Published in weekly Forum, 31 January, 1970


The Strategy for Autonomy

                                   Muyeedul Hasan


...In fact the time has come when the no-alliance tactics of the Awami League needs to be closely scrutinized as to its efficacy in realising the parties proclaimed political goals. Mujib's oration at different public meetings starting from the impressive Paltan rally has so far covered a wide range of policy issues from nationalisation to foreign policy but has failed to throw sufficient light on the most crucial question: how would it be possible to get his Six Points incorporated into the next constitution. His reiterated objection to forming an electoral alliance has been supplemented by his refusal to press for the settlement of substantive autonomy for East Pakistan prior to the general election. This confirms his eagerness to use Six-Points as a best selling item for the specific purpose of winning maximum Assembly seats from East Pakistan. Towards that end he neither wants Yahya to pre-empt the quantum of autonomy as suggested by the Presidential broadcasts in July and November, nor does he want an alliance with other pro-autonomy forces for fear of sharing his charisma and the charm of Six-Points with them. But in his eagerness to capitalise on his brand of autonomy, he is knowingly or unknowingly, assuming a tremendous responsibility upon himself of carrying his demand to its logical conclusion without compromising its contents. Whilst his present tactics will allow Mujib to capture a majority of the seats from East Pakistan, he obviously cannot get a constitution of his choice on the basis of his strength in one province alone... In West Pakistan, there is hardly any political group today which will not insist on deleting some popular provisions of the Six Points including perhaps establishment of regional re­serve bank, separate Exchange Control and a Federal Government shorn of fiscal power. From the RTC experience it is abundantly clear that formidable opposition to Six-Points exist not just amongst rival parties but also in competing echelons of power. This hostility is likely to surface prior to the authentication of the constitution by the President, who has already kept his options open by declaring that he is not going to perform the role of a mere signing machine.


In response to these pragmatic considerations, if Mujib tries, as it is argued, to re-adjust his position after the general election, he will find such options highly dangerous. After the tremendous build up of mass feelings through his campaign for Six-Points and chanting of Joi-Bangla, any search on his behalf for a workable compromise with his West Pakistani associates will be looked upon by the average man, including his party youngsters, as a crude attempt to barter away some of the Province's unfulfilled rights. He will also be very vulnerable from the flank due to his policy of exclusion of other pro-autonomy forces in the province. He may well discover in the near future that his current popularity was merely ephemeral.


The political options before him pose a dilemma which could easily jeopardise his seven-year career as the supreme leader of the Awami League, since the death of Suhrawardy. On one side if he endeavours to make post-election modifications in the Six Points with a view to present a workable constitution to the country, he will inevitably impose serious strains on his popularity. If on the other hand, he gives precedence to his popularity, he will have to preserve an uncompromising posture in order to keep intact the substance of Six Points. This can only precipitate a serious dead-lock in the Assembly. This will incidentally imply that the country may not only be without a constitution after 120 days of fruitless efforts by the Assembly but that ML will continue. It is too early to say what shape the country's politics would take once the political parties exhaust their competence to deliver a constitution. But should Mujib choose to carry the fight for autonomy to the street after failing in the Assembly, he would not only need fundamentally to reorganise his party to cope with the changed strategy but would also require close co-operation from other pro-autonomy forces within this province.


In fact, wherever Mujib chooses to make his final stand, whether in the Assembly or in the street, he cannot launch an effective battle, without the organisational help and support of all the other pro-autonomy forces. This indicates the need for an initiative by Mujib to secure the confidence of the relatively smaller parties and the formulation of a common strategy for the realisation of autonomy. This must necessarily take into account all possible contingencies which might develop in the days ahead and must seek to coordinate the mass movement and Assembly politics towards a common goal. Before the parties are caught up in the election fever and start loosing their sense of perspective, the initiative for building this vital understanding amongst the ranks of the autonomists must be undertaken. Election alliances alone appear inadequate. What is needed is a total understanding on the strategy for autonomy.