Sunday, March 20, 2011

Arundhati Roy disturbs democratic daydreaming

Arundhati Roy is an unusual Indian woman. Instead of acting the graceful upholder of traditional values, she goes on challenging the hard core of establishment thinking. Roy is India's leading commentator on such evils as militaristic imperialist capitalism, Hindu-supported genocide of Muslims, and dam disasters. In her latest book, Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy, she hammers at perhaps the most central of all contemporary sacred pillars, i.e. that of democracy, which in her words "have metastasized into something dangerous"
   Grasshoppers is a collection of essays on such recent events as the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, the 2006 visit to India by "the war criminal" U.S. President George W. Bush, the 2002 Gujarat carnage (between 2000-4000 Muslims slaughtered), the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament by "so-called" Pakistan-based terrorists, and the growing inequality in India ("the old society has curdled and separated into a thin layer of thick cream ­ and a lot of water...")
   A radical analysis of democracy runs through the book's fiery chapters, like a river running from its mountainous source towards the ocean. Roy's conclusion is disquieting: she is forced by the rationale of her facts and arguments to approve of violence as a means of people's resistance to injustice. She observes with understanding that many of the poor are "crossing over... to another side; the side of armed struggle."
   While reviewers across India are busy assuring their readership of their being in wonderful agreement with the greater part of Roy's information and reflections, they uniformly disagree with her basic take on the rising violence amongst India's poor. The world-wide success of Roy's novel The God of Small Things would not be the only reason why they have to agree at least somewhat. The documented material is just too true and persuasive. As readers we are forcefully moved to wish that things would be very different ­ and this reviewer is left to ponder how such a critique of the world's largest democracy may produce such a fundamental clash between the radical author and her educated audience, the newspapers columnists, the upholders of status quo. The key appears to be capitalism and communal unrest, or communal fascism as Roy calls it. She eloquently argues that democracy in India is not for, by and of the people but for, by and of capitalism ­ "designed to uphold the consensus of the elite for market growth". Here are two quotes from the book:
   "Dangerous levels of malnutrition and permanent hunger are the preferred model these days. Forty-seven per cent of India's children below three suffer from malnutrition, 46 per cent are stunted... Today an average rural family eats about hundred kilograms less food in a year than it did in the early 1990s. But in urban India, wherever you go ­ shops, restaurants, railway stations, airports, gymnasiums, hospitals ­ you have TV monitors in which election promises have already become true. India's Shining, Feeling Good. You only have to close your ears to the sickening crunch of the policeman's boot on someone's ribs, you only have to raise your eyes from the squalor, the slums, the ragged broken people on the streets and seek a friendly TV monitor and you will be in that other beautiful world. The singing-dancing world of Bollywood's permanent pelvic thrusts, of permanently privileged, permanently happy Indians waving the tricolor flag and Feeling Good. It's becoming harder and harder to tell which one's the real world and which one's the virtual."
   "Personally I don't believe that entering the electoral fray is a path to alternative politics ... because I believe that strategically battles must be waged from positions of strength, not weakness. The target of the dual assault of neo-liberalism and communal fascism are the poor and the minority communities. As liberalism drives its wedge between the rich and the poor, between India Shining and India, it becomes increasingly absurd for any mainstream political party to pretend to represent the interests of both the rich and the poor, because the interests of one can only be represented at the cost of the other... A political party that represents the poor will be a poor party. A party with very meagre funds. Today it isn't possible to fight an election without funds. Putting a couple of well-known social activists into Parliament is interesting, but not really politically meaningful. Individual charisma, personality politics, cannot effect radical change." Hardly the stuff that middle-class democratic daydreaming is made of. More like a real nightmare, actually.
   So, by providing a proper perspective on the role of the world's largest democracy as a mechanism and mouthpiece for market forces, Roy stimulates debate on a question of global importance: Democracy for, by and of what? It seems that democracy can never be for democracy's sake, it has to serve some purpose. In other words, what kind of values and fundamental mentality are needed for democracy to be really successful and well functioning? P.R. Sarkar, the founder of Prout, the Progressive Utilization Theory, opined that democracy can never be successful unless the majority of the population are moralists. In other words, there needs to be a leading trend that supports humanistic values and spiritual growth. Capitalism on the contrary serves to break down whatever remains of those very values. In its relentless quest for individual material acquisitions and selfish comfort it makes us all insensitive to the suffering of others and prone to divisive tendencies. It is in this contemporary reality, in the late phase of mature capitalism, that Roy keeps haunting the lazy, unimaginative and selfish middle class with her vision of a capitalistic system headed for hell.
   Grasshoppers may not provide all or any answers at all to Roy's ongoing inquiry. Also, Roy is not God and there may be more complex causes as to Muslim genocides and other of her pet themes than what she chooses to emphasize. However, her writing most definitely raises some very important questions-and reactions. Roy's concrete, bold way of measuring the pulse and temperature of the sick body of democracy leaves no one undisturbed it seems. We would not be surprised if irrational, defensive reactions continue to hound her noble inquiry into contemporary leadership and official thinking.

Assassination of Ziaur Rahman and the aftermath

This book is a chronology of events surrounding the assassination of late President Ziaur Rahman and the aftermath, as well as a brief commentary on Zia's rise to power. The author, who was Deputy Commissioner of Chittagong at the time of Zia's assassination, narrates these events from his perspective. It is a riveting account of the last hours of the most powerful man of Bangladesh at that time, and the series of events leading to the capture and assassination of another freedom fighter, late Maj. Gen. Manzoor Hussain.
   Zia gave birth to a new slogan-Bangladeshi nationalism with an Islamic flavour. In doing so he also paved the way for the rehabilitation of the religion based political parties and their leaders who had sided with the opponents of Bangladesh liberation. At the end he was able to cobble together a new political party-the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-which was a potpourri of diverse political elements, leftists, centrists, religious zealots, and deserters from other political parties including the Awami League.
   As Zia busied himself with his newly acquired political power and a besotted political party, he drifted from the original power base-the Army, in particular the freedom fighters section that he was aligned with at the beginning. Many of his new political associates were suspects in the eyes of his freedom fighter colleagues for their political past, anti-liberation stand, and their perceived corruption. Zia's life was cut to a short at the peak of his popularity by elements of the very forces that had catapulted him to power, and had provided him the platform for success.
   From his vantage point, the author doubts if we will ever know if the officers charged and executed were the only people involved in Zia's assassination, if Gen. Manzoor actually gave the leadership to the failed coup attempt, or whether there was a more deep rooted conspiracy that brought about the fateful events. The truth never came out, neither in the in-camera Army Court Martial or the Army and Judicial enquiries that were set up by Sattar government. Truth became a casualty to cover ups, political shenanigans, and over time, to indifference.
   Ziauddin M. Choudhury was Deputy Commissioner of Chittagong at the time of President Ziaur Rahman's assassination during a failed army coup in May 1981. A member of the former Civil Service of Pakistan, Ziauddin Choudhury served the government from 1968-82, and thereafter joined the World Bank where he continues to work. Prior to working as Deputy Commissioner of Chittagong (1978-81), Ziauddin Choudhury was Deputy Commissioner of Noakhali (1975-78), Private Secretary to Minister A.H.M. Kamaruzzaman (1972-74, 1975), and Special Assistant in the Prime Minister's Secretariat (1972). Ziauddin Choudhury studied in the University of Dhaka, Punjab University (Lahore), Cornell University (NY), and American University (DC).
   Ziauddin Choudhury is married with two children. He lives in Maryland, USA.

JASWANT SINGH'S BOOKS ON JINNAH : "I have not written to please - it's a journey that I have undertaken..."

Following is the text of an interview that Karan Thapar did with Jaswant Singh, for the television programme 'Devil's Advocate' that was broadcast in two instalments over CNN-IBN on August 16:
   Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. Tomorrow sees the publication of a biography of Mohammed Ali Jinnah which challenges the way we in India have seen the founder of Pakistan. It reassesses Nehru's role in Partition, it sheds fresh light on the relationship between the early Gandhi and Jinnah.
   If my hunch is correct, this book will attract considerable attention and may be even a fair amount of controversy. Today, in a special two-part interview with the author I shall discuss the book and his conclusions. He is, of course, the former Defence, Foreign and Finance Minister of India and also a former soldier, Jaswant Singh.
   Mr. Jaswant Singh, let's start by establishing how you as the author view Mohammed Ali Jinnah? After reading your book, I get the feeling that you don't subscribe to the popular demonisation of the man.
   Jaswant Singh: Of course, I don't. To that I don't subscribe. I was attracted by the personality which has resulted in a book. If I wasn't drawn to the personality, I wouldn't have written the book. It's an intricate, complex personality of great character, determination...
   Q: And it's a personality that you found quite attractive? Naturally, otherwise, I wouldn't have ventured down the book. I found the personality sufficiently attractive to go and research it for five years. And I was drawn to it, yes.
   A: As a politician, Jinnah joined the Congress party long before he joined the Muslim League, and in fact when he joined the Muslim League, he issued a statement to say that this in no way implies "even the shadow of disloyalty to the national cause."
   Q: Would you say that in the 1920s and 1930s and may be even the early years of the 1940s, Jinnah was a nationalist?
   A: Actually speaking the acme of his nationalistic achievement was the 1916 Lucknow Pact of Hindu-Muslim unity and that's why Gopal Krishna Gokhale called him the Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity.
   Q: In your assessment as his biographer, for most if not the predominant part of his life, Jinnah was a nationalist?
   A: Oh, yes. He fought the British for an independent India but he also fought resolutely and relentlessly for the interest of the Muslims of India.
   Q: Was Jinnah secular or was he communal?
   A: It depends on the way you view the word 'secular,' because I don't know whether secular is really fully applicable to a country like India.
   Q: It's a word borne of the socio-historical and religious history of Western Europe.
   A: Let me put it like this. Many people believe that Jinnah hated Hindus and that he was a Hindu-basher. Wrong. Totally wrong. That certainly he was not. His principal disagreement was with the Congress party. Repeatedly he says and he says this even in his last statements to the press and to the constituent Assembly of Pakistan.
   Q: So his problem was with Congress and with some Congress leaders but he had no problem with Hindus.
   A: No he had no problems whatsoever with the Hindus. Because he was not in that sense, until in the later part of his years, he became exactly what he charged Mahatma Gandhi with. He had charged Mahatma Gandhi of being a demagogue.
   Q: He became one as well?
   A: That was the most flattering way of emulating Gandhi. I refer of course to the Calcutta killings.
   Q: As you look back on Jinnah's life, would you say that he was a great man?
   A: Oh yes, because he created something out of nothing, and single-handedly he stood up against the might of the Congress party and against the British who didn't really like him.
   Q: So you are saying to me he was a great man?
   A: I'm saying so.
   Q: Let me put it like this: do you admire Jinnah?
   A: I admire certain aspects of his personality. His determination and the will to rise. He was a self-made man - Mahatma Gandhi was a son of a Dewan.
   Q: Nehru was born to great wealth.
   A: All of them were born to wealth and position, Jinnah created for himself a position. He carved out in Bombay a position in that cosmopolitan city being what he was - poor. He was so poor, he had to walk to work. He lived in a hotel called Watsons in Bombay and he told one of the biographers that there's always room at the top but there is no lift and he never sought a lift.
   Q: Do you admire the way he created success for himself, born to poverty but he ended up successful, rich?
   A: I would admire that in any man, self-made man, who resolutely worked towards achieving what he had set out to.
   Q: How seriously has India misunderstood Jinnah?
   A: I think we misunderstood because we needed to create a demon.
   Q: We needed a demon and he was the convenient scapegoat?
   A: I don't know if he was convenient. We needed a demon because in the 20th century the most telling event in the entire subcontinent was the Partition of the country.
   Q: I'll come to that in a moment, but first, the critical question that your book raises is that how is it that the man, considered as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity in 1916, had transformed 30 years later by 1947 into the 'Qaide-Azam' of Pakistan? And your book suggests that underlying this was Congress' repeated inability to accept that Muslims feared domination by Hindus and that they wanted "space" in "a reassuring system."
   A: Here is the central contest between minorityism and majoritarianism. With the loss of the Mughal empire, the Muslims of India had lost power but majoritarianism didn't begin to influence them until 1947. Then they saw that unless they had a voice in their own political, economical and social destiny, they would be obliterated. That's the beginning. That's still the purpose.
   Q: Let me ask you this. Was Jinnah's fear or anxiety about Congress majoritarianism justified or understandable? Your book in its account of how Congress refused to form a government with the League in Uttar Pradesh in 1937 after fighting the elections in alliance with that party, suggests that Jinnah's fears were substantial and real.
   A: Yes. You have to go not just to 1937, which you just cited. See other examples. In the 1946 elections, Jinnah's Muslim League wins all the Muslim seats and yet they do not have a sufficient number to be in office because the Congress party has, even without a single Muslim, enough to form a government and they are outside of the government. So it was realised that simply contesting election was not enough.
   Q: They needed certain assurances within the system to give them that space?
   A: That's right. And those assurances amounted to reservation, which I dispute frankly. Reservations went from 25 per cent to 33 per cent. And then from reservation that became parity, of being on equal terms. Parity to Partition.
   Q: All of this was search for space?
   A: All of this was a search for some kind of autonomy of decision-making in their own social and economic destiny.
   Q: Your book reveals how people like Gandhi, Rajagopalachari and Azad could understand Jinnah, or the Muslim fear of Congress majoritarianism, but Nehru simply couldn't understand. Was Nehru insensitive to this?
   A: No, he wasn't. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was a deeply sensitive man.
   Q: But why couldn't he understand?
   A: He was deeply influenced by Western and European socialist thought of those days. For example, dominion status would have given virtual independence to India in the 1920s, but Nehru shot it down.
   Q: In other words, Nehru's political thinking and his commitment to Western socialist thought meant that he couldn't understand Jinnah's concerns about majoritarianism? Nehru was a centralist, Jinnah was a decentraliser?
   A: That's right. That is exactly [the point]. Nehru believed in a highly centralised polity. That's what he wanted India to be. Jinnah wanted a federal polity.
   Q: Because that would give Muslims the space?
   A: That even Gandhi also accepted.
   Q: But Nehru couldn't.
   A: Nehru didn't.
   Q: He refused to?
   A: Well, consistently, he stood in the way of a federal India until 1947 when it became a partitioned India.
   Q: In fact, the conclusion of your book is that if the Congress could have accepted a decentralised federal India, then a united India, as you put it, "was clearly ours to attain." You add that the problem was that this was in "an anathema to Nehru's centralising approach and policies." Do you see Nehru at least as responsible for Partition as Jinnah?
   A: I think he says it himself. He recognised it and his correspondence, for example with late Nawab Sahab of Bhopal, his official biographer and others. His letters to the late Nawab Sahab of Bhopal are very moving letters.
   Q: You are saying Nehru recognised that he was as much of an obstacle.
   A: No, he recognised his mistakes afterwards.
   Q: Afterwards?
   A: Afterwards.
   Q: Today, Nehru's heirs and party will find it very surprising that you think that Nehru was as responsible for Partition as Jinnah.
   A: I'm not blaming anybody. I'm not assigning blame. I'm simply recording what I have found as the development of issues and events of that period.
   Q: When Indians turn around and say that Jinnah was, to use a colloquialism, the villain of Partition, your answer is that there were many people responsible, and to single out Jinnah as the only person or as the principal person, is both factually wrong and unfair?
   A: It is. It is not borne out of events. Go to the last All India Congress Committee meeting in Delhi in June of 1947 to discuss and accept the June 3, 1947 resolution. Nehru-Patel's resolution was defeated by the Congress, supported by Gandhi in the defeat. Ram Manohar Lohia had moved the amendment. It was a very moving intervention by Ram Manohar Lohia and then Gandhi finally said we must accept this Partition. Partition is a very painful event. It is very easy to assign blame but very difficult thereafter. Because all events that we are judging are ex-post facto.
   Q: Absolutely, and what your book does is to shed light in terms of a new assessment of Partition and the responsibility of the different players. And in that re-assessment, you have balanced differently between Jinnah and Nehru?
   A: All vision which is ex-post facto is 20/20. It is when you actually live the event.
   Q: Quite right. Those who have lived it would have seen it differently but today, with the benefit of hindsight, you can say that Jinnah wasn't the only or the principal villain and the Indian impression that he was is mistaken and wrong?
   A: And we need to correct it.
   Q: Let's turn to Jinnah and Pakistan. Your book shows that right through the 1920s and the 1930s, or may be even the early years of the 1940s, Pakistan for Jinnah was more of a political strategy, less of a target and a goal. Did he consciously, from the very start, seek to dismember and divide India?
   A: I don't think it was dismemberment. He wanted space for the Muslims. And he could just not define Pakistan ever. Geographically, it was a vague idea. That's why ultimately it became a moth-eaten Pakistan. He had ideas about certain provinces which must be Islamic and one-third of the seats in the Central legislature must be Muslims.
   Q: So Pakistan was in fact a way of finding, as you call it, 'space' for Muslims?
   A: He wanted space in the Central legislature and in the provinces and protection of the minorities so that the Muslims could have a say in their own political, economic and social destiny.
   Q: And that was his primary concern, not dividing India or breaking up the country?
   A: No. He in fact went to the extent of saying that let there be a Pakistan within India.
   Q: A Pakistan within India was acceptable to him?
   A: Yes.
   Q: So, in other words, Pakistan was often the 'code' for space for Muslims?
   A: That's right. From what I have written, I find that it was a negotiating tactic because he wanted certain provinces to be with the Muslim League. He wanted a certain percentage [of seats] in the Central legislature. If he had that, there would not have been a Partition.
   Q: Would you therefore say that when people turn around and say that Jinnah was communal, he was a Hindu-hater, a Hindu basher, they are mistaken and wrong?
   A: He was not a Hindu-hater but he had great animosity with the Congress party and Congress leadership. He said so repeatedly: I have no enmity against the Hindu.
   Q: Do you as an author believe him when he said so?
   A: I don't live in the same time as him. I go by what his contemporaries have said, I go by what he himself says and I reproduce it.
   Q: Let's come again to this business of using Pakistan to create space for Muslims. Your book shows how repeatedly people like Rajagopalachari, Gandhi and Azad were understanding Jinnah's need or the Muslim need for space. Nehru wasn't. Nehru had a European-inherited centralised vision of how India should be run. In a sense, was Nehru's vision of a centralised India, a problem that eventually led to Partition?
   A: Jawaharlal Nehru was not always that. He became that after his European tour of the 1920s. Then he came back imbued with, as Madhu Limaye puts it, a 'spirit of socialism,' and he was all for a highly centralised India.
   Q: And a highly centralised India denied the space Jinnah wanted.
   A: A highly centralised India meant that the dominant party was the Congress party. He [Nehru] in fact said there are only two powers in India - the Congress party and the British.
   Q: That attitude in a sense left no room for Jinnah and the Muslim League in India?
   A: That's what made Jinnah repeatedly say: but there's a third force - we. The Congress could have dealt with the Moplas but there were other Muslims.
   Q: So it was this majoritarianism of Nehru that actually left no room for Jinnah?
   A: It became a contest between excessive majoritarianism, exaggerated minorityism and giving the referee's whistle to the British.
   Q: Was the exaggerated minorityism a response to the excessive majoritarianism of the Congress?
   A: In part. Also in response to the historical circumstances that had come up.
   Q: If the final decision had been taken by people like Gandhi, Rajagopalachari or Azad, could we have ended up with a united India?
   A: Yes, I believe so. It could have. Gandhi said let the British go home, we will settle this amongst ourselves, we will find a Pakistan. In fact, he said so in the last AICC meetings.
   Q: It was therefore Nehru's centralising vision that made that extra search for a united India difficult at the critical moment?
   A: He continued to say so but subsequently, after Partition, he began to realise what a great mistake he had made. Nehru realised his mistakes but it was too late, by then it had happened.
   Q: It was too late?
   A: It was too late.
   Q: Let's... [consider] the portrait you paint of the relationship between the early Gandhi and the early Jinnah. You say of their first meeting in January 1915 that Gandhi's response to Jinnah's "warm welcome" was "ungracious." You say Gandhi would only see Jinnah "in Muslim terms," and the sort of implication that comes across is Gandhi was less accommodating than Jinnah was.
   A: I've perhaps not used the adjective you have used. Jinnah returned from his education in 1896. Gandhi went to South Africa and was returning finally - in between he had come once - to India [and] it was 1915 already. Jinnah had gone to receive him with Gokhale and he referred fulsomely to Gandhi. Gandhi referred to Jinnah and said that I am very grateful that we have a Muslim leader. That I think was born really of Gandhi's working in South Africa and not so much the reality of what he felt.
   Q: The relationship subsequently became competitive. But you do call that response "ungracious"?
   A: I don't know whether I call it ungracious.
   Q: You do.
   A: But I might have. Jinnah is fulsomely receiving Gandhi and Gandhi says I'm glad that I'm being received by a Muslim leader.
   Q: So he was only seeing Jinnah in Muslim terms?
   A: Yes, which Jinnah didn't want to be seen [as].
   Q: Even when you discuss the impact of their political strategies in the early years before 1920 you suggest that Jinnah was perhaps more effective than Gandhi, who in a sense permitted the Raj to continue for three decades. You write: "Jinnah had successfully kept the Indian political forces together, simultaneously exerting pressure on the government." Of Gandhi you say "that pressure dissipated and the Raj remained for three more decades."
   A: That's a later development, because the political style of the two was totally different. Jinnah was essentially a logician. He believed in the strength of logic; he was a parliamentarian; he believed in the efficacy of parliamentary politics. Gandhi, after testing the water, took to the trails of India and he took politics into the dusty villages of India.
   Q: But in the early years up till 1920 you see Jinnah as more effective in putting pressure on the British than Gandhi?
   A: Yes, because the entire politics was parliamentary.
   Q: The adjectives you use to characterise their leadership in the early years suggests a sort of, how shall I put it, slight tilt in Jinnah's favour. You say of Gandhi's leadership that it had "an entirely religious, provincial character." Of Jinnah you say he was "doubtless imbued by a non-sectarian nationalistic zeal."
   A: He was non-sectarian. Gandhi used religion as a personal expression. Jinnah used religion as a tool to create something but that came later. For Gandhi religion was an integral part of his politics from the very beginning. And Jinnah wanted religion out of politics.
   Q: Out of politics?
   A: That is right - there are innumerable examples. In fact, Jinnah sensed or feared instinctively that if politics came into religion it would divide. There were two fears here. His one fear was that if the whole question or practice of mass movement was introduced into India then the minority in India would be threatened. There could be Hindu-Muslim riots as a consequence. The second fear was that this will result in bringing in religion into Indian politics. He didn't want that - the Khilafat movement, etc., are all examples of that.
   Q: And in a sense would you say events have borne out Jinnah?
   A: Not just Jinnah, Annie Besant also. When the Home Rule League broke up, resigning from the League Annie Beasant cautioned Gandhi: you are going down this path, this is a path full of peril.
   Q: Both Jinnah and Besant have been borne out. In the sense that mass movement, unless combined with a great sense of discipline, leadership and restraint, becomes chaotic.
   A: As you look back on their lives and their achievements, Jinnah, at the end of the day, stood for creating a homeland for Indian Muslims.
   Q: But what he produced was moth-eaten and broke up into two pieces in less than 25 years. Gandhi struggled to keep India united, but ended up not just with Partition but with communal passion and communal killing. Would you say at the end of their lives both were failures?
   A: Gandhi was transparently a honest man. He lived his political life openly. Jinnah didn't even live his political life, leave alone his private life, openly. Gandhi led his private life openly - [in] Noakhali with a pencil stub he wrote movingly "I don't want to die a failure but I fear I might."
   Q: And did he, in your opinion?
   A: Yes, I am afraid the Partition of the land, the Hindu-Muslim divide, cannot be really called Gandhiji's great success. Jinnah, I think, did not achieve what he set out to. He got what is called a moth-eaten Pakistan, but the philosophy which underlay it, that Muslims are a separate nation, was completely rejected within years of Pakistan coming into being.
   Q: So, in a sense, both failed.
   A: I'm afraid I've to say that. I am, in comparison, a lay practitioner of politics in India. I cannot compare myself to these two great Indians, but my assessment would lead me to the conclusion that I cannot treat this as a success either by Gandhi or by Jinnah.
   Q: Your book also raises disturbing questions about the Partition of India. You say it was done in a way "that multiplied our problems without solving any communal issue." Then you ask: "If the communal, the principal issue, remains in an even more exacerbated form than before then why did we divide at all?"
   A: Yes, indeed why? I cannot yet find the answer. Look into the eyes of the Muslims who live in India and if you truly see through the pain they live - to which land do they belong? We treat them as aliens, somewhere inside, because we continue to ask even after Partition you still want something? These are citizens of India - it was Jinnah's failure because he never advised the Muslims who stayed back.
   Q: One of the most moving passages of your biography is when you write of Indian Muslims who stayed on in India and didn't go to Pakistan. You say they are "abandoned," you say they are "bereft of a sense of kinship," not "one with the entirety" and then you add that "this robs them of the essence of psychological security."
   A: That's right, it does. That lies at the root of the Sachar Committee report.
   Q: So, in fact, Indian Muslims have paid the price in their personal lives.
   A: Without doubt, as have Pakistani Muslims.
   Q: Muslims have paid a price on both sides.
   A: I think Muslims have paid a price in Partition. They would have been significantly stronger in a united India, effectively so - much larger land, every potential is here. Of course, Pakistan or Bangladesh won't like what I'm saying.
   Q: Let's for a moment focus on Indian Muslims. You are a leader of the BJP. Do you think the rhetoric of your party sometimes adds to that insecurity?
   A: I didn't write this book as a BJP parliamentarian or leader, which I'm not. I wrote this book as an Indian.
   Q: Your book also suggests, at least intellectually, you believe India could face more Partitions. You write: "In India, having once accepted this principle of reservation, then of Partition, how can now we deny it to others, even such Muslims as have had to or chosen to live in India."
   A: The problem started with the 1906 reservation. What does the Sachar Committee report say? Reserve for the Muslim. What are we doing now? Reserve. I think this reservation for Muslims is a disastrous path. I have myself, personally, in Parliament heard a member subscribing to Islam saying we could have a third Partition too. These are the pains that trouble me. What have we solved?
   Q: In fact you say in your book how can we deny it to others, having accepted it once it becomes very difficult intellectually to refuse it again.
   A: You've to refuse it.
   Q: Even if you contradict yourself?
   A: Of course, I am contradicting myself. It is intellectual contradiction.
   Q: But you are being honest enough to point out that this intellectual contradiction lies today at the very heart of our predicament as a nation.
   A: It is. Unless we find an answer, we won't find an answer to India-Pakistan-Bangladesh relations.
   Q: And this continuing contradiction is the legacy of Partition?
   A: Of course, it's self-evident.
   Q: Let's come to how your book will be received. Are you worried that a biography of Jinnah that turns on its head the received demonisation of the man, where you concede that for a large part he was a nationalist with admirable qualities, could bring down on your head a storm of protest?
   A: Firstly I'm not an academic. Sixty years down the line someone else - an academic - should've done it. Then I wouldn't have persisted for five years. I've written what I have researched and believed in. I have not written to please - it's a journey that I have undertaken, as I explained myself, along with Mohd Ali Jinnah -from his being an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity to the Qaid-e-Azam of Pakistan.
   Q: In a sense you were driven to write this book.
   A; Indeed, I still search for answers. Having worked with the responsibilities that I had, it is my duty to try and find answers.
   Q: And your position is that if people don't like the truth as you see it - so be it, but you have to tell the truth as you know it.
   A: Well, so be it is your way of putting it, my dear Karan, but how do I abandon my search, my yearning and what I have found? If I'm wrong then somebody else should go and do the research and prove me as wrong.
   Q: In other words, you are presenting what you believe is the truth and you can't hide it.
   A: What else can I do, what else can I present?
   Q: In 2005, when L.K. Advani called Jinnah's August 11, 1947 speech secular, he was forced to resign the presidentship of the party. Are you worried that your party might turn on you in a similar manner?
   A: This is not a party document, and my party knows that I have been working on this. I have mentioned this to Shri Advani as also to others.
   Q: But are they aware of your views and the contents of the book?
   A: They can't be aware unless they read it.
   Q: Are you worried that when they find out about your views, and your analyses and your conclusion, they might be embarrassed and angry?
   A: No, they might disagree, that's a different matter. Anger? Why should there be anger about disagreement?
   Q: Can I put something to you?
   A: Yes.
   Q: Mr. Advani in a sense suffered because he called Jinnah secular. You have gone further, you have compared him to the early Gandhi. And some would say that Gandhi is found a little wanting in that comparison. Will that inflame passions?
   A: I don't think Gandhi is found wanting. He was a different person. They are two different personalities, each with their characteristics, why should passions be inflamed? Let a self-sufficient majority, 60 years down the line of Independence, be able to stand up to what actually happened pre-1947 and in 1947.
   Q: So what you are saying is that Gandhi and Jinnah were different people, we must learn to accept that both had good points.
   A: Of course.
   Q: And both had weaknesses.
   A: Of course. Gandhi himself calls Jinnah a Great Indian, why don't we recognise that? Why did he call him that? He tells Mountbatten "give the Prime Ministership of India to Jinnah." Mountbatten scoffs at him, "Are you joking?" He says: "No I'm serious, I'll travel India and convince India and carry this message."
   Q: So if today's Gandhians, reading the passages where you compare between the two, come to the conclusion that you are more of praise of Jinnah than of Gandhi...
   A: I don't think I am. I am objective as far as human beings have ability to be objective. As balanced as an author can be.
   Q: As balanced as an author can be?
   A: Indeed, indeed. How else can it be?
   Q: Your party has a Chintan Baithak starting in two days time, does it worry you that at that occasion some of your colleagues might stand up and say -your views, your comments about Jinnah, your comments about Gandhi and Nehru, have embarrassed the BJP?
   A: I don't think so, I don't think they will. Because in two days time the book would not have been [read]. It's almost a 600-page book. Difficult to read 600 pages in two days.
   Q: No one will have read the book by the time you go to Shimla!
   A: Yes (laughs).
   Q: But what about afterwards?
   A: Well, we will deal with the afters when the afters come.
   Q: Let me raise two issues that could be a problem for you. First of all, your sympathetic understanding of Muslims left behind in India. You say they're abandoned, you say they are bereft, you say they suffer from psychological insecurity. That's not normally a position leaders of the BJP take.
   A: I think the BJP is misunderstood also in its attitude towards the minorities. I don't think it is so. Every Muslim that lives in India is a loyal Indian and we must treat them as so.
   Q: But you're the first person from the BJP I have ever heard say, "look into the eyes of Indian Muslims and see the pain." No one has ever spoken in such sensitive terms about them before.
   A: I'm born in a district, that is my home - we adjoin Sind, it was not part of British India. We have lived with Muslims and Islam for centuries. They are part.... In fact in Jaisalmer, I don't mind telling you, Muslims don't eat cow and the Rajputs don't eat pig.
   Q: So your understanding of Indian Muslims and their predicament is uniquely personal and you would say...
   A: Indeed, because I think what has happened is that we try and treat this whole thing as if it's an extension of the image of the U.P. Muslim. Of course the U.P. [Muslim] is... Pakistan is a step-child of U.P., in a sense.
   Q: The second issue that your book raises, which could cause problems for you, is that at least theoretically, at least intellectually, you accept that their could be, although you hope their won't be, further partitions. Could that embarrass you?
   A: No, I'm cautioning. I'm cautioning India, the Indian leadership. I have said that I am not going to be a politician all my life, or even a Member of Parliament. But I do say this: we should learn from what we did wrong, or didn't do right, so that we don't repeat the mistakes.
   Q: In other words, this is - how shall I put it, a wake-up call?
   A: Wake-up? Shaking....
   Q: A shake-up call!
   A: Yeah (smiles)
   Q: My last question. Critics in your party allege that you are responsible for the party losing seats in Rajasthan, they allege that you are responsible for asking questions about the sanctity of Hindutva. Now, after this book, have you fed your critics more ammunition against yourself?
   A: Time will tell (smiles)
   Q: But does it worry you?
   A: Do I look worried? (smiles)
   Karan THapar: With that smile on your face, Mr. Jaswant Singh, thank you very much... Jaswant Singh: Thank you very much.

ISI-backed LeT establishing junction in Bangladesh to launch attacks on India

THE ARREST of three Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operatives from a madrassa in Chittagong, one of Bangladesh's largest cities, in November last year, has underlined the expanding reach of the Pakistan based militant group, and security analysts believe that militants are now trying to establish their base in the country to launch attacks on India that could inflame regional troubles.

The LeT, which carried out the deadly November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, is believed to be working swiftly to prepare a base for itself in Bangladesh from where it can target India easily.

The Bangladesh government has been trying hard to check the spread of the extremist group, but the country's internal political squabbling is making the task difficult.

"Unfortunately, Bangladesh has become the junction point of people who are interested in militancy. It is not likely to be eradicated very soon. The two major political parties have never been able to come to a common approach to the problem," The Christian Science Monitor quoted a former army official and a security analyst Syed Muhammed Ibrahim, as saying.

US military experts and Western military officials have also raised concerns over the LeT's expanding movement.

"Right now our concern is the movement of Lashkar-e-Taiba, and specifically their positioning in Bangladesh and Nepal, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka," Admiral Robert Willard, head of the US Navy's Pacific Command, had told a recent Senate hearing.

"What LeT has been able to do is lay a very solid foundation in Bangladesh. They're playing for the longer game. They're building up the infrastructure, building up the support networks," said John Harris, a terrorism expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

The greater cause of worry, as underlined by the official who led the last November raids on the Chittagong madrassa, is the arrested extremists' claim of getting assistance from the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

"They explained that the ISI helped them with the preparation of their passports. They were taken to Pakistan for training. They are all here to organize attacks against India," the official, who requested anonymity, said.

FLAMES OF FREEDOM : Beginning of Liberation War in Chittagong

Brig. Gen. Chowdhury Khalequzzaman (Retd.) This is the story of how the Liberation War started at East Bengal Regiment in Chittagong. The 25th March 1971 is a historic day. It is a day of great significance for the people of Bangladesh. The officers, JCOs and soldiers of the 8 East Bengal Regiment were in a restless and tense situation. The commanding officer of the 8 East Bengal Regiment, Lt. Colonel Abdur Rashid Janjua arranged inter-company sports competition to keep us busy in the last week of March.
   The inter-company basketball competition was taking place on the morning of 25 March. I myself, a Captain then, was playing for one of the basketball teams. Major Ziaur Rahman was the referee of the match. I was then acting as the sports officer of the 8 East Bengal Regiment. It was an extra duty. After the match I went back to my room, changed into military uniform and came to the office at around 9 A.M. The political situation of the country was restive and we were anxious to know what was going on. There was no peace in our minds.
   At 09.30 in the morning I met Major Zia and Captain Oli Ahmed. The nature of Captain Oli Ahmed's duty made him spend most of the time in the office. He was the quartermaster. Lt. Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury had the responsibilities of an under study adjutant. Lt. Mahfuzur Rahman was working as the company officer of HQ Company. I had many responsibilities in the HQ Company. Although we all came to the office in time, there was no progress in work.
   At around 11 in the morning, people barricaded Bayezid Bostamy Road in front of the level crossing of our unit line with a compartment of a goods train. Their intention was to hamper the movement of the army vehicles and thereby stop the communication between the city and the Chittagong cantonment.
   Our armed guards were present there but they did not try to restore train line in its normal condition. They were unconcerned because they were silently supportive of what the people were doing. They did not try to either remove the barricade or go against people's will. I was sent to remove the barricade. I was not interested in doing it.
   Major Shawkat told me that there was a barricade near the level crossing and the commanding officer had ordered to keep the road open. I went ahead with 10 soldiers. When I reached there, I saw that a goods train was lying there inactively. I took a look around the train and I thought that it was not possible to clear the barricade. I told the soldiers to keep an eye on the train and I came back.
   But my commanding officer was impatient. He said, "When will the goods train be removed by you?" Then he assigned Major Mir Shawkat to remove the train. There were a very few people there. Some were watching from a distance. At that time people crowded around to see wherever the army assembled, especially when it was the East Bengal Regiment. They kept a distance when the soldiers were non-Bengalee, Panjabi, Baluch etc. They considered the East Bengal Regiment as their own and came forward to see them with a good feeling.
   When I went there, people from nearby shops came out to observe the barricade. I pretended as if I did not notice. Two hours later, Major Mir Shawkat arrived with a team of 10 soldiers and dislodged the brake of the train, moving it from the east side to the west side. The road was then open for everyone. The Sholoshohor railway station was in the east, not more than 400 yards from there.
   After coming back, we kept ourselves busy listening to the radio, reading newspapers and trying to get information by telephoning people. I went to see Major Zia. He was working in the office sombrely. I asked, "Sir, what is going to happen?" He was very careful and talked little. He was under stern surveillance. The atmosphere was grave. He just said, "Wait and see".
   We could not contact the political leaders during daytime; not even via telephone; time passed in this manner. Later, Major Zia told me that the commanding officer had ordered to check on the soldiers keeping guard in various places of the city. He said, "Khalequzzaman, come with me, we will go to check the guards." We went out in a jeep at around 1.00 p.m.
   First we went straight to the cantonment. We headed north through Bayezid Bostami Road. Lt. Shamsher was on duty near the "Coca-Cola shop of K. Rahman. Major Zia exchanged words with Shamsher Mobin. Then we went up to the gate of Chittagong cantonment and came back. We were sitting side by side in the moving jeep. I told Major Zia that it would have been impossible to move the immobile train had Major Showkat not unlocked it. He said, "Shawkat already knew how to remove such things" Shawkat's father once worked for the Railway, so he might have had prior experience about these."
   Anyway, we went to the places where soldiers were on duty. We went to New Market area, near Agrabad, took a turn at the Chittagong Court Hill and came back to the Nasirabad Housing Society area through Andarkilla and Chawkbazar. It was not an easy jeep ride because there were many barricades on the way. There were barricades made of bamboo in many places. In some places one end of the bamboo was tied tightly and the other end was loose. We untied them ourselves to move around the city. Nobody came to help us.
   Alert officer
   Major Zia was a very alert and cautious officer. He listened silently when I talked or wanted to know something with enthusiasm, but he never stopped me either. At some places I asked people how they would resist attacks as they were putting on barricades and agitating without any guns or heavy weapons but sticks. Major Zia listened thoughtfully, but without any comment. The people didn't say much either. There were reports of collection of some unusable weapons from some places in Chittagong. Some of the people had pieces of bamboo or pieces of betel nut tree and slung from their shoulders as if those were weapons.
   During the Second World War, people had propped up bullock carts so that pilots from up the sky would think that they were guns. We met some people in the Chawkbazar area, among them was the student politician Mohammed Hossain Khan. He was from that area. His father had a sweetmeat shop that we frequented. I knew Mohammed Hossain Khan when I was studying at the Chittagong College. We also met Harun Khan; he too was a student leader from Chittagong. We met him at Nabab Sirajuddoula Road. They were in charge of this road so that they could handle any vehicle driven by the army or the adversary. I knew Harun Khan as well. I introduced them to Major Zia. Harun Khan later became an M.P. He was trying to encourage general people by parading and giving speeches in the roadside meeting.
   "It's our jeep"
   When we arrived there, people gathered around us. One or two persons touched the jeep, then said, "It's our jeep. It's a Jeep of the East Bengal Regiment." Major Zia talked with Harun Khan and Mohammed Hossain.
   They talked about the situation. I enquired about the on going situation everywhere. We did not know anything clearly yet. When we came back it was nearly 3 P.M. I dropped Major Zia at his house at Nasirabad Housing Society and came back to officers' mess. I stayed in my room after launch.
   Major Zia used to work in office in the evenings too. That day he came as usual in the afternoon. Our military programme went on as usual. Soldiers, who used to play, were playing, the officers who work in the afternoon were working, and those who had duty outside were on duty. According to the military rule I was supposed to go to the unit with my soldiers after the meal. I went to office in the afternoon. Captain Oli Ahmed was there. Major Shawkat and Major Zia were working as well. I was trying to talk and know about the situation from everybody. Oli too was always enthusiastic about the matter. But the others would not open their mouth. I did not have any talk with Major Shawkat. I came back to the room after talking to Major Zia.
   A company of the regiment was on duty in the city. Major Shawkat phoned me at the mess and asked me to go to the unit line. I reached there in the evening, before the Azan of Maghreb.
   I was having a walk and talking with Major Zia near the level crossing on the crossroads of Bayezid Bostami Road. Major Zia said, "Situation is bad, Khalequzzaman, who knows what will happen. We are in a critical situation."
   Colonel Hamid Hussain Shigri, deputy commandant of East Bengal Regimental Centre, was coming back from Chittagong Port to cantonment. Both of us knew him previously. He stopped the militaiy jeep when he saw us. He had worked with Major Zia in the 1st East Bengal Regiment. He was my commanding officer when I was a lieutenant in Comilla cantonment in 1966. Colonel Shigri knew that I come from Chittagong. So he asked about my welfare, parents and home. He appeared to be anxious and in great hurry.
   Shigri didn't talk to Zia
   I was surprised to see Colonel Shigri drove away his jeep without speaking to Major Zia. When he left Major Zia asked me what we talked about. Colonel Hamid was from Gilgit in Pakistan. Incidentally, in 1967 Lt. Col. Shigri once drove me to Chittagong city from Comilla cantonment when my mother was very ill.
   Major Zia seemed worried when we were walking and talking. I was very keen to know about what was going on and if we could do anything about it. Like hundreds of patriots around the country, I too had a determination in my mind. Suddenly I saw that a machine gun detachment arrived on the nearby crossroad on a three-ton truck. Night was falling. A machinegun detachment usually has four soldiers -- 1:3. One is a commander, and the other three men for firing. All four were sitting on a truck. Both of us were in military uniform. All the military men were ordered to wear uniform then because they could be called for duty anytime.
   I went close to the truck and saw that it had the driver in front and the four soldiers behind on the body of truck. I saw an NCO (non-commissioned officer) from 20 Baluch Regiment there and asked him what they were doing there.
   The non-Bengalee NCO stood up in the vehicle and saluted me. He said, "Sir, we are told to stay here with a machine gun."
   "You will start working when you are ordered," I asked, "what is your order?" He looked helplessly at me and said, "Sir, we are told to take position here and they will inform us later."
   I then said to Major Zia that it was not safe to let the machinegun and the four crew members to be there because the angry mob could snatch the weapons and attack them too. Who would be responsible then? The blame could come to our regiment.
   Major Zia said, "What can we do?" I said, "Sir, they should go to our unit line with the machinegun." I had another thought in my mind.
   Major Zia's silence was his approval. I told the detachment commander, "People are observing strike, they are not good people. Go and deposit your machinegun in the kote of the 8 East Bengal Regiment. You can take rest, wait for the order."
   They knew me and trusted my words. Without any protest they deposited the machinegun. There are rules to deposit a weapon. It had to be deposited in the quarter guard. They said, "Sir, we want to be certain." I said, "Tell them about us. Report to the quarter guard. Tell them that there is an uprising in the city and you want to keep the weapon there."
   The Baluch soldiers themselves were not feeling safe. I don't know where the four of them went from there, but I know that they deposited the machine gun and ran away towards the Chittagong cantonment.
   Major Zia smiled at me to convey that I had taken the right step. I came back to the unit line. Major Zia stayed in the office and I went back to the officers' mess. There I had a call from Major Shawkat asking me to go to the unit line in uniform. It was around seven P.M. I was told to assume duty in the Chittagong Port. Major Shawkat said, "Get ready for duty at Chittagong Port." I put on my uniform, had a cup of tea, and went out with just the purse. It was indeed the last time I left the officers' mess. I never went back there.
   It was around 8 P.M. I went to Colonel Janjua who told me to go to the port and report to new Area Commander Brigadier Ansari. Some soldiers should go with me. I was the Military Transport Officer. I said, "How would we go without any transport?" I was told that a navy truck would come and we could go by it. There were five companies. I took soldiers from the 'delta' company. Senior JCO was Subedar Mahbubur Rahman. He was transferred to 8 East Bengal Regiment from 4 East Bengal Regiment. I said to him, "Prepare a platoon to go to the port area" Then he asked, "Who'll go with them?" I said, "I'll go myself".
   Subedar Mahbub prepared a platoon in front of the quarter guard of the unit. A truck from Navy came soon. There was a driver and two navy personnel were there with an SMG and a rifle. Subedar Enamul Majid was ready to go as a JCO platoon commander with me. He boarded the truck with 30 soldiers. I was next. I saw that commanding officer Colonel Janjua was standing there, not to see me off but to make sure that I left on time. Major Zia, Major Shawkat, Capt. Oli were present too. I asked Subadar Majid, if everything was all right and if he had taken weapons, ammunition, ration etc. He said, "Sir, we didn't take any ammunition." I was angry because the commanding officer was standing there and I was getting late. I stood up in the truck and said angrily, "How can we go without ammunition?" Everyone was listening. Suddenly Colnel Janjua said, "Don't worry Khaleque, you go and we'll send ammunition. Brigadier Ansari is waiting." I said, "Thank you very much, sir, but no, the troops would not move without arms and ammunition."
   Colonel Janjua realised that I would not go without ammunition and said, "Bravo and hurry up, send Subadar Majid to get the ammunition quickly". When Majid came back with ammunition Colonel Janjua changed his mind and said, "Zia, I think you should go first. Khaleque will follow you." We were all standing.
   I was surprised because ordinarily the Second in command does not go for such duties and I was all prepared. Major Zia had a talk with the commanding officer and sat on the front seat of the truck, beside the driver, where I was supposed to sit. I was to go alone but Major Zia was given two officers with him --2Lt. Humayun Khan and 2Lt. Azam -both from West Pakistan. I went near his seat to shake hands with him and see him off. He said in an anxious voice, "If you hear anything let me know. Khoda Hafez". They started the journey.
   Capt. Oli went to the duty room on the first floor as the duty officer, Colonel Janjua dropped Major Shawkat off in the mess on his way to his bungalow, 'Al Hamra' at Nasirabad Housing Society.
   Company murdered
   It is worth mentioning that in the morning of 25 March Major Shawkat, by the order of Lt. Col. Janjua, assigned a company ('C' company) of soldiers (150 in number) in the Chittagong port to maintain security of the ship 'Swat' during the unloading of weapons. Brigadier Ansari was present there; Major Shawkat too was present the whole day and returned with Col. Janjua after sunset. They left the 'C' company under Subedar Abdur Rauf in the port. Later, the company was brutally murdered by the Pakistani army. Some of them saved themselves by jumping into the river Karnaphuli, swam to Kalurghat to join us in the morning of 26 March and described the barbarous massacre.
   I told Subedar Mahbubur Rahman, "We might have to go. Prepare arms, ammunition and the rest of the soldiers". Approximately at 10 p.m. Abdul Kader, a relative of mine, called me on phone and talked to me and Capt. Oli. He said that there was firing in Dhaka and EPR soldiers were attacked."
   Major Zia had already left, Major Shawkat was sleeping in officers' mess and Col. Janjua was at his residence. All the other officers were positioned in various places of duty in the city. In the office there were Oli, the duty officer and myself. I asked Mahbubur Rahman to keep a transport ready and I went upstairs. Except for Oli and I, everyone was a junior officer. I said, "Let me go and get our boss. Let's see what happens after I bring Major Zia back. "Oli agreed with enthusiasm.
   I didn't know whom to talk to, whom to call. But I realised that something grave was going to happen, we were angry and aggrieved because something unjust was going to happen to us. The age had its own virtue or vices. We knew we had to do something to stop anything disastrous from happening. Firing had started in Dhaka on the Police and EPR in the headquarters. Nobody can take out a vehicle without my instructions (the M.T.O). I ordered for a pickup to come and rushed for Chittagong port with a driver, a Lance Corporal and two soldiers to bring Major Zia back. Before starting I said to the guard commander, Lance Corporal Shafi. "Stay alert. The duty officer is upstairs and the situation is not good." I ordered the driver to drive fast towards Agrabad.
   There were some barricades on the way. There was one at Dampara, one on the west of Chittagong club. I had to remove them as I went forward. There was a strong barricade near Agrabad Railway over bridge that forced truck of the 8 East Bengal Regiment to stand in front of it and the soldiers were trying to remove the barricade. Maj Zia was walking beside the truck. I stopped the pickup and hurriedly went to him. I put a hand on his shoulder to take him beside for talking. I said, "Sir, you should not go to the Port tonight. Pakistani forces are already shooting in Dhaka. They have attacked EPR camp at Rajarbagh Police line. I strongly feel that you should not go to the port."
   "We will revolt"
   Zia thought for a while and said, "What should we do?" He did not want an answer from me, he was talking to himself. I said, "You know better". Major Zia then punched the left fist with the right and said, "In that case we will revolt and show our allegiance to the government of Bangladesh".
   I said, "That is the reality". Then he said in reply, "You go. I'll tell 2Lt. Azam and 2Lt. Humayun that the commanding officer has sent Captain Khaleque to take us back. I started towards the unit line and he followed me from a distance. When I reached the unit, I briefed the guard commander Lance Corporal Shafi. I said, "Stay here and carry out your duty. Our 2nd in command may come." I was standing there when Major Zia came back. With me were Lance Corporal Shafi and five soldiers.
   Major Zia signalled me to arrest Azam and Humayun. I asked the two officers to come with me. They were loyal soldiers of the Pakistan army and did not react to this. I took them to the quarter guard. Quarter guard is where the regiment keeps its money and it has an armed guard 24 hours a day. There was a table, a chair and a box of keys and a cell.
   The soldiers in the truck were very excited although they could not understand what was going on. Some of them were yelling, "Joy Bangla." We signalled them to stop and not to tell these to anybody because nothing had happened yet and we could get in trouble if the incident was discovered.
   The truck was parked and the drivers were arrested. We thought they were Pakistanis as they spoke in Urdu, but they were from Chittagong and Jessore. Azam and Humayun had personal weapons, which they handed over to me on order. I deposited the arms in the quarter guard.
   Major Zia said to me, "Get me a jeep." The jeep of the commanding officer had come back by then. Capt. Oli, who was working upstairs, did not know that we were back. Major Zia told me, "Let me go and get the commanding officer" and headed towards 'Al-hamra', Lt. Colnel Janjua's official residence.
   Zia arrests Janjua
   Major Zia told me later what had happened. He rang the calling bell himself. The military guards of the residence were Bengalee soldiers. When they saw the 2nd in command, their weapons turned from outward to inward i.e. against Lt. Col. Janjua. Janjua was a very clever person but he had nothing to do. He knew that something big was going to happen but did not take any self-precautions. He came out of the house wearing white pajama-panjabi and sandals. He was surprised as if he had seen a ghost when he saw Major Zia and asked, "What's wrong, Zia?" Zia said, "Sir, I need to talk to you."
   Janjua was wondering how Zia came back when he had sent him to the port to report to Brigadier Ansari. He could not grasp what had happened in the port. He said in Urdu, "Come Zia, sit. "Major Zia said, "No sir, we have something to talk about." He said, "All right, let's discuss it here."
   Zia said, "Sir, we should go to unit line, Captain Khalequzzaman and Captain Oli is there. They would like to discuss something with you." Janjua agreed. He sat in the jeep and Zia drove with the two soldiers sitting on the rear seat of the jeep, stopped in front of the quarter guard where I, Lance Corporal Shafi and sepoy Rabiul Anam were standing. Major Zia snatched the rifle from Rabiul Anam, pointed it to Janjua and said, "Sir, you are under arrest. Don't try to take leadership."
   Janjua did not say a word in utter surprise. Zia asked me to take him away. Shafi and I took him to the quarter guard. Shafi was a spirited and courageous soldier who always carried a rifle. He took part in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war.
   I made Janjua sit on a chair in the quarter guard. He said softly, "Khaleque, my family should know where I am." I realised that he was very nervous and afraid. We had left Colonel Janjua's wife at his home. I said, "Sir, surely she will come to know where you are". Later she was respectfully taken to the cantonment. There were Azam and Humayun with Col. Janjua; and Shafi was standing as guard. Major Zia said, "Hold them and keep an eye on them."
   Courage and speed
   Major Zia went upstairs to contact the political leaders and others. It was clear that we were revolting and it would not have been wise to keep our soldiers on duty outside. I sent message for Captain Sadek, Lt. Mahfuz, and Lt. Shamsher to bring back those who were on duty in the Bayazid Bostami Road and elsewhere. I sent word to the senior J.C.O. Subedar Mahbubur Rahman to fetch the Pathan officer Captain Ahammaduddin from the officers' mess. He too was arrested and put in the quarter guard. They did not create any trouble. We finished the work with courage and speed.
   Two Pakistani officers used to stay in the EPR mess to the south of the 8 East Bengal officers' mess. One of them was Captain Nazar with whom I once prepared for the Captain to Major examination. I asked my batman Nurul Amin to go and tell the Bengalees to get out of there. He knew where each officer stayed. When he went there at 12-30 A.M., Captain Nazar threatened him with a gun. Nurul shot him down at once.
   When he was bringing back Lt. Col. Janjua, Major Zia had waken up Major Mir Shawkat in the officers' mess. Major Shawkat came a while later and Major Zia said to him in front of the quarter guard, "Shawkat, I hope you are with us." He said it to ensure if Shawkat was with us in the rebellion. I don't know if the two of them had talked about it earlier.
   "Zia Bhai, I'm"
   Maj Shawkat said, "Zia Bhai, of course I'm with you." Major Zia replied, "Shawkat, it is good to settle everything before we go for a serious game." By then my batman Nurul Amin had gone to arrest the EPR officers. We did not know what to do with our arms and ammunitions. Major Zia brought Janjua upstairs with respect and asked him to sit on the chair of the commanding officer. The other officers remained in the quarter guard.
   The two navy men were there as well. I pushed one of them and said, "udhar jao". He said, "Sir, I'm Bengalee" "where are you from?" "I'm from Jessore" and the other said that he was from Chittagong.
   Major Zia had taken the rifle from the standing guard nearby to shoot if anybody comes. When we saw that no one was there he gave the rifle to me and asked me to be cautious. Then he went upstairs again to contact different persons/places. Shawkat went up too. I remained downstairs to foresee everything.
   The keys to arms and ammunition were still in the 'key box.' When I said that to Major Zia, he broke the glass door of the box with the butt of the rifle, extricated the keys and gave them to me. I could break the key box myself but according to the military rule I had to inform someone who was in charge. I said to the two Bengalee soldiers that we had arrested them by mistake, "Why are you sitting here like fools?"
   Later when we went to Potia the following day one of them slaughtered a cow to feed us. Allah saved two lives; otherwise they would have died with the others. I went upstairs and told Major Zia that the soldiers downstairs were scattered and that we should gather them all in the hall.
   Subadar Major Muhammed Ali was the senior most among the J.C.O.s I ordered him to assemble the battalion in the centre of unit line. Everyone came. Major Zia came downstairs.
   I told Major Shawkat, "Sir, tell them that the Second in Command has taken control of the unit and he would like to say something to all of us." At that moment nobody wanted to come forward to say anything. It was really a great moment of anxiety. But we could not go back now.
   Zia's first declaration
   Major Shawkat then told everyone that the Second in Command would say something. "He would depict the current situation of Bangladesh in front of you", he said. We had a company of soldiers in the Chittagong Port. Captain Sadeq, Lt. Shamsher, Lt. Mahfuz had arrived by then.
   Major Zia gave an emotional speech and explained the overall situation. He explained what the West Pakistani army attempted to do. He said, "They wanted to send Captain Khalequzzaman to the Chittagong Port, they had already sent me to the port. They planned to kill us and arrest everyone in the 8 East Bengal Regiment."
   He then went on to say, "We express loyalty to Bangladesh. Now we are an independent country. We declare war in the name of our motherland Bangladesh".
   Zia asked everyone for approval. The soldiers yelled "Joy Bangla" and "Bangladesh Zindabad" in agreement. In fact it was the first announcement of Liberation from Major Zia. The slogans echoed so loudly that the inhabitants of Nasirabad Housing Society woke up from sleep and peeped through their windows. It was about 3 to 4 AM. After the speech, Major Zia gave a jeep to Major Shawkat and asked him to contact the leaders of Awami League and inform them of our decision.
   As far as I know, Maj Shawkat contacted leaders of Chittagong Awami League such as Abdul Hannan, Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury, M. R. Siddiky etc.
   There was announcement in the city by the orders of Major Zia from 4 A.M. in the morning; it started announcing that the 8 East Bengal Regiment had revolted in the name of the Liberation of Bangladesh. Major Zia called over phone the D.C., S.P. and other officers in Chittagong and informed those whom he could get, about the revolt. He said, "I hope you are with us. Otherwise we shall not spare you."
   Telephone operator
   Then he told the telephone operator to inform those whom he could not get on phone. As far as I know the telephone operator carried out the job to some extent. When we left the unit line it was dawn and we could hear the morning Azan. We heard people shouting slogans.
   Maj. Shawkat had returned by then. We planned to take all the arms and ammunition to a new place by truck because it was very dangerous to stay in the unit lines as it was also not possible to resist from the unit line because the area was only three miles away from the cantonment and it fell within its range of mortar or shell fired from there could ruin everything here as well as injure many civilians.
   We made a plan but not in paper. Major Zia was standing there, we were standing beside. Major Zia said that we would leave the present place of the 8 East Bengal Regiment and go to a place named Gumdandi on the other side of the river Karnafuli. We can resist if they try to stop us from western side.
   We also planed to get hold of the radio station. Major Zia said, "Khaleque, you should be around the radio station". I had the responsibility of protecting the Chittagong radio station and the east bank of the river Karnafuli.
   We left the unit line for Kalurghat area on the east bank of the river at 6.00 a.m. in the morning. Major Shawkat had left the Charlie Company in the port. They were in charge of loading and unloading the arms and ammunition from the ship. When the 8 East Bengal Regiment revolted, our soldiers in the ship jumped to the river to save their lives. Some of them were killed and some joined us by swimming across in the river. We loaded the arms and ammunition on the truck of navy, two trucks and two pickups that we owned and left the unit line.
   We carried all the small arms and ammunition boxes. Major Shawkat brought his personal belongings but others could not bring theirs. Major Zia too came only with the uniform on. Begum Zia was still in the rented house at Nasirabad Housing Society. When I went to bring Major Zia, firing started in Dhaka. By the time we came back to the unit line, there were shootings in the Chittagong cantonment as well.
   There were around a thousand Bengalee soldiers in the East Bengal Regimental Centre (EBRC). Among the Bengali officers were Captain Subed Ali Bhuiyan, Capt. Amin Ahmed Chowdhury, Capt. Abdul Aziz and Capt. Enamul Haq. Some of them lived at the Shershah colony with their families and the bachelor officers stayed in the EBRC officers' mess. Those who lived in the mess had already come out. Subed Ali and Mohsin joined us later. Amin Ahmed Chowdhury went to Agartala via Ramgarh by himself. The Indian soldiers at Agartala thought he was a 'Nakshal' and arrested him. Enam joined the EPR. On the night of 25th March, Major Zia contacted captain Rafiq. Captain Rafiq sent message by wireless that the EPR had revolted. Captain Harun Ahmed Chowdhury came from Kaptai to Kalurghat to join us on the morning of the 26th March. He had left all the Pakistani officers at Kaptai arrested. Capt. Harun Abmed arrested Major Dost Muhammed and locked him in the room when he was still asleep. He arrested all the others and came here with three Bengalee EPR men. Harun grabbed me and hugged me saying. "Joy Bangla", on the east side of the Kalurghat bridge where we had already reached.
   When I went to bring Major Zia, the Pakistanis of the Chittagong cantonment had already arrested Bengalee soldiers in the East Bengal Regimental Centre, Lt. Col. M.R. Chowdhury who was senior to Major Zia, was the chief instructor in EBRC. Pakistanis arrested him and later killed him ruthlessly. They attacked the centre instead of the 8 East Bengal regiment.
   Plainclothes Pakistani soldiers entered the houses of non-BengaIees at Nasirabad Housing Society. Our officers' mess and the house of Major Zia were near the park. But they could not attack because they were not well organised. But it is true that they had taken position in plainclothes in the houses of the non-BengaIees at Nasirabad Housing Society, Shershah colony, Bayezid Bostami Colony etc. We went out of the unit and walked on foot through Sholoshohor to the other side of the river Karnafuli. We walked through Chawkbazar, Bohoddar Hat, the radio station; Chandgao to the east bank of the river Karnafuli.
   We re-organised on the morning of the 26th March. All companies took position. I had the responsibility of the radio station and a part of the river. I had Lt. Mahfuz on my north; on the left of my company was 'A' company of Lt. Shamsher.
   A company of the EPR was deployed on the West Bank of the river as screen. A JCO was the leader; the 8 East Bengal Regiment took position of resistance on the Karnafuli - Cox's Bazar axis Major Shawkat Ali took position on the west bank of the river at the Ispahani Colony at Kalurghat temporarily. Major Zia and Captain Oli took position in the Village of Gudmandi near Patiya where the temporary headquarters of the 8 East Bengal Regiment was established. Major Zia was the commanding officer and Captain Oli was his Staff officer.

The Myth of the “International Basket Case”

SOMETIMES MYTH lives on without any attempt of being rectified. One such myth lived and thrived over more than three and a half decades, concerns the infamous statement depicting an emerging country, Bangladesh, as the “International Basket Case.” For more than three decades this myth has been erroneously attributed to Henry Kissinger having given birth to it.

This effort to debunking the myth is not to defend Henry Kissinger’s shenanigans during late sixties through mid-seventies. Rather, the aim here is to present the facts. The question is if Mr. Kissinger did not then who made that statement?

This issue was brought up in a Washington Special Group Meeting held in Washington D.C. on December 6, 1971. As the minutes of that meeting indicate, ambassador U. Alexis Johnson initiated the statement when the issue of an impending famine was brought up by a participant of the meeting, Mr Maurice Williams. As conversation went on, Mr U. Alexis Johnson at one point quipped “They'll (referring to East Pakistan) be an international basket case.” Mr Kissinger responded by saying “But, not necessarily our basket case.” An excerpt of the conversion was also published in a Time magazine article on January 17, 1972.[i]
Here goes a few excerpts from the minutes of the meeting:
Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Williams) Will there be a massive famine in East Pakistan?
Mr. Williams: They have a huge crop just coming in.
Dr. Kissinger: How about next spring?
Mr. Williams: Yes, there will be famine by next spring unless they can pull themselves together by the end of March.
Dr. Kissinger: And we will be asked to bail out the Bangla Desh from famine next spring?
Mr. Williams: Yes.
Dr. Kissinger: Then we had better start thinking about what our policy will be.
Mr. Williams: By March the Bangla Desh will need all kinds of help.
Mr. Johnson: They'll be an international basket case.
Dr. Kissinger: But not necessarily our basket case.
Mr. Sisco: Wait until you hear the humanitarian bleats in this country.
Kissinger’s vitriol (at loosing East Pakistan) is reflected in his response to Ambassador Johnson’s insensitive statement. As being the Chair of the meeting, instead of admonishing him, Mr. Kissinger, paranoid with the fear of communist takeover, seemed to take pleasure out of that insensitive statement about a country, which, at that time, was being subjected to one of the worst mass-murders, rapes, and human sufferings in the history of the world.

Labeling a country with such an epithet reflects the psyche of a disgruntled foreign policy expert, whose administration did everything from condoning the genocide of 1971, famine of 1974, overthrowing of an elected government to the brutal murder of the father of the nation along with his family members.

A recently published article titled “Bangladesh, 'Basket Case' No More Pakistan could learn about economic growth and confronting terrorism from its former eastern province” in the Wall Street Journal on September 29, 2010, brought up the issue in the fore. While the article praises many achievements of Bangladesh, the title, nonetheless, reflects the author’s predisposition in the belief of something that never was true. The fact of the matter is that Bangladesh has never been an “international basket case.” Thus, implying so is not only erroneous, but also insulting to the people of a nation born out of the sacrifice of millions.
Despite the wishful desires of Mr. Kissinger and alike, Bangladesh continues to thrive amid many obstacles. Successes in some areas have been so profound that they outshine many aspects of the development successes of India, dubbed as the ‘Asian Tiger’ for her phenomenal economic performance.

In the socio-economic front, Bangladesh has succeeded in lifting millions out of poverty, cutting fertility rate by more than half, lowering infant mortality rate by 75% and mortality of children under the age of 5 by 46%, all achieved only in less than three decades. It has also achieved gender parity in primary and secondary education enrolments and been able to raise primary enrollment rate to impressive 92% with completion rate standing at 72%. Real GDP growth has reached at an impressive 6.5% rate in 2007 with gradual improvement in inflation rate, high investment rates, high growth in export and remarkable macroeconomic stability.

In the political front, the citizens’ and government’s commitment to democracy, freedom and justice are reflected in various polls, data and actions of the government. For instance, during 1991-09 the Polity and the Freedom House indicators rank Bangladesh third in the status of freedom and fourth in the status of democracy among the Muslim majority countries in the world. Growing voter participation rates in the four successive parliamentary elections during 1991-08 reflect the rising electorates’ confidence in the democratic process.[ii] A Gallup World poll conducted in May 2007 showed 93% of the respondents revealing their confidence on a democratically elected government.[iii] Most recently, the country’s Supreme Court has outlawed the infamous 5th amendment, thus restoring the secular spirit on which the country’s liberation war was fought. The country’s commitment towards justice can be seen in the setting up of the long-sought War-Crime Tribunal to try the perpetrators of the Genocide in 1971.

True, political instability and many forms of institutional rigidities have been holding the country hostage to the whim of many special interest groups. Despite the influence of the special interest groups and against all odds of frequent strokes of natural disasters, unfavorable international support, frequent military intervention, and resource scarcity, the country has been able to pull through.

The evidence from socio-economic success, Gallup poll, Polity and Freedom House indicators, voters turn-out in elections, the Supreme Court verdict and the commencement of the War-Crime tribunal shows the freedom loving psyche of the citizens of the country, which seems to be unknown to many international media as reflected either in their patronizing tones and/or in the negative portrayal of the country.

Instead, with the records of the achievements, Bangladesh can be dubbed as the ‘Basket of Hope.

Ethnic communities demand recognition of “indigenous” in Bangladesh constitution

HUNDREDS AND thousands of ethnic minorities in Bangladesh formed human chain on Saturday (March 19) demanding constitutional recognition of their existence as “indigenous” population.

A senior parliamentarian remarked that ethnic minorities are not “indigenous” after holding series consultation with elected representatives who represents ethnic communities.

Last week a special parliamentary committee on constitutional amendment recommends the community will be known as “ethnic minorities”, short of recognizing them as “indigenous” (Adivasi in local language).

The refusal angered the ethnic leaders, social justice activists and right groups. The ethnic communities are less than one percent of the national population of 158.6 million. The struggle for constitutional recognition goes back 40 years ago, soon after Bangladesh gained independence in 1971. The political regime, civil and military bureaucracy are dominated by majoritarian Bangla-speaking Sunni Muslims known as Bangalees.

The 1991 census of the government identified 29 small ethnic groups, but the leaders claim that 46 small ethnic groups live in Bangladesh, mainly in south-east Chittagong Hill Tracts region.

The protest rally organized by Bangladesh Adivasi Forum was simultaneously held in the capital Dhaka, Rangamati, Khagrachari, Patuakhali, Sylhet and other places where the ethnic communities are visible population.

Several international rights groups’ blame landless Bangalees who have encroached into their hill forests and have outnumbered them from their traditional abode for centuries. The government has not done enough to stop encroachments. The illegal settlements have been blamed for reckless deforestation.

The communities ethnicity are mostly Mongoloid descendents and hence should not be forced to merge with the majoritarian, said Dr Amena Mohsin, who teaches ethnicity in Dhaka University. The academic said she is aghast why the government, despite political commitment has kept the issue of constitutional recognition hanging for decades.

In the hill forest terrain the ethnic minorities waged armed civil strife for two decades demanding greater political autonomy of their communities, expulsion of the illegal settlers, and quota in higher education, government civil service and other service industries.

Soon after the peace treaty was signed by rebel leader Shantu Larma and the government, the guerrillas surrendered their weapons.

After 13 years of the treaty was passed in the parliament, the government adopted delay strategy in implementing wider political power to ethnic communities. This has led to communal tensions, distrust and suspicion of the government’s pledge.

The parliamentary body also recognizes their contribution to the war of independence and would constitutionally protect their languages, culture and heritage, said parliamentarian Suranjit Sengupta, also spokesperson of the committee. The first constitution adopted in 1972 has disregarded the reality of thousands of ethnic population, who supported the bloody pro-independence armed revolution in 1971, which severed Bangladesh from Pakistan.

“We will identify them as small ethnic groups, not as adivasis (indigenous people),” Sengupta confidentally told the Daily Sun last week. It is likely the parliament would amend Article 9 of the constitution and rewrite as “small ethnic groups” in next May.

Justifying the committee’s position, the veteran parliamentarian argued, “Unlike the massacre of indigenous people in US or Australia, Bangladeshis neither killed any member of any indigenous group nor occupied their land.