United Front

United Front an alliance of the opposition parties to contest seats in the elections to the East Bengal Legislative Assembly held between 8-12 March 1954. The result was a comprehensive victory for the alliance or front composed mainly of four parties of East Bengal, namely awami league, Krishak Sramik Party, Nizam-e-Islam and Ganatantri Dal.

The Front campaigned on an election manifesto that incorporated a package of twenty one point programme adopted by the Front in November 1953. In addition to full regional autonomy, the manifesto demanded that the central government should delegate to the eastern province all subjects except defence, foreign affairs and currency. It also called for recognition of Bangla as a state language, release of political prisoners, transformation of the then official residence (Burdwan House) of the chief minister of East Bengal into Bangla Academy, construction of Shaheed Minar at the site of the police firing in 1952, declaration of 21 February as a public holiday, more autonomy for Dhaka and Rajshahi universities, introduction of economic and social rights for industrial workers in keeping with the principles of ILO, nationalisation of jute, guarantee of fair prices for commodities, and public support for cooperatives and cottage industries.

During the early period of Pakistan, economic disparity, poor representation of Bangalis in government, and politico-cultural repression pursued by the ruling elite of Pakistan accentuated political problems in East Bengal. Most importantly, the deprivation of Banglis from due participation in the decision-making process gave rise to the politics of regionalism in East Bengal. The resultant development was that the political forces of East Bengal were gradually pushed to launch new political platforms and organise movements against the central government based in the western part of the country.

The general elections to the East Bengal legislative assembly due in 1951 could not be held until 1954. Several postponements of the elections under various pretexts only proved malicious motives, organisational weaknesses and vulnerability of the ruling party, muslim league. In fact, the United Front reflective of all shades of political spectrum in the province emerged mainly due to the failure of the Muslim League as a ruling party, and other historical, political and economic reasons. The decision to form a united front was initially endorsed on 14 November 1953 at the historic council session of the Awami League held at Mymensingh. Subsequently, the Front for a while dominated the political landscape of East Bengal and had its usefulness as an effective political platform to unite diverse political groups.

The United Front won 223 seats out of 309 Muslim seats in the assembly, whereas the ruling Muslim League managed to capture only 9 seats, and all five members of the Muslim League Ministry including the chief minister (Nurul Amin), were defeated. As many as 1285 candidates contested in the election held on the basis of adult franchise. In all 986 candidates contested for 228 Muslim seats, 101 candidates for 30 general seats and 151 candidates for 36 scheduled caste seats. The Pakistan National Congress, the United Progressive Party and the Schedule Caste Federation were the main contenders for the non-Muslim seats, 37 candidates contested for 9 seats reserved for Muslim women. The United Front candidates captured all the seats reserved for the women.

For Muslim constituencies, the turnout of voters was 37.6 percent. Although low by contemporary international standards, the turnout seemed considerable in view of the inadequate communication facilities, and the poor turnout of the women voters because of the prevailing conservative outlook in the society. For some reasons, communists did not campaign under their own party banner but preferred to contest as nominees of the United Front; 15 seats were won by them.

The resultant development after the election was that the United Front leader, ak fazlul huq, was invited on 3 April 1954 by the provincial governor to form the government. Importantly, however, the election result was a signal to the end of the dominance of the national elite in the politics of East Bengal; landowners had given away to a younger generation of professional university-trained elite, comprising lawyers, journalists, teachers and businessmen. A vast majority of the elected members were new, relatively young and inexperienced in government and politics. Out of the 223 members elected under the United Front banner, 130 belonged to the Awami League.

The architects of the United Front victory in East Bengal were the triumvirate, A K Fazlul Huq, huseyn shaheed suhrawardy, and Maulana abdul hamid khan bhasani, and it was most likely that the charisma of each of them influenced voters much. However, within a year or so after the election, the United Front disintegrated because of clashes of personalities, intra-alliance disagreements and dissension, and divergent party programmes. [Kamal Uddin Ahmed]