“If there was an all-Pakistan figure after Jinnah,

it was perhaps Bhashani”

–Professor Layli Uddin

 

Born in 1880 in Dhangara Village, Bengal, Maulana Bhashani got his earlier education from Deoband Madressah where he got inspired by progressive Islamic thinkers. He joined Indian National Congress in 1919 and was jailed for his participation in Non Cooperation Movement. He later joined Muslim League in 1930. After the formation of Pakistan, Bhashani founded National Awami Party and remained critical of the political authorities of the West Pakistan for suppressing East Pakistan economically, culturally and politically. He, for example, advocated for Bengali to be recognized as the national language along with Urdu and organized hunger marches to protest against the economic policies. After the arrest of Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman, Bhashani inspired a country wide protest in 1968 during Ayub Khan’s visit to the East Pakistan. The bases of Bhashani’s popularity was his unusual appeal to two supposedly opposite political camps, the Islamists and Communists. Despite being one of the founding fathers of Bangladesh, Bhashani did not see the formation of a separate state as an end in itself and continued to be critical of Mujibur Rehman’s policies. He also organized “Farraka March” against India in 1976 for its withdrawal of water from the international river of the Ganges. He died in the same year.

How can we categorize the life of Maulana Bhashani? Was he a socialist? But he did not share with them the scorn for religion. Was he a Maulana? But he was critical of their political passivity. Was he a Bengali nationalist? But he protested against Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman. Was he an Indian agent, as secessionists in our country are labelled? But he organized marches against India too. Perhaps, Maulana moved beyond these categories of nationalism and religion to belong to the toiling, oppressed masses instead.