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Identity Politics

Deb Mukharji

By Badruddin Umar
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2006, pp. 371, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

Badruddin Umar is one of Bangladesh’s best known intellectuals. As a commentator and author on the internal social and economic dynamics of Bangladesh, his views have been ideologically consistent over several decades and commanded attention even from those who may disagree with him. His work on the language movement in East Pakistan has received critical acclaim.   The present volume covers the crucial period from 1958, when Pakistan came under the military rule of Ayub Khan to the emergence of Bangladesh in December 1971. Umar goes over the economic policies of the Ayub administration and their effects on the people of both wings, the political developments leading to the fall of Ayub, the manipulations of Bhutto with a compliant Yahya leading to the army crackdown in East Pakistan and the subsequent Indian intervention and the emergence of Bangladesh.   Writing about Ayub’s land reforms, Umar details how the basic objective was not the welfare of the relatively disadvantaged sections of society but the creation of support for Ayub’s concept of Basic Democracy by creating new classes in favour of the military regime. In West Pakistan the effort was for cutting down to size the powerful landlords and establishing the primacy of the new business barons colluding with the military and the bureaucracy. The objective situation in East Pakistan was different as the Permanent Settlement had been already undone and the zamindars, mostly Hindus, were no longer a factor. Ayub’s policies helped sustain petty landlords and money lenders to the detriment of the peasant. Similarly, the labour and industrial policies were directed against the interests of the industrial worker. Umar goes on to detail the stirrings of industrial unrest and student movements and points out, “There was very little organized trade union work of the Awami League and other parties. Most of the important trade unions were dominated by the Communist party through organizations and persons associated with them”.   As is known, East Pakistan had left undefended during the 1965 Indo-Pak war which did not go unnoticed. Umar comments that the war was a calculated attempt to “divert the attention of the people away from their domestic problems and struggles and arouse a kind of ‘nationalist’ frenzy”. Umar concludes that Sheikh Mujibur Rehman realized the distress of East Pakistanis at the neglect of security during the war. This, together with increasing economic disparity between the two wings of Pakistan strengthened the Awami ...

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