Syed Badrul Ahsan reads of the JSD's self-destructThe creation of the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal in 1972 was the earliest manifestation of politics in newly independent Bangladesh going truly democratic or absolutely chaotic. In the event, much to the nation's sorrow, it was the chaotic which resulted from the sustained efforts of the JSD leadership to undermine the government of an already harried Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The country was trapped in a vicious circle of creeping corruption engendered by bad or weak administration and to that were added the pressures brought about by events at the global level, pressures the government was hard put to resist and roll back.
In more ways than one, the rise of the JSD was a revolt not merely against the ruling Awami League but, more pointedly, against the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Sirajul Alam Khan, A.S.M. Abdur Rab and Shahjahan Siraj were all young men who in the period leading up to the beginning of the War of Liberation and until the early months of a post-Liberation Bangladesh were close to Bangabandhu. These three young men, along with Nure Alam Siddiqui and Abdul Quddus Makhan, formed the firebrand group that would insistently exercise all manner of persuasion to convince Mujib in early March 1971 that a unilateral declaration of independence from Pakistan was a political necessity. Bangabandhu, to his credit, saw beyond politics and opted for history. He would not countenance secession, but he would tell Bengalis that henceforth a struggle for freedom would be underway. That was the message he would pass on to his people, barely two weeks before the crackdown by the Pakistan army would push the nation to an armed struggle for independence.
So what did go wrong in the months after Liberation? Obviously, a schism developed within the Chhatra League, to a point where it all boiled down to a question of the road Bangladesh would take to the future. There were the radicals represented by Sirajul Alam Khan, A.S.M Abdur Rab and Shahjahan Siraj and then there were those, like Nure Alam Siddiqui and Abdul Quddus Makhan, who preferred the status quo and letting the government get on along the lines of conventional politics. The worry for citizens, though, was that the radicalization of politics brought about by war had effectively transformed conditions, to a point where parliamentary politics did not quite appear to be an attractive proposition any more. And yet Bangabandhu and a good number of his colleagues would not move away from the parliamentary concept of government they had for years sworn by. As if to underscore the point, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whom many expected to take on a figurehead, albeit influential, role in statecraft, perhaps in the manner of Mahatma Gandhi and to a certain extent Mao Zedong, took charge as prime minister, reducing the wartime leader Tajuddin Ahmad to the position of finance minister.
Mohiuddin Ahmad's work takes account of these and other factors which led to the JSD phenomenon, if it were indeed that, between its formation in 1972 and its slow and steady demise in subsequent years. In a very significant way, the work is an enumeration of the restiveness the party symbolized between 1972 and 1975, a period in which the JSD passed into the grip of men like Major M.A. Jalil and Col. Abu Taher, but especially Taher. The party theoretician, in somewhat the manner of the Soviet Communist Party's Mikhail Suslov, was of course the mysterious, mercurial Sirajul Alam Khan. The party pretended to function in the manner of a revolutionary organization, though there was the clear impression that its leadership was not quite clear about the means of bringing about revolution in the country. The JSD leadership divided the country into several political zones and entrusted the responsibility of a recruitment of youth into the party and their indoctrination on such young leaders as Hasanul Haq Inu and Moinuddin Khan Badal. The trouble, though, was the severe repression of the party the government resorted to, often for good reason. All across the country, ruling Awami League politicians, including lawmakers, were coming under attack. Many were assassinated. Men like Siraj Sikdar, Abdul Haq and the absconding Major Ziauddin remained busy harassing the government through their armed operations. For its part, the government gave as good as it got, its focus being a sustained assault on the JSD. To this day, the JSD, despite splintering into factions, maintains its position that thousands of its activists were put to death by the Rakkhi Bahini.
Those claims have remained unsubstantiated, but what has always been a dark question --- and this comes from apologists of the government of the time --- relates to the countless numbers of young lives ruined by the politics of the JSD. Drawn to the idea of imminent revolution, thousands of young Bengalis flocked to the party which, in the end, was unable to spell out the means by which it planned to bring about the scientific socialism it believed the country was in need of. Taher and Jalil were men in the bourgeois mold, despite their professed fealty to revolution. Rab and Siraj mistakenly thought their political appeal was good enough to send the Mujib government packing. And Sirajul Alam Khan wavered between affection for Bangabandhu and desire for socialistic politics in Bangladesh. The brave freedom fighter Taher appeared to be driven more by intense hatred of Bangabandhu than a focused formulation of socialistic politics in the times leading up to the violent overthrow of the government on 15 August 1975. Mohiuddin Ahmad relates a telling fact: Col. Taher believed it had been a mistake burying Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Tungipara. The body of the country's founder, he said loudly enough for everyone to hear, ought to have been cast into the Bay of Bengal. That was not surprising, considering that the JSD had before the coup of 15 August planned to detonate a bomb before the Secretariat to blow up the vehicle carrying Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The JSD truly began to self-destruct in the tumultuous period following the assassination of Bangabandhu. Col. Taher and his colleagues in the party were taken unawares by the coup but then began to think that with the new men in charge, they could turn matters around, to their advantage. The irony for the JSD is that while many of its leaders were unhappy with the party linking up with General Ziaur Rahman to destroy General Khaled Musharraf, Taher was convinced that his socialist revolution could begin in the cantonment with Zia as the --- improbable! --- symbol of it. To what extent did Taher have a hand in the murder of Khaled Musharraf, Najmul Huda and A.T. M. Haider on 7 November 1975, moments after his loyal soldiers had freed Zia from confinement at his cantonment residence? No clear answer is to be spotted in this work, but enough indications are there for Taher to be held guilty of the crime. The widow of Col. Huda in her own memoirs earlier noted that minutes before the three men were murdered by soldiers suddenly making their appearance in the hall where they had been detained at Shere Banglanagar, Taher and Inu were spotted observing the ill-fated men. The murders happened once they had left the place.
In the end, the revolution the JSD thought it would bring about failed spectacularly. A couple of reasons why the party collapsed explain it all. First, General Zia, once freed by Taher's men, was intelligent enough to realise that the disorder set off by the soldiers' mutiny on the inspiration of Taher had to be suppressed firmly if discipline was to be restored in the army. Second, the JSD engaged in what can safely be regarded as adventurism or perhaps even highway banditry when it attempted to kidnap Indian High Commissioner Samar Sen in a crude attempt to project itself as a revolutionary party. In what probably was one of his rare moments of positive astuteness, Zia lost little time in cracking down on the JSD, a feat which eluded the government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Taher was sent to the gallows and other party figures had various terms of imprisonment slapped on them.
It has been a sorry end to a political party. Its factions are out there to speak of its misery. Its once firebrand young leaders are yet there, the fire gone, pushing through middle age in irrelevance.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is with The Daily Observer