December dusts searing past to remind a reality that was preposterously denied for a quarter century and was recognized only after leaving an indelible trail of blood. While creation of Bangladesh entails a petrifying human catastrophe and an everlasting reference to state-perpetrated fratricide, it also trivialised a waffle narrative of Islamic-nationhood.
The episode reiterated that a multi-nation federation can only exist with socio-political justice, absence of which derides all ideological conjectures. Creation of Bangladesh reinforced the fact that Pakistan was not a creation of any Islamic ideology but was in fact a derivative of an ominous political alienation of Muslims in India. For Bengalis, Pakistan turned out to be a mere perpetuation of the same alienation. Flippant negation of their culture, abominable economic exploitation and brazen denial of their right to rule culminated into the birth of Bangladesh on December 16, 1971.
Undeniably, the social fabric and political configuration of East and West Pakistan were diametrically opposite to each other. While West Pakistani politics and society was yanked by a myopic feudal oligarchy, East Pakistan inherited a much refined middle-class lead socio-political ambiance. After 1857 insurgency, Bengal became the first province under British democracy. It was the first regulation province of India under the jurisdiction of a high court. Society and politics in Bengal was erected on starkly different building blocks and it did not chime-in with the other provinces of Pakistan where British rule clamped typical colonial structures.Snobbish civil and military leadership grossly underestimated the powder keg of East Pakistan that left deep scars of embarrassment in the national history. While language and culture are central to most of the ethno-national movements, economic and political marginalisation are key triggers to stoke irreversible hatred.
Landed aristocracy that shaped today’s Pakistan was trounced in Bengal in 1950 with the introduction of “East Bengal Estate Acquisition and Tenancy Act”. It effectively routed the landlordism in Bengal by fixing individual holding at only 3.3 acres per head or 33.3 acres of land per family whichever was less. Agriculture census of 1963-64 shows that out of 6.2 million farms some 6 million were of less than 12.5 acres size and 50 per cent of them were only 2.5 acres or less.
On the contrary, West Pakistan was marked by large landholdings specially in Punjab and Sindh provinces. For example, 30 per cent of the land in Sindh in 1952 was owned by only one per cent of the owners and the average holding was above 500 acres. In Punjab, 50 per cent of the land was under the control of Zamindars. This sufficiently indicates the distinct social and political milieu of the two wings. Since West Pakistan held hegemony over the decision making, the vibrant middle class-led East Pakistan often loathed the policies manufactured and imposed by the landed aristocracy of West Pakistan.
Resource hemorrhage and discrimination in pecuniary matters against East Pakistan was the key cause of conflict. In 1948-50 when East Pakistan had a net balance of payment surplus of Rs622 million, West Pakistan had a net deficit of Rs912 million. Similarly, the foreign and inter-wing trade balance of the two wings from 1949-50 to 1957-58 shows East Pakistan having a surplus of Rs3,636 million as balance of trade with foreign countries against the net deficit of Rs3,047 million of West Pakistan on the same account. The trend remained consistent during the first and second five years plans when East Pakistan had net surplus and West Pakistan had net deficit in foreign trade and the surplus of East Pakistan was used to offset the deficit. This prompted Shaikh Mujib to demand for two separate currencies for the two wings under his popular six-point formula.
Conflict on resource sharing could have been assuaged had avaricious establishment of West Pakistan maintained a judicious balance in benefit sharing. What irked Bengalis was relentless discrimination in development opportunities. For example, GDP growth in East Pakistan during the period was 2.2 per cent against the heavily skewed 3.1 per cent of West Pakistan. During the same period per capita income in East Pakistan dwindled to -0.1 per cent against +0.8 per cent increase in the West Pakistan. Likewise during five years from 1954-55 to 1959-60, GDP growth in East Pakistan was only 1.6 per cent i.e. half of the West Pakistan’s 3.2 per cent. Per capita income in East Pakistan plummeted to -0.7 per cent against +1.2 per cent in the West Pakistan.
East Pakistan having almost 54 per cent population was also discriminated in public sector development. During the first five year plan, total revenue expenditure in East Pakistan was Rs2,540 million which was less than one third of the Rs8,980 of the West Pakistan. It was marginally jacked-up in the second five-year plan from 1960-61 to 1964-65 when East Pakistan received Rs6,254 million under public sector development programme against Rs7,696 million of the West Pakistan, yet it was still 19 per cent less.
Not only that East Pakistan was kept economically deprived and politically suppressed, it was also under represented in the state structure. Share of Bengalis in senior level civil services was also flagrantly violated. During the first five years of the country, senior cadres of several departments were completely bereft of Bengalis. There were no Bengalis on any senior positions in the Departments of Commerce, Intelligence& Statistics, Supply & Development, Petroleum, Paper & Stationery Wing, Inspection Wing, General Concession Wing, Central Engineering Authority, Coal Commissioner and Textiles.
Apart from economic exploitation, West Pakistani leadership always demeaned and demonised Bengalis. General Ayub rabidly detested Bengalis. He once vented his spleen by saying that “I am surprised by Bengali outlook. They have cut themselves off from Muslim culture through abhorrence of the Urdu language…..making themselves vulnerable to Hindu culture.” On 7th September 1967, he wrote “God has been very unkind to us in giving the sort of neighbours [India] and compatriots [Bengalis]. We could not think of a worst combination. Hindus and Bengalis…. If worst comes to the worst, we shall not hesitate to fight a relentless battle against the disruptionists in East Pakistan. Rivers of blood will flow if need be, unhappily. We will arise to save our crores of Muslims from Hindu slavery”.
Gen. Ayub was no exception in his fulmination against Bengalis. Major General Khadim Hussain Raja, the then GOC, who threatened to “raze Dhakah to the ground” if Shaikh Mujib proclaimed independence during his speech at Race Course ground on 7th March 1971, has made startling revelations about moral bankruptcy of military leadership. In his recently published book “a stranger in my own country”, he has quoted nauseating turpitude of General Niazi during a debriefing meeting. He writes “Niazi became abusive and started raving. Breaking into Urdu he said: ‘Main is haramzadi qaum ki nasal badal doon ga. Yeh mujhey kiya samjhtey hain’. He threatened that he would let his soldiers loose on their womenfolk. There was pin-drop silence at these remarks. Officers looked at each other in silence, taken aback by his vulgarity. The meeting dispersed on this unhappy note with sullen faces. The next morning, we were given sad news. A Bengali Office, Major Mushtaq, who had served under me in Jessore, went into a bathroom at the Command Headquarter and shot himself in head. He died instantaneously.”
What happened in 1971 was certainly worse, yet the worst is the unremitting obnoxious intransigence of the unfazed perpetrators. Fundamental rights are denied with same zeal, forced disappearance, dumping of corpses in the name of national interest continues with alarming madness and natural endowment of federating units are being exploited ruthlessly. Oppressed segments who demand their rights are inexorably construed as traitors. What prevails in Pakistan today can potentially repeat what happened yesterday.