Tafazzal Hossain Manik Mia was the greatest artist of the political movement in the development of nationalism. The greatest pen fighter made a bridge between politics and journalism. He became a fellow of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s independence movement partner. But he did not join the Awami League directly. He did not take any position in the team. There was a proposal for Manik Mia for his place in the cabinet ministry of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. He did not agree. Rather he had an active role in democratic national politics. As a journalist, Manik Mia was known by another name- ‘ Mosafir ‘. Manik Mia and Mosafir were a different identity. Manik Mia saw politics as a well-organised organisation with the participation of the masses. One of the tools of democracy is free media. Daily Ittefaq was established as a tool to propagate the ideology or philosophy of that democracy.
Manik Mia portrayed thoughts of the masses in simple language and acted as a catalyst in connecting the masses with the political leadership of like Maulana Bhasani, Sher-e-Bangla, Suhrawardy and Bangabandhu and the mass struggle. That is why Manik Mia and Ittefaq have repeatedly had to face the eyes of the inter-colonial ruling regime of Pakistan. Despite being a journalist, Manik Mia had been repeatedly imprisoned like a political leader. Sometimes, even Ittefaq and other newspapers of the group, were forcibly closed. Manik Mia was a fearless and uncompromising journalist. He did not take journalism as a livelihood or a profession, but as a unique opportunity to serve the masses. That is why we see the offer to take the responsibility of a ministry under the United Front government never attracted him. Neither the tyranny, nor the temptation of the dictator could shake him from the pen war he was waging for democracy and the rights of the people of his land.
Manik Mia’s Ittefaq wasn’t an ordinary newspaper. One can’t compare today’s Ittefaq, or any other newspaper for that matter, to the Ittefaq under the editorship of Manik Mia. It was completely a different era. The golden times of Ittefaq were from 1954 to 1971. When Pakistan had just gotten its independence and when East Pakistan was faced with all kinds of discrimination from the central government, Ittefaq became one of the mediums of protest. While working in the Muslim League Manik Mia got firsthand experience in politics and the opportunity to work with some political big shots. He later grew close to Suhrawardy. In 1946 when Suhrawardy founded a daily named Ittehad in Calcutta, whose Editor was Abul Mansur Ahmed, Manik Mia joined the newspaper as Office Secretary. That was his first step in the world of journalism.When Awami Muslim League was born in 1949, Manik Mia joined Ittefaq which served as the group’s mouthpiece to pressurise the Muslim League government. Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani was the newspaper’s first editor and publisher. Manik Mia took over the post on August 14, 1951.
The elections in 1946 and the United Front Election in 1954, demonstrated the commitment of the Bengali people to democracy. Manik Mia remained uncompromisingly committed to the restoration of democracy. As the Editor of the Ittefaq, undeterred by martial law, continued to write forcefully in favour of democracy and informed the people of the repressive actions of martial law against political leaders. He, thus, contributed significantly to keep alive the spirit of democracy in those dark days. His columns under his pen-name “Musafir” were read as a source of inspiration. Progressively as the issue of discrimination and disparity to which Bengalis were subjected by the authoritarian government and exploitation by the central ruling coterie gave strength to the growing Bangali nationalism. The Ittefaq under the editorials of Manik Mia attracted young journalists, whose powerful pens contributed to the cause. Between 1966 and 1969, the politics in Eastern wing gathered strength centered around the six-point programme. The Ittefaq’s role in articulating the issue of disparity and discrimination from which Bangalis suffered continued to play a vital role in promoting the unity of the Bangali people. Manik Mia’s position in this period was a particularly challenging one. June 7, 1966 is a historic date in the six-point Movement since it was a national protest day. Ayub launched his repressive assault on that day, arresting Bangabandhu and his associates Manik Mia seizing and forfeiting the Ittefaq newspaper.
The Pakistani government found his writings to be against them, which led him to face the court several times. Despite all that, he never bowed down to authority. He never took the newspaper as a business but more as a medium of expression which led him to be the Manik Mia we all know today. For his writings in support of the Six Point Declaration of Awami League, Manik Mia was arrested on June 16. Ittefaq, Dhaka Times and Purbani (Cine Weekly) were banned by the authorities. After a ten month imprisonment he was released on March 27, 1967. Although the then government eventually told him to tone it down, and Ittefaq was allowed to resume, Manik Mia never compromised his beliefs. He was not a mainstream political person and he was more than just a political mind. He led a life of a statesman where his knowledge formed the foundation of his work — something he was not willing to compromise at any cost. 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.
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 endeavored to make democracy popular through journalism. The ceaselessly fought for justice, freedom of press and expression aiming to build up a democratic Society.
The new generation, glorified by independence, should invariably realise 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.
Manik Mia’s contribution and the role of Ittefaq in achieving independence are undeniable. Manik Mia is a legend in the history of Bangladesh’s media. He is a torchbearer who has paved the way for the true path of journalism. Today on the occasion of his 54th death anniversary we pay our heartfelt respect and homage to this great man. The achievements and contribution to the Bengali people will be relevant for years to come. Manik Mia’s towering courage will boost up the progressive society for a long long time. So Manik Mia Has been undoubtedly considered as a legend of media arena. So Manik Mia the very name will never perish and the name will not be confined only in papers. Rather he will be cherished in the history of Bangladesh and will be a source of inspiration till time immemorial.
(The writer is former Deputy Director General, Bangladesh Ansar & VDP).