Oath-taking at Bidyanathtala
Bangladesh Liberation War Mujibnagar Government Documents 1971; compiled and edited by Sukumar Biswas; Mowla Brothers; February 2005; Taka 1200; 655 pp.
It is undoubtedly true that the Bangladesh War of Liberation is the most remarkable event in the history of the people of Bangladesh, and it is equally true that the documentation of this struggle is a continuous process. Unfortunately, since the history of the liberation war has become a highly politicized matter, its history, and interpretations of it, have become a contested site. Though the war in 1971 was itself the historical consequence of a long-lasting economic, political and social oppression, it is often treated as an outburst of the oppressed people.
It was as a part and a continuation of this history that the Pakistani army launched a barbarous attack on civilians on the night of March 25, 1971. It was the beginning of a genocide with rare parallels in world history. After the declaration of independence by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 25th March, a provisional, independent government of Bangladesh was formally established on 10 th April, 1971. The oath-taking ceremony of this provisional government took place at Bidyanathtala under Meherpur sub-division of Kushtia district, which was subsequently renamed as Mujibnagar. From then on, this provisional Bangladesh government came to be popularly known as ‘Mujibnagar Government’.
Yet there is a scarcity of reliable documentation about the Mujibnagar Government, which played not only the pivotal role in our struggle for independence, but which is also considered as the first non-institutionalized government of the Bangladeshi people. The provisional government of Mujibnagar had to face tremendous hurdles, but, as the author puts it in his preface, ‘it eventually succeeded in achieving independence through farsightedness, firm mental strength and relentless effort. The Mujibnagar Government was recruiting freedom-fighters for fighting against the Pakistan army, giving them training and making and implementing war-plans, (and) also had to keep in their mind the responsibilities of arrangement of relief of nearly ten million refugees in India, sending emissaries to different countries of the world, making efforts to form world opinion and also maintain overall good relations with India regarding all aspects (of the military and civil struggle).’
The book is arranged in four sections: In the first part are 77 out of 82 press releases issued by the Mujibnagar Government. The second part contains ‘Bangladesh‘ a bulletin published by the Mujibnagar Government. The third part includes news items in the foreign press related to Bangladesh and the freedom movement which started after the crackdown of Pakistan army on March 25. The fourth part contains a number of documents of the Mujibnagar Government and rare photographs of that period. The latter is indeed the great attraction of this book.
Though many books have been published on the liberation war or its background over the last 34 years, few of them have focused on the Mujibnagar Government. In the case of documents pertaining to the liberation war, the most definitive is the official, 14-volume Bangladesher Swadhinata Juddho, Dalilpatra, edited by Hasan Hafizur Rahman, published by the Bangladesh government. While that does include papers and documents relating to the Mujibnagar Government, they are not arranged chronologically. Also, some of the documents in Mujibnagar, as Professor Salahuddin writes in the foreword,’had remained hitherto unknown.’ Given the specific focus of Dr. Biswas’s book, it therefore gives us a truer picture of the Mujibnagar Government. Of special interest is that all 26 volumes of ‘Bangladesh‘– a journal brought out by the then newly formed External Publicity Division of the Mujibnagar Government to fight the crucial publicity and propaganda war–has been published here for the first time.
But here one must note that typos abound: indeed, at the very beginning, the author’s introduction is spelt ‘Indtroduction.’ At times the indexing has been overdone; for example, ‘Gestapo rule,’ and ‘Gestapo’ are indexed separately on pp. 185 and 157. Why? And if that is to be the case, then why leave out ‘Gestapo interrogation’?
But, in conclusion, it must be said that it is a necessary book, one that should be of interest to all Bangladeshis concerned about the history of their freedom struggle. Dr. Sukumar Biswas, a researcher on our liberation war as well as publisher Mowla Brothers, are to be commended for having undertaken to bring out this book.
Zobaida Nasreen is a graduate of the Anthropology Department, Jahangirnagar University.
Documenting a government-in-exile
by Syed Badrul Ahsan
There has generally been a rather woeful dearth of documentation relating to the War of Liberation as well as the period preceding it. The paucity of recorded material stands out in sharp contrast to the materials that have been with us about the partition of India in 1947. If we were now to go into a search for papers dealing with the Rawalpindi Round Table Conference of 1969 or the Mujib-Bhutto-Yahya talks of March 1971, we would come away quite disappointed. That would be because apart from the discrete views made known by the parties involved in such happenings of historic proportions, there is little else to actually work upon.
It is from such a perspective, or away from it, that Sukumar Biswas’s collection and collation of documents relating to the Mujibnagar government of 1971 assume significance. Documents is in many ways the first time (and do not forget that there is the very authoritative Muldhara ’71 of Maidul Hasan as well to fall back on) a scholar has attempted to put together some documents he feels are important to an understanding of how the Bangladesh government-in-exile conducted itself in the extremely difficult months of the war. Statements put out by Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam, Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed and Foreign Minister Khondokar Moshtaque Ahmed find prominence in the anthology. There are too the turning points of the war, particularly in relation to the emerging nation’s diplomacy. The defections of Bengali officers of Pakistan’s Foreign Service are noted in great detail by the Mujibnagar authorities. It is these crucial announcements of how a military struggle for freedom is being systematically strengthened in various ways that Biswas now puts on record. Especially intriguing is the move, an abortive one, by the Pakistani authorities to have A.F.M Abul Fateh, a Bengali serving as Pakistan’s ambassador abroad, extradited to Islamabad once he switches allegiance to the Mujibnagar government.
Mujibnagar Government Documents 1971 focuses in an important way on the stupendous efforts put in by expatriate Bengalis to propagate the national cause throughout the course of the war. The Bangladesh Association of Japan sends out a congratulatory telegram to M. Hossain Ali for his courageous move of declaring allegiance to Bangladesh in the early phase of the war. In Washington, the Bengal Revolutionary Committee, led by Mian Nawab, appeals to the international community to accord diplomatic recognition to the Bangladesh government. The documents make note of the many steps the Mujibnagar government took to present the Bangladesh cause before the global arena. One notes that Abdus Samad, later to be a minister in both the Mujib and Hasina governments, travelled to Budapest as the representative of the Mujibnagar government at a peace conference in May 1971. A government press note in June urges Bengalis proceeding to London from their occupied country to avoid passing through Karachi airport. Syed Nazrul Islam despatches a telegram in October 1971 to West German Chancellor Willy Brandt on the latter’s coming by the Nobel Prize for Peace.
Overall, Mujibnagar Documents demonstrates the clarity of purpose with which the government-in-exile operated despite the many constraints it was weighed down by. It was a government on which a war had been thrust by the Yahya Khan military junta. And it acquitted itself well. Read the notes and letters reproduced in the concluding section of the anthology.
Bangladesh Liberation War Mujibnagar
Government Documents 1971
Collected, compiled, edited by Sukumar Biswas
ISBN 984 410 434 3