COMMENT: The long journey backwards —Ghani Jafar - Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Source :\05\04\story_4-5-2011_pg3_2

Jogendra Nath Mandal’s resignation letter is a must read for all those who want to understand where, how and when Pakistan went wrong and who started it all

The cowardly assassination of Pakistan’s federal minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, in Islamabad on March 2 has taken one’s thoughts back to the tumultuous times of the country’s creation more than 63 years ago. More precisely, to the time and circumstances that forced Pakistan’s first minister of law and labour, Jogendra Nath Mandal, to part ways with the government as a deeply distressed and disappointed man on October 8, 1950 — some three years after independence. The narrative that emerges then is one of Pakistan’s long journey backwards over these 60-plus years to medievalism. The rot had set in right with Pakistan’s coming into being as a nominally independent state.

A look at the latter years of Mandal’s political career brings that out graphically. A scheduled caste Hindu born in a small village in district Barisal of undivided Bengal on January 29, 1904, Mandal was an outstanding person. Having been exceptionally fortunate to receive good education, the backwardness of his own substantial community in the riverine eastern hinterland of Bengal that was to emerge as East Pakistan in 1947, disturbed him deeply. He decided it called for undertaking a life-long mission and entered politics. Through his devotion and commitment, Mandal was quick in making his mark in Bengali politics. He rose from the local level to become a member of Bengal’s legislature.

He was fully mindful of the shared plight of Bengal’s Muslims with that of his own scheduled caste of Hindus, the achhoot (untouchables). Thus, when he was approached by some prominent leaders of the Muslim League of Bengal, in February 1943, he had little hesitation to make a common cause with their party. He, together with other lawmakers from scheduled castes, agreed to work with the Muslim League in the Bengal Legislative Assembly.

Mandal’s support was soon to prove crucial to the continuation of the Muslim League government in Bengal — the only state in British India that had the party’s government. After the fall of Fazl-ul-Haq’s ministry the very next month, it was only with the backing of 21 scheduled caste members that Khawaja Nazimuddin could command a majority in the house.

He was later to record the reasons for not only his own support to the Muslim cause but also for winning over his fellow Harijan (the respectable name given the Hindu untouchables by Gandhi, meaning, ‘the children of God’) legislators to the same side. He saw two commonalities between these communities in Bengal at the time. In the first place, the economic interests of both Muslims and the scheduled castes were identical. Secondly, they were all educationally backward.

After the general elections held in March 1946, Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy of the Muslim League became the chief minister of Bengal and included Mandal in his cabinet. August 16 of that year was fated to go down in history as a black day for Bengal. In the mounting heat of the struggle by the Muslim League led by Jinnah for the creation of Pakistan, which was bitterly opposed by the principal Hindu party, the Indian National Congress, and accompanying heightened Hindu-Muslim tensions, Jinnah gave out the call for the observance of August 16 as a ‘Direct Action Day’.

The astute politician had failed to gauge the intensity of the prevailing communal antagonism. His appeal for a general strike by way of direct action resulted in the unleashing of widespread violence in Bengal’s capital city, Calcutta, with 4,000 people from both communities killed within 72 hours and another 100,000 rendered homeless. Although Bengal had a 56 percent Muslim majority, the community was mostly concentrated in the underdeveloped, agrarian, eastern part. Calcutta, on the other hand, had a 64 percent Hindu majority that included rich industrialists, businessmen, large landowners and other moneyed classes.

The Great Calcutta Killing, as the events starting August 16 came subsequently to be known, set off a series of Hindu-Muslim violence in various parts of India, the deadliest being in the eastern Bengal district of Noakhali on October 10 where Hindus were targeted. Many viewed that as a direct response to the Calcutta carnage, which Muslims believed had left more of their own community dead, injured and homeless.

Mandal worked ceaselessly to help restore normalcy, going around the district and its surrounding areas from village to village and calling upon his followers to stay away from the frenzy. He also saved the Muslim League government from falling in Bengal. Immediately after the Calcutta riots, a no-confidence motion was moved against Suhrawardy.

Together with his group of scheduled caste legislators, Mandal was able to bring around not just another four assembly members from the Harijan community who had earlier sided with the Congress but also an additional four belonging to the Anglo-Indian group.

Before the month of October 1946 ended, Mandal was taken completely by surprise when Suhrawardy, on the instructions of Jinnah, approached him with the offer of a seat as a Muslim League nominee in the contemplated joint Congress-League interim government of India that was to oversee the transition of power from the British rule to the two new states of India and Pakistan that were to emerge after partition.

He left Bengal for New Delhi to take up his position as law minister in the cabinet headed by Nehru. He was one among just four Muslim League nominees. After the creation of Pakistan, he moved to Karachi. Such was the trust reposed in him by Jinnah that Mandal came to occupy the prestigious position of chairman of Pakistan’s first constituent assembly. He was subsequently appointed law minister — a position he held till he resigned.

The resignation letter he addressed to Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan on October 8, 1950 is an eye-opener. The 8,000-word document is a painful record of the entire period of Mandal’s crucial and unstinting support to the Muslim League for the creation of a homeland where the millions condemned by caste Hindus could lead a free and peaceful life as equal citizens. That included not only his own community of the achhoot but the equally despised Muslims — the maleechh (impure or unclean).

Jinnah had reinforced the same vision for Pakistan in the policy statement he made at the opening session of the constituent assembly on August 11, 1947. But the country he had created was already lost to him and usurped by a coterie of carpetbaggers within his most trusted lieutenants. What better proof of that than the fact that the same historic speech of Jinnah was censored by the government of Pakistan?

Mandal’s resignation letter is a must read for all those who want to understand where, how and when Pakistan went wrong and who started it all. Most horrifying are the details of the excesses against innocent Hindu men and women by the early rulers and the army of Pakistan as recorded by Mandal. At one point, he notes that the only reason the abduction and rape of Hindu girls in East Pakistan had reduced to a certain extent was that no caste Hindu girl between the age of 12 and 30 had been left in the province by then.

There is much talk of there being an ‘education emergency’ in Pakistan. As a starter, those entrusted with dealing with the emergency would be well advised to include that document in the compulsory history syllabus of all school-going children above the primary level. At the end of the day, what matters is not how much they are taught but what they are taught. We are today a nation nourished on myths and plain lies.

The writer is a senior journalist currently working as project consultant/editor at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. He can be reached at

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