Shashanka, Sheikh Mujib and future Bengali leader -Ifrith Islam and Abu Muaj
Once upon a time there lived a king… Sounds bedtime storytelling?
No wait… it is not a single king. Rather it’s actually hand-picked some powerful kings of Bengal which was once the Buddhist East India. Before 1206 there were some great rulers like King Shashanka, Gopala, Vijay Sena etc rulers who contributed greatly to Bengal through shaping and reshaping the map down the history. However, this Buddhist East Bengal, which was preceded by Hindu East Bengal, took 400 years to partially convert to Islam and got a Muslim ruler – Kutub Uddin Aibak in 1206. From Kutub Uddin Aibak to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman around over 800 years elapsed. Bengali Muslims these years didn’t get a ruler of their own until 1971 when Bangabandhu turned victorious fighting War of Independence. A portion of Bengal came to exist as today’s independent Bangladesh— one of the 35 leading countries of the world but nobody knows when will Bangladesh do so well improving its socioeconomic and religio-political conditions that will impress the whole world particularly all the Bengali-speaking people on the planet. They will united and form a formidable and influential nation and, thus, stand tall in the world as a proud one. What Hindu and Buddhist communities failed viz to groom up a Bengali leader for Bengalees, Muslim community could successfully do that in creating, nurturing and entrusting a leader like Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
In the ancient history, the Delhi Sultanate is well-known for the historians as well as the history readers. Delhi Sultanate was established in the Indian Subcontinent. The Islamic empire stretched over for 320 long years. There was a time where five dynasties ruled during the Delhi Sultanate. The first dynasty commenced in 1206- Mamluk Dynasty, lasted till 1290- ruled over the northern India. The Khalji Dynasty (1290-1320) in known as the second in the line and reigned the central India. Both Mamluk and Khalji failed to conquer the whole Indian Subcontinent. Tughlaq Dynasty began in1320 and ended in 1414. Even though the Tughlaq Dynasty almost covered the subcontinent, this is due to Vijayanagara Empire and Mewar, as they wanted independence for Tughlaq rule.
Then rose the Sayyid Dynasty which lasted for only 20 years and lastly Lodi Dynasty (1414-1451). Lodi dynasty is counted as the last dynasty to rule the Delhi just before the emergence of Jahiruddin Babar who overran Delhi in 1526. Lodi started its reign in1451 and ended in 1526.
These five dynasties stopped the attacks from the Mongols as they tried to establish Buddhism in both Bengal and East India. It helped to enthrone one of the female rulers in the Muslim history, Sultana Razia, who ruled from 1236 to 1240.
Wait a minute… I am going off track… I wanted to start from the first king of Bengal.
Well, let’s time travel through the texts… Okay?
Long ago, the nation was in chaos and a series of weak kings from the later Gupta Dynasty were ruling. When it was at the near end of the 6th century, a king rose to the throne of Gauda Kingdom. The king’s name was Shashanka. He was, in fact, one of the local kings who was power-hungry which led him to seize control of Gauda and its surrounding regions while he drove the later Guptas and the important nobles out on that chaotic situation and established his own kingdom. He is known as the first independent king of Bengal region. He reigned in 7th century. Shashanka’s capital was Murshidabad and in old days it was known as Kamasubama located in West Bengal. He celebrated his triumph by issuing gold coins and people started to address as Maharajadhiraja- king of great kings.
The second great Bengal king comes next from Pala Dynasty
After the demise of King Shashanka, the Bengal region was in a state of anarchy. There was no central authority, and there was constant struggle between petty chieftains. The contemporary writings describe this situation as matsya nyaya (“fish justice” i.e. a situation where the big fish eat the small fish). In such context Gopala of Pala Dynasty came to power in 750 CE. He was claimed to be elected by a group of regional chieftains. His reign ended in 770 CE. Dharmapala was the son and successor of Gopala. He was the second ruler of the Pala Empire of Bengal. In the Indian subcontinent, during Dharmapala’s reign, he expanded the empire boundaries immensely resulting in the Palas imposed a sovereignty in the northern and eastern India. He ruled over Bengal and Bihar. Devapala’s predecessor was Dharmapala. He expanded the empire further.
A new dynasty defeated Pala Dynasty in 12th century and claimed the throne for a long period time. Sena Dynasty is a family that ruled for more than 200 years. Vijaua Sena was one of the kings whose family reigned that long time. Vijay Sena succeeded the throne in 1098 CE from his father, Hemanta Sena of the Bengal region. Vijay fought with the kings of Gauda, Kamarupa and Kalinga in order to expand his empire and he was successful. He had the capital in Vijayapuri. His reign lasted till 1180 AD.
Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah
What about Ilyas Shah who died in 1358? Ring any Bells… Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah was the founder of Ilyas Shahi Dynasty and also was the first Sultan of Bengal. The dynasty lasted for 150 years. He, during the 14th century, unified the Bengal region into an Islamic kingdom. When Ilyas Shah rose as one of the powerful kings of Bengal, he established the Bengal Sultanate by leading diplomatic, economic and military power in the subcontinent. The amalgamation of cultures for the migrants from the Muslim world helped Bengal kingdom and it played the major key to develop the Bengali Muslim society and become his legacy as the first independent unified Bengal kingdom under Muslim rule. Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah, even being an aristocrat, showed his subjects the proper taste of ‘egalitarian society’. The equality and acceptance are the basics for treatment of people irrespective of religion, caste, creed, society and ethnicity.
Let’s know about another Sultan of Bengal.
Ghyasuddin Azam Shah
Ghyasuddin Azam Shah (1390-1411) made himself as one of the important medieval sultans of Bengal. He had diplomatic relations with the Ming Empire of China and kept contacts with important figures of Persia. Azam Shah not only established strategic partnership with China but also targeted Delhi Sutanate while keeping strong relation with Jaunpur Sultanate in North India. Upon sending envoys to the Hejaz, he also financed madrassah constructions in Makkah and Madina at that time. Not all kings and sultans are patrons of scholars and poets, but Ghyasuddin proved himself as a strong patron. Yusuf-Zulekha was written by a Muslim poet, Muhammad Sagir and Ramayana was translated as Krittivasi Ramayan in Bengali by poet Krittibas Ojha during his reign.
An emperor was born with one name but later became known with a different name and he is Sher Shah Suri (1486 – 22 May 1545) aka Farid Khan. The Suri Empire’s founder, in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, Sher Shah was a brilliant strategist. He overran the Bengal state and established the Suri Dynasty. He, in fact, introduced the currency— rupee — still in circulation in India and Pakistan. He made Bihar his capital. After taking control of the Mughal Empire, he proved himself as a gifted and capable general. He later reorganised the foundations of the Mughal Empire. Sher Shah also rearranged the postal system of this subcontinent. His innovations and reformations were extended far beyond that King Humayun named him as ‘Ustad-I-Badshah’- teacher of kings.
Have you heard of Golden Age of Bengal of Shaista Khan?
Mirza Abu Talib aka Shaista Khan (1600–1694) was a Bengal Subahdar and a general in the Mughal army. Shaista Khan was originally Persian. He was the son of Abu’l Hasan Asif Khan and grandson of Mirza Ghiyas Beg. Both grandfather and father are wazirs of Mughal emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan respectively. Emperor Aurangazeb was his maternal uncle. He served as Mughal governor of Bengal. Shaista Khan was in charge of Dhaka and peaked its reputation worth of his time. In 1663, Mir Jumla II died, leaving Subahdar post of the Bengal vacant, and Shaista Khan was appointed as the governor. As Subahdar of Bengal, he started trading with Europe, South Asia and other parts of India. He signed trade agreements with European powers even though he was powerful enough and remained loyal to Aurangazeb. Later he banned illegal operations of East India Company from Bengal. In his later years, Shaista Khan went back to New Delhi upon leaving Dhaka. Dhaka became a thriving and prosperous city while expanded and turned into a regional trade, political and cultural centre. Shaista Khan Mosque, built on his palace ground, is gigantic standing monument in memory of this great ruler. Still today, his legacy shouts out louder than ever. During his reign, 298 kilograms (eight ‘mon’ or maund) of rice could be bought only at cost of one taka. This is why, his reign is considered as the ‘Golden Age’ of Bengal.
Murshid Quli Khan
Murshid Quli Khan ( c. 1660 – 30 June 1727) was the first Bengal Nawab, born as Surya Narayan Mishra and was bought by Mughal nobleman Hajji Shafi. After the death of nobleman Hajji, he became friends with Emperor Aurangazeb while working under the Divan of Vidarbha, was then sent to Bangal. He was transferred to Deccan Plateau, after the death of Aurangazeb during the bloody conflict with Azim-us-Shah, by Azim-us-Shah’s father, the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah I.
What do you know about Siraj ud-Daulah?
Mirza Muhammad Siraj ud-Daulah
Mirza Muhammad Siraj ud-Daulah (1733 – 2 July 1757) was the last Nawab of Bengal. Even though he was independent Nawab, he could not stop the British East India Company from taking over Bengal, Bihar and Odisha of the Indian subcontinent. He sat on the throne at the prime time of his age but soon in the Battle of Plassey he was betrayed by Jagat Seth, Umichand and Rai Durlabh and his chief commander Mir Jafar Ali Khan during the war against the British. Mir Jafar become the titular ruler in name while the British ruled the whole kingdom.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
None of the above rulers were democratic but Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (17 March 1920 – 15 August 1975) eventually became democratically elected though Pakistani rulers didn’t hand over the power. A king without crown was born at Tungipara in Gopalganj district in the province of Bengal in British India to Sheikh Lutfur Rahman, a court clerk of Gopalganj Civil Court on 17 March 1920. He was born as the third child into a native Bengal family and had four sisters and two brothers. He attended Gopalganj public school and Madaripur Islamia High School. He dropped out of school due to his eye surgery and returned to school four years later since the recovery was very slow. Mujib showed his potential of leadership from early age as he organised a student protest to remove an incapable principal. The encouragement helped him to flap his leadership wings and fly even further.
Later, he passed his Matriculation from Gopalganj Missionary School in 1942 and Intermediate of Arts from Islamia College (Abul Azad College) in 1944 and BA in 1947. While he was a full-time student he became politically active and joined All India Muslim Students Federation in 1940 and also joined Bengal Muslim League in 1943.
He was then admitted into Department of Law at Dhaka University but did not complete due to his expulsion as he tried to help to put the employees of fourth-class of DU in a recognised position.
While Suhrawardy devoted himself to forging alliances of East Bengal parties and Mujib continued to expand the grassroots organisation. Awami League was founded by Sheikh Mujib as a political party based in the eastern part of Pakistan.
When Pakistan declared that Urdu as state language of East Bengal, Mujib started organising protest programmes and launched state language movement. Hence, the movement became successful and 21st February was recognised as International Mother Language Day.
He is and will be remembered as the driving force to the independence and for being the forceful orator, and advocate of democracy and socialism as long Bangladesh survives in the world map. Hence, he is fondly called Friend of Bengal (Bangabandhu). The Six Points Movement was outlined by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He was jailed by Ayub Khan government. The second coalition government of 1956 made Mujib minister of industries. Mujib faced criticism from his opponents on the ground of personal inefficiency, rampant corruption and poor leadership.
He was turning into a politician and statesman gradually. He played as a key figure, who sweated for the Bangladesh’s liberation.
The Father of Nation became the first president of Bangladesh and later prime minister. After becoming prime minister, a new constitution is written with nationalism, secularism, democracy, and socialism as the four fundamental principles of the state. He had to face and overcome the challenges of unemployment, poverty, and corruption and also the famine in 1974.
And after the independence in 1971 the then Awami League government passed a law criminalizing criticism. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman wrote an autobiographies — Unfinished Memoirs, Karagarer Rojnamcha — by delineating his political and personal life.
In a BBC Bengali poll in 2004, Mujib was voted as the ‘Greatest Bengali of All Time’ This great leader along with his family members was assassinated on August 15 in 1975 which is commemorated as National Mourning Day.
It is always said that a true leader is born. Who can become a leader? What environment is necessary to make a leader? Have you ever asked yourself that do you want to be a leader? Or do you know about the requirements to be a leader?
These are the questions that cross minds…
Characteristics of a good leader includes integrity valued by Bengalees, very competence and has an excellent character cherished by Bengali-speaking people, honesty, daunting in delegation, excellencies in communications, the ability to make sound and timely decision, positive attitude toward everyone, ability to seek and take responsibility, staying updated with everyone and the quality of observing the given tasks are understood, supervised and completed.
The future Bengali leader must be well-accepted among the Bengalis of Bangladesh, West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and other areas where Bengali-speaking people live in. He should organise an international conference of Bengali-speaking people preferably in Dhaka and read out the current predicaments of Bengalis. He will reunite the people and mobilize their support for ‘Greater Bangladesh’ and thus contribute to the community as well as the world.