Bangladesh: From a Nation to a State

Bangladesh: From a Nation to a State

Bangladesh: From a Nation to a State

Bangladesh: From a Nation to a State


"A very solid, well-researched, comprehensive history of the East Bengal area from its Hindu-Buddhist origins to ... 1996.... Strongly recommended.... Should become a standard reference in the field." Choice


In 1947 India was divided on the basis of the Two Nation Theory, the concept that because of their many differences in religion, language, culture, dietary habits, and so on, Muslims and Hindus could not exist as a single nation, as Indians. One result was that the Muslim majority areas were constituted as a separate state, the state of Pakistan. Of course the theory was violated. The first time was at independence, when so many Muslims remained in India that today the Muslim populations of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India are roughly equal.

Although the term is never used, the subcontinent underwent the outcome of what could be described as a second Two Nation Theory, a division based on culture, language, and social organization rather than religion. This division resulted in the violent split of Pakistan into residual Pakistan and Bangladesh. In the 1991 election in Bangladesh, one issue was the definition of Bangladeshi nationalism. For the Awami League, it might be said that it accepted the concept that Bangladeshis are Bengalis who happen to be Muslims. In contrast, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) considered Bangladeshis to be Muslims who happen to be Bengalis. While this description may oversimplify the two positions, we might recall that when the Awami League governed Bangladesh after independence, it referred to the people as "Bengalees" and set forth a secular polity and society. When the BNP was formed, it changed the designation of the people to "Bangladeshis" and recognized the religion of the very large majority by amending the constitution to make specific reference to Islam by stating that the Muslims of Bangladesh would be enabled to order their lives in accordance with the shari'ah.

The argument expressed in the title of this book is that Bengali Islam is as old as the arrival of Muslim preachers in Bengal. While Bengali Muslims often worked with Hindus, they also were political rivals, especially in the British period but even earlier, during the period of Muslim rule in Bengal. Therefore in. this book I look not only at independent Bangladesh but also at the past. It is my contention that Bengali Muslims had over the centuries developed a nationhood that manifested itself as a state following the war of independence in 1971.

However briefly, I examine the Hindu and Buddhist past as well. An interesting and not irrelevant point is that the Bangladeshis do what they can, within their resource limits, to preserve their past, whether it be Hindu, Buddhist, or . . .

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