To join or not

In my last post, I speculated about the risk of BNP’s Mirza Fakhrul being wooed by a future general, noting that his comrades like Kazi Zafar and Mannan Bhuiyan succumbed to such wooing by past generals.

As it happens, their other comrade, Rashed Khan Menon, repeatedly declined offers to become minister in successive governments.  Most recent of this, of course, is his refusal to jump at Hasina’s command.  But he also turned down Khaleda in 1991, Ershad in the 1980s, and Zia in the 1970s.

Does this make Menon an unalloyed ‘good guy’ in our politics?

Well, in a sense, I think Menon should be commended.  You see, in the leftist political tradition, going all the way back to the 19th century Europe, there is a question about whether ‘to join or not’.  You want socialism, communism, classless society and all that jazz.  Do you wait till the revolution and introduce that stuff yourself?  Or do you join other people that are kinda-sorta-likeminded or you can-at-least-get-along-with?  What about joining people you are-not-repulsed-by or the least-of-many-evils?

This division led to the split between communists and socialists at the turn of the last century — the latter joined parliamentary politics and eventually became western labour or social democrat parties.  In Russia, it played out between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, and then between Stalinists and Trotskyites.  In China, they debated about joining or fighting the Kuomintang in its war against Japan.  In India, Jyoti Basu was denied by his party the chance to form a government in New Delhi.

In Bangladesh, leftists joined under the Maolana Bhashani’s umbrella and formed the National Awami Party, with the idea that NAP could go it alone, without the reactionaries and bourgeoisie of Muslim and Awami Leagues.  But then the Maolana himself broke ranks by supporting Ayub because of his China dalliance.

So the pro-Moscow people in NAP left and formed their own party, refusing to join the dark force of the dictator.  A few years later, with Mujib in power, supported by Soviet arms, the same pro-Moscow types ended up in Bakshal — one of them is a very powerful minister in the current government, perhaps you’ve heard of Motia Chowdhury?

Now it was the turn of the pro-Peking types — Menon-Zafar-Mannan-Mirza — to declare that they would never join the bourgeoisie forces.  Until, of course, the bourgeoisie forces came to be led by Zia.  When Zia emerged in the scene, leftists of all types — from the harmonium playing Moscow types like Motiur Rahman (of Prothom Alo) to the Deshi Maos to people’s army leaders like Taher — hailed him as a revolutionary hero.  Pretty remarkable for someone who claimed to be a nationalist, not socialist!

Of course Zia moved against the more radical elements, but welcomed the less radical ones.  Of the 207 seats won by BNP in 1979 election, 70 came from various leftist parties — collectively, they were the largest faction inside BNP.

Thus, by 1979, most lefties in Bangladesh became joiners — some joined Bakshal, others joined Zia.  Those who couldn’t join — like Col Taher’s friends — would end up joining Ershad, BNP and Awami League (Inu is the latest of that lot).

One guy stood apart — Menon.  His brothers — Enayetullah Khan and Abu Zafar Obaidullah — joined Zia and Ershad.  Menon himself was offered several posts, by both the generals, then Khaleda, and most recently Hasina.  And he consistently declined, saying his party doesn’t believe in joining a government that’s not led by believers.

So he should be commended for his consistency.

But, is that the full story.  Can we say that Menon is better than Motia-Suranjit-Nahid-Shajahan Siraj-Inu-Zafar-Mannan-Mirza-Delwar who joined Hasina-Khaleda-Ershad?  Kazi Zafar is very much the exception when it comes to these left-overs and corruption — from Motia to Mirza Fakhrul, these people are generally more honest than their colleagues.  Surely having a few honest ministers is better for the country than having none?  If Mirza Fakhrul is trying to make BNP a more tolerant party, surely that’s better than him leading a one-man Biplobi Shomajtantrik Andolon?

Is it always better to ‘not join’?  To never take responsibility?  To always be the agitator?

Amader ki shomalochona’r loker obhab?

One thought on “To join or not

  1. Fascinating analysis.

    One question on the Soviet example:

    - You could argue that Bolshevik vs Menshevik is not fully a joining argument. Menshevik’s argued that conditions were not yet ripe for revolution, so capitalist means of production should be assisted along until the internal contradictions are fully exposed (alienation of the workers is at a maximum, etc). Obviously Bolsheviks won the argument, hence 1917 and accelerated revolution. However, even if you followed the Menshevik path, you would still have to “join” something. Maybe not government but you have to join the means of production leadership. Although I suppose you could argue that is not joining political process, but staying out of it.

    - Stalin vs. Trotsky was primarily a power struggle, and Trotsky’s earlier arguments w/ Lenin as to whether to start the revolution in 1917 or later (mainly a theoretical argument about whether conditions were “ripe”) were later used by Stalin in the post-Lenin power vacuum. Even Trotsky’s “permanent revolution” thesis is not an argument against joining power. After all Trotsky was the person Lenin wanted as his successor, and Trotsky had no issue with that. But Stalin emphasized that Trotsky was a latecomer to the party, and his Menshevik roots.

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