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Home Book Review

I am Serajul Alam Khan

Shamsuddin Peara

Published : Saturday, 15 June, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 1183
Reviewed by Shahriar Feroze

Shamsuddin Peara unveils the 'mystery man' of Bangladesh politics...
I am Serajul Alam Khan

I am Serajul Alam Khan

A political biography is better composed when the biographer comes into close contact with the person written about. The second edited version of the political memoirs of I am Serajul Alam Khan is one of the few political biographies in Bangla --where the narrator's personal political involvement is deeply entwined with the biography's protagonist itself. However, if there is one particular narrative of a Bangladeshi politician which needs to be read with much enthusiasm in order to get a deeper understanding about the political organisation on the freedom struggle for an independent Bangladesh , this is the one.
Nevertheless, Serajul Alam Khan's stigma as the 'mystery man' in Bangladesh politics doesn't do justice to his indisputable contribution to the 1971 War for Liberation. He was never a mystery and to a greater extent he was intentionally misrepresented and misinterpreted to a larger audience.      
After decades of rampant and relentless politicisation of our liberation war by dubious political quarters, it has become almost difficult to get hold of any neutral account of our struggle for freedom. And Serajul Alam Khan's (SAK) political recollection got published at a time when it's expected to serve as a jaw- dropping eye-opener for many.
Long before 1971, when the Bangladesh dream was unheard of, as few as four diehard and committed students dreamt of an independent nation. The political organisation Nucleus was thus formed. As the eventful sixties reached its political climax in the then East Pakistan, the dream was fast pacing towards a reality. But that reality needed a committed organisational framework to pave the path to freedom, and it was Nucleus to have guided the entire nation to reach that goal.
Not with a massive movement organised by a recognised political party, the struggle for freedom in the erstwhile East Pakistan had begun with the dream of this few and fiery individuals.
I am Serajul Alam Khan is revealing, in terms of knowing the actual details of how a student run political organisation had played the crucial role in shaping public morale and become a crucial factor for political decision making in our struggle for independence.
More than two third of the chapters of I am Serajul Alam Khan has been dedicated to elaborately explain the Nucleus and its students and activists active participation to organise countrywide protests and movements against the Pakistan military junta. SAK's narrative has surprisingly belittled the political forces of the entire sixties.
Triggered by collective grievances of the offensive 1962 education committee report, the same year khan and three other members of the Nucleus launched a daring attempt to break free from oppressive Pakistan regime. Following Sheikh Mujib's six point demand in 1966, mass uprising in 1969 up until the run-up to the 1970 Pakistan general elections - Nucleus had played a pivotal role to unite and ignite the sleeping patriotic sentiment of millions of Bengalis.
In the course of eight years, Nucleus had grown from strength to strength. Despite having almost no funds, regular and repeated police attempts to put Nucleus members and activists behind bars and existing political parties busy appeasing the Pakistan military regime - nothing could deter the indomitable will and courage for an independent nation dreamt by Khan and his followers.
The long list of names of activists and supporters to carry forward Nucleus for organising and campaigning to realise their dream provided in the biography is remarkable. It's also the tale of many labour leaders, unions, and students, notably forgotten and unsung heroes. It's rather impossible to provide such minute details without proper documentation of peoples and events.
I am Serajul Alam Khan details the year-to-year, event-to-event political unrest and the counter development coupled with organising and campaigning for the war of independence. Whereas countless politically biased history books available today present us with one account, he breaks it with a groundbreaking one. Particularly, the leading role of the old school Chattra League outsmarting the Awami League on all counts was interesting.
The old school student leaders of the 60's like ASM Rab, Kazi Aref , Tofail Ahmed , Shahjahan Siraj and many  seemed aggressive and determined for autonomy and independence , whereas established political parties were somewhat ambivalent with their objectives.
I mention the adjective old school since, the 50's and the 60's marks the golden age for bright, estimable and young student political leaders of this country. They had engaged in politics for a greater national purpose. That particular luminous generation no longer exists and their traits are nowhere to be seen in today's student politics. SAK's biography is helpful to understand the dynamics of student and national politics of pre - independence Bangladesh.
As much as it's a political biography, it's also about Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib's uncompromising and courageous political support and leadership to spearhead the Nucleus dream. Among a spree of political parties and leaders, he was the only one to have fathom the farsighted dream of Khan's independent nation. The political chemistry between the two matched and worked brilliantly since Bangladesh was born out of a bloodbath in December 1971. Sadly, after Sheikh Mujib's return the chemistry failed. Both fell apart.
Infant Bangladesh soon began to drift apart from SAK's vision for establishing much debatable 'scientific socialism'. In the midst of organised chaos, anarchy, indiscipline and manmade calamities - SAK chose even a daring path - he would go on to launch his own separate political platform -- JSD (Jatiya Samajtantrik Daal) the very next year of independence in 1972.
Nevertheless, JSD too had miserably failed to live up to its idealistic and socialistic dreams. Moreover, it became controversial and a questionable political entity for its crimes and involvements in repeated military coups, and of course for its links with the unruly army of the mid and late 70's.
JSD top brass loss its entire control within hours over the uprising inside the military establishment on 7th November.
With due respect and admiration for their respective roles in the struggle for freedom, I would like to ask both SAK and his biographer a few questions - was Bangladesh liberated with the goal for becoming a communist or a socialistic state in the first place? Did the majority of the public approved of communism, notably when the leftists, both pro - Beijing and pro - Moscow, had played a self - seeking role in our domestic politics?
Thanks to SAK, he has honestly described the respective ideology-interested roles of communist and left leaning parties in the erstwhile East Pakistan.
Where so-called socialists are ideologically corrupt, where political high-ups are busy dividing war booty among themselves, dreaming to establish 'scientific socialism' in that new born country is quite equivalent to building castles in the air. And especially, when there wasn't any suitable example of a scientific socialist state anywhere in the world.
Needs be mentioned, social-political-economic reality of post - liberation Bangladesh had thrown a thousand times tougher challenge to SAK than the one single purpose of the pre-independence Nucleus.
While liberating the nation, the courageous SAK and his men were fighting a clearly specified foreign occupying force, but inside the liberated nation he was fighting the known and unknown enemies within.
Having re-read a few chapters regarding SAK's direct involvement and actions in pre and post - independent politics, he often appeared as a calm and calculative chess player, otherwise a brilliant thinker, organiser and a political strategist. That said - to win political battles, a strategist definitely needs a leader to implement them. Nucleus found that unique leadership in Sheikh Mujib, JSD, as of now, found none to stir and capture the public's political imagination.
Shamsuddin Peara deserves special thanks for his perseverance and steadfast efforts to pen and turn SAK's political biography into a reality. I am under the impression no one would have taken the effort and had it not been for him, we would have been deprived from knowing many facts surrounding our struggle for freedom and the 'mystery man' behind Bangladesh politics. Furthermore, Mr. Peara's style, simplicity, relevant and coherent writing literally kept me glued to his narrative.
Despite all effusive comments, it's time to have a translated version of I am Serajul Alam Khan in English, so to reach a broader and wider international readership.
I am Serajul Alam Khan is a 225 page political biography divided in 33 chapters, an introductory note complemented with two exclusive interviews and a question and answer session.
The separate photo section could have been made more interesting with year-to-year event - based photos and captions. The section should have been placed in the middle of the book, not at the end. Priced at Tk 380 it's expensive and not available at all major bookshops in Dhaka. Cover artist Dhruba Esh did a fantastic job with SAK's side portrait picture.
To sum up in a sentence: it's a must read to discover the mystery man behind the untold political tale behind making of Bangladesh.

The reviewer is the editor-in-charge, Editorial section, The Daily Observer

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