Declaration of Independence
Declaration of Independence for Bangladesh has a pre-history. This declaration is the final and inevitable outcome of the rise of Bangali nationalism. The Bangali nationalism emerged via Pakistan, the product of British colonial control system and the Two Nation Theory advanced by the Muslim League leader mohammed ali jinnah and supported by huseyn shaheed suhrawardy, the premier of Bengal and leader of the Bengal Muslim League. Based on the Two Nation Theory Pakistan came into being. But the theory proved to be illusive after the creation of Pakistan. In no time, a consciousness developed that the Bangalis were different from the West Pakistanis historically, culturally, linguistically, economically and even religiously. Religiously, East Bengal Muslims belonged to a genre very different from that of West Pakistan. However, the Two Nation Theory has a background again, which very relevantly comes into the picture when Bangladesh nationalism is considered. These inter-linked and interactive thoughts and activities have been listed below sequentially down to the Declaration of Independence of 26 March 1971.
Road to Pakistan 1905 Bengal was partitioned into two new provinces, West Bengal and East Bengal and Assam with Dhaka as its capital. The measure highly pleased the East Bengal Muslims and equally disappointed the Bengal Congress nationalists especially the Hindu nationalists.
1906 All India Muslim League was founded in Dhaka with the objective of safeguarding the interests of the Indian Muslim community.
1906 simla deputation 'explained to Lord Minto, about the relative backwardness of the Muslim community and demanding separate electorate for the Muslims to ensure their representation to Government.
1909 morley-minto reforms 'introduced separate electorate system thus laying the foundation of the Muslim separatist politics.
1912 partition of bengal annulled. The measure made the East Bengal Muslims extremely unhappy. Bengal Provincial Muslim League was formed with a view to mobilizing public opinion to uphold Muslim interests.
1919 montagu-chelmsford report started the processes of self-rule by introducing limited representative government. Separate electorate system was maintained. Congress opposition to the system offended many Muslim nationalists who later joined communal politics.
1923 bengal pact tried to establish political cooperation between the nationalist Hindus and Muslims of Bengal on some points in the areas of jobs and services and communal harmony. The Muslims hailed the Pact, but after the death of its architect C.R Das, the accord collapsed and communalist politics began again.
1935 Government of India Act' provided for separate electorate for the Muslims and thus creating opportunities for them to make government of their own in the Muslim majority areas. The Congress threatened to boycott the elections under the Act on the ground of communal representations, though later joined the elections.
1937 General elections held. In securing seats, Congress came out first, second Muslim League and Krishak Praja Party third. Congress refused to form government. Their plan was to make the government of the minority combine unworkable. AK Fazlul Huq, however, formed the ministry in coalition with the Muslim League and some other splinter groups.
1938-39 As promised in the election manifesto AK Fazlul Huq failed to abolish zamindari system due to non-cooperation from the Congress. It made the Muslim peasantry suspicious of the good will of the Congress.
1940 lahore resolution announced at the general session of the Muslim League the Two Nation Theory and called upon the British Government to make the Muslim majority areas of India 'independent states'.
1943 Muslim League formed the cabinet with Khawaja Nazimuddin as Prime Minister.
1946 General elections held. In electioneering Muslim League made the concept of 'Pakistan' the main issue. The Muslim League emerged as the absolute majority party in the Assembly. As Prime Minister, HS Suhrawardy formed the Muslim League Ministry.
1946 Suhrawardy called Direct Action Day, hartal on 16 August declaring the day a public holiday. The hartal culminated in the killing and maiming thousands of people of all communities. As a sequence, the Hindu Mahashaba demanded the partition of Bengal in communal line and later Congress also supported the move.
1946 cabinet mission plan recognized the demand for partitioning Bengal in communal line.
1947 Bengal was bifurcated into East Bengal and West Bengal. East Bengal became the eastern wing of Pakistan.
Road to Bangladesh
1948 ma jinnah, the architect of Pakistan visited Dhaka. He announced at Dhaka University that Urdu would be the state language of Pakistan. Students at once dissented his proposal and demanded for making Bangla, the language of the majority people, the state language of Pakistan.
1949 Bengal Muslim League dismembered. The liberal and left-wingers within the Muslim League formed a new political party, Awami Muslim League with Maulana abdul hamid khan bhashani as its president.'
1952 21 February shaheed day. In putting up their demand to make Bangla the state language of Pakistan, students held protest meeting at Dhaka University Amtala and brought out a procession in defiance of the Article144 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Police opened fire killing a number of students. The action sparked off a resistance movement against the government.
1953 krishak sramik party (KSP), a revival of Krishak Praja Party of AK Fazlul Huq, announced its twenty-one point programme, the focal point being establishing autonomy for East Pakistan according to the letter and spirit of the Lahore Resolution.
1953 November, an electoral alliance called united front was formed against the Muslim League Government. The alliance consisted of Awami Muslim League, KSP, Nizam-i-Islam and Ganatantri Dal. The alliance drew up a 21-point manifesto focusing on the achievement of autonomy for East Bengal and removing regional disparity and establishing Bangla as the state language.
1954 11 March, In the provincial elections in East Bengal the United Front won a sweeping victory overthrowing the ruling Muslim League almost absolutely. AK Fazlul Huq, the chief of KSP, became the Chief Minister.
1954 31 May Chief Minister Fazlul Huq and Awami League general secretary Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were sacked and placed under house arrest on the allegation that they were conspiring for severing East Bengal from Pakistan.
1954 19 October, at the Awami League Convention at Joypurhat in Bogra, the party changed its name from Awami Muslim League to Awami League, thereby indicating its nationalist and secular character.
1957 3 April, East Bengal Provincial Assembly adopted the resolution on regional autonomy. The resolution marked only three subjects for the centre, defence, foreign affairs and currency.
1958 27 October General Ayub Khan declared Martial Law by easing out President General Iskandar Mirza. He abolished all elective systems and promulgated series of Martial Law Regulations banning politics and disqualifying major political leaders from elective bodies. In January 1962, HS Suhrawardy was arrested under Security Act; scores of university students demonstrated in Dhaka, and large number of Awami League leaders were arrested, while Ayub Khan was in Dhaka. On 8 February 1862, Awami League general secretary Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and scores of others were arrested. The announcement of the new Basic Democracy constitution did not evoke any interest in East Pakistan. On 22 September' police opened fire on students who were observing Protest Day.
1963-65 East Pakistan intellectuals and economists marshalled massive quantitative evidences of the ever-growing disparity in economic development taking place between the two wings of Pakistan. They showed how foreign exchange earned by East Pakistan was spent in the interest of West Pakistan, and how East Pakistan could benefit if autonomy could be achieved.
1966 6 February, The leaders of the opposition parties of West Pakistan convened a national convention of opposition parties at Lahore on 6 February 1966. The Awami League chief Sheikh Mujibur Rahman joined the convention along with other top leaders of his party, and presented his famous Six Points Formula of demands for consideration at the conference. But the West Pakistan opposition parties rejected the Six-points formula as absurd propositions. On the following day the newspapers of West Pakistan published reports on the Six-point programme, and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was projected as a separatist. Sheikh Mujib boycotted the conference and returned home.
1966 18 April, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested under the Emergency Regulations. Almost non-stop mass resistance in East Pakistan followed in support of Sheikh's Six-point charter.
1967 agartala conspiracy case Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and 34 other public leaders, armed force members, entrepreneurs and bureaucrats were implicated in an alleged conspiracy to make East Pakistan independent by an armed uprising.
1968 Mass movement developing against the Agartala Conspiracy Case. The left brand politicians and students issued a printed Programme for Independent Republic of Purba Bangla (East Bengal). Their slogan was 'Establish Independent Republic of Purba Bangla'.
1969 1 January,' Mass movement turning into a virtual uprising. Formation of the Sarbadalia Chhatra Sangram Parishad' (All Student Parties Resistance Council) and announcement of their Eleven Points charter aiming at virtual independence for East Pakistan. The Chhatra Sangram Parishad articulated the concept of a Bangali nation by the slogans: 'Awake, Awake Bangalis, Awake'; 'Brave Bangalis, take up arms and make Bangladesh independent'; 'Your Desh (motherland) and My Desh, Bangladesh, Bangladesh'. The students chanted the rallying slogan 'Joy Bangla'.
22 February The Ayub government bowed down to the mass uprising by withdrawing the so-called Agartala Conspiracy Case and releasing Sheikh Mujibur Rahman unconditionally on 22 February.
23 February Ramna Race Course coronation organized by the Chhatra Sangram Parishad. Tumultuous crowds gathered to receive their idol Sheikh Mujib. President of the meeting, Tofael Ahmed, made the proposal to honour Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with the honorific title 'Bangabandhu'. Tofael Ahmed's citation received enthusiastic support from the cheering crowds and subsequent media reports appreciating the badge of honour adorning the leader. Sheikh Mujib accepted the honour with thanks to the countrymen and to the 'revolutionary crowds'.
10 March At the Rawalpindi Round Table Conference, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman presented Awami League's federalist Six Points Formula. It aimed at restructuring Pakistan constitution on the basis of Six-Points and Eleven Points Programme. West Pakistan political parties branded his thesis as a camouflage to disband Pakistan.
25 March Following the failure of the Round Table Conference and unabated resistance movement to his regime, Ayub Khan resigned and handed over power to General Yahya Khan. Martial Law clamped. Yahya Khan announced a definite timetable for national and provincial elections, the first general elections ever to be held on all Pakistan basis during the 23-year history of Pakistan.
1970 28 October In his election address on Radio Pakistan, the Banglabandhu reiterated his federalist idea and invited all to accept his thought and cooperate with him in his plan to frame a new Constitution for Pakistan on the basis of six points and eleven points.
23 November Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasahni declared at a meeting at Paltan Maidan that the past events and the government's scheming indifference to the victims of the 12 November, cyclone disaster led him to believe that Pakistan as a state had become an anachronism and purposeless. He called upon people of East Pakistan to end its bond with Pakistan and make it an independent state. He ended his speech not with traditional 'Pakistan Zindabad', but with 'East Pakistan Zindabad'.
26 November On his return from the cyclone devastated area, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman exposed in a press conference attended by national and international journalists the blatant failure of Pakistan government to stand by the side of the cyclone victims and declared at the end that it was more a failure of Pakistan than of the ruling regime, and concluded that 'East Pakistan must achieve its self-rule by ballot if possible, and by bullet, if necessary'.
4 December While demanding the release of all political prisoners, the Student League in a public meeting raised two slogans: (a) Peasants and labourers take up arms to make Bangladesh independent, (b) Build up a Ganabahini (people's force) to make Bangladesh independent. At a combined political meeting organized by NAP (Bhasani), Jatiya League (Ataur Rahman) and Zamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam (Pir Muhsinuddin) at Paltan Maidan, Maulana Bhasani demanded for establishing independent East Pakistan as per the Lahore Resolution. Ataur Rahman Khan and Pir Mohsinuddin who also addressed the meeting, fully endorsed the proposal of Bhasani.
7 December and 17 December General elections held. People voted comprehensively for six-points and eleven point programmes. The Awami League counted 288 of 300 seats in the East Pakistan legislature and 167 of 300 seats in the National Assembly. Nevertheless, neither Awami League nor Pakistan People's Party got any seat beyond their own provinces indicating the total separation of the two wings from each other politically.
1971 3 January All elected representatives met at Ramna to take an oath to implement the six-point and eleven-point programmes. Bangabandhu conducted the swearing ceremony. The representatives swore to remain united and never to waver on the question of the six and eleven point programmes, which were now the people's trusts vested in them.
12-13 January General Yahya came to Dhaka and had parleys with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and other leaders. Sheikh Mujib told the press that the discussion between him and Yahya went cordially and satisfactorily. Yahya expressed the same sentiment at the time of his departure from Dhaka and addressed the Sheikh as the 'future prime minister of Pakistan'.
27-28 January Bhutto along with his chief associates came to Dhaka and had discussion with Sheikh Mujib and his other colleagues on the question of power sharing. No positive result came out of the meetings. Bhutto left with a remark to the press that 'more discussions were necessary'. Mujib demanded for convening of the National Assembly at Dhaka by 15 February at the latest.
13 February Yahya announced the date of convening the National Assembly at Dhaka on March 3.
15 February Bhutto declared his party's inability to join the National Assembly meet at Dhaka unless a compromise was previously made on the Six-point issue.
21 February Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared from the Shahid Minar that the Bengalis must remain prepared for responding to any plot against their rights and interests. He restated his pledge to go to any extent to implement Six-point programme.
22 February President Yahya dismissed his cabinet, met the military generals and resolved to solve the crisis in his own way.
24 February Responding to the dramatic turn in the political scenario, the Bangabandhu called a press conference. He bitterly criticized the actions of the scheming army. He also asked the people to recall how army had been always preventing democratic institutions take root in Pakistan ever since 1954. He declared that people would fight to the end to safeguard their democratic and human rights and establish their self-rule.
28 February Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman invited the members of the National Assembly to join its Dhaka session and help make a democratic Constitution for Pakistan. On the same day Bhutto threatened that he and his party would boycott the Dhaka session.
1 March President Yahiya Khan called off the scheduled Dhaka session of the National Assembly at Dhaka on March 3. The news sparked off an instant civil resistance movement in Dhaka. Tens of thousands of people assembled before the Purbani Hotel where the Bangabandhu was holding the Awami League Council meeting. The furious crowds were demanding to the Bangabandhu for immediate declaration of independence for Bangladesh. Bangabandhu addressed the crowds, asked them to restrain themselves and announced a protest programme to continue until 7 March when he would make a crucial policy declaration to the nation at the Ramna Race Course.
2 March Students and members of public began to assemble at Bat-tala of Dhaka University from all parts of the city and suburban. The crowds chanted slogans of independence and were singing Bangladesh independence in a monotone. The student leaders (Nure Alam Siddiqui, ASM Abdur Rob, Shahjahan Siraj and Abdul Quddus Makhan) addressed the crowds and declared independence under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Student League leader and vice president of Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU) ASM Abdur Rob then hoisted the flag of independence to the tumultuous applause and slogans of Jai Bangla.
3 March a countrywide hartal called. Dhaka University teachers met at Bat-Tala and declared their solidarity with the independence struggle under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Bangabandhu addressed a mammoth public gathering at Paltan Maidan and announced his action programme until 7 March. But the crowds demanded from him an instant and outright declaration of independence.
Swadin Bangla Chhatra Sangram Parishat headed collectively by ASM Abdur Rob, Abdul Quddus Makhan, Nure Alam Siddiqui and Shahjahan Siraj, circulated an istehar (declaration) proclaiming independence for Bangladesh. The istehar went thus: 'Jai Bangla: Proclamation of independence. Independence for Bangladesh has been hereby declared. It is now an independent and sovereign country.... The name of this territory of 54506 miles is Bangladesh...'. The istehar described in details the modality of conducting the struggle for independence. Swadhin Bangla Chhatra Sangram Parishad (SBCSP) selected a national anthem for Bangladesh, Tagore's song 'Amar Sonar Bangla...'.
4 March complete hartal observed all over the country. All businesses, governance and communications came to a standstill. Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani gave an ultimatum for establishing an independent and sovereign Bangladesh immediately.
5 March Dhaka students headed by ASM Abdur Rob, Abdul Quddus Makhan and other student leaders brought a lathi (club) procession in the city. Intellectuals and professionals headed by Dr Ahmad Sharif took an oath expressing allegiance to the movement for independence.
6 March President Yahya Khan announced that the National Assembly would meet in Dhaka on March 25. But Awami League and all other parties were firm in continuing non-cooperation movement as fully and intensely as before.
7 March Crowds to the tune of millions assembled at the Ramna Race Course to hear Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Most people held lathis, the symbol of resistance, and were chanting Jai Bangla slogans and waiving up their lathis symbolizing their readiness to fight on. Non-stop Jai Bangla slogans made the maidan resonating. Before the Bangabandhu arrived, student leaders were keeping the spirits of the crowds high with the slogans like: জয় বাংলা; আপোষ না সংগ্রাম, সংগ্রাম সংগ্রাম; আমার দেশ তোমার দেশ বাংলাদেশ, বাংলাদেশ; পরিষদ না রাজপথ, রাজপথ রাজপথ; বীর বাঙ্গালি অস্ত্র ধর বাংলাদেশ স্বাধীন কর; ঘরে ঘরে দুর্গ গড় বাংলাদেশ স্বাধীন কর।
In his historic address Bangabandhu put up three main conditions to enable him to join the National Assembly now scheduled to meet on 25 March in Dhaka: withdrawal of martial law, taking the military people back to barrack and investigation into the army atrocities on civilians, forming the provincial government immediately. He proclaimed that until these demands were met, all offices, courts, educational institutions would remain closed and all cooperation with the government would remain suspended. Bangabandhu further said that until the country was fully free, no tax would be paid to the illegitimate government and no money would be remitted to West Pakistan. He directed the people to make every home a fortress and fight the enemy with whatever weapons they had ready in hand. Bangabandhu concluded his speech declaring: এবারের সংগ্রাম আমাদের মুক্তির সংগ্রাম, এবারের সংগ্রাম আমাদের স্বাধীনতার সংগ্রাম। জয় বাংলা।
9 March In a large meeting at Paltan Maidan Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani and Ataur Rahman Khan declared independence. Bhashani also circulated a signed leaflet elaborating on the question of independence for Bangladesh. He declared that he would start the last phase of the struggle for independence in solidarity with Sheikh Mujib unless the independence idea was not peacefully recognized by the military by 25 March at the latest.
10 March Ataur Rahman Khan asked Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to form an interim independent Bangladesh government immediately.
11 March The Bangali members of the EPCS and CSP associations declared their loyalty to Bangabandhu and everybody donated their salary for one day to the Awami League fund.
14 March Swadhin Bangladesh Chhatra Sangram Parishad started resistance preparations by raising check posts in several key places of the city in order to stop supply to the military and stop outward cargoes to West Pakistan.
15 March President Yahya Khan arrived Dhaka accompanied by senior generals and officers. On the same day, SBCSP proclaimed that Bangladesh was already independent and the military had no legal right to make rules for them and that Bangladesh would obey only the orders of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. They invited all citizens of Bangladesh for an imminent armed struggle.
16 March Yahya's dialogue with Sheikh Mujib began and was to be continued intermittently up to 25 March.
18 March SBCSP called upon the world community to support the constitutional struggle for independence for Bangladesh and put up pressure on the Pakistan military regime to vacate Bangladesh.
19 March A skirmish took place at Gazipur Ordnance Factory and Joydevpur cantonment between the East and West Pakistan soldiers on the issue of East Bengal Regiment's refusal to fire on the protesting crowds. The crowds raised barricades at strategic points along the roads to stop the movements of the Pakistan army with vehicles.
Several persons were killed in the process by Pakistan army. Sheikh Mujib warned dire consequences of indiscriminate killings of men, women and children in Joydevpur and Tongi areas by the army.
20 March Calling a press conference in Chittagong, Maulana Bhashani asked Yahya Khan to form an interim government with Sheikh Mujib as its chief. He maintained that let this interim government decide what relations independent Bangladesh would keep with Pakistan in the future. He repeated the statement in a public meeting in Chittagong on the same day.
20-21 March Bangabandhu and other principal leaders met Yahya Khan and had long dialogues several times but without any noticeable progress.
22 March The picture of the Bangladesh national flag was printed in colour in all national newspapers. Swadhin Bangladesh Chhatra Sangram Parishad directed all nationalists to reject Pakistan Day and hoist instead the Bangladesh Flag on every house top. Hundreds of processions of all trades and professions passed the Bangabandhu's house chanting independent Bangladesh. Bangabandhu assured them his uncompromising support.
23 March The Bangali nationalists headed by the Kendriya Chhatra Sangram Parishad (Nure Alam Siddiqui, Shajahan Siraj, ASM Abdur Rob and Abdul Quddus Makhan) rejected Pakistan National Day. Swadhin Bangla Kendryiya Sramik Parishad hoisted the Bangladesh national flag on the top of the Bangabandhu's house. At Paltan Maidan was arranged an independence day parade by the Jai Bangla Bahini. The four leaders of the Kendriya Chhatra Sangram Parishad took salute of the 'independence parade'. The pre-recorded song Amar Sonar Bangla ...was played while taking salute to the national flag. Ten platoons and a band platoon of the Jai Bangla Bahini headed by the Shwadhin Bangladesh Chhatra Sangram Parishad proceeded to Bangabandhu's house parading all the way from Paltan Maidan. Bangabandhu addressed them and directed them to keep ready for the final victory.
24 March At the headquarters of East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) at Jessore, the sepoys chanted Jai Bangla and hoisted the Bangladesh flag and saluted it.
25 March In his presidential address to Sramik Federation and Biplabi Chhatra Union in a meeting, Kazi Zafar Ahmed dismissed the Yahiya-Mujib dialogue as a hoax and made a call to establish 'Independent People's Republic of Bangladesh' through an armed struggle. The port labours and officers refused to unload the cargoes from the Swat, which came from Karachi loaded with military hardware. Chittagong people raised barricades in all major roads to stall Pakistani troop movements. Yahya Khan and West Pakistani leaders left Dhaka incognito. Pakistan army's mid-night crackdown on Dhaka killed thousands of people.
Declaration of Independence
26 March In a message form, bangabandhu sheikh mujibur rahman declared independence. The message is said to have been made available to EPR shortly after midnight and it was duly broadcast through EPR radio communication system. Because the system was VHF frequency crystal controlled, not very many people did listen to the declaration. The message went:
This may be my last message, from today Bangladesh is independent. I call upon the people of Bangladesh wherever you might be and with whatever you have, to resist the army of occupation to the last. Your fight must go on until the last soldier of the Pakistan occupation army is expelled from the soil of Bangladesh and final victory is achieved.
Major ziaur rahman of East Bengal Regiment declared independence the following day (27 March);'
I Major Zia, Provisional Commander-in-Chief of the Bangladesh Liberation Army, hereby proclaims, on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the independence of Bangladesh.
'I also declare, we have already framed a sovereign, legal Government under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, which pledges to function as per law and the constitution. The new democratic Government is committed to a policy of non-alignment in international relations. It will seek friendship with all nations and strive for international peace. I appeal to all Government(s) to mobilige (sic) public opinion in their respective countries against the brutal genocide in Bangladesh. The Government under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is sovereign (and) legal Government of Bangladesh and is entitled to recognition from all democratic nations of the world.
30 March From the Shadhin Bangla Betarkendra Major Ziaur Rahman again declared that the Pakistan army, air force and navy had launched a combined operation against the civilian and killing people indiscriminately. He announced,
I once again request the United Nations and the big powers to intervene and physically come to our aid. Delay will mean massacre of additional millions.
10 April Many elected members of the National Assembly (MNAs) and Provincial Assembly (MPAs) assembled in Kolkata and formed themselves into a Constituent Assembly in exile and drafted the Proclamation of Independence, which was ceremoniously declared on 17 April at Baidyanathtala (renamed Mujibnagar after the proclamation, a border area in present Meherpur district), where Yusuf Ali, an MNA read out the Proclamation of Independence. The early part of the Proclamation states the background of the War of Liberation. Then it goes:
'We the elected representatives of the people of Bangladesh, as honour bound by the mandate given to us by the people of Bangladesh whose will is supreme duly constituted ourselves into a Constituent Assembly, and having held mutual consultations, and in order to ensure for the people of Bangladesh equality, human dignity and social justice, declare and constitute Bangladesh to be sovereign Peoples' (sic) Republic and thereby confirm the declaration of independence already made by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and do hereby affirm and resolve that till such time as a Constitution is framed, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman shall be the President of the Republic and that Syed Nazrul Islam shall be the Vice-President of the Republic, and that the President shall be the Supreme Commander of all the Armed Forces of the Republic...'
Retrospection A close examination of the developments of events, incidences and episodes from the earliest days of Pakistan to the announcement of the Six-Point Programme by the Awami League chief Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1966, people's response to general elections of 1970 and subsequent developments and eventual declaration of independence indicate that Muslim nationalism, the basis of Pakistan nationalism, was eroding fast from the very next year of the foundation of Pakistan and that the idea of independence for Bangladesh was evolving over time and gaining momentum after the general elections of 1970.
The December elections (1970) made Sheikh Mujib the sole spokesman of the Bengalis. Mujib got the mandate of his people to restructure the Constitution of Pakistan on the basis of Six Points. After the elections the Six-point formula became a legal document, a 'Bill of Rights' for the Bengali nation as a whole. Moved by the mandate, the elected representatives, like their counterparts at the Tennis Court Oath of the similarly placed Third Estate on the eve of the French Revolution, took a solemn oath at Ramna Race Course to the effect that they' would never budge from the Six-point formula and Eleven-point programmes while framing the new constitution for Pakistan.
Since the Oath Day (3 January 1971) Bangabandhu was never tired of reiterating it throughout the post election period until the last moment of the so-called dialogue. His dream was to make Pakistan a federation of states according to the letter and spirit of the Lahore Resolution (1940). The idea of 'states' in the text of the Lahore Resolution was reduced to a 'state' later on without taking any prior consent from the elected representatives of the people. Sheikh Mujib wanted to mend it and make it 'states' within the framework of the supra state of Pakistan.
Soon Mujib faced some theoretical difference on his federalist concept from the collective student leadership. They were inclined to believe that Mujib's scheme was too visionary, too unworkable. They developed a parallel political creed based on Bengali nationalism. For the Bengalis, they envisioned a new identity: Padma Meghna Jamuna Tomar Amar Thikana, a new nationhood. But developing such a nationalist ideology did not really mean to challenge the leader's main political tenets. It was only an alternative programme pursued with silent consent of the leader. If Six-point failed, one point, independence, must prevail. With his charisma and consummate skill, Mujib could maintain a balance between the militant nationalist aspirations of the younger generations on the one hand and the moderate federalists, on the other.
From 1 March, 1971 it became crystal clear to the nationalist activists and politically conscious masses that Pakistan military and political vested interests were not in the mood to honour the electoral verdict. It could readily be perceived that the West Pakistan's hegemonistic relations with East Pakistan over the last decades obtained such a complexity that it was practically impossible on the part of the military and civil elites to descend from their dominant position and agree to reshape the relations with the Bangalis in equal terms. To them, Six point formula meant allowing the Bangalis to demolish their dominant status first, and dissolve Pakistan next. For them the hard reality was to proceed for maintaining the given power structure with East Pakistan, if possible, and abandoning the sinking boat, if their attempt to salvage it failed.
Under the circumstances, nationalist activists, particularly student leadership, began to assert themselves and resolved to make East Pakistan independent from Pakistan through an armed struggle. The struggle got a good trial from the mass uprising of early 1969. Releasing Sheikh Mujib by means of warlike mass mobilization symbolized the burying of the concept of Pakistan and formal launching of Bangali nationalism, which was emerging underneath since the language movement. It is during the mass upsurge of 1969 that student and youth leadership got ascendancy in politics. Most of the senior leaders were in jail and consequently it was the students and youth who took the command in mobilizing the masses. The student leadership proved to be highly imaginative and inventive in thought and dynamic in action. They constituted Sangram Parishad at all levels of schools, colleges and universities. All peasant and labour fronts also formed Sangram Parishads. Many of the nationalist slogans and symbols used during the non-co'operation movement and during the war of liberation and even now were coined by student leaders during the stirring mass movement of 1969.
The nation-building processes deepened and acquired high velocity from 1 March, 1971. Circumstances so turned out since then that public mood began to shift from Six points to one point of students, complete independence. Apparently it looks contradictory that while Sheikh Mujib was trying to work out a peaceful solution to the crisis through dialogue, his nationalist student followers were putting pressure on him to declare independence outright.
The contradiction, however, appears to be more apparent than real. Bangabandhu's politics of Six points and student politics for outright independence became, in fact, symbiotic in relation. The Bangabandhu needed students as a pressure group and the students needed the Bangabandhu for protection. That Mujib was not unwilling to accept radical nationalist ideas of students is borne out by the facts that he very readily and enthusiastically used the nationalist prose and idioms invented by students in his public speeches ever since his acquittal from the agartala conspiracy case. He accepted with pride the nationalist title of Bangabandhu from student leadership. He also accepted and used the stirring slogan Jai Bangla and he never missed to mention eleven points when he spoke of his six points. It may be noted that though the slogans, idioms and symbols of the militant nationalist students were not strictly consistent with the six point political thought of the Bangabandhu, they regularly met him and had political discourse with him without having any disagreeable turn out ever.
The nationalist students and youth developed the concept of Bangali nationalism, gave a name to the perceived Bangali nation state and they also provided the theoretical basis of the perceived nation-state-Bangali nationalism, socialism, secularism and democracy. They gave a name to the nation- Bangladesh, a name that hitherto existed as a loose literary expression only, not as the concept of a nation. They invented a national slogan, Jai Bangla. They also made a father of the nation in the person of their leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman whom they hitherto adorned with a nationalist title, Bangabandhu. They made a flag for the nation, which they hoisted at Dhaka University at the time of their first declaration of independence on 2 March 1971. They also selected a national anthem for the nation: Amar Sonar Bangla.
All these icons and idioms of Bangladesh of pre-26 March are still venerated and sanctified by the nation, but with only one exception. It is the question of the declaration of independence. The series of open and opaque declarations of independence made by student leadership, public leaders of most political brands, sangram parishads, labour and peasant leaderships and so on are no pompous rhetoric historically.
Independence as a discourse became universal to the Bangali public from 1March,1971. The government did not treat these otherwise politically blasphemous declarations and slogans as seditious, because there was no government to question their bona fide, because the local and national Sangram Parishads brought the governance under their own control. From March 1 to 25 March, nothing moved without their sanctions and directions. The nationalist student leadership followed the Bangabandhu during the non-cooperation movement extremely faithfully, but with a difference. The Swadhin Bangla Kendriya Chhatra Sangram Parishad and the hierarchic Chatra Sangram Parishads and other sangram parishads were openly in favour of outright independence, while the Bangabandhu was in favour of six points and dialogue. But both Bangabandhu and student leadership declared the army-led government illegitimate and its control over the country was reduced to cantonments only.
Therefore, by confirming the date of independence of Bangladesh with effect from 26 March 1971, the elected and revolutionary government of Mujibnagar had perhaps ignored the virtual independence achieved by the people before 26 March. The historic fact is that all the prose and idioms that the Mujibnagar Government used were all coined and used by student and youth leaderships ever since 1969. The name of the nation as Bangladesh, slogan of the nation as Jai Bangla, father of the nation and his title Bangabandhu, national flag, national anthem, etc were all used during the non-cooperation movement. Ignoring the pre-26 March revolution is to ignore the very basis of the war of liberation and to ignore the theoretical and practical builders of the war of liberation.
In deciding the national Independence Day, the Mujibnagar government could have used profitably either of the two historic models before them. One is the model of the American Revolution. While all protests and dialogues with the centre failed, the elected deputies of the colonies met at Pennsylvania on July 4 and declared independence with effect from that date. The Bangladesh elected deputies could have done the same when they met at Mujibnagar on April 10. Alternatively, they could have used the model of the French Revolution. Storming the Bastille prison (an old fort then used as a prison) by the crowds on 14 July 1789 has been made the National Day for France, because the episode of storming the prison house by the agitating people on that day was symbolized by the Revolutionaries as the beginning of the end of the despotic French Monarchy and assertion of liberty, equality and fraternity by the people. Releasing Sheikh Mujib on 22 January 1969 by a mass uprising symbolized the end of Ayubean despotism and victory of the people. If primacy could be given to sovereign will of the people, this day is arguably the most significant for the inauguration of the Bangladesh nation-building journey. Next most suitable day was possibly the great seventh march address by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Another very significant day to demonstrate people's power and will was 23 March. On that day, national flag was hoisted on the tops of most houses and offices of Bangladesh, ceremonial parade was held, and the national flag accompanied by national anthem was hoisted and saluted ceremonially. All marks of independence were visible on that day.
Independence seemed so real on that day that the Awami League organ Jai Bangla asserted that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared independence on 23 March. The declaration drafted in legal form and signed by M.Yusuf Ali was printed in its issue of 11 May 1971. This claim, however, went out of currency later.
To historians and social scientists, the politics of the declaration of independence thus presents an interesting but enigmatic issue. In the current debate among politicians, the greatest importance is attached to who declared independence on 26 March 1971. Questions are not asked as to who prepared the ground for it, who prepared the substructure on which the superstructure was built. Contemporary history is essentially the voice of the people in power. That explains why declarer of independence changes in the school text books with the change of regime. Who decides it finally? For judgment history always takes note of a range of time, never of a point of time, which is ephemeral and momentary, and thus bears least historical significance. The nation building processes of Bangladesh are still active, and so are all these differences of opinions among the public leaders. But at least some issues of our history of independence are now beyond dispute. These are Sheikh Mujib's contributions to the unfolding of Bangali aspirations, identity and nationalism, and contributions of the most dynamic collective student leadership to the conceptualization and formalization of the nationalist struggle for independence. [Sirajul Islam]