The Symphony of Our Times
Anti-Sharif Commission movement & contemporary politics
He was staying at the Kakrail residence of the editor of the daily Ittefaq Tofazzal Hossain Manik Miah. We went there in a body by 8:00pm. The house was swamped with Awami League leaders and workers. There was also a sprinkle of other parties committed to the restoration of parliamentary democracy.
We were led into a room with balcony on the first floor and asked to wait. We found senior Students League leaders Shah Moazzem Hossain sitting on a chair on the balcony. He kept us company analysing the political situation and the future role of the students. After almost two hours of the eager waiting, we were told by Moni Bhai (Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni) to go into another room. There we found a tall and impressive Awami League leader with a commanding voice. We recognised Sheikh Mujibur Rahman instantly. He was a leading figure of the Awami League and politics of East Pakistan.
It was he who led us into the room where Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy was reclining on a divan. He, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who later became Bangabandhu and founder leader of Bangladesh, said, 'Leader, these are the student leaders of Dhaka University. They started the movement for your release from prison of Ayub Khan. They have also led the successful movement against the education commission report.' With one of his eyes half-closed, Suhrawardy said with a smile, 'Congratulations!'
We felt thankful and fortunate to have an audience with the legendary leader; we were happy at his appreciation of our movement. The senior student leaders, especially Farhad and Zoinal, spoke out. One of them said, 'Leader, we want you to call a general strike tomorrow.' Suhrawardy looked at us solemnly and said, 'Why?' The reply was quick, 'Students have been killed in police fire at the instructions of the provincial governor Golam Faruque. We must protest.... Even before the students' leaders finish their say, Suhrawardy assertively told us, 'You are all senior University students and leaders.
Yet, why are you speaking like street boys. You should know that it is not the governor or the minister who orders police firing. It is the magistrate present who passes the orders. Moreover, you have achieved the goal of your movement at the cost of valuable lives. The government has repealed the report. If there is another general strike, there will be more clashes. What more will you achieve rather than more conflict and death? No, I will not call a general strike. Let there be some peace so that you can consolidate your gains.'
With this unique experience, we withdrew from the room. As we returned to the hall, we could not but admire the courage, confidence and wisdom of the legendary leader. He knew that he depended in a large measure on the support of the students for the success for the nationwide movement. Yet, this dreamer of a sovereign and united Bengal in 1947 and a relentless fighter for the democracy did not hesitate to pull the students up when he thought them wrong. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see the fall of Ayub and the emergence of the independent Bangladesh through the liberation war in 1971. He breathed his last in Beirut on December 5, 1963.
The anti-Sharif Commission movement virtually came to a close after the September 17, 1962. Its blood-soaked end needed to be given a ceremonial touch. We had stayed away from classes for quite a few months. We needed to go back. Hence, it was decided to do something novel. The major student parties agreed to do something that had never been done before. The decision was to hold what would be the first ever students public meeting in Paltan Maidan, hither to the exclusive results of the political parties. At the end of September, the planned meeting was held and took people by surprise.
In that meeting, it was announced that since we had accomplished our objective the withdrawal of the Sharif Commission report, we would go back to our studies. The unprecedented student-people public meeting in Paltan Maidan was addressed by leaders of the student parties. Among them were Kazi Zafar Ahmed from EPSU (later prime minister of Bangladesh), Abul Hasnat of the NSF (later mayor of Dhaka city and minister), Md Farhad of EPSU (later member of parliament from the Communist Party of Bangladesh) and I, Mizanur Rahman Shelley, from the Student Force.
The process of the historic, political and educational movements from 1962 to 1966 took place in our proximity. First as student and leader and then from 1964 as a young teacher of Dhaka University, I had the opportunity of closely following the course and trends of these movements. Student protests and agitations during late 1961 and early 1962 were successfully stifled by the government and the police. But the strong-arm tactics of the ruler only succeeded for a little while as many of the frontline leaders were jailed or sent underground. Their absence created only a temporary vacuum. Such was the momentum of the movements that hither-to-unknown fresh leaders emerged to carry on the torch.
One day we found one unfamiliar and little known tall, dark student of the third year bring his own chair and start presiding over a protest meeting. We did not remember his name. His sudden appearance and action reminded us of the resistance of the Algerian leader against French Colonial rule, Ben Bella. Hence, Nuruzzaman, Shahed, Masum, Mohiuddin Hafiz, Kaiser and I started calling him Ben Bella. He came to be known as such during the rest of his student life.
Political movements generated and participated in by the students of Dhaka University between 1961 and 1963 had vital impact on the political evolution of the nation. These were directly aimed at resisting the military-based autocracy of field marshal Ayub Khan with his power base in the then West Pakistan. The student movements were linked ultimately to the course of national politics. In the end, these directly resulted in stimulating and strengthening the movement for autonomy and finally independence of the Bengalis inhabiting the then East Pakistan (the present-day Bangladesh). The story of these struggles formed a part and parcel of our youth.
The student parties that were most active in Dhaka University and indeed the then entire eastern wing of Pakistan were four in number. These were the anti-establishment middle of the road Chhatra Shakti or Student Force, Bengali autonomist nationalist Chhatra League or Sstudents' League, left-lining Chhatra Union or Students Union and pro-establishment and conservative nationalist Students Federation or the NSF. These student organisations had focus of the leadership in Dhaka University and dominated the scene during the 1950s and 1960s.
As was widely known, the Students League was virtually the student wing of the Awami League. The Students Union followed and drew support from leftist political forces, including the National Awami Party. The National Student Federation had the patronage of the party of the central government which in the late 1950s and 1960s used to be the Muslim League. By contrast, Chhatra Shakti, or the Student Force, was born as if in protest against all kinds of extremism and tailism.
This organisation deserves special mention in these chronicles not only because a large number of my friends and I joined it in 1959 on entering Dhaka University but also because it seemed to us to promise a new and moderate path. The organisation was founded in 1953 by distinguished student leader Farman Ullah Khan. He actively participated in the 1952 state language movement and was jailed. Again, he went to prison during the governor's emergency rule in East Pakistan in 1955. The main objective of the Student Force was to advocate the just rights of the Bengalis, a fair and equitable socio-economic order in the light of socialist Islam as preached by Abu Zar Ghiffari.
Furthermore, the organisation refused to toe the line of any political party. It preferred to fight for national and student causes on its own in cooperation and coalition with like-minded political and student organisations. In its early phase of mid-1950s the Student Force had a constellation of bright, young persons in its fold.
Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, founder Chairman of Centre for Development Research (CDRB), and former technocrat Cabinet Minister of Bangladesh, died on August 12 last. He contributed his writeups to the Daily Observer which are being published regularly as "The Symphony of Our Times".