Given all the political tumult in the country, Pakistan Muslim League-N chief Nawaz Sharif’s most radical statement yet went largely unnoticed. “Mujibur Rahman was not a traitor, he was made into one,” the former premier said at a meeting with a group of lawyers. He was adding to the sentiments he had expressed on January 3, when he lambasted the establishment for the disintegration of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Mian Sahib’s latest statement carries an echo of the words he uttered soon after his resignation last year. “I was not ideological, but the force of events made me so,” he had said, in a thinly veiled attempt to soften progressive hearts towards him. I had written, in these very pages, about how difficult this task might prove for Mian Sahib, given his chequered relationship with the very democratic ideals that he dreams of upholding. Nevertheless, it is heartening to see that Mian Sahib is brushing up on history, or at least studying it outside of the framework of mainstream Pakistaniat and Pakistani nationalism. It is no secret that Mian Sahib resents the unceremonious way he had to leave the Prime Minister’s Office, after securing it for the third time with an overwhelming majority in the Parliament. If one studies Pakistan’s democratic tradition (or lack thereof) from his vantage point, Mian Sahib cannot be blamed for wanting to be counted among those statesmen who were denied their rightful moment in history. There are, arguably, some parallels between Nawaz’s situation today and that faced by Mujib in 1971. Both were elected representatives with a heavy mandate from the largest ethnic group in Pakistan – in Mujib’s case it was the Bangla people of East Pakistan and today, it would be the voters of Punjab. Both leaders found their overwhelming parliamentary mandates rejected by the establishment and eventually their very loyalty to the state was questioned. In Mujib’s case, of course, the attacks on his patriotism and loyalty were far more central than in Nawaz’s, given the Agartala Conspiracy Case against the Awami League and the subsequent Six Points demanding significant autonomy for East Pakistan. But the bloody civilian of today might be forgiven for noting that Nawaz, through a campaign of relentless propaganda, has also been increasingly linked in the popular imagination with Modi and India. Both Nawaz and Mujib found themselves denied the power which they had won at the ballot-box, through a dramatic intervention by un-elected institutions of state. But of course, any parallels must be taken with a grain of salt. While a little bit of historical revisionism may be necessary for Mian Sahib, in the same vein it is necessary to point out how the exigencies of Mujib’s political career set him apart from – and perhaps even put him a League above – Mian Sahib. Mujib spoke of the rights of a heavily marginalised ethnic group, of socialism and a federal, democratic state – all of this being a far cry from the conservative Punjab of the ‘GT Road belt’ where Nawaz finds his political base. Resistance to authoritarian domination and undemocratic rule formed the core of Mujib’s politics. He was known for his charisma and forceful oratory and his political personality achieved legendary status because of his understanding of the discontent in East Pakistan and his articulation of the aspirations of the Bangla people, who he came to represent overwhelmingly in due course. Jail time and agitation were two prominent features of his political life. Sheikh Mujib was truly a man of his people – and he had paid dearly for it even well before 1971. Were a modern Machiavelli to grade Nawaz’s political career, he would give him a B+ at best. And that, too, only because Mian Sahib, in his own flawed way and as a result of his own bitter experience, has come to appreciate democracy Unlike Sheikh Mujib, Mian Sahib launched his political career piggybacking on General ZiaulHaq’s illegitimate regime. He strengthened his grip on power, not by appealing to the public with the force of his intellect, but by surrounding himself with powerful men ready to unleash their authoritarian tendencies at a moment’s notice. Today, Mian Sahib might like to erase this from his resume, but no matter how much he edits his version of events, it cannot change the fact that Nawaz Sharif, the three-time prime minister and appointer of five chiefs of army staff, built his career on backdoor conspiracies as much as on electoral power and popularity. And it was the penchant for backdoor conspiracies which eventually caused his downfall – his opponents in the PPP openly derive sardonic amusement from his troubles at the hand of the same judiciary which he had so vociferously supported against them just a few years ago. Given all this, were a modern Machiavelli to grade his political career, he would give him a B+ at best. And that, too, only because Mian Sahib, in his own flawed way and as a result of his own bitter experience, has come to appreciate democracy. And perhaps it is here that the two leaders have something very important in common, despite coming from entirely different ends of the political spectrum: their mandate was stolen and their legitimacy was denied. Many years ago, Mian Sahib was a young man and the majority of Pakistanis resided in the country’s eastern wing. One imagines he must have some memory of their immense discontent. Whatever he might have made of the Bangla people’s plight as a rich young man destined for becoming a conservative politician, one imagines that today his sense of having been wronged is more than just personal resentment. One senses that he genuinely feels that the many millions who voted for the PML-N have been told that their mandate means nothing in the face of a selective, highly problematic process of accountability. As a final thought, in the context of his invocation of Sheikh Mujib, one must add that it is heartening to see at least one major Pakistani leader demonstrating some sense of history. Mian Sahib is quite correct when he says Mujib was not a traitor to the country. Nor is Mian Sahib himself one, except in the eyes of a lunatic fringe on electronic media. Can we, then, dare to ask out loud: who, in fact, was the traitor? One fears that Pakistani public discourse is not yet mature – or honest – enough to point at the elephant in the room. The writer is an editor for Vanguard Books and can be reached at @aimamk on twitter Published in Daily Times, January 21st 2018.