Elections 1954

Elections 1954 held in East Pakistan in March 1954 under the India Act of 1935, and on the basis of universal adult franchise. The contesting parties in the elections were the ruling muslim league and a five-party alliance called united front. The major partners of the Front were the Awami Muslim League led by Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani, the krishak sramik party led by AK Fazlul Huq, Nezam-e-Islam led by Maulana Atahar Ali, Ganatantri Dal led by Haji Mohammad Danesh and Khilafat-e-Rabbani Party.

In the elections held from 8 to 12 March, 1285 candidates contested for 304 seats, 5 seats having been won uncontested. Of them, 986 were Muslim candidates for 228 seats, 101 Hindu candidates for 30 seats, and 151 scheduled caste candidates for 36 seats. The seats for the non-Muslims were contested by candidates mainly from the Pakistan National Congress, United Progressive Party and the Scheduled Caste Federation. The total electors numbered 1,97,48,568 of whom 73,44,216 (37.19%) cast their votes. The lower turnout was ascribed to poor communications in rural areas and the reluctance of conservative Muslim women to come out of their houses.

The elections resulted in a landslide victory for the United Front which won 228 seats in a House of 309 (including nine reserved seats for women). On the other hand, the Muslim League, the party in power directly or indirectly ever since 1937, managed to get only 7 seats. Of the total of 228 elected Front members, 143 belonged to Awami Muslim League, 48 to Krishak Sramaik Party, 22 to Nezam-e-Islam, 13 to Ganatantri Dal and 2 to Khilafat-e-Rabbani Party. Of the non-Muslim seats, Congress got 25, Scheduled Caste Federation 27, and the United Front of the Minorities 13.

The United Front campaigned on a 21-point election manifesto that spoke for recognition of Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan, abolition of zamindari system, nationalising jute trade, introduction of cooperative farming, rehabilitation of refugees, flood control, modernising agriculture, reforming the education system, rescinding all black laws, rationalising the pay scales, erradication of corruption, separating judiciary from the executive, erection of a monument in memory of language martyrs, converting Burdwan House into a Bangla language development institute, declaring 21 February as Shaheed Day and a public holiday, and establishment of full provincial autonomy. These popular demands were put up by leaders like AK Fazlul Huq, huseyn shaheed suhrawardy, Maulana Bhasani and sheikh mujibur rahman. With the support of left political workers, the United Front leaders could operate with considerable ease at the grassroots level. The United Front could fully exploit issues like the killing of students on 21 February 1952, and ever rising prices of essential goods, particularly of salt and rice. The largescale detention of opposition political workers also made the people suspicious of the intentions of the Muslim League.

The United Front's victory proved illusory long before the euphoria wore out. On March 25, East Pakistan governor Choudhury Khaliquzzaman asked Krishak Sramik Party leader AK Fazlul Huq to form the ministry. But in the ministry formed on 3 April the Awami Muslim League was left out. This created a crisis in the Front, and Fazlul Huq was obliged to expand his cabinet on May 15 to include Abul Mansur Ahmed, Ataur Rahman Khan, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Abdus Salam Khan and Hashimuddin. The same day a serious riot between the Bangali and non-Bangali workers of the Adamjee Jute Mills at Narayanganj caused the death of nearly 1500 workers. The communist activists were held responsible for the tragedy, and the Fazlul Huq government was blamed for its failure in controlling the situation. On May 30, the ministry was dismissed and direct governor's rule was imposed. Around 1600 Front leaders and workers, including 30 members of the legislature, were put behind the bars. The Awami League, however, returned to power on its own on 30 August 1956 with Ataur Rahman Khan as chief minister, but only to resign a few months later. [Enamul Haq]