Title: The Last Raja of West Pakistan
Author: Priyajit Debsarkar
Price: Rs 495
On September 17, 2012, Tridiv Roy, 79, a lifelong loyalist of the Pakistani nation, died in his home in Islamabad after a cardiac arrest. Roy, the Buddhist ‘king’ of the Chakma people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, had collaborated with the West Pakistani military in its brutal campaign of suppression in the East, rejecting an offer of alliance from Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and choosing instead to abandon his land and people in the pursuit of “self-interest and personal goals”.
For his services and loyalty, Pakistan treated the Chakma Raja as a national hero, and successive Pakistani regimes for over a quarter century rewarded him with a range of ambassadorial positions.
At a time when Bangladesh looks determined to pull out of grey retirement and exterminate all of those it sees as enemies of its national struggle for liberation, and in the larger context of the still-unresolved Chakma question, a book on Roy, his politics and personality, could have been a fascinating, compelling read.
Unfortunately, however, Priyajit Debsarkar has neither the dramatic flourish and skill that is needed to tell the story of a gambler who gave away a winning hand, nor the training and depth of understanding that writing the history of a nation’s birth requires. The result is an amateur yarn that seems to be based entirely on secondary sources (the famous story of the Agartala Conspiracy Case, pp 48-50, bears an intriguing resemblance to the Wikipedia entry on that topic), a 35-odd page list of references and bibliography, unusual for a book that has only 160-odd pages in all, notwithstanding. There is no evidence that anyone in Pakistan, Bangladesh or India was interviewed, surprising for a commentary on a man who was alive only three years ago.
The most focussed, clear part of the book is its short, two-page conclusion, laying down Debsarkar’s assessment of Roy. He “not only failed to resolve any of the issues affecting the rights of his people, but also got himself increasingly isolated and powerless as the political situation… started sliding towards war. The Raja’s decision to side unequivocally and completely with successive autocratic governments in West Pakistan was… badly judged (and) betrays a… lack of vision or imagination.” Debsarkar might have considered digging a little deeper into the mind and the making of such a man.
The book’s publishers could have been more rigorous with its editing. It is “co-edited” by one “Barrister Islam Khan”, who has also written a Foreword and Epilogue, accompanied by the declaration that “with this exciting opportunity it set me to aquiver”. Beginning the book with a chronology of the Chakma royal family is an unriveting, though not irrelevant manoeuvre, but ending it with a list of the “Rulers of Bengal” from the Rig Vedic Brihadratha to Sir Frederick Burrows of the year of Indian independence seems utterly pointless.
A spellcheck generally helps, and embarrassments such as “economical” for economic, “sighted” for cited, “armoured” for armed, “trading” for treading, “plane” for plain, “reigns” for reins and “Court Marshal” for court martial could have been avoided. And of course, “Mahmud Ali Jinnah, Father of Pakistan”.