The question of the Bengali nation (2012)

Origin of the two cultural paths

The question of Bengal is a case that is very near from the German question, the German countries splitting in two nations: Germany and Austria. Basically, in history Bengal was cut in two parts, sharing the same language, but divided in what concerns the main ideology, which was, at this feudal time, religion.

Because of this and following the Marxist definition of nation, the separation of West and East Bengal is more near to the Germany/Austria split than to the West/East Germany separation of 1945-1989.

Let’s see here how did the Bengali people evolve.

Bengal: the impossibility of Islamic mass conversion brought from outside

The reason of such a separation like the one that occurred in Bengal – with the formation of Bangladesh- can not be simply explained by mass conversions in the East Bengal brought by Islamic missionaries.

Islam arrived at the 12th century, through conquest on one side, through trade on the other, especially on the coastal area, with the port of Chittagong for example. Then, a lot of missionaries came to propagate Islam.

But this can not have made that, today, 90.4% of the population is of Islamic culture in Bangladesh.

Why that?

a) First of all, we can see that this Islamic culture did not spread in that extend in the western part of Bengal. Yet, Islam did not begin as a stream trying to turn mainstream. It never had the particularities of a subculture, like it had in Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, where it is a kind of Islamic “Island”.

Because of this, the explanation that give a central role to Muslim Governors, Kings, Nizams, etc. and missionaries is not valid.

Islam was simply just accepted by the masses of eastern Bengal, and this in a massive way, from one day to another. The Bangla language was so left nearly untouched, staying strongly based on Sanskrit origin and by Aborigines borrows.

There was absolutely no process of building of a language like Hindustani, where what is today Hindi and Urdu borrowed massively Persian vocabulary and expressions, because of the major influence of Islamic culture.

The masses of Bangladesh even took this language question as a main weapon in their struggle against West Pakistan, a country where Islamic culture has the hegemony.

b) Then, we can see that Islamic Bengal was and is still today a small pocket, in a area of the world where Hinduism is still a main component of the ruling ideology: India.

Bengal was far away from the Islamic cultural centers; it was separated by numerous peoples and cultures; it was not in direct contact.

The British Empire tried to understand this reality, and the census made in 1872 showed that the Muslim pockets in Bengal were in the alluvial plains.

Seeing this, and that only a bit more than 1% of the asked people affirmed to have foreign origin, the British cadres thought that they were coming from the low castes, that converted to Islam to escape the rule of Hinduism.

But this explanation is mechanical. Bengal was before Islam indeed under Buddhist influence, and Buddhism knew no castes. There was also Jainism that existed in ancient India, where castes are not recognized.

Why should have the most oppressed masses chosen a religion coming from far away, if it was only for a question of caste, as they could just uphold Buddhism, like they did before?

The particular situation of Bengal

Dialectical materialism teaches us that the contradiction is in an internal process. So, the reason for the triumph of Islam in the eastern part of Bengal must come from Eastern Bengal itself.

Islam in Bengal can not have been “imported”.

So, let’s take a look at the history of Bengal. We can see these interesting particular features:

a) Following the Manusmṛti, known in Europe as the Laws of Manu (between 200 BC and 200 AD), Bengal was not a part of Āryāvarta (Sanskrit: “abode of the Aryans”).

b) It was only under the Maurya Empire (321 to 185 BC) that the western part of Bengal was joined for the first time to ancient India, the eastern part forming the extremity of the empire.

c) It was merely during the Gupta Empire (320 to 550 AD) that the local chiefs were crushed in Bengal.

What does it mean? That under the Maurya Empire, (mainly western) Bengal knew a leap of civilization, notably through the great Buddhist emperor Asoka. Then, with the Gupta Empire and its extermination of Buddhism in India, Bengal became the last place of confrontation between Hinduism and Buddhism. Followed then a policy of missionaries promoting Hinduism.

It is clear that the Maurya and Gupta Empires changed the reality of western Bengal, developing its society to a higher stage, with a state administration produced by the high development in West India.

Because of this, the collapse of the Gupta Empire brought a situation of chaos in Bengal, a situation called “matsyanyaya”. A new dynasty knew locally a birth, the Palas, that put forward Buddhism – clearly to have a stronger balance of power with ancient India, that was under Hinduistic rule. Even in South East Bengal, local kings followed this pro-Buddhism policy.

But the Palas tried to invade some parts of ancient India, especially Bihar, on the West of Bengal. The center of gravity went to the west, sweeping away more and more from East Bengal. This should have had fatal consequences for Bengal’s unity.

The source of the Bengal Split

At this thime, a Buddhist Bengal that would be a part of ancient India was not possible; the Hinduistic forces controlled the most of India, Bengal was dependent on it, and so the Hinduistic culture spread in all the Pala’s culture.

The Palas kings were surrounded by a Hinduistic state apparatus (from poetry to ministers), married to women from Brahmin’s families; in this process Western Bengal was attracted to ancient India, this time in a decisive manner. Buddhism was only maintained under the Palas, so that a distinct identity was kept, the rule of the Palas justified, and also because it was an expression of the Bengali culture of this time.

Indeed, the Bengali Buddhism was characterized by a massive presence of Goddess. We find for example these important figures, present in the Palas version of Buddhism

  • Tara
  • Kurukullâ
  • Aparâjita
  • Vasudharâ
  • Marîchî
  • Paranùabari
  • Prajnâparamitpa
  • Dhundâ

We will see that this massive presence of Goddess in the Bengali culture will help us in a significant manner.

Nevertheless, what counts here in this process, it was only a question of time until feudal forces – connected to hinduistic India – overthrew the Palas dynasty. This happened with Vijayasena, a Brahmine-Warrior from the south of India, that established an Hinduistic dynasty, integrating Buddha as an (evil) avatar of Vishnu.

The dynasty of the Senas pushed Hinduism forward in a massive manner, bringing Brahmins from the rest of India to build a new feudal ruling class, with the grants of land also. The Senas installed a small minority as a mere religious “elite”, in a very strong hierarchical way.

Bengal was basically colonized by Hinduistic ancient India; the impact of this colonization had of course a center of gravity in the western part of Bengal.

The dynasty of the Senas meant the ruin of trade of merchants, that upheld Buddhism – here the “equal” aspect of Buddhism shows his pre-bourgeois aspect, very near from protestantism, with also the stress on a global civilization and an unified administration.

For this reason, Bengal turned feudal, from the top of society, because of ancient India’s influence.

We have here the main key of the split. Indeed, we can see here:

a) The Maurya and Gupta influence brought western Bengal to a higher stage of culture, whereas the eastern part remained back-warded but still influenced by aborigine culture and matriarchy;

b) Then, there was a historical chance for Bengal to unite – under the banner of Buddhism, like what happened in the countries at the East of Bengal (Burma, Laos, Thailand…). This unification would have been made by a kingdom mostly based in the western part and the generalization of trade.

c) But the Sena dynasty collapsed, because of the expansion of ancient India, and west Bengal became a part of it on the cultural and economical levels, which means that the feudal aspect triumphed over the pre-bourgeois aspects carried by Buddhism and the towns.

d) The Eastern part needed a qualitative leap, that was quite missed under the Maurya and Gupta empires, but it could not be bases on Buddhism, as it was the ideology of the Palas dynasty, whose foundation was in the western part or even in Bihar.

e) The Islamic invasion arrived exactly at this time of a general need of an anti-feudal movement.

f) Nevertheless, the anti-Brahmin pre-bourgeois movement will then not only present in the East, with Islam – it will exist also in the westen part of Bengal, through Goddess worship that was already present in Buddhism, and that was put in Hinduism.

A new dynamic

Bourgeois historians think that mass conversion of Islam was a peasant reaction to the aryan penetration in Eastern Bengal; in fact, Islam in the East and Aborigines – influenced Hinduism in the West were both pre-bourgeois expression against feudalism.

The bourgeois historians noticed that the peasants were too weak on the economical level, but think they tried to fight on the ideological and cultural fields, through the weapon of Islam borrowed from the outside.

It would mean that the peasants were an unified and conscious class – what never was the case in history. In fact, pre-bourgeois classes build an ideological weapon to counter-attack against the feudal penetration in Bengal.

The Islamic invasion – which was not an invasion but a conquest – was the detonator of this historical moment of class struggle.

In Eastern Bengal, Islam was massively accepted. But this Islam was specifically Bengali. There was an overemphasizing on the magical aspects of the missionaries that brought Islam. Those “Sufis” were considered to cure illness, walk on water, etc.

Even if Islam in Bangladesh is Sunni, in a unique manner it celebrates saints, tombs are occasion of pilgrimages, etc.

In the same way, Hinduist and Buddhist sites were simply adapted to the Islamic cult.

In Western Bengal, hinduism became hegemonic, but it was also altered. The main manner to consider Hinduism is kali-kula – the cult of the great goddess (Mahadevi) or of the goddess (Devi), also known as shaktism.

Satyajit Ray’s movie “Devi” depicts this reality; in Bengal, the goddess Kali is revered, and shaktism can be considered stronger as Saivism and Vaishavism, that represent much more typical aspects of the Indo-Aryan patriarchal culture and ideology.

So, in West and Esat Bengal, Hinduism celebrates goddess like Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Manasa, or Shashthi, Shitala, Olai Chandi.

But this is not all. Syncretism appeared here as the Bengali national tendency to unite.

As West Bengal turned into a variant of Hinduism and East Bengal turned to a variant of Islam, and because the unity was still great between those two parts of the world, a syncretic tendency developed itself.

It was clearly an expression of the pre-bourgeois elements, that tried to unite and not to divide; because of this bourgeois aspect, the expression was universalist.

In the western part, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1534) developed a cult of Krishna as only real god and above the casts, based on “love” in a mystical union with the absolute truth ; in East Bengal, the sufis taught the central character of love to join God, beyond the formal aspects of religion.

In this Islamic case, the sufis adopted the position of the gurus in Hinduism and Buddhism, teaching the way of truth to the disciple, through meditation in particular.

The main question was then: would both tendency finally join themselves? Or would these tendencies follow particular paths, modifying the psychological characters in two divided parts, giving birth to two different nations?

The split

If we are right about our thesis on the situation of Bengal at the arrival of Islam, then the following points need to be verified:

  • first of all, fierce class struggles must have taken place with the new ideological weapons (shaktist Hinduism and Islam);
  • these weapons, if they were real weapons, must have proven their efficiency, if not then another weapon would have been raised;
  • the ruling class in Bengal must have necessarily also reflected this situation of “two cultural paths” in Bengal.

Bengal succeeds in protecting itself

Indeed, Bengal flourished and could defend its new situation. Two main points are to notice:

a) Under Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah, who reigned from 1342 to 1358, Bengal became unified. The newly formed Sultanat was even able to resist under Hindu and Muslim generals to the attack of the Sultanat of Delhi, led by Firuz Shah Tughlaq.

Bengal was then known as Bangalah, and the state was the Muslim Sultanate of Bengal. The Sultan was called Sultan-i-Bangalah, Shah-i-Bangalah, or Shah-i-Bangaliyan.

The word came to Europe through Marco Polo, giving birth to the word “Bengal” (Marco Polo was never in Bengal and even did a confusion, thinking in fact of a part of Burma!).

The new Islamic state modernized the country and its administrative system. The ideological culture, based on the popular culture of Bengal, was putting forward Islam but in a local manner. Numerous elements were taken from the Buddhist and Hindu arts (open lotus in profile, floral elements, the lotus and the diamond, the lotus petal frieze, the trefoil, the rosette, the finial, the festoon, the twisted rope, chequered squares, the diamond criss-cross, etc.).

Husain Shah had even Hindus as prime minister (wazir), physician, chief of the bodyguards, private secretary, superintendent, etc.

b) Ala-ud-din Husain Shah, who reigned from 1494 to 1519, defended the Bengali literature, promoted religious coexistence in Bengal, giving Chaitanya Mahaprabhu full possibility to make diffusion of his mystical version of Vaishnavism (no castes, cult of love, universality, etc.).

This was the positive aspect of the new situation. Bengal existed as a structure, with a solid inner base, which would have not possible:

  • if Bengal was Buddhist, because the Muslim conqueror would have totally rejected any compromise with the local elites, and mainly plundered the land;
  • if Bengal was traditionally Hindu, because then it would have ideologically submerged by ancient India, and would have become a simple eastern region, without real possibility of local development.

Hindus were integrated in the Bengali nobility, appointed by the Muslim rulers. Bengal existed and could develop itself. It shows that a pre-bourgeois resistance could structure itself through a certain variant of Hinduism and a certain version of Islam.

Let’s look now at the negative aspect. The fact that two religions existed in Bengal was an ideological problem. To make a strong national unity, the existence of one single religious unity in the country was necessary for the pre-bourgeois element, allied to the local conqueror establishing its authority.

We will see that this goal will be found again a lot of times even in modern Bengal history.

However, at this time, the problems were the following:

  • – there was necessarily two factions upholding Islam or Hinduism as the main ideological center;
  • – these factions would necessarily be in struggle and trying to win importance within the state power, which was dominated by the Muslim conquerors.

The episode of the Ganesha dynasty in the 15th century was an expression of this: the Hindu landowner Raja Ganesha overthrew the Muslim dynasty, put his son as a Muslim ruler to overthrow him as soon as the Muslim invasion was away, tried the trick even a second time, but then was killed.

This shows how weak the position of the local elite was. This would have a fatal consequence.

The Mughal era

Bengal had from the 12th century to the 16th century to make unity. It succeeded in protecting itself and maintaining its national culture, but it failed to unite in a stronger national sense, with a unified pre-bourgeois culture on the level of all the nation.

This had a terrible consequence when the Mughal emperor managed to invade Bengal. From this moment on, Bengal was ruled from the top – a top far away from Bengal itself, based in northern India.

From 1574 to 1717, Bengal was ruled by 32 subahdars – a subah being a Mughal province and the word subahdar designating the governor, of course chosen by the Mughal or the highest officers.

Bengal was considered as a wealthy place, which wealth had to belong to the Mughal in Northern India, and especially the army. Because of this, cadres of the Mughal empire were sent to Bengal.

The Mughal ruler Akbar even implemented a new calendar, still used today. The goal of this calendar was to improve the collect of the land taxes in Bengal. Like elsewhere under Mughal rule, the language used for justice and the administration was Persian.

The country was not able to produce its own ruling class any more. The ruling class was a construct made by the Mughal, and composed of Muslim aristocrats, speaking urdu like in nothern India, and separated culturally from the others Muslim.

End of the Mughal era: the Nawabs

When the Mughal empire declined, the situation did not change. Bengal began to be ruled by a dynasty of governor, and the Bengali subahdar was henceforth known as the Nawab of Bengal (the word giving the french word “Nabab”).

It means that the feudal model of the Mughal empire was imported to Bengal, and even modernized.

Murshid Quli Khan, first Nawab (from 1717 to 1727), abolished the system of jagirdar, land that was given for life to someone that was considered as meritorious for his military service (with its death the land coming back, theoretically, in the hands of the monarch).

Instead of the system of the jagirdar, that was adapted to the military state of the Mughals, Murshid Quli Khan installed the mal zamini system. In this system, land was rented to ijaradar – revenue farmer.

It was more adapted to an economy were an autocrat needed wealth to be locally produced, in the same way as the French declining monarchy with the “fermiers généraux”. As the revenue farmer paid the Government nine-tenth of the production, he was very engaged to make a better production.

But Murshid Quli Khan faced the fact that in doing this, he could not base this system on Muslim ijaradar, because he needed to go against the Mughal culture, and anyway he did not receive any more cadres from the Mughal empire to put as revenue farmer.

Murshid Quli Khan organized therefore his ijaradar system this way: he divided the province into 13 administrative divisions called chaklahs, the largest revenue farmers were put as chaklahdars, and he chose mainly Hindus. From the 20 biggest revenue farmers chosen by Murshid Quli Khan, 19 were Hindus.

The British colonization: first period

In an interesting manner, the British empire that colonized Bengal continued in the “same way”. The Permanent Settlement act of 1793 made hereditary the positions of the revenue farmers.

Therefore, Murshid Quli Khan’s revenue farmers system must be considered as a parasitic system, of a feudal type. Karl Marx, in The British Rule in India (1853), described it as “European despotism, planted upon Asiatic despotism”:

“There cannot, however, remain any doubt but that the misery inflicted by the British on Hindostan is of an essentially different and infinitely more intensive kind than all Hindostan had to suffer before.

I do not allude to European despotism, planted upon Asiatic despotism, by the British East India Company, forming a more monstrous combination than any of the divine monsters startling us in the Temple of Salsette [Island of Salsette in the north of Bombay and famous for its 109 Buddhist cave temples]. This is no distinctive feature of British Colonial rule, but only an imitation of the Dutch (…).

All the civil wars, invasions, revolutions, conquests, famines, strangely complex, rapid, and destructive as the successive action in Hindostan may appear, did not go deeper than its surface. England has broken down the entire framework of Indian society, without any symptoms of reconstitution yet appearing. This loss of his old world, with no gain of a new one, imparts a particular kind of melancholy to the present misery of the Hindoo, and separates Hindostan, ruled by Britain, from all its ancient traditions, and from the whole of its past history.”

Karl Marx saw perfectly this question of melancholy, so present in the oppressed countries, a melancholy giving birth to numeros romantic fundamentalism.

Anyway, from the British side, this followed also clearly the traditional imperialist logic of “divide and conquer”. From the merchants working with the East India Company in the 1736-1740 periods, all of 52 Bengali were Hindus in Calcutta, 10 from the 12 in Dacca, all from the 25 in Kashimbazar.

Then, the British empire defeated the Nawab at the Battle of Plassey in 1757, creating the Bengal Presidency and ruling finally directly Bengal and India.

The British colonization: second period

The submission of Bengal by British imperialism brought a new situation, in the sense where to the post-Mughal feudalism must be added British colonialism.

This was not understood because of the lack of dialectical materialist analysis. Imperialism was understood as the one and only responsible of the situation. This was helped of course with the fact that British imperialism used Hindus as revenue farmers.

Because of this, class struggle developed on a religious basis: as the big land owners were Hindus in Bengal, and as the British imperialism was working with them, then logically Islam had to be taken as a revolutionary flag.

It was also caused by the fact that the former rulers – the ones before the (Mughal) semi-independent and independent and again (British) semi-independent Nawabs, i.e. the aristocrats formed bu the Mughals – seemed like a romantic ideal.

A very important expression of this romantic conception until today in Bangladesh is the very high appreciation of the Taj Mahal, that can be found in numerous drawings, especially on the rickshaws.

Because of this, ideologically “pure” Islam – the one of the Mughal, that looked “anti-imperialist” – was taken as a weapon.

This happened with the Faraizi movement, founded by Haji Shariatullah (1781–1840). He went to Arabia and used the version of Islam there – Wahabism – as a fundamentalist weapon in Bengal, promoting an Islam “purified” from the Hinduistic influence, i.e. from the British presence.

“Fairaz” designates the obligation due to God; of course, Bengali Islam was very far away from the Arabian Islam, with all his magical thinking and its open-mindedness to the Hindu goddesses.

But this movement of “purification” was perceived as a romantic way to, at least, affirm the nation of Bengal.

Nevertheless, this was romantic, and understanding in a non dialectical way Hinduism as a mere ally of imperialism. So, this process of “purification” of Islam, even if not generalized – killed for good the possibility of a union of Bengal under the bourgeois flag. Bengal could have been unified only if its cultural national element could be taken as a common denominator.

Fundamentalism killed this possibility. Wanting to fight against imperialism, the peasant masses rejected Hinduism as much as they could, not seeing that the problem was the agrarian question.

Haji Shariatullah did put forward a anti-national cosmopolit struggle – but it looked revolutionary, because it sounded anti-imperialist (and so anti-feudal).

Nonetheless, for this reason, the Fairazi movement was taken by the masses as anti-imperialist (and so anti-feudal); a state in the state was created in Bengal, forming a huge opposition to the British empire.

The masses did not see that the problem was the agrarian question, but they felt that upholding the Fairazi movement – not so much in the religious purification as socially – was in their interest.

In this sense, the Fairazi movement was a anti-feudal movement, but led by intellectual circles and not a bourgeoisie that was terribly weak because of the Mughal and the post-Mughal type of economy.

Because of this, the Fairazi movement turned into a utopian peasant movement and came to even put forward the doctrine of the proprietorship of land as due to the labour.

Logically, the same process happened with Hinduism, naturally with a center of gravity in West Bengal. Bourgeois elements tried to build a new ideology, a Hinduism able to mobilize the masses, putting aside the caste systems and the religious hierarchy.

So came to birth the Brahmo Samaj, founded by the Brahmin and bourgeois Dwarkanath Tagore (1794 – 1846) and the Brahmin and intellectual Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772 – 1833).

But more than the Fairazi movement, it failed to mobilize the masses in a revolutionary way – both were carried by intellectual circles trying to find an universal exit of the situation in Bengal then, but at least the movement in East Bengal did manage to have a strong popular identity.

So, both were progressive in the sense that they were criticizing and rejecting feudalism, both took an universal stance, but both looked in a idealized past to find the nucleus of the ideology that should have been found in the present.

Both were petty-bourgeois, romantic movement. Their failure was inevitable because thie bourgeoisie was weak, coming too late in history, and could not brake the advance of imperialism.

But there was a difference: in West Bengal, the process was organized around petty bourgeois and grand bourgeois circles, what is called until today the “Bhadralok” i.e. the “better people”.

The “bhadr alok” were culturally westernized, but ideologically wanting a bourgeois society and so rejecting Western culture (exactly like the founder of Pakistan did not speak urdu and was one the “best” dressed man in the world i.e. in the english style).

In Eastern Bengal, the movement managed, on the contrary, to deeply influence the masses, failing on the other side to mobilize them in a revolutionary way.

The British colonization: third period

After the Brahmo Samaj and the Fairazi movement, there was no forces to unite Bengal any more; the bourgeoisie came too late, and the petty bourgeois elements were weak and ideologically divided in the two parts of Bengal.

On the contrary, the forces to split Bengal were strong. The British empire played a significant role in splitting Bengal for administrative reasons in 1905. It did not succeed in it – Bengal was unified again, in 1919.

But it pushes the contradiction between West and East Bengal. The Hindus, that won points with colonialism and then thought they would profit from an independent India as it would be mainly Hindu, carried a struggle against the 1905 partition.

The petty bourgeois forces in Bangladesh, fearing the hegemony of the Hindu part, accepted for their part this partition, because they thought it would permit the strengthening of the Bengali nation.

This process, once engaged, was not to stop any more: in 1919, the British divided the Bengali people with separate elections for Hindus and Muslims. Again, the petty-bourgeois forces in East Bengal thought it was favorable for their affirmation.

British colonialism went very far in this policy, even using famine. The 1770 famine killed approximatively the third of the population (so, around 10 million people); there was afterwards famines in 1783, 1866, 1873-74, 1892, 1897. British colonialism preferred to block the supplies, that were to serve its profit, even if it meant the starvation of millions of people.

When the Japanese conquered Burma, British colonialism continued this politic in a extreme way, giving death to nearly 5 millions of people of Bengal in 1943-1944. Famine was not even officially declared. Satyajit Ray made a famous movie about this event, Distant Thunder.

The situation was therefore unacceptable and it was necessary to make a leap, at any price. This drove to the Bengal split, in West Bengal and East Pakistan.

West Bengal and Bangladesh

In 1947, India became independent, but of course it was not possible for the bourgeois elements in Eastern Bengal to struggle against India for open ties with West Bengal; anyway the West Bengal (Hindu) bourgeoisie thought – because of its own strength – that it would be more interesting to be a part of India.

Therefore, East Bengal ran into the hands of “Pakistan”, becoming “west” Pakistan. West and East Pakistan were 1,600 kilometers away, there was no real economical, psychological and cultural ties between West and East Pakistan.

But it was a practical option to, at least, having what seemed an independent Bengal. “East Pakistan” was a way to free Bengal from “Hinduist” India. Pakistan was seen as a return to the era of the Mughal.

Basically, it is easy to see that the choice of Pakistan was indeed not a religious definition, but a national one. A proof for this was the taking of the song Amar Shonar Bangla (“My Golden bengal”) written by Rabindranath Tagore as a national anthem.

We have here amazing elements: first of all, it meant that East Pakistan understood itself as the real Bengal.

In the same way, we have to see that India took also a song of Tagore as a national anthem – this can not be by chance and was clearly connected to the Western Bengal question, that India wanted to keep at any price.

And, finally, we have to see a strange fact: Amar Shonar Bangla was originally written against the 1905 partition, that the Eastern Bengal Muslim leaders accepted. It should have been not logic to choose this song – unless we understand that the goal was a unified Bengal, separated from India.

East Bengal becoming East Pakistan

When East Bengal joined Pakistan, the hope was that the country would be ruled in a manner that would permit the East Bengal bourgeoisie to develop. For the bourgeoisie that adopted Islam as an identity, this should have be a logical consequence.

But the Islam was not the one of Bengal historically; it was a construction of imperialism, theorized by Indian students in England, inventing a “Pakistan” like Zionists invented the “state of Israel”. It has nothing to do with an idealized “return to the Mughal” conception.

It was an illusion to think that the Pakistani state would be a development in terms of history. And the situation became soon terrible.

Pakistan had 69 millions of people, 44 millions being in East Pakistan. But West Pakistan had a total hegemony: it had the Federal Capital, the Military Command, the Supreme Court of justice….

Since the beginning, priority was given to West Pakistan that had the ¾ of the development founds. East Pakistan was producing most of the export (jute, tea…), but had only ¼ of the earning.

And the situation was not only unbearable for East Pakistan. Pakistan was born as a British semi-colony, and it became more and more a US semi-colony.

The masses, in the general world revolutionary atmosphere, began to protest through the students in 1968, followed afterwards by the peasants and the workers, in a common front against the military dictatorship.

A rural intellectual managed to unite the peasant democratic movement in Bengal: Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani. Deeply influenced by China, he even separated himself from the pro-bourgeois Awami League (Awami meaning people), to form the National Awami Party.

But Bhashani was a democrat, in a period where the democratic revolution could only be carried by the Communist Party. For this reason, he made several errors, particularly in 1970 in letting the Awami League be alone present in the elections.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, leader of the bourgeois (or better said petty bourgeois) Awami League, received a triumph, becoming for the masses the leader of the democratic struggle. 167 of the total 169 National Assembly seats in East Pakistan were so held by the Awami League.

The Awami League was certainly not ready for secession – but the masses awakened, notably by the National Awami Party, pushed to a liberation from the hegemony of West Pakistan.

Played also here an important role the cyclone of 1970, where 200 000 people died, and where the Pakistani state was not able to organize a serious relief. A this time, the Pakistani official army – where officers were mostly from West Pakistan – began to be considered by the broad masses as an occupation army.

Because of this, on March 25 in 1971, the Pakistani army made an intervention, that became a true genocide.

The goal of the Pakistani army was to crush all Bengali speaking intellectuals, to rape as much women as possible (around 200 000), to kill as many Hindus as possible. The Bengali language and the Hindus were considered as an obstacle to the Islamic unification, and therefore, as targets.

But this was not only a tactic from the Pakistani army. It was conform to the ideology of a part of the Bengal petty bourgeoisie.

Therefore, the party Jamaat-e-Islami helped in the massacres, as volunteers (the “Razakars”) and the build up of militias – Al-Badar and Al-Shams. This fraction of eastern Bengal transformed therefore itself in a bureaucratic bourgeoisie serving the Pakistani interests.

The results of this process was three millions of deaths.

The birth of Bangladesh

The mass uprising, the general strike, the generalized armed struggle permitted to defeat the Pakistani offensive.

But the total defeat of Pakistan would have also meant the defeat of India. India could not accept an independent Bangladesh, that would mean the loss of West Bengal at middle term.

This was especially clear as workers and peasants councils spread in all the country, a people’s war being also initiated by different organizations, especially the Purba Bangla Sarbohara Party (Proletarian Party of East Bengal) led by Siraj Sikder.

Peter Hazlehurst of the Times commented then: “Red Bengal would alarm Delhi even more than Islamabad.” It is to note that the french philosopher Bernard Henri Lévy, publishing his first work about the Indian and Bangladesh question, did not understand this process and thought that the people’s war initiated had not as an objective the Democratic Revolution in Bengal, promoting so pessimism and confusion.

Because of the situation, the Indian army began an offensive against Pakistan and organized since the beginning at large scale the “Mukti Bahini” i.e. the “liberation army” under control of the Awami League. The goal was the formation of a eastern Bengal, under control of India and its master, the Russian social-imperialism.

The situation was very complicated for the revolutionaries. They had to fight against Indian expansionism and Pakistani colonialism, but also against the feudal forces. And the US imperialism and the Russian social-imperialism were backing some fractions to transform them in a bureaucratic bourgeoisie.

The massive intervention of India brought a lot of tactical problems, as the main enemy changed in such a quick manner. That permitted the formation of Bangladesh, under Indian control. The leader of the Awami League, Sheikh Mujib, became the first minister and then the president.

Representing the pro-India and pro-social-imperialist USSR bureaucrat bourgeoisie, Sheikh Mujib began to give the same ideological orientation. He put forward, as fundamental principles, “nationalism, secularism, democracy and socialism. »

He made that only one party was tolerated in the country, the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League-BAKSAL, and put himself as president for life.

This was of course unacceptable by the masses, and it was used by the imperialists. After the famine from 1974, that killed 1,5 millions of people, US imperialism pushed to a military coup d’Etat, on August 15 in 1975.

The leader became army officer Ziaur Rahman, who established a political party expressing the interests of US imperialism and the bureaucratic bourgeoisie submitted to it : the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Ziaur Rahman made a policy that was the opposite of the one before; the state made privatizations; Islam was given a national role; Golam Azad, exiled chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, was authorized to come back in July 1978 with a Pakistani Passport and could stay even after the expiry of the Visa, etc.

Ziaur Rahman suffered some different coup d’Etat, that all failed, even if he was killed in the one of 1981. His successor, Lieutenant General Hussain Muhammad Ershad, followed his policy but formed his own political party, the Jatiya Party.

Ruling in a autocratic way, Ershad paved the way for a “democratic” Bangladesh – a “democracy” under control of the two fractions of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie.

Awami League and BNP domination

Under Ershad’s rule – that served like a Bonaparte in a situation of crisis – the Awami League and the BNP reorganized themselves.

Zia’s widow Khaleda Zia became the leader of the BNP; it was (and is) a pro-American force, it formed the 7-party alliance.

On the other side, the Awami League was led by Mujib’s daughter Sheikh Hasina; it was (and is) a pro-Indo-Soviet force, forming historically the 15-party alliance.

The BNP and the Awami League united against the martial law of Ershad. They allied also with the Jamaat-e-Islami, and a “Democratic League (DL)” that was also pro-US.

In 1987, the Awami League boycotted the elections, in 1988, it was joined in its boycott by the BNP. The general pressure against him – from the bureaucratic fractions but also from the masses, where the revolutionaries were playing an significant role – brought Ershad to resign, in 1990. His political party became then an ally of the Awami League.

Since 1990, the BNP and the Awami League are so the main institutional political parties, representing the two main bureaucratic bourgeois trends, along with the Jamaat-e-Islami.

In 1991, both parties were kind of equal; then, the BNP won in 1996, the Awami League in another election in 1996, the BNP winning again in 2001, the Awami League again in 2008.

From 1991 to 1996, Khaleda Zia was the prime minister, then Sheikh Hasina dominated from 1996 to 2001, Khaleda Zia coming back from 2001 to 2006, and after a transition government in an unstable situation with even a emergency law, Sheikh Hasina came back in 2009

Bangladesh: oppressed country

To understand the situation of today, let’s take a look at what it is possible to read on a website against the war criminals from 1971:

“In 1971, two supreme power US and China were with them. But Allah was with unarmed Bangali. So we won the war. Though we lost our beloved ones but we got our desired Bangladesh.”

What is here written helps a lot to understand the illusion that prevails in a lot of sectors of the masses.

Because it was not “Allah” but the Indian army that gave weapons and fought against the Pakistani army on one side, the masses that armed themselves on the other, with a strong communist influence.

But because of the weakness of the communist avant-garde, Bangladesh, at its foundation, became a puppet of India and the social-imperialist USSR. This gave strength again to the “return to the Mughal” ideology, that was again used by the pro-US bureaucratic bourgeoisie. And it permitted to the ex-Razakars to “justify” themselves.

We have here an ideological key. Bangladesh was born as a country on a genocide of 3 millions of people which only fault was to be Bengali and this new nation was not able until yet to preserve their memory and punish the criminals.

How is it possible?

It is because the religious aspect is so strong that even just after the 1971 independence, the new state of Bangladesh was not able to repress the razakars, that helped the Pakistani army in its massacres. Even Mujib used Islam as an ideology weapon.

And more and more Bangladesh knows a greater influence of Islam. In June 1988, the constitution was even amended to establish Islam as the state religion, abandoning state secularism. The Awami League accepts this – because it is has absolutely no bourgeois aspect any more, it is merely bureaucratic.

This is logic: Bangladesh, rejecting a democratic path, is more and more using Islam in a abstract national-bureaucratic way, to maintain Bangladesh as it is. Even the pro-India forces need this Islam to maintain Bangladesh as it is, to be able to exist.

The option of the Maoists at the beginning of the 1970’s was correct: organizing the agrarian revolution would spread like a fire in Bangladesh, in India, in Pakistan, it would unify the masses that have already a lot of cultural connections. And it would permit to oppose both pro-US and pro-USSR forces.

But Bangladesh has now more and more a bureaucratic capitalism organized from the top, with thousand of factories where even great rebellions are organized. It is not possible to negate this evolution.

The country turns or turned, like a lot of countries, in a semi-colonial semi-bureaucratic capitalist country, with massive semi-feudal elements on the cultural and ideological levels. There is even one unified ideological system to justify the state: an Islam influenced by a “return to the Mughal” romanticism.

Bangladesh: unfinished nation of Bengal

Nevertheless, this state ideology, more and more influenced by Islam, has a very weak basis. It is not conform to the national basis. The new democratic revolution raises this flag, to unify the masses against those who invents fake principles to maintain their domination.

But the main revolutionary question is: where is the main support of the new democratic revolution?

Yesterday, it would have been mainly the agrarian revolution. Today, as the nation has advanced but on a erroneous way, it is must be still the democratic aspect, but on a popular basis. The struggle against fascism and fascist forces have indeed been really strong since 1971.

And certainly, the question of the Bengali culture plays a central role. A democratic revolution carries an universal aspect, and as there is a neighbor really near on the cultural level – West Bengal – the question of the democratic revolution carries again the question of the Bengali nation.

It is not only that socialism unifies peoples; it is also that a federation of both Bengal has an ideological democratic value. Both West and East have lived experiences of submission to forms that did not permit their development. They need to find another way – their democratic meeting, in a way or another, is unavoidable.

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