Fiery March and the war of independence

Published : 06 Mar 2022 07:25 PM

We are now in the month of March. Nearly 50 years back the 1st March of 1971 was a difficult day for Bangla­desh. The people of Bangladesh then had been anxiously waiting to see if the government of Pakistan would transfer power to Sheikh Mujib who won the 1970 general election being the leader of the majority party Awami League. Bangabandhu’s Awami League secured 167 seats out of 169. Bangabandhu became the absolute leader of East Bengal.  The date for the first sitting of parliament was fixed on 3rd March. But the Pakistani Military Junta having consultation with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the man won the election in West Pakistan postponed the parliament session for indefinite period. Sheikh Mujib on 3rd March declared non-cooperation movement asking the people to defy and ignore the administrations of the government of Pakistan. He asked the people to boycott the central government and directed them to follow the directives given by him for running the administration. From 3 to 26 March the central government of Pakistan had no control over East Pakistan. The directives became the law of the land. The flag of Pakistan was brought down from houses, offices and institutions hoisting flag of Bangladesh. The voting rights of the people gave Sheikh Mujib the authority to run the country. East Pakistan had its independent rule under Sheikh Mujib. In fact, Sheikh Mujib was the head of the government. If we think in terms of democracy it was unparalleled in history that a democratic leader having an absolute support of the ballot could rule by the mandate of his people.

If we went into the deeper analysis, it could be found that Sheikh Mujib successfully transformed the language based nationalist movement into movement for independence and became the absolute leader of 7.5 million Bengalis. He formed the Student League and motivated students with the idea of Bengali nationalism in spite of Pakistan. He used to tell East Bengal instead of East Pakistan. He actively participated in the language movement protesting the conspiracy of the West Pakistani ruler to make Urdu as the only state language of Pakistan in less than a year following creation of Pakistan. It was Governor General of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah who declared `Urdu and Urdu shall be only state language of Pakistan in early of 1948. It was Sheikh Mujib who protested the declaration. It was he who broke 144 and brought out the procession on which bullets were fired causing the unfortunate deaths of Salam, Jabbar, Rafiq, Barkat and others. The central government was compelled to accept the demand of the people. Naturally, the movement had to be slowed down. But the wise and prudent Mujib transformed the language and cultural movement into a political one. Simultaneously, the movement for autonomy, a political movement was gaining ground.  

He categorically raised the demand for regional autonomy in his six-point programme in a meeting at Lahore. General Ayub declared him as number one enemy and said this time Sheikh Mujib would not go unpunished. He instructed governor Monaem Khan to continue repression on him and kept him within jail. Series of false cases were lodged against Mujib. Ayub told that Sheikh Mujib would not be allowed to see the light of the day. He was taken from one district jail to another district jail. He was detained in Agaratala Conspiracy Case. It was declared that Mujib has to be hanged by Aagartala Conspiracy Case. In the face of strong mass movement, the government of Ayub Khan was compelled to release Sheikh Mujib. After being released from jail Sheikh Mujib was given the title Bangabandhu at a huge rally at Ramna Racecourse Maidan. Since Bangabandhu made no compromise he compelled President Yahya to declare the date of general election. The central government did not feel their existence in Bangladesh. If parliamentary practice is followed, Bangabandhu was to take oath as Prime Minister of Pakistan. But Bangabandhu said that he would not change a bit of his six-point programme as it got mandate of the people in 1970 election. 

On 7 March 1971, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman addressed a million-strong rally at the Race Course, where he presented his four-point demand before the Yahya regime. He rejected the regime’s invitation to a Round Table Conference and declaims, “The struggle this time is the struggle for our emancipation. The struggle this time is the struggle for independence”. He announces a series of guidelines for the nation and asks the people to turn every house into a fortress. Essentially, Bangabandhu’s address on the day is the beginning of the struggle for freedom, with his announcement being acknowledged as a declaration of the road to sovereignty the country will take. 

Pakistan felt that Bangladesh under the leadership of Sheik Mujib was an independent state. There could be no negotiation with Sheikh Mujib as he is not willing to budge an inch in respect of his six points and Pakistan could never abide by the decision of Sheikh Mujib. So the war was the solution and they resorted to it on 25 March through operation search light. They killed unarmed innocent people. In such a situation Bangabandhu declared independence of Bangladesh in the early hours of March 26 asking people to fight and drive away last occupation soldier from the soil of Bangladesh to make the country free. 

The war continued for nine months. A nation of 7.5 million Bangalees raised their head high on 16 December 1971 when occupation armies did surrender after 23 years of exploitation of the Bangalees and Bangladesh emerged as an independent country in the world. Sheikh Mujib who was in Pakistan jail got released and came back to independent Bangladesh on 10 January 1972 and took the charge of governance of the country created at the sacrifice of 3 million Bengalis.

Dr S A Malek is a member of Awami League Advisory Council and President of Bangabandhu Parishad, former political adviser to the Prime Minister, member of parliament and columnist.