11.4 RADICAL WING IN
Public Record Office
REF: FCO 37/468
12 February, 1969
Esq., C.M.G.., D.S.O., D.S.C., South Asia Department, Foreign &
I enclose a copy of a memorandum on
this subject based on my experience during my recent fortnight's visit to
On 7 February, I attended an
interesting supper party given for me by Dr. Rashiduzzaman
of the Department of Political Science,
Dr. Mitchell, British Council
Mr. Sykes, British Council
Islam, Department of Political Science,
Mr. Abu Tayeb,
Khan, Editor "
2. The remarks that follow are based largely on conversations at the
party and on a talk that Mr. Twist and I had had earlier in the day with Dr.
M.O. Ghani. Chancellor,
3. In many ways the emergence of the radical element is an entirely new
feature in post-independence
4. Broadly speaking, the radical wing has three components:
Of these, the students are at present the most important. This is not only because they themselves are becoming more confident and better organised; utilising their social background they are also awakening the other two groups, and providing a unifying influence.
6. Hand in hand with this increase in numbers has come a related change in the social background of the bulk of the students. Whereas in the past most university students came from upper and upper middle-class families with a tradition of employment in Government services, the professions, etc., most students now come from lower-middle or working class families. The parents of many belong to the urban proletariat; the rest are of rural peasant class. This distinction is not clear-cut because many of the town-dwelling parents continue to have close links with the villages through family connections and/or through ownership of small land holdings.
7. Today's student population in
8. Furthermore, students in
9. With these new links it has been easy and natural for the students to find support, and to achieve popularity, among -
(a) White-collar urban workers
(b) The urban proletariat
(c) The peasants
This popularity has in the last three weeks or so exceeded the students' own expectations. Among evidence of popularity, I would cite, inter alia:
(i) the immense crowds that came out in the streets after a student was killed on 20 January. Students expected about 200,000; in the event there may have been something of the order of 500,000. It is estimated that some 30,000 villagers joined the demonstration and that processions during the week 2025 January were joined by numbers of white collar workers and trade unionists;
warm public welcome accorded to a procession of women students in
10. I should also draw attention to two qualities which can now be
detected among the
The Urban Proletariat
11. Organised labour has not hitherto played a leading part in politics. This is now changing and part of the change is attributed to the students, many of whom not only have a common social working-class background, e.g. factory labour, but have also taken up factory jobs with a view to organising labour and acting as spokesmen on industrial and political issues. I have already referred to the participation in mass demonstrations of Trade Unionists and white collar workers.
12. These have long standing grievances of an economic and social nature. These grievances are now being exploited by students who have their links with the countryside either through their families or through their schools, or through both. Political awareness among some sections of the peasants seems to be growing, even among the landless labourers, the class in the rural areas which suffers most from the rising cost of living. This is partly attributable to such things as the spread of transistor radios, increasing mobility etc. On their home ground, therefore, there are among the peasantry an appreciable number from whom student activists can elicit an intelligent and favourable response.
13. Students fanned out into the rural areas at the height of the disturbances and during the days that followed. One reason for this no doubt was to avoid arrest but others seem to have gone out to rouse the villages. This they appear to have done with success in some - but not all - parts of the province.
14. Thus on one day recently 14 thanas for the
Bharisal Division rose simultaneously to attack
identical targets - kotwalis, post offices, any
places where records were stored, etc. The road between Dacca and Comilla during the weekend 12 February was at least at one
point commanded by students working in conjunction with the local peasantry who
had set upon any vehicle not carrying a black flag.
15. On the other hand other areas seem to have been relatively quiet e.g. Sylhet (though in some of the country south of the town black flags were much in evidence) and Chittagong (apart from interference with railway traffic at one stage).
16. Even though this pattern is sporadic (we know nothing of developments in the north-west), it argues a degree of organisation and confidence among the rural elements which has surprised even people who may be assumed to have fairly close contacts with students and other related groups.
Attitude to D.A.C.
17. In the context of the current political movement in the Province,
left-wing radicals consider the D.A.C. almost irrelevant. At best during the
period following the President's broadcast on 1 February they thought of it as
a sort of theatrical turn going on in the limelight downstage, while in the
darkness behind some rapid sceneshifting was in
progress. Even Tofail Ahmed, Vice President, Dacca
University Combined Students'
18. In short, in
External Financial Assistance
19. I have heard much in recent days of the financing of the activities
of these bodies from foreign sources. There may be something in this (the Civil
Authority is convinced there is) but it has not been possible so far to obtain
hard information as to whether any money at all is obtained from external
sources, let alone how much. My guess at the moment is that subsidies, if they
are given, are on a moderate scale. The causes exist and it is these which
produce the ferment. There is little need yet to spend money on such things as travelling expenses, posters, pamphlets or bribery. But
this could change. It has been pointed out to us that the numbers of Chinese in
20. The students, however, lack the political machinery - particularly
leadership - to translate their programme into
political terms. It is true that certain political parties - particularly the Awami League - have close connections with certain student
groups (thus the Student League is the student arm of the Awami
League). In parts of the countryside Bhashani workers
have been plugging away for years and are now in a position to reap dividends.
Nevertheless, the movement has yet to throw up a real Provincial (let alone
national) leader. Bhutto has his followers within and outside the student
community. It may be that his charisma is sufficient to overcome the fact that
he is a West Pakistani. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has a special position as the proponent of a Six
Point programme which if implemented would give
21. In default of such leadership I think we must expect some temporary disintegration in the short term, though there will be another and perhaps more dangerous upsurge later. What we must not do is to write off the movement as a passing phase, concentrating our attention on the downstage activities of the established politicians; much more important in the long term, and possibly in the short term as well, is the activity of the scene shifters behind.
22. So far in this paper I have been concerned solely with
12 February, 1969 (A.A. Halliley)
Source: The British Papers – Secret
and Confidential India.Pakistan.Bangladesh Documents