If one has to select a South-Asian politician having the most colourful and eventful career, the name of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman will come to mind without any hesitation. On realizing the imperative of the economic emancipation of the people of Bengal, he stepped into the political arena at a very young age. The sole aim of his politics was freeing Bengal from the clutches of the British rulers first and then from that of the Pakistani marauders. A study of his career from 1954 till 1971 will corroborate the truth of the statement. Here is a brief narrative of the political courses followed by Bangabandhu during that period.
Bangabandhu was elected a member of the East Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1954 and was appointed a minister of the United Front Government. Incidentally, he was the youngest Minister of the AK Fazlul Huq’s government. In 1955, he was elected member of the second Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. Bangabandhu became a minister again when Awami League formed the provincial cabinet under Ataur Rahman Khan in 1956.
Following the promulgation of Martial Law by General Ayub Khan in October 1958, along with many politicians, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was imprisoned for 14 months. He was again sent to prison in 1962. The turning point in his career came when he placed his 6-Point charter at a political conference in Lahore in February 1966. He outlined the creation of a Federal State structure for Pakistan and full autonomy for East Pakistan with a parliamentary democratic system.
But Pakistani military rulers could not take his 6-Point charter easily and declared it seditious. As a result, Bangabandhu was arrested under the Defence of Pakistan Rules on 8 May 1966. In 1968 he was formally charged with sedition to make East Pakistan independent with the help of India. The case earned great fame as the Agartola Conspiracy Case. Since it was a baseless case, framed only to harass Sheikh Mujib before the international community and the people of East Pakistan, his lawyers fought tooth and nail for evidence. The lawyers on the side of Pakistan rulers found it difficult to make a proper case out of it. The Bengali masses of East Pakistan, especially the student community, understood the “game” Ayub Khan was playing to put Bangabandhu in jail for an indefinite period. But, in the face of mass upsurge, Ayub Khan was compelled to withdraw the case in February 1969. A victorious body of people and students took their leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman out of Dhaka Cantonment. He became a national leader who planted the dream of a free and independent Bangladesh in the hearts of every Bengali in the world.
From there on, Bangabandhu’s politics evolved around that one and only dream – Bangladesh. He could see clearly that Pakistanis would never agree to share the resources of the country on an equal basis. They exploited the Bengalis for their resources like jute, tea and hide. In the 1970 general election, Awami League won a landslide victory and earned the right to be the prime minister of Pakistan. But the military government of General Yahya Khan, in cahoots with ZA Bhutto, denied him the right on some flimsy ground. This led to continued mass movement and death of innocent Bengalis on the streets. The student community started to exert pressure on him to declare total independence from Pakistan. But, a mature Bangabandhu waited for the right moment to declare independence by putting the blame on the Pakistanis. Accordingly, to pacify the students, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman addressed a large public meeting at Ramna Racecourse on 7 March, and delivered a historic address.
Choosing carefully his words in the extempore speech, he told the Pakistanis to withdraw Martial Law immediately and transfer power to the elected representatives of the people. At the same time he told the people to remain alert against conspiracy and be prepared in every house. He also told them that this time the movement was for emancipation and independence. The people got the message from his speech and made their own plans.
Meanwhile, political dialogue between Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the Pakistani military regarding handing over of power went on despite little progress. ZA Bhutto was hell-bent on becoming prime minister of Pakistan so he made it difficult for them to progress further. At one stage, he even proposed a funny solution saying that Mujib should be prime minister of East Pakistan and Bhutto of West Pakistan. But the military rulers had a more vicious plan for Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. After launching a country-wide Genocide of the worst kind on the night of 25 March, they arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and took him to Pakistan.
This triggered a massive armed resistance throughout East Pakistan in the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The 7.5 crore Bengalis plunged into a 9-month long guerrilla warfare against the heavily armed Pakistani soldiers. On 16 December, 1971, with the surrender of nearly one lakh Pakistani soldiers to Bangladesh-India joint forces, a free and independent Bangladesh came into being. Bangabandhu returned on 10 January 1972 to Bangladesh – his life-long dream.
The writer is Advisory Editor of the Bangladesh Post