Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy Sayyid A. Karim ISBN 984 70220 041 7 2005 424pp 215x136mm HB Tk.550.00 US$27.00
Writing an objective biography of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the only larger-than-life political figure of Muslim Bengal, is no easy task for a historian. In this well-researched book, Sayyid A. Karim has given a fascinating account of the life of Sheikh Mujib and makes an assessment of his legacy.
Separating the man from the myth, the author has drawn a moving portrait of a heroic man who triumphed against all odds and became the founding father of a new nation, Bangladesh. While still young, Sheikh Mujib passionately supported the Pakistan movement, believing that the creation of a Muslim state was the best way of emancipating Bengali Muslims from the twin yokes of British rule and Hindu economic domination. But after Pakistan came into being, he passionately rejected the power centre in distant West Pakistan which showed an utter lack of interest in the well-being of Bengalis Muslims and Hindus alike. He became the foremost standard bearer of Bengali nationalism. For a while, shortly after the establishment of military rule under Ayub Khan, Sheikh Mujib even toyed with the idea of independence. The collapse of the Ayub regime ten years later gave him the glimmer of hope that revival of democracy in Pakistan was within reach. But when his party, the Awami League, won an absolute majority in the National Parliament, it soon became evident that the military had no intention of relinquishing power. Mujib was arrested, and the Pakistan Army resorted to a blood bath in a vain attempt to crush Bengali nationalism.
After nine months of the liberation war, Sheikh Mujib returned to a free Bangladesh in early 1972 as its undisputed leader. Ill-advised, he adopted populist measures like nationalisation. The economy went into a downward spiral and famine was not long in coming. The 1914 famine had a profound effect on his psyche. Bangladesh had always filled his thoughts and he became convinced that a fundamental change of course was needed to surmount the crisis. He replaced the multi-party system by one-party state and concentrated power in his hands to implement what he called his “second revolution.”
Machiavelli wrote: “Nothing is more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor dangerous to handle, than a new order of things.” Only a true revolutionary, with an iron will to take ruthless measures against anti social elements and die-hard opponents of the new order could successfully carry out the far reaching changes in government and society envisioned by Sheikh Mujib. Deep down he was a soft hearted man and did not have the ruthless streak in him to take strong action against counter revolutionary elements. He ignored warning signs of a conspiracy by disaffected army officers and thereby paved the way for the tragedy that befell him.
Sayyid A. Karim (1928-2009) studied at the Universities of Calcutta and Dhaka, and at the London School of Economics. He became a member of the Pakistan Foreign Service in 1950. He was serving in New York as the Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations when the Bangladesh liberation war broke out. He left the Pakistan government service to join the liberation movement. Returning to Bangladesh after its liberation he became the first Foreign Secretary. He also served for five years in the United Nations. He has travelled widely as a diplomat and an international civil servant.
Excerpts from Reviews of the First Edition
... is an important contribution towards putting in perspective our history and the role of the founding father. The author acknowledges that writing an objective biography of a man larger than life is not easy, and in a society where myths, and realities intermingle, and where scribes for hire have done much to distort facts, the task of disentangling the truth from fiction could not have been easy. This is a landmark publication and will long be celebrated as a triumph of scholarship, judicious and even-handed use of evidence, and a compelling narrative that is marked by peaks of human endeavors and sacrifices, and equally deep thoughts of depraved and sacrilegious actions that have stillied the blood of the martyrs. The central thrust of this study is unambiguous? There would have been no Bangladesh without Sheikh Mujib. - Gowher Rizvi, The Bangladesh Observer, March 24, 2007
For a nation that owes its birth to the political struggle waged by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the paucity of truly scholarly works on Bangladesh’s founding father is certainly surprising, if not exactly shocking. While it is true that a whole genre of literature has developed around the personality of the man who symbolized - and continues to epitomize - the Bengali ethos, the bigger truth is that not many of such works have been made available to readers outside the country. One of the problems here has been the reluctance of Bengali scholars to get down to the business of producing a full-length biography of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It is a job that has now been done by S.A. Karim, to his and the nation’s credit.
- Syed Badrul Ahsan, The Daily New Age, March 24, 2006
There is a lot to be thankful for in Karim’s Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy. At the very least, a sensible effort has been made to present the life of a great and generous even if flawed leader; surely others will now follow to give us a more intimate, imaginative, intensely realized and fuller portrait of the father of Bangladesh and the friend of all Bengalis everywhere. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman deserves no less!
- Fakrul Alam, The Daily Star, August 15, 2006
... the subject matter it deals with, would almost certainly be subject to relatively more dispassionate, probably more objective, treatment in the future, when everyone who even lived through the period from when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman emerged as the most potent and visible symbol of the nationalist aspirations of the people of East Pakistan.