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Nationalism


Nationalism From the very ancient times, the settlements of the bengal delta had been forming and reforming demographically and topographically, and thus contributing to the making of a compact country and people in Eastern India. The introduction of Muslim rule in Bengal from the early thirteenth century added a new dimension to the nation-building process. Under the Turko-Afghan rule myriad tiny kingdoms of the region were integrated into one Shah-i-Bangala. The territorial unity of the delta and coining of the term 'Bangala' (Anglicised Bengal) are the positive marks of a great journey towards Bangladesh nationalism.

The territorial unity and population growth ran parallel with the development of Bangla language under the patronage of the Turko-Afghan rulers. Besides developing the Bangla, their next most outstanding contribution to the growth of Bengal identity was evolving of a polity based on Hindu-Muslim partnership and cooperation. The trend was further strengthened under the Mughal regime. The nawabi regime in the eighteenth century, which was a remarkable example of Hindu-Muslim unity, showed all the marks of the progressive growth towards the formation of a nation state in the European model taking shape after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire.

But the steady growth of Bengal personality as a nation received a bumping halt under the British colonial regime. All the achievements made during the previous centuries in the fields of arts and crafts, manufactures and industries, education and administration were overturned under the impact of the colonial rule. With its various educational, administrative and economic policies, the colonial regime unleashed processes of changes of far reaching significance. The impact of colonial rule had been weakening or even disintegrating the social fabrics woven in the preceding centuries.

The nineteenth century developments created a kind of Bangali nationalism. But it was a fragmented type of nationalism. It received least sympathy and participation from the Muslim society which remained clung by and large to traditional nationalism based on religion, customs and traditions. In the late nineteenth century it was assumed by the Bhadralok class and recognised by the Ashraf class that a Bangali meant a Hindu and the Bangla language meant the language of the Hindus. Such an ahistorical development in social outlook was the direct result of the colonial rule. The Hindu Bhadralok and Muslim Ashraf classes came to a riotous relation in the wake of the Partition of Bengal (1905). The Hindu Bhadralok opposed the partition in the name of Bengal identity and the Muslim Ashraf supported it in the name of Muslim welfare. The tensions that the 1905-partition generated between the two communities had never subsided since then. Through the elections of 1935 and 1946, the Bengal Muslims voted for Muslim nationalism rather than for Indian or Bangali nationalism. The partition of Bengal (1947) wrecked all possibilities of Bengal nationalism at least in territorial sense.

The partition and the creation of East Bengal within the framework of Pakistan on the basis of Muslim nationalism had apparently resolved the conflicts between the two communities. But soon the people of East Bengal came to realise the futility of Pakistan nationalism based on religion. The nationalism of a people draws its inspiration and cohesion from the sense of belongingness and togetherness and consciousness of common identity which is contingent on shared experiences in history, geography, ethnicity, religion, language and culture. Unfortunately, East Bengal (East Pakistan) had no shared experience with the people of West Pakistan excepting religion. But religion itself is of little use unless accompanied by other integrative factors.

Even then Pakistan, as a multi-national state, had a fair prospect of developing nationalism among the people of East Bengal by adopting social political and economic measures strenthening the bonds between the people of the two wings. But the Pakistan government miserably failed in promoting national integration and creating the elements of nationalism. On the contrary, the policies of the central government made the Bangalis suspicious of the good faith of the West Pakistanis. On the issues of proportionate representation, allocation of central resources and jobs and services between the two wings, the people of East Bengal came into sharp differences with the central government. The Indo-Pak War (1965) made it clear that East Pakistan was kept virtually defenceless. East Pakistan was allowed to remain under-represented in all the sectors of the state. The domination of West Pakistan over East Pakistan, demographically the majority province, was galling to the Bangalis because they fought for Pakistan to eliminate domination of one people on another.

The sense of deprivation and subordination among the East Bengal people led to a new awareness among them. All the political parties, especially the awami league came to realise the hollowness of religion based Pakistani nationalism. From the 1960s, the East Pakistan leadership, particularly student organisations, began to talk of a new relationship with Pakistan which aimed at a nation state of East Pakistan with or even without a federalist link. This consciousness finally crystalised into Six-point federalism and Bangali nationalism in the late 1960s. The people ventilated their new consciousness and solidarity in the elections of 1970. Bangabandhu sheikh mujibur rahman and his party, Awami League, came out to be the champion of the new nationalism. The centre, however, could not share with the federalist idea of the Bangabandhu, and the consequence was the war of liberation based on Bangali nationalism.

The genocide and other brutalities perpetrated by the Pakistan army during the war had contributed to further sharpening of the idea of Bangali nationalism. Conceptually, the Bangali nationalism had undergone considerable changes during and after the war. The role of India and the Soviet Union in the war had undoubtedly influenced the ideological configuration of nationhood. Concepts of secularism and socialism, the two elements of Bangali statehood and nationalism in the early 1970s, were imported from the systems of the war allies.

But to the average Bangalis the concepts of secularism and socialism appeared to have been alien and unappreciable. Even the cognate 'Bangali' with nationalism came under severe criticism from the late 1970s through 1990s when the state authorities and their supporters were inclined to call it 'Bangladeshi nationalism' instead of 'Bangali nationalism'. To the critics, Bangali nationalism and Bangladeshi nationalism have qualitative differences inherently. Ideologically, the former is thought to be foreign biased and the later is Islam biased. The idea of secularism and socialism is now very dimly pronounced by the concerned political parties. Religion sometimes may play important role in fashioning nationalism of a country. As a country with over 90% of Muslims among its population and with its Islamic tradition of a thousand years, Islam as a religion could hardly be underestimated. So primacy of Islam was given to state thought and nationalist pronouncements since the 1980s. The critics further assert that 'Bangladeshi' or Bangladesh nationalism has one advantage over 'Bangali' nationalism in the sense that Bangali nationalism, by definition, excludes the other ethnic groups in the country on the one hand, and includes linguistically at least the Bangali citizens of a province of the state of India, on the other. However, to the general people the debate sounds merely academic, because whatever may be the designation of their nationalism, Bangali or Bangladeshi, they, as a people living within the territory of Bangladesh, do cherish to live as one people, one nation, one nationality holding the spirit of unity and diversities as their precious heritage. [Asha Islam]