Syed Tosharaf Ali :
Near five decades have passed since the death of Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia. His death, by any count, was sudden, and of course, unexpected. He died at the time when a sort of intellectual guidance was much needed for the transition to democracy of his country from a brave and selfless journalist, as he was. The vacuum that was created in the arena of intellectual and political journalism with his sudden death has still remained void even after so many ups and downs and changes, and we cannot say with certainty that the gap has fully been recovered even now.
The major contribution that Manik Mia made in the field of journalism in Bangladesh was establishing an institution - the Ittefaq - which offered huge opportunities of training for journalists who worked in this newspaper with no previous journalistic education or training. Truly, the country has now many outlets to offer courses in journalism but in the late 50s or 60s of the last century, there were lack of facilities. In such a backdrop, Manik Mia virtually opened the door(s) for many to take up journalism as a profession. Many of his fellow colleagues and junior co-workers became eminent editors, column writers and newsmen in the later years. Manik Mia, thus, acted as a pathfinder to many professional journalists.
Through Ittefaq he shaped and developed the privately held media industry. This emerging industry managed to express objective criticism of the ruling party. In essence such a stance of media actually assisted the government to contribute to the socio-economic development of the nation as partners. From this perspective, Ittefaq never served as a mouthpiece for any particular interest group, but rather as a North Star providing guidance and objective assessment of government's activities helping the country to emerge from the post-war crises and remain on the trajectory of growth.
Another remarkable aspect of Manik Mia's talent was the coining of language or developing a style of language of his own. He used the vocabulary of the masses which gave extra force to his thoughts, and his readers, the common masses of the country accepted his themes and style in right earnest. In more simple words, he could pass on the message across all sections of people.
This legendary figure was born in a small township of the then South Bengal in the early years of the twentieth century, precisely in 1911. If we look at his upbringing, education, his career history and early part of his family life, we come to see several humanitarian crisis and negative incidents such as the two World Wars, famine of 1943, and the partition of 1947, alongside the severe communal conflicts centering the partition of Punjab and Bengal. Impacts of these incidents, directly and indirectly, were supposed to be felt in lesser degree in a sub-divisional town of South Bengal compared to that of Kolkata; which was then the centre of renaissance of a sort, that was unfolding in the early nineteenth century.
In such a back drop, getting in touch with a rare talented political leader like Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, holding the post of Office Secretary of Bengal Muslim League and then becoming involved in The Daily Ittehad had not only enriched his experiences but also intensified his desire and dedications in the pursuit of human welfare. Hailing from a near-rural background, he went to the epic-centre of politics and culture - Kolkata (then spelt Calcutta) -- with an honest and open mindset. However, for some unavoidable circumstances, he had to return to his root. Obviously, he was quite upset for non-fulfillment of his cherished dreams. There is no scope to deny the fact that Manik Mia had emboldened and enriched his sense of humanity being inspired by the ideologies of many eminent social and political leaders like Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, Netaji Shubhash Chandra Bose, Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Haque, Allama Abul Hashim and others. In fact, he inherited an ability to fight against the social odds from his family tradition and the prevailing socio-political realities of South Bengal.
He got involved in the formative stage of Awami Muslim League aiming to restore democracy in Pakistan. His enthusiasm and capability of expressing his thoughts through the newspaper changed the course of his life. Using newspaper for the welfare of the society, he was able to place himself very well in the heart of his people forever. He helped Awami League enormously to become the symbol of the hope and aspiration of the mass people through his thought provoking writings.
Manik Mia's journalistic career was a vastly spreaded one. He was one of the most important and brave figures who shaped the mass awakening that got both momentum and pace following the 1952 historic Language Movement. Ever increasing regional disparity in the area of economic development between the two units of Pakistan and discriminatory actions in every field of the state-policy made him, among others, doubtful about the future of Pakistan. He used his pen as a weapon against all such political tyranny and economic disparity of Pakistani rulers -- dominated by West Pakistani civil and military bureaucrats at the centre.
It is worth mentioning that to express and to uphold his opinion, he was always courageous, responsible and reasonable. He always articulated his thoughts and opinions guided by patriotic zeal and logical realization, but not by anger or ill-feelings. He always pointed to the real picture of regional disparity and discrimination with accurate statistics, figures and facts whatever he thought justifiable for the good of the people of East Bengal. For that he had to go to jail for more than once but he never compromised with injustice.
Manik Mia took journalism as a mission of his life to establish democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights of the people to keep politics on the right track. In his view, democracy was not a dogma, but expansion of peoples right to achieve socio-economic justice. In judging political matters, he always remained strictly neutral like an umpire. We should not forget that he was not only a devoted journalist, but also a farsighted political visionary of liberal outlook. His personal close association with the democratic leader Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy made Manik Mia indifferent about earthly affairs. He endeavoured to make democracy popular through journalism. The ceaselessly fought for justice, freedom of press and expression aiming to build up a democratic Society.
The writing ability of Manik Mia and oratory of Bangabandhu, combined together, laid the founding ground of our independence. Even the motors of Pakistani cannons could not destroy it.
As an independent nation, it is now imperative to us to remember the contributions of those great figures who had contributed in various fields of our national life enormously and take lessons from their lives. Our future generation will get courage and inspiration from the lives and works of these legends to move forward in the right direction. We need to know the reasons behind naming the road in front of the National Parliament Buildings after Manik Mia. The road -- Manik Mia Avenue ¾ simply testifies the efforts that he made in establishing Parliamentary Democracy in the country. He set an example of risking his life, and that of his family and colleagues only to attain and uphold the political rights and economic interests of the people extending whole hearted support in favour of Six Point Movement.
The new generation, glorified by independence, should invariably realize that to keep their heads high they must be uncompromising and fearless. The aim of Manik Mia's journalist career was to inculcate that in people's psyche too deeply. To make that to happen, he fought for freedom of the newspapers to create free-minded people. He always judged a government by its attitude to and tolerance towards the freedom of the press.
Journalism and politics are the two best possible ways to make ground for social welfare. His political criticisms were both sarcastic and idealistic in content and character. The columns that he penned under the pseudonym 'Musafir' is still considered as the masterpiece of his time with everlasting impacts.
He was honoured with the 'Ekushey Padak'. He is a great source of inspirations for the writers and journalists who are promise bound to the cause of the people and the nation. To pay proper tribute to this great journalist and political thinker the new generation of columnists should uphold the tradition of analytical and critical journalism as practiced by him. It is also the responsibility of the government of the day to translate the thoughts and ideas of great man like Manik Mia in their deeds.
I would like to mention here that Manik Mia wrote more than two thousand Columns within a period of more or less twelve years. Even when he was in jail, there was no gap in his contribution for the emerging nation.
He prepared a manuscript which was later edited by his close friend, famous writer and translator Abdul Hafiz. It was subsequently published under the title of 'Pakistaner Rajnitir Bish Bochhor (Two Decades of Pakistani Politics).' The book -- Pakistaner Rajnitir Bish Bochhor -- became popular among the readers and the researchers of the country. The English version of this book is being published from the Manik Mia Foundation. We hope, the book will equally be well received by the English readers in good grace.
(Writer : Senior journalist & Secretary General, Manik Mia Foundation, Dhaka)