Sikdar, Samiullah and Sarbahara – I

Fortunately, Samiullah Azmi did not live long enough to see his beloved party fall to such depths and his comrades turn on one another with such brutality. He left the party – and this world – before paranoia and personality cult completely consumed the party. . . Those who worked with him still cherish his memory and deeply mourn his premature death. They wonder, too, what direction the Purbo Banglar Sarbahara Party would have taken if Samiullah had lived longer and led the party.

Sikdar, Samiullah and Sarbahara

by Razi Azmi

(Following 5 articles were published in New Age, Bangladesh, 2-6 January 2016. To access all, go to http://newagebd.net/?s=Razi+Azmi)

Siraj Sikdar’s sudden death on this day 41 years ago, on January 2, 1975, was headline news in Bangladesh. So much so that President Sheikh Mujibur Rehman himself publicly gloated about it, thundering in the parliament: “Kothae ekhon Siraj Sikdar (where is Siraj Sikdar now)?” In a twist of fate, a short eight months later, Mujib himself was killed by rebel soldiers, along with his wife, three sons and a few other close relatives.

That Sikdar was shot dead by Mujib’s security services is not disputed, but the exact circumstances are. And although they died about four years apart, both Sikdar and Samiullah Azmi were killed by the same forces. Unlike Sikdar, however, his closest comrade died far from the limelight, in a small theatre of a large battlefield, unbeknownst to anyone but his killers.

The best that we know about the circumstances of Samiullah’s death is this:  in August of 1971, when both the Purbo Banglar Sarbahara Party (headed by Sikdar) and the Mukti/Mujib Bahini (the military wing of Mujib’s Awami League) were fighting the Pakistani army for the liberation of Bangladesh, the two sides agreed to meet in Savar, about 30 km from Dhaka, aiming to reach some kind of agreement to fight the common enemy.

At some point during or after the meeting, which Samiullah attended in good faith along with a few comrades (Enayet aka Babar, Munshi Abu Hasmat Arzoo/Polash, Khokon, Sayed and Monindro), they were attacked and killed by the local Awami League warlord. Only after they failed to return or report to Sikdar for some time, and their comrades made enquiries, did the party come to know of the fate of Samiullah and his associates.

It remains a mystery as to why Siraj Sikdar allowed such a grave crime against his party – no less than the pre-meditated and treacherous murder of his second in command and at least five other comrades (eight by some accounts) – to go unpunished, particularly when the identity of the killers was no secret. Very little is known about the exact circumstances and location of the murders. Quite inexplicably, Siraj Sikdar allowed such an enormous loss to the party to be passed over as if it was a minor incident.

Thus ended the short but extraordinary life of Samiullah Azmi, all over and done with before his 25th birthday (see “Short but Extraordinary Life of Samiullah Azmi”, New Age, 16 November 2015). For all but the last two years or so of his life, he and I were inseparable as brothers, best friends and comrades. He initiated me into leftist politics, having himself come into contact with some EPSU (Menon Group, pro-Beijing) student leaders in college.

At about this time, sometime in mid-1967, Pakistan’s foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had recently resigned from the Ayub government, was scouting around for support to form his own political party (later Pakistan People’s Party).  He was relatively young, charismatic and eloquent. And what’s more, he was regarded as progressive, anti-imperialist and pro-China.

So when we read a short newspaper report that Bhutto was in Dhaka, Samiullah wanted to see him. Correctly guessing that he would be staying at the Intercontinental Hotel, the best in town, at Samiullah’s initiative and with him standing by my side, I mustered enough courage to call the hotel using our father’s office phone at the Gandaria railway station in Dhaka.

Telephones were very scarce in those days and, for an 18 year-old like me from a middle class family, making a phone call was as rare as flying on a plane. To dial Dhaka’s best hotel and ask to talk to Pakistan’s recently resigned foreign minister was a very terrifying experience. So, when I got the receptionist at the other end and asked to be connected to Mr Bhutto, I really wished to be told that he wasn’t available.

But that was not to be. In the flash of a second, the receptionist put me through and I heard the four words that I would have preferred not to hear: “Zulfikar Ali Bhutto speaking.” Somehow, I was able to muster the words which still remain imprinted in my mind: “Sir, I and my brother are among your admirers and we would like to meet with you.”  Again to my surprise and somewhat to my dismay, instead of polite excuses, the answer was: “How about ten past twelve tomorrow?” All that remained to be said from my side was, “yes, sir, thank you very much.”  Both Samiullah and I were in awe.

The rest of the day passed in selecting an appropriate present to take with us. After much deliberation, we bought two books from the New Market to present to Mr Bhutto. One was a “Teach Yourself Bengali” book and the other an English translation of the selected poems of Kazi Nazrul Islam, the revolutionary Bengali poet. The night and the next morning passed in nervous anticipation!

Next day, at about 11:45 or so, we pulled into the Intercontinental Hotel in a three-wheel motor rickshaw (called “baby taxi” in Dhaka). We nervously and haltingly walked into the glittering hotel lobby, like a baby who had just learned to walk. This was our first look at a modern hotel from inside. And, wow, was it gorgeous or what, the gentry no less than the decor!

Straight ahead was the reception desk, where I anxiously asked if we could see Mr Bhutto. To the receptionist’s query if we had an appointment, I rather pompously answered in the affirmative. He first glanced at the key-board, then at the people seated in the lobby in front of him, pointing to Mr Bhutto among them.

The phone call to the Intercontinental Hotel and the enquiry at the hotel reception desk were among the very few times when Samiullah put me in front, whatever the reason.  At all other times, he would be the leader and he always liked to lead from the front. He was a natural leader, if I may say so.

We noticed that Mr Bhutto was sitting with his wife Nusrat Bhutto and a few other gorgeous ladies (yes, all ladies). Since it wasn’t yet 12:10, we decided to sit not far from where they were seated. A couple of minutes before the appointed time, Bhutto rose from his sofa and looked around as if expecting someone. Thinking that he was looking for us, we walked up to him and introduced ourselves.  He responded politely, shook our hands and moved with us to where we had been seated.

II

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto began to criticize the policies of President Ayub Khan. Both Samiullah Azmi and I sat hypnotized as much by his personality as by his eloquence. Shortly after, Enayatullah Khan, the editor of the English language weekly “Holiday”, a leftist weekly newspaper published from Dhaka, appeared and Bhutto lighted up. After exchanging some pleasantries with him, Bhutto offered to take the three of us to his room for coffee. But deciding that it was now appropriate to leave, we said goodbye and left.

At about this time, Samiullah began to write short stories in English, penned neatly on a fullscap-size bound register. He would read them to me for my opinion. Invariably, these pertained to the little, good guys who were oppressed by the big, bad guys – stories of poverty, exploitation, suffering, resistance and rebellion. Our father was so proud of his son’s writings that he took him – register in hand and me in toe – to a friend or two.

This was by no means Samiullah’s first written work which impressed. In high school (class 9), he wrote an assignment for an American teacher (from the Peace Corps) on the subject of Sino-Indian relationship.  This would have been in the year 1963 after India and China, erstwhile friends, had gone to war the previous year because of a border dispute. The paper was so well-researched and well-written that the teacher had returned it with these words written in the margin: “Are you a class 9 student or an encyclopedia!”

A few years later, after the meeting with Bhutto, spotting the office of “Holiday” on the way to somewhere, Samiullah decided to walk in and ask if he could write for the paper. I waited in an adjoining room while he entered the editor’s office. On coming out he told me that the editor had asked him where he lived and what form of transport he had taken to come to the newspaper office.

When told that he lived in Gandaria (where our father was station master), the next station after Dhaka, and that he took the train to Dhaka followed by a bus, Enayatullah had asked Samiullah to write for him an essay describing the short one-station rail journey.

The essay was ready overnight. On seeing it the next day, the editor told Samiullah that he had passed his writing test. Being a B.Sc. student, he was invited to begin by writing a regular “science” column for the weekly.  He did subsequently contribute a few articles but soon lost interest. Not for him a science column, or any column, in an English newspaper. Revolution in East Bengal now beckoned him!

Like many others of our generation living in what was then East Pakistan, we were motivated by Mao Zedong and his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, inspired by the successes of the Vietcong against the might of the U.S. armed forces in Vietnam, and encouraged by the peasant uprising in Naxalbari in neighbouring West Bengal in India.

I have mentioned in a previous column (“Short but Extraordinary Life of Samiullah Azmi”, New Age, 16 November 2015) how Samiullah and Siraj Sikdar came together through a very chance meeting in an EPSU office in the latter half of 1967.

Nothing came out of their first venture, namely, the plan to establish a base in the Teknaf hills in the spring of 1968. The subsequent attempt to liaise with the Burmese Communist Party was a total failure as well. With our numbers greatly depleted by desertions, a half-hearted effort by a few of us to turn to the working class in the Chittagong industrial zone also petered out very quickly.

It had become obvious that revolution was no child’s play nor a quick fix of a few dedicated and determined young men. After a brief period of despondency and the signing of the “blood oath” by the three “Ruhuls” (ibid), it was decided by Sikdar (aka Ruhul Alam, later Hakim Bhai) and Samiullah (aka Ruhul Amin, later Comrade Taher) to establish an open forum to attract young revolutionaries and take them to the next phase.

Sometime in the latter half of 1968, we decided to establish the “Mao Tsetung Thought Research Centre”, both as a means to win recruits and to camouflage the group’s secret activities.  I remember negotiating with the owner to rent his vacant shop in Malibagh, adjacent to his house, and ordering a big sign board with the words “Mao Tsetung Chintadhara Gobeshona Kendro”.

Siraj Sikdar never made an appearance at the Centre, Samiullah was its de facto head, appearing occasionally, particularly in the initial phase, while I was in more frequent attendance. Aka Fazlul Haq Rana, with his Stalinesque moustache, was among the “leading lights” of the Centre. He was one of the earliest recruits of Siraj Sikdar, being a fellow-student at the Engineering University, and had been with us to Teknaf as well as Burma (Myanmar).

We would open shop in the evening for a few hours. There was no charter, no manifesto, no agenda, no routine, just a place where like-minded people could get together for a conversation in the evening.

Nor was there any furniture, just some mats on the floor and a shelf with the works of our five ideological gurus, namely, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, but mostly the latter. Their framed pictures adorned the wall.

The other leftist organizations, such as the EPSU (both factions, pro-Beijing and pro-Moscow), now derisively began to refer to us as the “Test Tube Group”.  After some time, perhaps a month or so, both Samiullah and myself receded into the background for different reasons, he because of his greater involvement in underground revolutionary work while I was now increasingly gravitating towards my studies. New recruits took charge of the Centre.

Our next big initiative was the first congress of the Purbo Bangla Sramik Andolon (East Bengal Proletarian Movement), the precursor of the Purbo Banglar Sarbahara Party (East Bengal Proletarian Party). It was held on 8th January 1969 in Keraniganj in Jinjira, just across the Buriganga river from Sadarghat, Dhaka. The venue was provided by a local homeopathic doctor who had recently joined the movement and was an enthusiastic supporter. The congress was held in secrecy but that did not prevent a quasi-festive atmosphere. Sikdar was the leader with Samiullah as his deputy.

III

Aware that the congress would appoint various committees, including a central committee, I took my brother aside and told him not to consider me for any position. Samiullah Azmi was disappointed.  I told him that I was unable to give my full time and commitment but would be glad to help to the extent that I could. Ultimately, I agreed to be a leading member of the Dhaka Area Organization Committee.

This was a turning point in my association with the Sarbahara Party, or rather the beginning of my disassociation with it. As for Samiullah, he rapidly moved in the opposite direction. For him, there was now no turning back from revolutionary underground work.

Gradually, he began to stay away from home for lengthy periods, making an occasional appearance, but never stayed overnight. A time came when he never called home again. He was working full time for the revolution; organisational work was now progressing at a rapid pace.

The party, Purbo Bangla Sramik Andolon to be precise, now for the first time posted graffiti on walls in central Dhaka, particularly the university campus area. What is more, Siraj Sikdar was proclaimed openly in the graffiti as the leader by his real name. With the help of some local sympathisers, we also managed to get some graffiti in Urdu along the road from Ayub (now Asad) Gate to Town Hall in Mohammadpur, then a predominantly Urdu-speaking (Bihari) enclave.

The party also published a magazine called “Lal Jhanda (Red Flag)”, copies of which were secretly cyclostyled in the evening hours at the office of Kalam, a party sympathizer. Both Sikdar and Samiullah contributed articles in the early issues.

My last half-hearted engagement with the party was when I accompanied Sikdar and Samiullah on an organizational tour to the Gopalganj area, going there by river boat (locally called launch) via Madaripur. The name of the village escapes me, but it was an area with a significant Hindu population and we stayed with a prominent Hindu family. On my way from there to my parents’ home in Goalundo Ghat, I was asked by Sikdar and Samiullah to stop at a certain village and speak to some local people, which I did.

Although I had resumed my studies and all but cut my links with the party, I did visit my brother a few times at his hideout in Khilgaon. It was a two-and-a-half room thatched house, where I saw him and Sikdar, as well as Khaleda, later to be his wife, and also Sikdar’s new de facto comrade-wife Jahanara aka Rahela.

I could see a few crude petrol bombs (“Molotov Cocktails”) neatly stacked on ledges near the ceiling, but how effective these would have been against a police raid is questionable. There may also have been a few firearms, but they were out of sight. I did hear them discuss possible raids to acquire firearms. A very small group of highly trustworthy comrades came and went.

I was the exception: trustworthy, yes, but comrade no more. Khaleda’s brother, Kalam, until then a sympathizer of the party, had now falsely accused Samiullah of abducting his sister from his house at knife-point. He had cited me (by name) and an “unknown few others” to the police as his accomplices. Though I had nothing whatsoever to do with this affair, and only came to know about it from Kalam himself, I had been implicated by him as a means of putting pressure on my brother.

In the only meeting I ever had with Kalam, which was after Khaleda had left his house with Samiullah, he had conceded that his sister had left of her own free will. Khaleda was at this time staying with Kalam and his family during a visit from her home in Cooch Bihar in West Bengal (India). Kalam had proudly introduced his “revolutionary” sister to Samiullah, but now feared losing her completely to the “revolution” and being blamed by the family for the loss.

Kalam now sought my help to speak to his sister. I promised him nothing for I knew nothing at this point, except what he told me. When I visited my brother at the party’s Khilgaon hideout to enquire about what had happened, I met Khaleda for the first time. She saw no reason to talk to her brother, let alone return to the family.

For his part, seeing that I was now under pressure from the “reactionaries and counter-revolutionaries”, running from the police, Sikdar thought he could now entice me back to the revolutionary ranks.  I remember him telling me, in the presence of Samiullah and a few others: “You can’t sit on the fence any longer. The time for you to decide has come”.  I smiled, but said nothing, for I had already decided.

It was clear that I could no longer straddle both sides of this divide. Seeing the anguish of our parents and other near and dear ones resulting from my brother’s revolutionary, underground activities, I could not contemplate compounding their misery by my own continued involvement with the party, which was fraught with risk.

I always abhorred violence and, those rousing quotations from Marx and Mao notwithstanding, I had very serious doubts about the justification of violent means to achieve anything, let alone a just and fair society.

And I could already see the early symptoms of the disease that unfortunately afflicts all revolutionary-ideological movements, but particularly secretive, underground organisations. Gradually but surely, a personality cult grows around one leader, in this case Siraj Sikdar, differences of opinion begin to be viewed as conspiracies, and the purveyors of those views as potential enemies and enemy “agents”.

Whereas the Cultural Revolution in China had inspired us, the purge of high-ranking revolutionary leaders I found very difficult to accept. The fact that Liu Shao Chi, who was second only to Mao Zedong, now stood accused of betrayal by Mao, raised in my mind some questions to which I never got a satisfactory answer.

The tales of Stalin’s terror in the Soviet Union did not sit well with me either, notwithstanding the attempts to deny or justify the purges one way or another. But most shocking for me were the internal strife and purges within the Communist Party of Burma, to which we had initially looked for mentoring. These had led to the murder of its Chairman Thakin Than Tun in 1968, though it only came to light over a year later.

IV

For his part, Samiullah Azmi was now the second-in-command of the Sarbahara party, possessed of a missionary zeal, and revolution was now his calling. He regarded the party as his home and his comrades as family, besides the fact that now he was also married to a fellow-revolutionary, Khaleda.

One day, Samiullah sent me a message to come to a particular room in Salimullah Hall, a male dormitory of Dhaka University. When I entered the room, I found him giving finishing touches to petrol bombs with a few of his comrades, including Aka Fazlul Haq Rana, Rukunuddin (who studied philosophy at Dhaka University) and Farooq bhai (a medical student), both relatively new recruits.

After they were finished, they put these into ordinary, unremarkable shopping bags. Samiullah now led the ten or so young men, some of whom were carrying the bags, towards the bus stop in front of Salimullah Hall. Without asking or being told where they were headed and why, I caught a bus in the opposite direction and headed home.

Later the same evening, someone called for me and took me to a street corner near our sister’s house at K/22 Kazi Nazrul Islam Road, Mohammadpur, where I was living at the time. Samiullah was waiting to see me. Beaming with satisfaction, he told me about the successful fire-bombing of Pakistan Council for National Integration on Topkhana Road in the centre of Dhaka.

He had led most of his men armed with the petrol bombs to the upper floor library of the Pakistan Council, leaving a couple of them at the ground level entrance to watch out for police and also to stop people from entering. After a short address to the library staff and readers about the Pakistan Council being a tool of Pakistani colonialism to enslave the people of East Bengal, and warning them to move aside for their own safety, Samiullah hurled a couple of petrol bombs on the bookshelves, then made way for his comrades to discharge their little arsenals. After all the incendiary devices had been thrown at the intended targets, they fled from the scene, mixing with the crowds, and riding away in public transport. They did not intend to hurt anyone and no-one was hurt.

The choice of date for this action, May 5, 1970, was rather bizarre. It was the birth anniversary of Karl Marx! Now that they were ready and craving for action, perhaps they could not wait for a more historic or meaningful date than the 152nd birth anniversary of Marx, which not even the most ardent Marxists are aware of!

Notwithstanding the date’s total irrelevance for East Bengal or its people, the Sarbahara Party used it to announce its coming of age as a fully-fledged organization – “Test Tube” no more, but a party ready to commit “revolutionary” violence for the sake of liberating the people of East Bengal from “colonial yoke”.

And just as they had wished, the next day’s newspapers had this story splashed on their front pages, for this was the first violent act of this nature in East Pakistan. Jamaat-e-Islami’s Bengali language mouthpiece “Sangram”, however, had given its own little twist to the incident, falsely claiming that the attackers had deliberately targeted those bookshelves which contained the Quran.

In his book Witness to Surrender,  Pakistan Army major Siddik Salik incorrectly ascribes this attack to “Bengali nationalists” (p. 22-23), suggesting an Awami League connection.

Between this (May 5, 1970) and his reported murder in Savar in August 1971, Samiullah saw me once. I was admitted in the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, feigning illness to avoid arrest on the false charge of being an accessory to the “abduction” of Comrade Khaleda, who later became his wife.

He had come to ask for money. I told him that I had some scholarship money that I could draw and give him later, but he insisted that I do something immediately. So, breaking hospital rules, I accompanied Samiullah to the Dhaka University Registrar’s Office, drew my 6 months’ arrears of scholarship money, which he happily walked away with, leaving me to sneak back to my hospital bed!

Sometime thereafter, my brother personally came to take our mother to meet his comrade-wife (Khaleda) at the house of a close cousin in Mirpur, where he was temporarily sheltering. On the way to this meeting, he asked Amma to give a wedding present to her daughter-in-law. Although she had not even been invited to the “wedding”, she happily parted with her golden necklace, not knowing that it was intended for the party’s coffers.

Khaleda recalls two more things about her only meeting with her mother-in-law: “Tears streaming down her eyes, Amma told me, ‘tum chalo hamare sath. Agar tum aogee to tumhare sath wo bhi aa jayega. Yahan per itnee musibat mein kaise rah paoge?’ (You come with us. If you come then he too will come with you. How will you stay in all this with so much hardship?)” Trying to be as polite as possible, they both refused.

Failing to persuade her son to give up his dangerous, revolutionary life for a normal one, our mother did the next best thing she could think of. She gave Khaleda a short hand-written prayer from the Quran which, if properly recited as per her instructions, would keep them both safe.

Poor mom was devastated when told by Khaleda that she couldn’t read Arabic! I doubt it would give her any consolation to know that Khaleda survived but her dear son – the subject of her nightly prayers ever since he left home – perished shortly thereafter!

Around this time, Samiullah also visited our eldest brother Wasiullah Azmi in his office in Motijheel to ask whether I had been arrested. This was half-true, for I had been photographed and interrogated by the Special Branch of the police at their head office in Malibagh, not arrested, thanks in large part to this brother, who knew some high police official through his work with the Industrial Development Bank of Pakistan.

V

Sometime thereafter, Samiullah had moved to Chittagong for party organizational work.  He was based there when, beginning in the very early hours of 26 March 1971, the Pakistan army launched its brutal war against the so-called “secessionists”, a term that lumped together all kinds of patriots, nationalists, communists, socialists, Hindus and more.

Siraj Sikdar was in Dhaka at the time and managed to survive the initial onslaught. Later, he moved to Barisal when he heard that some party cadres had managed to find sanctuary there. This sanctuary later developed into the famous Piyara Bagan (Guava Garden) base in Jhalakati, which long resisted the Pakistan army’s attempts to capture it.

For his part, pressed by the army offensive in Chittagong, Samiullah escaped to India, along with Khaleda and a few other comrades, through the nearby south-eastern (Ramgarh/Agartala) border, before returning to Bangladesh through the south-western (Benapole/Jessore) border.

In India, Samiullah spent some time at Khaleda’s home in Cooch Bihar in north Bengal. I am told that he was a hit with his mother-in-law, who had the same name as our own mother, Mehrunnessa (Arabic for “the light of women”). Like the other Mehrunnessa, she too gave a gold necklace to her daughter as a belated present for the wedding that never was. This piece of ornament also boosted the party coffers. She also presented a ring to her son-in-law.

Arriving back in Dhaka, Samiullah again sought shelter along with Khaleda at the house of our cousin in Mirpur for a few days. When they both visited our sister in Mohammadpur, probably sometime in late May, Samiullah would have been told that his parents had already left for Karachi in West Pakistan, owing to the rising violence in East Pakistan. Shortly thereafter, our brother Wasiullah and a few more very close relatives visited them in Mirpur. They were the last from the family to have seen him.

For, not long thereafter, at some unknown date in August, at some unspecified location in Savar, Samiullah had been shot dead.

I have had the good fortune to have been able to establish contact with and speak to Khaleda after 45 years, thanks to my first article published in New Age (November 16). Khaleda tells me that, shortly after returning from India, she was not living at the same place with her husband. Khaleda has a feeling that, for some reason, she and Samiullah were deliberately kept apart by Siraj Sikdar.

Then, one day, Samiullah came to tell his comrade-wife that he was going elsewhere on very important party work. It was a melancholy meeting, where little was said between the two but much was betrayed by the eyes. Khaleda recalls that when he said goodbye to her, Samiullah was wearing the ring given him by her mother. Some time elapsed after this farewell, and sometime after the event as well, when Khaleda was informed of Samiullah’s death in Savar.

A commemorative issue of “Shfulingo”, published by the Purbo Banglar Sarbahara Party on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of its founding, provides a list of “martyrs” in which my brother rightfully occupies the pride of place at number 1.

Samiullah laid down his life for a Bangladesh which did not materialize. Not during his lifetime, short as it was, not half a century later. Like him, many a man and woman, young and old, laid down their lives at the altar of a Bangladesh that was to be free and just for all its people.

The “Shfulingo” commemorative issue makes for a sad reading. The number of Sarbahara Party cadres killed by Mujib loyalists, such as Mukti Bahini, Mujib Bahini, Rakkhi Bahini and other motley armed groups, is long and it far exceeds the number killed by the Pakistan Army, which had waged a ruthless war against them all.

And even more tragically, not all died at the hands of the “colonial, reactionary and counter-revolutionary forces” and “enemies of the people”, to borrow terms from the party’s manifesto and popular with the comrades. Some fell to their own, becoming the victims of personality cult, power lust, internal strife or paranoia within the Purbo Banglar Sarbahara Party itself.

At numbers 3, 4 and 16 of the above-mentioned list are high-ranking cadres who were condemned and executed by their own comrades in the mid-1970s, before factionalism completely destroyed the party.  They are Shahjahan Talukdar (aka Rafiq/Taufiq), Ramkrishna Pal (Mahtab) and Delwar Chanchol (Atiq).

“Shfulingo” names six others who were similarly denounced and sent to their deaths by fellow comrades during this period, namely, Hafiz (aka Qayum), Jhinuk (Baufol), Mohsin (Humayun), Masud (Amanullah), Qaiyum (Hafiz) and Jibon (Parveen), a female revolutionary. All were posthumously rehabilitated by the party.

However, Humayun Kabir and Selim Shahnawaz who, like those named above, also became the victims of paranoia and distrust within the party as early as in 1972, are not mentioned. After falling foul of Siraj Sikdar, the former was stabbed to death in front of his house in Dhaka and the latter killed with a machete and thrown into a river in Jhalakati.

Fortunately, Samiullah Azmi did not live long enough to see his beloved party fall to such depths and his comrades turn on one another with such brutality. He left the party – and this world – before paranoia and personality cult completely consumed the party. The brief tribute to Samiullah (aka Comrade Taher) in the party’s official publication cited above, says:

“(He) was associated with the party organization from the very beginning. He was the co-chairman of the central Revolutionary Council of the East Bengal Workers’ Movement. . . .  At different times Comrade Taher discharged the leadership role in Dhaka, Kushtia, Faridpur, Pabna, Tangail, Patuakhali, Barisal, Chittagong, Chittagong Hill Tracts.  At various times, under his leadership, party work expanded in many districts from zero or near-zero. . . . It became difficult, as a result of his death (in August 1971), to resolve the crisis which confronted the party, in terms of creating an alternative leadership to Comrade Siraj Sikdar.”

The obituary alludes to, but does not explicitly state that Samiullah Azmi was extremely popular among the Sarbahara cadres. Some go to the extent of saying that he was perhaps the most popular leader of the party. Those who worked with him still cherish his memory and deeply mourn his premature death. They wonder, too, what direction the Purbo Banglar Sarbahara Party would have taken if Samiullah Azmi had lived longer and led the party.

 ******

Above 5 articles were published in New Age, Bangladesh, 2-6 January 2016. To access all, go to http://newagebd.net/?s=Razi+Azmi

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