Rounaq Jahan making an observation at a discussion on the book ‘Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: Philosophy, Politics and Policies’. Rehman Sobhan is on her right
Tanvir Ahammed

It is unfortunate that even 50 years since the independence of Bangladesh, there is not a single substantive and scholarly biography on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. There is a lot of scattered work here and there, but there is no substitute for a comprehensive biography.

Social scientist Rounaq Jahan made this observation at a discussion on the book ‘Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: Philosophy, Politics and Policies’. Authored jointly by eminent economist Rehman Sobhan and Rounaq Jahan, the book has been published by Prothoma Prokashon. The event organised by Prothoma at a local hotel in the capital, was attended by a large number of luminaries in various fields.

Professor Rehman Sobhan said Bangabandhu came from a middle class background and he started his politics at a grassroots level. He was meeting workers and farmers and so he saw the exploitation first hand. When he paid a visit to China, it is idealist heyday, he saw the concept of an exploitation free society and it was this freedom of exploitation that he saw as socialism.

Back home, Rehman Sobhan remarked, the communists thought he represented the Bengali bourgeoisie. The intellectuals were not too comfortable with him either.

I was in the planning commission and I was trying to get the policies implemented. The persons supposed to implement the policies were the main obstacles to implementation
Rehman Sobhan

Referring to his own role in policy making alongside Bangabandhu, Rehman Sobhan said, the problem is in implementing policies. “I was in the planning commission and I was trying to get the policies implemented. The persons supposed to implement the policies were the main obstacles to implementation.”

Cover of the book by Rounaq Jahan and Rehman Sobhan
Prothom Alo

Explaining the context of the book written over the past two years, Rounaq Jahan said, this book was written specifically with the centenary of Bangabandhu in mind, a celebration of his 100 years. It was written in that spirit, so it can hardly be called a biography.

She said, “It is every unfortunate that 50 years since independence, there is no good biography on Bangabandhu.

She further said Bangabandhu had an anti-colonial approach, first against the British and then against the Pakistanis. They were taking our resources and we needed to take control. He used the terms ‘exploitation’ and ‘deprivation’ a lot. “Now, however,” Rounaq Jahan observed, “it was all about ‘development’. There had been no ‘development’ in his discourse. He equated independence with emancipation.”

“He was not against anyone, unlike now,” she said. “Now it is so divisive, not much for anyone as against.”

I am not a communist, but I am against capitalism
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

Discussing the book, director general of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) economist Binayak Sen said it was interesting that this work had been authored by a political economist and political scientist. “History makes people,” he said, “But people’s identities change in making history. Bangabandhu too underwent a personality change through his movements. The dynamics of change appear in this book.”

He said the general perception of Bangabandhu is as a state leader, not so much as a thinker. But the reference to Bangabandhu’s books in this work shows his thoughts and his philosophy. Bangabandhu appraised China, praising it for the strides in development, but also saw a side of it as ‘dry as a stone.’ He said, “I am not a communist, but I am against capitalism.” This was his sense of social justice.

Professor of economics at Dhaka University, MM Akash, speaking at the event said Bangabandhu had two phases in this life. In the first phase his work and his words were clear and unparalleled. There was no controversy. The second phase, from 1972 to 1975, had no end of debate. There were many unanswered questions – why BKSAL? How was it justified? and more.

MM Akash went on to say that Bangabandhu had no political Mecca, his was an indigenous socialism. When asked if bureaucracy or the politicians would run the country, he said the elected people would run the country. His strength was in his love for the people and so he could take strong steps against corruption.

Editor of Prothom Alo, Matiur Rahman, in conducting the event, thanked all for joining the programme as this was a long-awaited get-together after two years of the pandemic.

Matiur Rahman raised several questions and made several observations pertinent to the understanding of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. “Bangabandhu spoke of freedom of expression,” he said, “he spoke of emancipation. But many mysteries remain to be unraveled – who wrote the six-points, why was BKSAL formed, and much more. Some say it was Fidel Castro, seeing the predicament of Bangladesh and Bangabandhu at the time, who has advised such a step to consolidate power and effectively exercise control.”

Also joining in a lively interactive session at the end of the debate were former election commissioner Mahbub Talukdar, writer and researcher Mohiuddin Ahmed, professor of law at Dhaka University Asif Nazrul and former finance secretary M Saiduzzaman.

Others present at the gathering included Dr Kamal Hossain, Hamida Hossain, Fouzul Kabir Khan, former foreign secretary Touhid Hossain, Mahfuz Anam, Shaheen Anam, economist Debapriya Bhattacharya, Pankaj Bhattacharya, Badiul Alam Majumdar, Rizwana Hassan, Maleka Begum, Shaheen Anam, Abul Khair Litu, Luva Nahid Chowdhury, Khaled Shams and other prominent personalities.