People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIV

No. 06

February 07, 2010

Bangladesh People Remember Their True Friend

 

                                                                                                 Gautam Das


AS in India, the people of neighbouring Bangladesh too condoled the demise of Comrade Jyoti Basu, an outstanding leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). In an unprecedented move, the Jatiya Sansad (National Assembly) of Bangladesh passed a unanimous condolence resolution moved by speaker Abdul Hamid, within a few hours after the comrade’s demise on January 17. Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina and other prominent leaders paid respectful homage in memory of Comrade Jyoti Basu before the day’s proceedings adjourned as a mark of respect. All the print and electronic media carried the news of Comrade Jyoti Basu’s adjourned as the main item.

On January 19, Sheikh Hasina, along with deputy leader of the National Assembly and veteran Awami League leader Begam Sajeda Chowdhury, general secretary of the party and rural development minister Syed Ashraful Islam, foreign minister Dr Dipu Moni, industries minister Dilip Barua, government chief whip Mahammad Shahid, Bangladesh  Workers Party president Rasheed Khan Menon, former Bangladesh president and Jatiya Party chairman H M Ershad, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal president Hasanul Hoque Inu and other leaders flew to Kolkata in a special flight to pay homage to Comrade Jyoti Basu in the West Bengal assembly premises. Comrade Jyoti Basu was a legend not in India alone, but in Bangladesh as well.

Why was Comrade Jyoti Basu so popular among the people of Bangladesh? Though Comrade Basu’s ancestral house was at Bardi village of Sonargaon, near Dhaka, this was not the reason of his popularity in Bangladesh. It is because of his contribution to the life in Bangladesh.

In 1946, during the British imperialist rule, Comrade Basu was first elected to the undivided Bengal Provincial Assembly from the railway workers constituency, as a nominee of the undivided Communist Party. It was he who made brilliant speeches in the assembly, opposing the partition of India on religious lines.

During the historic language movement in the then East Pakistan in 1952, Comrade Basu played the leading role in India in support of this movement of the Bengali people, a majority in East Pakistan. Then, Comrade Basu played an important role during the liberation struggle of Bangladesh in 1970-71. As we know, the military rulers of Pakistan denied the prime minister’s post to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman though his party, the Awami League, had secured an absolute majority in the National Assembly of Pakistan. Nay, they arrested Sheikh Mujib and cracked down upon the people of East Pakistan on the night of March 25, 1971, forcing them to start a liberation struggle, including the formation of a provisional government in exile, based in Kolkata. At that time, Comrade Jyoti Basu was the first to raise the demand that the Indian government recognise the provisional government of Bangladesh and extend it all necessary help. The CPI(M) and other Left and democratic forces formed a “Bangladesh Aid and Solidarity Committee” under the chairmanship of Comrade Jyoti Basu. Comrade Basu toured most of the states and addressed public meetings in support of the struggling people of Bangladesh and led the Aid and Solidarity Committee in collecting massive relief materials including blood plasma, clothes, baby food, medicines, blankets, lantern, tents etc for the Mukti Bahini jawans (freedom fighters) and refugees. More than one crore refugees, both men and women, took shelter in the states bordering East Pakistan, like West Bengal, Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya. Tripura alone sheltered more than 30 lakh refugees, double the residents of the state at that time.

Comrade Jyoti Basu met the then prime minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi, several times to ask her for recognition of Bangladesh. It is on record that till October 1971 the government of India was trying to find out a solution within the framework of Pakistan, thinking in terms of regional autonomy for the people of East Pakistan. Indira Gandhi had discussed these issues with the then Soviet prime minister, Alexi Koshigin. But the CPI(M) and other Left parties mobilised massive public opinion under the leadership of Comrade Jyoti Basu for recognition of Bangladesh. Ultimately, the government of India recognised Bangladesh as an independent country. On December 4, 1971, the military ruler of Pakistan, General Yahya Khan, declared a war against India, but the Pakistan military had to concede defeat within two weeks and surrender to the Joint Command of Indian Army and Bangladesh Liberation Army on December 16, 1971.

Subsequently as well, Comrade Basu always stood by the people of Bangladesh and persuaded the government of India to extend to them all help and cooperation for the sake of good- neighbourly relations and for durable peace in the subcontinent. In 1996, again, it was Comrade Jyoti Basu, now the chief minister of West Bengal, who convinced the government of India to come to an agreement for sharing the Ganges river water.

This is why the condolence resolution, unanimously passed in the Bangladesh National Assembly on January 17, recalled Comrade Jyoti Basu’s role during their freedom struggle, arranging safe shelter for more than one crore refugees, in getting for them due share of the Ganges water. It described him as a true friend of Bangladesh and a true guardian.

One recalls how Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh who was later assassinated, had admitted that Comrade Jyoti Basu inspired him to join politics during his student life. In the 1940s, when Sheikh Mujib was studying in Maulana Abul Kalam Azad College in Kolkata, he used to attend Comrade Basu’s public meetings and felt inspired to join politics.

It may also be mentioned that after the liberation of Bangladesh, when the late Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani, legendary kisan leader of the subcontinent, held a kisan conference at Shibpur (Narsingdi, near Dhaka) in the first week of May 1972, he invited to it Comrades Jyoti Basu, Nripen Chakraborty and Hare Krishna Konar. It was because of their immense contribution to the liberation struggle of Bangladesh. Though the government of India did not permit the three leaders to attend the said conference, West Bengal Kisan Sabha leaders Comrades Shantimoy Ghosh and Bagala Guha, somehow managed a permit to visit Bangladesh and attended the conference as representatives of the All India Kisan Sabha. Sudhir Chowdhury, a reporter of Ganashakti and myself as reporter of Desherkatha (then a weekly) also attended the conference. After the conclusion of the kisan conference, we came back to Dhaka and got an invitation to meet the then food minister, Phani Majumder. When we were exchanging views inside Phani Majumder’s ministerial chamber in Dhaka secretariat, suddenly a phone call came to him. Phani Majumder then informed us that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had invited the CPI(M) delegation for a cup of tea and wanted to know whether we would accept the invitation. We were overwhelmed and informed that it would be our pleasure to meet him. Within a few minutes, we were in the Banga Bhavan, office of the then prime minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. We the four CPI(M) members were accompanied by Rasheed Khan Menon (at present president of the Workers Party of Bangladesh), Kazi Jafar Ahemd (a Left leader who later joined the Jatiya Party and became the prime minister during H M Ershad’s rule) and Haidar Akbar Khan Rano. Sheikh Mujib hugged us with a broad smile and said how the prime minister of Bangladesh could not meet a delegation from the CPI(M), the party which played an important role in the freedom struggle of Bangladesh! During our hour long conversation, Sheikh Mujib narrated how he was inspired by Comrade Basu to join politics during his student days.

The present prime minister Sheikh Hasina, the eldest daughter of the slain Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, recalled that when she was in jail during the internal emergency in her country (2007-08), Comrade Jyoti Basu used to contact several influential people to get her released from jail. Thus the demise of Comrade Jyoti Basu was not only a loss to the CPI(M), the people of India and the people of Bangladesh, but also a personal loss to Sheikh Hasina who has now lost her guardian.