In the general elections held in December 1970 Awami League led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had bagged majority seats of Pakistan National Assembly. March 3 was fixed by President Yahya Khan as the date for the inaugural session of the Assembly in Dhaka. But a deep conspiracy was hatched to foil the electoral verdict of the people of Bangladesh. And as part of that President Yahya Khan on March 1, 1971 in a impromptu address to the nation postponed sine die the scheduled inaugural session of the Assembly. In fact, that was the beginning of the end of the existence of Pakistan as a state which was, in fact, ‘a historical mystery, geographical absurdity and political blunder.’
Bangladesh was thrown into flames by Yahya Khan’s sudden announcement. On March 1, a Test Cricket match was in progress at Dhaka Stadium. No sooner had the announcement came on the air at 1 pm, people ransacked the stadium and came out with slogans in favour of independence. Bangabandhu and his party colleagues were holding a meeting then at Hotel Purbani in Motijheel. Angry demonstrators gathered there in thousands and raised various slogans. Bangabandhu in a brief address to them protested the postponement of parliament session and urged the people to unite against the conspiracy. On March 2, students hoisted new ‘National flag of Bangladesh’ on Dhaka University campus raising a slogan that said, “Jinnah’s Pakistan now rests in Azimpur Gorostan( Graveyard).”
In protest against the military junta’s conspiracy against Bangalees, Bangabandhu launched a Non-cooperation Movement and called for countrywide 6am to 2pm hartal everyday from March 2 to 6. On March 3, Swadhin Bangla Chhatra Sangam Parishad revealed the ‘Manifesto of Independence’ at a public meeting at Paltan Maidan.
Dhaka had turned into a city of procession on March 3. In scores of processions people in thousands attended the public meeting organised by Students’ Action Committee at Paltan Maidan. From this meeting Bangbandhu announced his Non-cooperation Movement program. He said payment of taxes will remain suspended until the government repression is stopped. Hartal will be observed everyday from 6am to 2pm. All offices, courts, mills and factories, school-colleges, rail-steamer will remain closed. “Come to Race Course on March 7, I shall announce the next course of action,” he said.
Then amid continued hartal and movement on the streets came the unforgettable March 7, 1971. Only a few reporters get the rare opportunity of covering an event that reshapes history and leads a nation towards freedom and I am proud of being one of them. I had the privilege of covering the historic 7th March address of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the then Race Course Ground in 1971.
Long 42 years have elapsed since March 7. 1971, but the whole scenario including the mammoth gathering of freedom loving people and the epoch-making address by the Bangabandhu, the poet of politics, are still fresh in my mind. I consider it as the most glorious success of my life as a journalist that I had the opportunity to cover Bangabandhu’s 7th March address which is compared by many with the Gettysburg Address of Abraham Lincoln.
I was then a Senior Staff Reporter of the daily Ittefaq, attached to Bangabandhu for covering the political developments. As usual I was assigned to cover the 7th March speech of Bangabndhu. Much before his address was delivered, the whole Race Course, now Suhrawardy Udyan turned into a human sea. I still wonder, how about one million people of all ages and from all parts of the country, many carrying ‘lathis and baithas’ in hands and all chanting thunderous slogans of ‘Joy Bangla,’ and ‘Joy Bangabandhu’ had gathered in the Race Course Ground that day. It seemed to us that only a small number of people of Dhaka, then a small city, stayed back in their homes that day.
I had the opportunity to cover about 150 public meetings of Bangabandhu across the country before and after the 1970 elections. But never before I had seen Bangabandhu in such a revolutionary appearance as on March 7. In my opinion history allows a great leader to appear in such revolutionary image and with such decisive address only once in a lifetime. And for Bangabandhu the day was March 7 and the address was the one delivered on that day.
Bangabandhu in his address narrated the stories of deprivation of and repression on the people of Bangladesh and urged the people to turn every house into a fort and get ready with whatever is available to fight the enemy. He vowed, “As we have shed blood, we would give more blood, but must we liberate the people of Bangladesh”. As the elected leader of 75 million people Bangabandhu declared amid thunderous applauses of the people, “The struggle this time is for emancipation, the struggle this time is for liberation”.
Bangabandhu in his address tactfully stopped short of making unilateral declaration of independence in order to avert a possible massacre of the people starting from Race Course that very day. He took time and left the avenue open for eventual ‘talks’ only on strategic ground. This showed another aspect of Bangabandhu’s prudence, political sagacity and love for his people.
Bangabandhu’s 7th March address gave the nation the guideline for armed struggle for liberation. And from that point of view the address was the informal declaration of independence which was given the final shape by him in the early hours of 26 March, 1971.
Since the beginning of the Non-cooperation Movement the administration of Pakistani rulers had virtually collapsed and Bangladesh was being run under the directives of Bangabandhu, especially after his historic 7th March speech everybody in Bangladesh took him as the lawful and real ruler of Bangladesh. It was due to this fact that the then Chief Justice of Dhaka High Court Justice BA Siddiqui refused to administer oath of office to ‘Butcher of Beluchistan’ general Tikkah Khan who was appointed governor of ‘East Pakistan’ repalcing moderate Shahebzada Yakub Khan.
Well ahead of the proclamation of independence of Bangladesh in the early hours of March 26, Bangabandhu on March 7 declared: ‘The struggle this time is for our emancipation, the struggle this time is for independence’. This declaration, in fact, was the maiden formal message of Bangabandhu to the people to get ready for armed struggle to achieve independence.
Bangabandhu’s speech changed the course of history and the whole nation started preparing for final showdown with the Pakistani rulers. People across the country — from the capital to remote villages — continued to raise slogans like : ‘Sab Kother Shesh Kotha Bangladesher Swadhinata’ and ‘Bir Bangalee Astro Dhoro, Bangladesh Mukto Koro’. The entire country from Teknaf to Tetulia was boiling with tension running high.
Against this backdrop, President Yahya Khan came to Dhaka on March 15 to hold talks with Bangabandhu on the country’s political crisis. In fact, the events that followed made it clear that his move for talks was just a ploy to confuse the people and buy time to finalise preparations for launching a brutal assault on the Bangalees.
Mujib-Yahya meeting started next day, March 16, and continued in several sessions. But the meeting failed to generate any positive outcome. And finally Bangalee nation had to take up arms for liberation as Bangabandhu had asked them to get prepared for.
Author : Amir Hossain, The writer is Editor, daily sun.