In remembrance of Tofazzul Hossain Manik Mia
Abdur Rahman Chowdhury from Falls Church, Virginia, USA
Tofazzul Hossain popularly known as Manik Mia, in his youth, came in contact with Hossain Shaheed Suhrawardy, a charismatic politician of united Bengal. They developed close relationship. Suhrawardy became the mentor of Manik Mia and in him, Suhrawardy found a formidable strength to disseminate values of secular and democratic politics.
Manik Mia was not a conventional journalist. He had in him a fine blend of journalism and politics; thus he became a mentor of politicians. The Ittefaq, he established, turned into a mouthpiece of unfettered democracy and social justice for the people. This commitment for democracy and social justice for the population of both wings of the then Pakistan brought Manik Mia at odds with the ruling elites. Consequently, he suffered imprisonment several times and the Ittefaq was banned a number of times.
In September 1959, Manik Mia was arrested on alleged violation of the "martial law regulation" and was put behind the bars. While in detention, Altaf Hussain, the Editor of the Dawn met Manik Mia and asked him to sign a bond in order to secure freedom. Manik Mia dismissed the proposal with disdain and said that he was prepared to accept life long imprisonment but would not sign a guilty plea. He was released after ten months when the prosecution failed to establish that the accused had committed a malfeasance. He was again put behind the bars in February 1962 on the eve of the student unrest demanding repeal of the education policy of the military government and release of all political detunes including Suhrawardi. He was released after seven months. Following his release from imprisonment, Suhrawardy created National Democratic Front, an all-party political platform and launched a country-wide movement demanding democratisation of the constitution and restoration of adult franchise. Manik Mia extended full support to NDF and the Ittefaq took upon itself the challenging task of highlighting the merits of the movement and publicising the rallies addressed by Suhrawardi and other leaders. The overwhelming mass support generated by the movement disenchanted the government and people began to hope that a political settlement of the constitutional crisis was within reach. Unfortunately, Suhrawardy fell sick, went abroad for treatment and died in Beirut on December 5, 1963. His death marked the end of an era. In the absence of the charismatic leader, the NDF lost the steam.
In mid-1964, major political parties formed an alliance "Combined Opposition Parties" to field a single candidate to challenge Ayub Khan. Fatima Jinnah, sister of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, became the choice of the COP. Manik Mia encouraged the formation of the alliance and extended full support to the opposition candidate. Ittefaq became the mouthpiece of the COP. There was an unprecedented enthusiasm amongst the people in favour of the opposition candidate. It was even predicted that in East Pakistan, the COP candidate will win the presidential race. This worried the government and according to Altaf Gauhar, Ayub's Information Secretary, "all administrative apparatuses were mobilised to secure victory of Ayub Khan."
Despite administrative pressure and apprehension that the Basic Democracy which was built on denial of adult franchise would be abrogated should the opposition win the election, the COP candidate secured 47 per cent of the electorate in East Pakistan. In West Pakistan, the electoral outcome was vastly in favour of the incumbent.
Manik Mia, in his columns "Rajnaitik Mancha" inexorably exposed the economic disparities between the two wings of the country, the crippling corruption in the country and how the denial of adult franchise was dragging the country to disintegration. The 1965 war with India shook the foundation of Pakistan. The Indian military was caught by surprise at the infiltration of armed cadres into Kashmir from Pakistan. The seventeen-day war exposed insecurity of the people of East Pakistan. Had Indian army invaded East Pakistan, the military had no reserve force to thwart Indian aggression. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the Foreign Minister, announced in the National Assembly that Indian army was warned by China against launching attack in East Pakistan. Since the birth of Pakistan, the march to Delhi was a sedulously propagated myth. The myth collapsed in East Pakistan in 1965.
The termination of US military and economic assistance forced the government to downsize the development budget. Consequently, most of the development projects in East Pakistan were put on hold. A group of Bengali economists estimated that with the defence allocation untouched and suspension of development projects in East Pakistan, the Third Five Year Plan would escalate the economic disparity between the two wings of the country. They demanded total revision of the Third Plan and higher allocation of resources to East Pakistan based on the population. The Ittefaq made detailed report on ever growing economic disparity. .
In February 1966, at the conference of opposition parties in Lahore, Bangabandu tabled the famous "Six Points Programme" demanding, for the first time, comprehensive autonomy for East Pakistan. The West Pakistani leaders vehemently opposed the programme and termed it a recipe for dismemberment of Pakistan. The conference failed. Banghabandu returned to Dhaka as a hero. On the following month, the Awami League Council approved the Six Points Program as "magna carta" for the people of East Pakistan.
Manik Mia admitted he was not consulted prior to the submission of the Six Points at the Lahore conference. But once it was made public and as the West Pakistani leaders launched tirades against the Awami League leadership and questioned their patriotism, Manik Mia could not remain silent. He took upon himself the task of explaining the rationale for demanding greater autonomy and sought understanding of the West Pakistani leaders.
As the autonomy program gained momentum the government became unnerved and resorted to oppression. On June 7, there was nation-wide strike and police brought the situation under control through force. Awami League leaders were put behind the bars and an unusual environment set in. On June 16, 1966 Manik Mia was arrested and on the following day, the government sealed the New Nation Printing Press and publication of the Ittefaq was banned. The High Court declared the ban on the Ittefaq unlawful, but the government amended the ordinance overnight and confiscated the press again. Manik Mia was released after ten months but the Ittefaq being sealed he was heart-broken. After two and a half years, following the mass uprising, Ittefaq resumed publishing in February 1969.
Manik Mia believed in the unity of the people and of the political parties. He was concerned that undemocratic forces would exploit the divisions in the society to achieve egregious goals. He worked assiduously to maintain the unity of the United Front coalition in 1955-56, welcomed induction of the Krishak Sramik Party in Suhrawardy's cabinet in 1956 to engender stability, supported the NDF in 1962 and the COP in 1964 to restore democracy in the country. Manik Mia opposed the revival of the Awami League in 1964 but "inaction" of NDF leadership changed his mind.
Manik Mia did not live to see the emergence of Bangladesh. He died on May 31, 1969 in Rawalpindi. His life and works were intertwined with political developments that led to the creation of Bangladesh. Manik Mia was indeed one of the architects of Bangladesh. After his release from jail in 1962, Manik Mia and Banghabandu met Comrade Moni Singh in a secret location and discussed the "independence of Bangladesh". Though three of them agreed on independence Comrade Moni Singh believed people weren't yet ready.
Establishment of Tofazzul Hussain Foundation and creation of Tofazzul Hussain Chair in the universities would be essential to disseminate the ideals for which Manik Mia had struggled in his life.
Abdur Rahman Chowdhury is a former official of the United Nations. [email protected]