Independence Day of Bangladesh

Background: In February 1971, I was a student of 2nd year HSC in Government Intermediate College at Chittagong. That was the time when I had been busy with my friends to bring out a magazine for 21st February celebration in remembrance of the Language Movement of 1952. We had very less time at hand! So we were working very hard and without any routine, going around in the sun to collect advertisements and write-ups! I could not sustain the pressure and had fallen sick. My physical condition was so severe that I had to leave City house and go to the village home, to live with my mother and rest of the family. Just a week before 21st February, I left Chittagong town and went home in our village at Gomdandi of Boalkhali Upazila. I was very sad because eventually I missed the celebration of ‘Language Day’ with my friends in the college. I was more into the cultural activities than the student-politics of that time. But, we all knew that the streets of the then East Pakistan and the country’s overall atmosphere was getting hotter with every passing day, and with every new political event unfolding.

How it Started: The General Election, first ever in Pakistan since its birth in August 1947, held on 7th December 1970. Voting took place in all parliamentary constituencies to elect MNAs (Members of National Assembly). The election also saw MPAs (Members of the Provincial Assembly) elected in all five provinces of Pakistan, namely: Punjab, Sindh, Northwest Frontier Province, Baluchistan and East Pakistan. The Awami League (AL) won 167 of the 169 seats allotted to East Pakistan, and thus a majority of the 313 seats in the National Assembly and 298 of the 310 seats in the Provincial Assembly of East Pakistan. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won only 81 seats in the National Assembly and was the winning party in Punjab and Sindh. National Awami Party (NAP) emerged victorious in Northwest Frontier Province and Balochistan. The elections were a fierce contest between Awami League (AL) and Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP). The AL was the sole major party in East Pakistan, while in the four provinces of West Pakistan the PPP faced severe competition from the conservative factions of Muslim League, the largest of which was Muslim League (Qayyum), as well as Islamist parties like Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), JamiyatUlema-e-Islam (JUI) and JamiatUlema-e-Pakistan (JUP).

The bitter fact is, both AL and PPP did not get any seat in the other wing of the country though each had huge majority in East and West Pakistan respectively. However, according to the constitution of Pakistan, AL was supposed to form the Government to rule the combined Pakistan. But the Chairman of PPP,Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had an infamous uttering on 14th March: “Hum Idhar, TumUdhar”! (We rule here, you rule there)- thus dividing Pakistan for the first time orally. Similar mindset of the then Government, that strongly opposed the idea of an ‘East Pakistani-led government’ led to the partition of Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh.


Unfolding Events: Due to the pressure created by political unrest the then President of Pakistan Field Marshall Mohammad Ayub Khan resigned and handed over power to the then Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, on 26th March 1969. He imposed Martial Law and the constitution was abrogated. On 31st March 1970, President Yahya Khan announced a Legal Framework Order (LFO), which called for direct elections for a unicameral legislature. The purpose of the LFO was to secure the future constitution which would be written after the election so that it would include safeguards such as preserving Pakistan’s territorial integrity and Islamic ideology. As mentioned earlier, the election results gave AL the constitutional right to form a government. However, Mr. Bhutto refused to allow Sheikh Mujib to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Instead, he proposed the idea of having two Prime Ministers, one for each wing. The proposal elicited outrage in the East wing. On 3rd March the National Assembly was scheduled to sit with the newly elected MNAs, but Govt. announced the cancellation of the date on 1st March. Political agitation turned fierce on the streets of Dhaka. On 2nd March curfew was imposed. People were killed. Sheikh Mujib called for province-wide continuous Hartal from 3rd March. On 6thMarch President Yahya announced that Assembly will sit on 23rd March. On 7 March 1971, Sheikh Mujib delivered a speech at the Racecourse Ground (now called the Suhrawardy Udyan). In this speech he mentioned four-point condition to the Govt: 1. The immediate lifting of martial law; 2. Immediate withdrawal of all military personnel to their barracks, 3. An inquiry into the loss of life, and 4. Immediate transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people before the proposed assembly meeting on 23rdMarch.In his fierce speech he urged his people to turn every house into a fort of resistance. He closed his speech saying, “Our struggle is for our freedom. Our struggle is for our independence.” This speech is considered by many as the main event that inspired the nation to fight for its independence. In East Pakistan, first the Non co-operation and then, the civil disobedience movement started.

On 15th March President Yahya came to Dhaka for ‘negotiations’ with Sheikh Mujib. From 16th bilateral talk started and continued. Bhutto feared a civil war, therefore, he sent his trusted companion, Mubashir Hassan to East Pakistan. A message was conveyed, and Shiekh Mujib decided to meet Bhutto. Bhutto came to Dhaka on 21st and on 22nd, the two leaders of the two wings along with the President Yahya Khan met in Dacca to decide the fate of the country. But the discussions failed. President Yahya again postponed the session of National Assembly. Sheikh Mujib had bilateral talks with Bhutto. The two leaders discussed and agreed to form a Coalition Government with Seikh Mujib as Premier and Bhutto as President. The Military was unaware of this development.

Tensions rose and Eastern part of Pakistan was not under any control of the government. On March 23, Bengalis following Mujib’s lead defiantly celebrated “Resistance Day” in East Pakistan instead of the traditional all-Pakistan “Republic Day”. Yahya decided to “solve” the problem of East Pakistan by repression. On the evening of March 25, 1970 he flew back to Islamabad. The military crackdown in East Pakistan began that same night, in the name: “Operation Searchlight”. The Pakistani armed forces brutally killed unarmed Bengali civilians, attacked Bengali police members at night in the Rajarbag Police Barak at Dhaka and isolated Bengali members of the Armed forces in the cantonments. The Junta annulled the results of the 1970 elections and arrested Prime Minister-designate Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.


The Independence: By the daybreak of 26th March the whole country got alarmed of the Pakistani military outbreak on its own people. Essentially, the civil war started. In the evening, from the transmitting station of Radio Chittagong at Kalurghat (not the Radio station at Agrabad) independence of Bangladesh was declared for the first time. The declaration was made, on behalf of ‘our great leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’ by the then Major Ziaur Rahman, who was the second-in-command of 8 East Bengal Regiment stationed at Sholashahar, Chittagong, and later fought the war of liberation as the Z-Force Commanders, one of the 11 sectors. The night-before, under the leadership of Major Zia, all Bengali Officers and men of 8 East Bengal Regiment broke out of the camp. They walked along the railway line from Sholashahar, crossed Kalurghat bridge and reached Gomdandi Railway Station by the morning of 26th. They established the camp at Gomdandi High School, founded by my father, and only 150 yards from our village home.

Chittagong was cut off from the capital for 12 days and was virtually independent. After that a battle ship PNS Babur of Pakistan Navy, having massive firepower, anchored at Chittagong Port. Gradually Pakistan military took control of Chittagong, and all personnel defected from Pakistani Armed forces, EPR, East Pakistan Police, Ansar, UOTC and civilians volunteered to fight against Pakistan started drifting towards Indian border. The 8 E Bengal Regimenttoo left Gomdandi High School and crossed into India. The transmitter of Radio Chittagong was moved to a secret location inside India and “Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendra”, only Radio station for the liberation forces was established.

Millions of people left Bangladesh and took refuse in India. India sheltered and fed them.  They provided safe sanctuary for our Freedom Fighters (FF), provided them training and weapons. Gradually all elements of our FFs got organized under the leadership of senior military Officers. The commander of this force was Colonel (later, General) M A G Osmani. For the purpose of operation the land area of the whole country was divided into 10 operational Sectors. 11th sector was the Naval sector, in the sea area. Fighting continued and in Bangladesh the Pakistani forces were on the verge of defeat. On 3rd December 1971 Pakistan declared war against India. In that war Pakistan got finally defeated. The Instrument of Surrender was signed between the military commanders of Pakistan and India, and there was no participation/ presence of Freedom Fighters. However, the surrender ceremony took place in liberated Bangladesh on 16th December 1971.

It was a civil war for us to reclaim our own rights, and India, having land-border on three of our sides, helped us in all possible ways. They helped the FFs and the refugees, and sided with our cause in global diplomacy. They even sacrificed many lives of their Army personnel, of course for their own geo-political interest and goal, apart from a special kind of friendship with Bangladesh, we are enjoying even after our independence.

Conclusion: The majority party that won the election was not allowed to form the Government, just because the party was from East Pakistan and because the President, who was unelected, and the PPP did not want it to happen. This caused great unrest in East Pakistan which soon escalated into the call for Independence on March 26, 1971 and ultimately led to the War of Independence with East Pakistan becoming the independent State of Bangladesh. As such we very fervently celebrate this day as the Day of Independence.

Colonel Z. R. M. Ashraf Uddin,

Psc, G (Retired): An educationist, researcher and poet, Works with School Psychology

Ref:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangladesh_Liberation_War, retrieved 15.12.2019.
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Pakistani_War_of_1971, retrieved 15.12.2019.
  3. http://www.genocidebangladesh.org/march-1971/, retrieved 04.01.2020.

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