Better late than never
BY CONFERRING the Bangladesh Liberation War Honour and the Friends of Liberation War Honour on foreign individuals and institutions in recognition of their invaluable contribution to the war of independence in 1971, the state on Tuesday initiated a process that had been long overdue. The Awami League-led alliance government certainly deserves praise for the initiative; it is hoped that all the foreign individuals and institutions that extended moral and material support to the people’s struggle four decades back would be honoured in phases, in the years to come. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Wednesday, at the awards ceremony, the president said a nation could hardly reciprocate the support it had received in its difficult hours while the prime minister said the ‘unstinting moral and material support’ from these individuals and institutions ‘was a constant source of inspiration for our valiant freedom fighters.’ What underlies these statements is the recognition that all-out efforts by national organisations need to be supplemented by international sympathy and support for an independence struggle, political and military, to culminate in the emergence of an independent state. The people of Bangladesh will be forever indebted to their friends overseas who have extended such support and sympathy in their difficult hours.
That said, however, it is imperative that the people of the independent Bangladesh, especially the ruling class and its political parties, do not keep their eyes shut to a stark reality: the state of Bangladesh has already drifted away from the ideals and objectives of the war of independence. More than two decades of political struggle of the Bengalis within Pakistan indicate that the independence war was fought in pursuit of the objective of establishing a state that would be a people’s republic politically, egalitarian economically, and secular and democratic socio-culturally. Suffice it to say, successive governments — elected and unelected, civilian and military — since independence have failed to deliver on these promises. On the contrary, the political parties of the ruling class have pursued policies that have made mainstream politics devoid of ideologies, widened economic disparity and left an increasing number of people socially and culturally marginalised. Most importantly, thanks to the politics of opportunism practised by these parties, divide in society along religious and ethnic lines has been constitutionally recognised. Constitutional recognition of Islam as the state religion and the people as Bengalis has made Bangladesh primarily a state of Bengali Muslims, thereby relegating people of other faiths and ethnicities, who have lived in this part of the land for centuries and through generations, virtually to second-class citizens.
Indeed, as the president and the prime minister indicated on Tuesday, nothing could reciprocate the moral and material support our foreign friends extended during Bangladesh’s difficult hours. However, it would surely have been a greater honour for them if Bangladesh had been built up on the spirit of the independence war that they extended their support to. Hence, the incumbents in particular and the ruling class in general need to revisit the spirit of the independence war and tailor their policies and performances accordingly.
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