History Wars

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Our history is never still, and there are always processes of rewriting Bangladesh’s history. The best response to such history wars is to let the record speak, when possible. In an Alal O Dulal exclusive, we have translated a 37 page interview of Kamal Hossain (from Shaptahik magazine, 2014). This is the first part.

To political analysts the name Dr. Kamal Hossain evokes wide-ranging emotions: from respect and reverence to disappointment and frustration. ‘Nostalgia,’ ‘lost moment,’ and ‘could-have-been’ have been the dominant moods to haunt Dr. Hossain in the last two decades. His role as nation’s lonely conscience extends to his public admission that a “historic mistake” was made in excluding Adivasi and other non-Bengali communities from the 1972 Bangladesh Constitution –- a document that he was the primary author of. We say lonely because such admission of mistake is a rare characteristic in Bangladesh politics. Perhaps that is why he could never prevail in the political scene, as he appealed to morality and truth, not paranoia and coercion.

The chief legal negotiator at Sheikh Mujib’s side during the Yahya-Bhutto-Mujib tripartite talks before March 1971, Kamal Hossain is also one of the few members of the core 1971 group of the AL who survived the brutal August 1975 coup, because he was outside the country at that time. He was also the man who contested national elections from AL as the party started coming above ground again. Later he also was involved in the return of current PM Sheikh Hasina to Bangladesh.

Because of the poor electoral performance of his later political party Gono Forum, in radical contrast with his international stature, Kamal Hossain represents a strand of “bhodrolok” malaise (even more than Dr Yunus): a class of people educated few generations earlier than the mainstream of East Bengal, who reached high international achievement, but domestically were never able to be in charge of political events. Some see in this a weathervane shift in Bangladesh politics, where there is increasingly no space for those who play by the rules and do not use muscle power.

Yet, his achievements in last days of pre-71 Pakistan, and the first years of independent Bangladesh, are undeniable. It was possibly his, and our, shining moment.

Today we present Part -1, which concludes at page 20. Part 2 will appear soon.

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