The Financial Express

Ownership of nationalist ideals

File photo used for representational purpose. (Collected) File photo used for representational purpose. (Collected)

The history of Bangladesh's Liberation War is unique in many respects. For most nations which wrested their freedom from colonial powers have a day to celebrate as their Independence Day. That is in most cases the day when the colonial power finally left that country. But Bangladesh celebrates its day of complete deliverance from foreign shackles not on a single day. First comes the Independence Day as it was the day when the Bengali people decided to sever its relations with Pakistan, the country of which it was part until March 26, 1971. And every child of Bangladesh knows the bloody history of the country's birth that took place on that day. Why on that day? Because in the wee hours of that day, the army of the Pakistani military junta that was in power  cracked down with all its might on the peaceful civilians of Dhaka, then-capital of the eastern wing of Pakistan. It was a bloodbath in which thousands of unarmed and peaceful Bangalee people were mindlessly butchered. True, the Bangalees had been waging a long-drawn struggle against the authoritarian and exploitative Pakistani rulers, though in a peaceful manner, to establish their right to self-determination. But the March 26's carnage was the last straw. The people rose up in arms against the unjust war thus forced upon them. And hence the celebration of March 26 is held every year to mark the moment of the Bengali people's decision to become a free nation. But why celebrate another day, December 16, as the Victory Day? Obviously, it marks the day the war for freedom ended and the enemy forces were vanquished.

But all this is history. Like other modern nations, Bangladesh also commemorates these days with due solemnity. The pangs of a new nation's birth are still fresh in the memory of those who fought the war in various capacities and those who lived through that trying time. But the generation that came long after those days of struggle for nationhood want to see the fruits of independence for which their forefathers shed so much blood and made so great sacrifices. Since many of those who fought and led the Liberation War are still alive, the children and the youths of today would naturally want to see them as an epitome of patriotism, dedication and sacrifice. They would also want to emulate them. To be inspired, mere stories of suffering, bloodshed and acts of heroism by some great souls won't suffice. For they also know from history of other peoples' wars, even more protracted and bloody ones.Take for example the case of Vietnam.The Vietnamese fought their independence war first against France and then against America. Obviously, the occupation forces they fought were great powers. As a result, the war dragged on for decades, three decades to be specific, between 1946 and 1976. The devastation caused and the blood spilled during this long Vietnam war is definitely a source of pride and inspiration for the Vietnamese now in their youth. Jeremiads apart, their incorruptible leaders set a lofty example of leadership by successfully rebuilding the country as it was left in ashes in the wake of the war. Today's youth know of many other peoples' war for self-determination. And they will compare. And the comparisons will aim to determine where we stand as a nation. Freedom is not just about winning a war. The real history of a nation begins after it becomes independent. People do not give their blood just for a flag. People of this part of the world, now Bangladesh, have been fighting against all forms of exploitation and domination long before the British or the Pakistani regime. The concept of nationhood is a rather recent invention of post-Enlightenment Europe. More specifically, the idea of nationality based on ethnicity and language came into bloom after the Industrial Revolution in Europe. Small wonder that the social class that spearheaded the industrial revolutions in the countries of post-monarchy Europe comprised the same bourgeoisie that also overthrew the monarchy with the slogan of liberty, equality and fraternity. Gradually, these concepts were consecrated by the intelligentsia of enlightenment. Though the  slogans had a greater appeal of liberty, equality and fraternity  among all humans irrespective of class, creed, gender or race, those basically remained bourgeois. The bourgeoisie  exploited the hallowed ideals to their best advantage, especially, to advance their own interests.

Unsurprisingly, the colonial wars between the nations of Europe were fought over the narrow interests of the ruling classes of those countries to take control of lands in other continents as a source of raw materials for their industries as well as market for the commodities produced from those industries. And always, the ideals of nationalism and patriotism were held aloft to justify those selfish wars. The common people were led to believe that those were also their wars. But the fact remains that the real beneficiaries of those 'patriotic wars' were the ruling, bourgeois class of those countries. Under post-colonial dispensation, leaders of the newly independent nations or those still waging their struggles for a separate nationhood also adopted those Western ideals and the slogans that go with them to carry forward their causes. Rather than as a convenient rallying cry to unite the people against the foreign rulers, the slogans of nationalism used by the anti-colonial leaders, unlike in the West, lacked the necessary  material conditions. In fact, it is the lack of such conditions that lay behind most of the trials and tribulations that the newly independent nations had to go through  over a long period of time. Bangladesh's bloody post-independence history bears testimony to that.

The mass of people in Bangladesh do not want to see that the great ideals of nationalism are the  preserve of a particular class, especially, the urban elite. The common people also aspire to own those ideals of nationalism and democracy and see those materialised in their own lives.


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