Maulana Bhashani is one of the most charismatic figure of Bangladesh's political history. Many want to claim him as their own but he has defied such efforts to box him politically or ideologically. He was not a product of the political or intellectual framework of colonial ancestry. In fact, it was birthed by the rejection of shushil-colonial values and is deeply embedded in the spirit of peasant resistance against British rule and zamindars that began from the earliest era, located largely in the marginalized environs.
His peasant background and madrassa education, both contest the criteria of entering the Centre based elite, whether of Kolkata or Karachi. He represented the political culture of the Marginalized which included faith based/driven agitation necessary for both mobilizing and sustaining resistance with legitimacy. However, he was also useful to many during the colonial political phase for his agitation skills though he was a pariah to both the elite leadership of Congress and Muslim League.
What is also significant is his organizational mobility and shift according to convenience. Thus he moved from Congress to Khilafot to Muslim League as he saw fit. His role in the formation of Awami Muslim League in 1949 and then departing from it in 1957 to form National Awami Party (NAP) to be more individual than organizational is significant.
This shows his restlessness as far his objectives were concerned. These political institutions of the middle class were not important to him as much as his cause was and if he felt that his class interest -marginalized- was not being served, he left. In the history of Bangladesh, this journey is significant as the marginalized; particularly the peasantry has always behaved this way, forming and leaving alliances as suitable to their interest.
Bhashani had a longer route to history than most because he climbed through the many levels of politics as it existed in the then Bengal. He had brushed his fatuwa with many including the Congress, a party constructed out of elite interests and in 1919, Bhasani joined the non-cooperation movement and Khilafat movement too. This movement was the last attempt by the Indian National Congress to capture the national political mainstream.
This movement was initially rooted in the Islamist political space as a reaction to the dissolution of the Islamic Khilafat, then located in Turkey whom the British had defeated in WW 1. However conflicts arose between two competing communities as the Congress wanted to reject education as part of the non-cooperation movement that was opposed by the Muslim middle class. To them education was the way up that had benefited Indian Hindus the most. The result was economic conflict that ended what seems obviously a political aspiration without material foundation.
The Khilafat movement also took politics to the remote villages. Just as it had many top leaders, the villagers began to be even more involved , the platform that subsequently made a difference in later days when votes made the rural population more players than ever before. If Suhrawardy went closer to the Kolkata babu class politics, so did Fazlul Haque using the peasant constituency. As history showed , though both took slightly different routes, the issue of one Indian or One Bengal politics was already over.
In the days following the politics of the Khelafat movement, he was in Santosh in Tangail and became active in peasant politicization and mobilization. Later, he moved to Assam, an area he was familiar with and Ghagmara became his address there.
Mualana Bhashani's class was a determinant in his choice of politics as he increasingly moved away from the middle to his own root class. His father was a farmer and shopkeeper and his grand dad was a peasant. He was a disciple of Pir Syed Nasiruddin Shah Baghdadi and was with him in Assam in the early 1900s. H(his first visit may have been in 1904 as per Banglapedia.
His Islamic education and his class poverty played a dual role in his political construction. Apart from his discipleship, he was at Deobond Madrasa for almost two years 1907-09. Banglapedia says "he was deeply influenced by Maulana Mahmudul Hasan who was popularly known as 'Shaikhul Hind'. Maulana Bhashani met the progressive Islamic thinkers at Deobond and the liberal traditions of Sufi Islamic preachers might have immensely inspired him ..including his steep opposition to the perpetuation of British imperialism."
The rural middle class roots
His post Deoband life was as a teacher in a primary school in Kagmari near Tangail . It was a lowly paid but a socially very significant role. It gave him clout, respect and power to exercise his communications skills. Later he became a madrasa at village Kala near Haluaghat in Mymensingh district , both giving him social status far beyond his salary.
"There is little wonder why the targets of his grass root level resistance and protest movements in those days were the Zamindars, Talukders, Jotedars, and Mahajans (money lenders). In fact, the juxtaposition of precarious conditions of the vulnerable tenants vis-à-vis the powerful landed class piqued his interest in the difficult task of defending the peasants, sharecroppers and landless agricultural laborers. If there was a conflict between a tenant (a 'Proja') and a feudal landlord, Maulana Bhashani was always on the side of the tenant. He was not only an ardent defender of the tenants' rights but he was one of the most dedicated and effective organisers of the 'Proja' movement in early 1920s. (Details on the early phase of Maulana Bhashani's life can be gleaned from Chapter I of Syed Abul Maqsud's seminal work titled Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, Bangla Academy, 1994, and Peter Custers' "Maulana Bhashani and the Transition to Secular Politics in East Bengal," The Indian Economic and Social History Review, Vol. XLVII (47), No. 2, April-June, 2010)."
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