ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Independence, Freedom, Liberation

The Promise of Bangladesh’s Founding

The idea of swadhinata (which translates as both freedom and independence), along with a novel conception of liberation (mukti), animated the founding discourse of Bangladesh in 1971. This paper explores how these ideas, and their longer histories, jostled together to shape the promise of Bangladesh’s founding. It also reflects on how the conflictual promise of 1971 underwrote the political history of post-independence Bangladesh.


The founding of Bangladesh in 1971 came trailing off the dissipating cloud of decolonisation on the Indian subcontinent. The emergence of Bangladesh defied the calculus of political expectations, both nationally and inter­nationally. No political actors, including those who wanted to sever ties with the Pakistan state on the eve of the military crackdown, were quite ready for the cataclysmic pace at which the event would unfold. Still, as is the case with modern political foundings, there would be no dearth of attempts to bestow a logic of necessity onto the contingent trajectory of 1971. Hannah Arendt (1963: 28) insightfully observed that the revolutionary foundings of the modern era were rooted in the ­“notion that the course of history suddenly begins anew, that an entirely new story, a story never known or told before, is about to unfold.” Yet, having bent the course of political time, founding events tend to be shrouded in the narratives of inevitability; the effect generates its own cause. This has more or less been the story of Bangladesh’s founding. It is conveniently rendered as a “homecoming” of Bengali Muslims after the suppo­sedly misguided adventure of Pakistan or as a “restoration” of the original programme of the Lahore Resolution (Ahmad 1975). Tempting as it might be to merely focus on unmasking those teleological narratives, they reveal something important about the extraordinary hold of the event in the polity that came to be fashioned in its wake. No past or possible futures of Bengali Muslims would be narratable again without being pulled into the vortex of 1971.

The Location of Bangladesh’s Founding

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Updated On : 1st Nov, 2021
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