams in his book? To wither away disparity People of Bangladesh from slums to elite houses fought Pakistanis but still, it is holding sway upon us. We got Bangladesh after its blood bath, but people are still being deprived in terms of getting fruits of liberation at their doorsteps.

The courage showed by a writer like Rehman Sobhan in those days by wielding pen defying red eyes of militarism are nonexistent today. Discussants in the launching ceremony of his book “From two economics to two nations, my journey to Bangladesh” echoed the same concern. They point to their disillusionment growing out of the gap between dreams of liberation and the reality of its achievement. Rehman Sobhan’s articles, columns, editorials from 1961 to 1971 have been compiled in this book. In 1961 he first pointed out that Pakistan was following two economies that meant two economies in one country and was able to create a fuss. How disparity was created between West and East Pakistan?  East Pakistan did export more than that of West Pakistan but lion’s share of export earnings was siphoned off to West Pakistan. In terms of industrialization, army installations, foreign Aid allocation East Pakistan was victimized to the blatant disparity. He threw light on all these with his apt sagacity.

Then In 1966, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman submitted his historic 6 points in an opposition parties’ meeting that created a wider commotion in East Pakistan.

Then people saw Agartala conspiracy case, 69 mass upsurge against Pakistan army power and the then East Pakistan’s graduating towards liberation movement. Rehman Sobhan wrote, 6 points programme then went beyond the Awami league and it became the nation’s symbol of salvation charter. But the very interesting and rather coincidental fact is that Lahore witnessed the historic proposal for the creation of Pakistan, two economy of Rehman Sobhan and historic 6 points of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. All were taken place in Lahore. Ayub took 6 points to be a way for breaking Pakistan and responded to it with a language of weapon. So Lahore is the place that witnessed the proposals for creation and breaking of Pakistan both.

Rehman Siobhan’s two economies to two nations are the documentary evidence of economic and political scenario of the late sixties in its true sense. He never did limit his ideas within the academic sphere. He directly encouraged his students to take part in the movement at that time. He along with Dr.Kamal Hussain, Hamida Hussain, and Salma Sobhan published weekly Forum. At that time his articles and views in Forum echoed the minds of the then politicians, social leaders, teachers, and students. During the run-up to the liberation war, he worked with Bangabandhu and simultaneously he hurried to Santosh to see for himself peasants’ gathering of Moulana Bhashani and elicited some valuable experience from there. He harmonized himself with the mass movement. He did not bog him down in trifle bickering over who declared independence and how many people heard that proclamation. To him, people were set to enjoy real liberation from Ist March 1971, the day Yahya Khan postponed national assembly session. People in a concerted manner rose to revolt against the regime. From that day, Bangladesh was set free and for the subsequent 25 days, the country was de facto run under the direct leadership of Bangabandhu. To him, our liberation war was a people’s war. Such observation of Rehman Sobahan had intrinsic reality as he was involved in the negotiation process at that time. Negotiation was going on not for sharing power but for ensuring a share of resources which people of Bangladesh did own. With breaking negotiation halfway, Pakistan power coterie cracked down on the unarmed people of Bangladesh in a  beastly manner on 25th March at dead of night. At that time, when Rehman Sobhan took Pakistani journalist Majhar Ali Khan, father of Tariq Ali and Pakhtun leader Khan Abdul Wali Khan and Baluch leader Gauch Box Brejenjo to Bangabandhu, he informed them about Pak army’s decision and requested them to immediately leave Dhaka.

Two economies of Rehman Sobhan invigorated our liberation war. When he first threw it in a seminar in Lahore, from then on Pakistan power coterie took it as their headache. Once Ayub asked who was Rehman Sobhan. In such a way, a young economist challenged Pakistan state character at that juncture. But what is the end result? To wither away disparity, we fought Pakistan and get Bangladesh. The dream of our liberation was to have a society free from disparity and deprivation. But could we achieve it as of today? I had an interview with Rehman Sobahan some years back. He deplored saying that during Pakistan we had one country with two economies. Now we have one country with two society. One represents Gulshan-Banani trends and other village oriented marginalized trends. Pauperisation is running unhindered. He said the then political leadership was set to unite various professionals from different walks including teachers, lawyers, writers, intellectuals in their struggles. Political struggle and cultural arousal worked for hand in hand. It was their farsightedness that resulting in a successful national liberation movement. But today’s story tells otherwise. Divided politics inimical to each other is leading us to a point of nowhere.

Personally, Rehman Sobhan has always been a proactive man behind the screen. In his book, he named “My journey” but the self has been seldom personified, rather sum total got emphasis. To him, a departure from the spirit of liberation means dishonoring martyrs. In the last chapter, he wrote, Bangabandhu had the capacity to unite people defying Pakistani cruelty and led them to the war of liberation. We are far from the building of Bangabandhu‘s society based on equity. Rather we are in a society where a few are enjoying the fruits of liberation. Resources are being siphoned off to a few pockets and they are controlling our economy and politics. This is all chicanery to the spirit of liberation. He wrote our advents to democratic progress are being impeded as a result of that. Divided society and politics bring democracy at a stake off and on. He cited at the publication ceremony, even during the military regime of Pakistan, we could write what we thought without seeing left and right within two hours. But now we cannot. In independent Bangladesh, it needs seven days to complete an article. I have to think five times for a word to use and have to see right and left time and again. This over alertness and having fear is a failure not of mine but for all. The kind of democratic and tolerant society we wanted in 1971 is receding gradually; we may hear its footsteps dwindling in the wir at best.

Rehman Sobhan and his comrades held high the sayings, the pen is mightier than sword and ink is more powered than arms in Pakistan regime and his constellation of works in the “Forum” inspired struggling people of the then East Pakistan. His credible role during the liberation war is known to everyone. To mold public opinion in favour of war, he bustled USA and countries in Europe and submitted reports to Mujib Nagar Government. He was the first economic ambassador of Bangladesh government.

After liberation, Rehman Sobhan became a member of the planning commission. He showed brilliance and proved his sagacity over there. After the fall of the autocratic regime of Ershad, the caretaker government was formed for transferring power to the next elected government. He proved his excellence being an advisor to that caretaker government. His astounding job was to publish “Task Force Reports “a road map of future Bangladesh. But it has fallen prey to the stoicism of both the subsequent governments and political parties. Rehman Siobhan’s journey to Bangladesh never ends. In 1971, it was its one phase. Another phase of his journey is streaming in the days to come.

Sohrab Hassan, writer, poet, journalist

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