The Symphony of Our Times
Chhatra Shakti and student politics
Among them were today's professor emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury, the late Dr Mahfuzul Haque, Dr Sharif Shahdat Hossain, the late Shah Abdul Halim, Faruque Mahmud, Dewan Sirajul Haque and others. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the party had among its leading elements Moudud Ahmed, later barrister and vice-president, prime minister and minister of Bangladesh, Zaki Uddin Ahmed, later reputed businessman and social worker, Rashidul Hassan (Biru), later member of the erstwhile CSP and business leader, Mustafa Zaman Abbasi, famous singer, and other distinguished persons.
Among the lady students noted singer Ferdousi Rahman, writer Asma Abbasi and others were in the fold of Chhatra Shakti during 1958-1962. We followed in leading positions as our predecessors went out of the university. Among us were the late Miah Mohammad Nuruzzaman, Ataur Rahman Khan Kaiser, later member of the presidium of the Awami League, the late Mohiuddin Mahmud Hafiz, later member of the erstwhile CSP, the late Rezaul Haque Sarker, later leader of the BNP, Mobaidur Rahman, later a well-known journalist, and others.
Coeds late Anjuman Ara, famous singer, and Sayeda Umme Sufia, a well-known reciter and artist of radio plays, were in the cultural front of the SF--Sangskriti Parishad. Sufia and I fell in love and got married in 1962 when we were third-year honours students. Among those who came to lead Chatra Shakti after us in the mid and late 1960s were Muyeed Chowdhury, later a member of the erstwhile CSP and adviser to the caretaker government in 2001, Shahed Ali, later general secretary of the SM Hall union and leader of Gana Forum, Mozaffar Hossain Paltu, later a leader of the Dhaka city Awami League, Rakib Uddin Ahmed Bacchu, now president of the Dhaka University Alumni Association, and Ruhul Amin, later an ambassador of Bangladesh.
Chhatra Shakti took part in national student politics in the 1950s and the 1960s with zeal and youthful energy. As the lead organisation of the coalition with the Students League and the Students Union against the NSF, it played a vital role in furthering the cause of democracy and just rights of the Bengalis in the pre-1971 Pakistan. Rapid and dramatic political developments between 1960 and 1970 led to the spectacular rise of the consciousness of Bengali nationalism in the then East Pakistan.
The leftist forces also gathered considerable strength in the educational institutions and political stage. By contrast, the pro-government rightist forces, including National Students Federation, gradually but swiftly lost strength as the dictatorial government of Pakistan weakened. The NSF, patronised by the ruling Muslim League, spoke of Islamic ideology but its loyalty to the principles were suspected to be only skin-deep. There were also signs of increase in strength in the organisation of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which claims to be the 'true' Islamist party.
In this fast-changing context of national and student politics, moderate and centrist Chhatra Shakti found itself greatly challenged. It believed in the political, economic and cultural rights of the Bengalis in the pre-1971 Pakistan. At the same time, it believed in the timeless, tolerant and liberal principles of Islam which encouraged a sense of social justice verging on modern socialism. The roots of its concept of an ideal state lay in the Charter of Madinah, crafted by the Prophet Muhammad (SM).
The Chhatra Shakti contained within its fold, the right, left and the centre. The stress and pull of national politics tore the party asunder by 1970. We had ceased to be university students by 1963. Soon after our departure from Dhaka University, Chhatra Shakti split into two; one branch avowedly became 'secular' and tilted towards the left; the other stream refusing to tail any political party slowly lost strength and virtually disappeared. In the end, it seemed to have met the fate of all moderates: extinction. The sense of having no real political patron made those Chhatra Shakti elements, who embrace the political careers, either to become Awami Leaguers or later leaders and followers of the BNP.
It should, however, be noted that Chhatra Shakti was not without mentors in the field of ideas. It had links with Professor Abul Kashem of the Tamaddun Majlish and founder of the Bangla College.
As history records, the Tamaddun Majhish as a cultural platform and its weekly organ Sainik contributed immensely to the movement for making Bangla a state language from 1948-1952 and beyond. Professor Abul Kashem, Professor Dewan Mohammad Azraf and journalist Abdul Gafur often inspired us with their ideas and thoughts.
The most notable personality who can be described as a philosopher and guide of Chhatra Shakti was reputed political leader Abul Hashim (1905-1974). He is portrayed as 'a clandestine communist who successfully infiltrated into the Indian Muslim League and using his family connections, got elected the general secretary of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League in 1943'.
He opposed the creation of Jinnah's vision of East Pakistan, the modern-day Bangladesh. But his hopes for stalling the League's progress were short-lived. He maintained a political proximity with Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. He participated in the United and sovereign Bengal movement in 1947, a movement which was opposed by the Indian National Congress. After the partition of India, Hashim became the parliamentary leader of the opposition in West Bengal Provincial Assembly. Ironically, in 1950, Hashim decided to move to East Pakistan and settled in Dhaka. He experienced problems with his eyesight and became completely blind in 1950. Despite this problem, he continued his work in politics and in 1960 he became the director of Islamic Academy, Dhaka. Abul Hashim is father of the noted writer and journalist Badruddin Umar.
It was during the early 1960s that we had the opportunity to meet him closely. I remember going to the Islamic Academy on its old location in a two-storey building at Purana Paltan to meet him. His knowledge of politics and philosophy was profound. He had an engaging way of speaking and was a master orator. The practical experience he had of the politics of the 1940s formed the stuff of his remembrance of the evolution of politics of division in the sub-continent. He was forceful in his criticism of Jinnah's politics. He held Jinnah squarely responsible for 'the truncated and moth-eaten' Pakistan in 1947.
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".