Biplab Pal


Since 1947 when the present Bangladesh was East Pakistan and a major force behind the division of India into India and Pakistan (West and East) on the basis of two-nation theory, the country has had a tumultuous history. When it broke away from Pakistan, Bangladesh was a secular country; it went through several military coups and was ruled by Islamic fundamentalists for a while. The author Biplab Pal expresses his optimism in the future of Bangladesh and points out that economic reforms are a must to guarantee a secular Bangladesh as was the vision of its founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.


Today I am overtly delighted with landslide victory of progressive force of Bangladesh.  I shared same anxiety of secular people of Bangladesh. Back in 2004, there was a hue and cry among secular groups in Bangladesh that secularism is on the retreat in the golden land of Bangla which boosts a poetic harmony for mankind from time immemorial.


It is a land of Lalan Fakir, Rabindranath Tagore and Nazrul Islam who spoke of undivided humanity at best and broke the fallacious barrier of being a Muslim or Hindu. This is a land which spoke of human being and humanity above all and everything.


Unfortunate as it is, with birth of Muslim League, communal harmony of Bengal plunged into rock bottom in the beginning of the last century. Perhaps many people do not know that in 1946 Bengali Muslims actually got caught up with sinister design of two nation theory. Along with Hindu leaders like Sarat Bose, Bengali Muslim leaders actually pressed for a united Bengali nation refuting Jinnah’s Pakistan and favoring Bengali nationalism over Islamic identity. This was turned down by Muslim League and Congress alike. Although Bengali nationalism in Bangladesh was nipped in the bud in 1947, it took them another 24 years before breaking up with falsehood of Islamic nation theory of Pakistan paying with the lives of three million people – the largest genocide since the Holocaust.


A secular Bengali nation was born in 1971 led by Seikh Mujibur Rahaman. However, military coup d’état took over in 1975 killing the forces of secularism and modern Bangladesh. Since these coups were aided by US-Pakistani nexus who were apprehended by Indian-Russian influence over Bangladesh which, at that time, was full of socialist zeal to reorganize the country in Soviet fashion, Ziaur Rahman took no time to bring back Islam into politics because it is only in Islam, he would have created a new alternative power circle against Bengali nationalism. Like any other military general, Zia started off with populist measure but reversed the momentum of modern Bangladesh into Islamic Bangladesh.


After General Ershad took over, he cunningly balanced the country between Islam and Bengali nationalism. However, he was so corrupt to begin with, he too failed the aspiration of common people and was deposed subsequently by a bloodless coup. Since 1991, three elections were held in which BNP led by widow of General Zia or Awami League led by the daughter of Seikh Mujibar Rahman were in  power; they too betrayed  people’s aspiration for a modern affluent Bangladesh by mindless corruption and complete collapse of state system. However, it is during this democratic time of ’91 to 2006, independent media flourished in Bangladesh. This is the biggest gain of democratic era which would prove decisive during present election of 28th December, 2008.


Ever since Bangladesh politics was torn between a bitter battle of Bengali versus Islamic nationalism, poor and marginal people of Bangladesh were increasingly frustrated and were asking for food and job rather than anti-Indian or pro Islamic jingoism of BNP or “living in the past ideologies” of the Awami League. It is only in the Dec, 2008 election, for the first time, Awami League recognized the need for a forward looking vision and the fact that young generation is not looking forward to Islam or India or Bengal but a better material living condition. Their strategy paid off handsomely against the backdrop of outdated conspiracy theorists turned corrupt leaders of BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami. Added with it, was the empowerment of women voters who outnumbered males and were well aware of danger posed by Jamaat-e-Islami through Sharia law. They thrashed all the Islamic parties sending clear message to them that they want Islam as spiritual religion and they do not want criminals as torch bearers of Islam.


Today’s victory of Bangladeshi secular modern force is a decisive victory over Islamist extremist force with 4/5th majority and after this, they can not have any excuse of why they could not turn around a modern Bangladesh with all needed mandate with them. It is about time that the progressive forces in Bangladesh eradicate poverty and malice of religious extremism. If they fail to listen to marginalized people once again as they did in 1996-2001, they too, will be trashed in history.


For a long time secular intellectuals groused over reversal of attainment of ’71 freedom struggle – well people of Bangladesh have given them back what they wanted. So the ball is in their court to take Bangladesh to 21st century. I hope with decimation of Islamist force, Sheikh Hasina now can be assured that people are asking for “dal vat” (lentil-rice) and they do not want religious appeasement politics which is a contagious virus in the whole of South Asia. I am also glad that people of Bangladesh realized hunger is the real enemy and propaganda of Islam or nationalism is a tool for the rulers to mislead them from their fundamental right for food and future.


Joy Bangla!


(Dr. Biplab Pal is a physicist writing from Washington DC. He can be reached at

Top - Home