Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a charismatic leader

Bangabandhu affixes his signature to the draft of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

The people of Bangladesh observed a National Mourning Day on August 15 in memory of father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur. Better known as Bangabandhu, he was an outstanding orator and hugely a charismatic personality matched by few. His whole life was full of constant struggle and it is difficult to keep a count on how many times he was sent behind the bars. I was a young officer of information ministry in 1969 when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came to Rawalpindi to attend all-parties conference convened by President Ayub Khan. It was during this visit I had the first and the last occasion to see Sh. Sahib when my late elder brother, Riaz Ahmed Pirzada, President of Rawalpindi, Awami League invited him for a lunch. I distinctly remember that while talking on the religion and the state, Sh Sahib had said, “Religion is the weakest bond between the two Wings. There are several independent Muslim countries but these cannot group into one sovereign state. Remember anything that could keep us united was only possible when 6-Points are implemented in letter and spirit.” The same day Mujib walked out of all-parties conference when his call for acceptance of 6-Points and the demands of other political parties were rejected by Ayub Khan.Sh Mujib’s life was such a long drawn struggle as a nationalist leader that not even a small fraction of it can be reviewed in these columns. However, an attempt is being made to touch upon only few traits of his political career. Sh Mujibur Rahman became a political activist at young age when he joined the All India Muslim Students Federation in 1940. By his hard work and unflinching faith in his abilities he soon impressed a veteran political leader and one of the stalwarts of freedom movement, Husain Shaheed Suhrawardy, who later founded the Awami League. Sh Mujib actively participated in the Pakistan movement under the leadership of Suhrawardy. After independence as a student political leader, Mujib rose in East Pakistani politics and within the ranks of the Awami League he was a charismatic and forceful orator. Following Suhrawardy’s death in 1963, Mujib became President of the Awami League. He was one of the key leaders to rally opposition to President Ayub Khan’s Basic Democracies plan, the imposition of martial law and the one-unit scheme which centralized power. In 1966, Mujib proclaimed a 6-Point plan titled “Our Charter of Survival” at a national conference of opposition political parties at Lahore. Briefly the 6 Points were: 1. Federation of Pakistan in its true sense 2. Federal government to deal with only defense and foreign affairs 3. Separate currencies for East and West Pakistan 4.Collection of taxes to be a provincial subject 5. Separate foreign accounts for East and West Pakistan. 6. Separate militia/paramilitary forces for East Pakistan. His Six-Point programme was however viewed in West Pakistan by some politicians and the government as a secessionist move.Mujib was arrested for what is known as Agartala conspiracy case in 1968 for allegedly conspiring with the Indian government for separation from Pakistan but was not found guilty. He was released before the all-parties conference called by Ayub Khan. Talks with Ayub Khan of combined opposition parties broke down. Ayub Khan could not face the countrywide demonstrations against his government and failing to meet popular demands like parliamentary form of government on the basis of adult franchise instead of Basic Democracies. Instead of transferring power according to the constitution to the speaker of the national assembly, Jabbar Khan, a Bangali, Ayub Khan handed over reigns of the government to Gen Yahya Khan who imposed martial law. As a tribute to Jabbar Khan it has to be said that he was extremely polite but firm in conducting the proceedings’ of the assembly. He was one of few speakers that there was never any uproar by the members in the assembly against his rulings. Indeed he was a very much-respected person.Unrest over continuing denial of democracy spread. On December 5, 1969 Mujib made a declaration at a public meeting held to observe the death anniversary of Suhrawardy that henceforth East Pakistan would be called ‘Bangladesh.’ Mujib’s declaration heightened tensions across the country. The West Pakistani politicians and the military began to see him as a separatist leader. He had been asserting for Bengali cultural and ethnic identity and also re-defining the debate over regional autonomy. Yahya Khan held elections in December 1970 which were said to be most fair and transparent but the election result revealed a polarisation between the two wings of Pakistan. Awami League and Peoples Party swept the polls in the two Wings. Mujib emerged as leader with largest number of seats but Z A Bhutto thought that transfer of power to Mujib could signal disintegration of the country as Awami League did not get a single seat in West Pakistan. But so did Pakistan Peoples Party failing to get a seat in East Pakistan. Bhutto threatened to boycott the assembly and oppose the government if Mujib was invited by Yahya Khan to form the next government, demanding his party’s inclusion. Detailed meetings of Sh Mujib were held in Dhaka with Bhutto and representatives of Yahya Khan but no feasible solution was found though it was reported those days that Mujib was prepared to show some flexibility but not on fundamentals of Six Points. There was deadlock and Yahya Khan was devoid of any vision or perception to tackle the situation politically. As a general he decided to solve the problem with the use of force. Yahya Khan declared martial law, banned the Awami League and ordered the army to arrest Mujib and other Bengali leaders and activists. The army launched Operation Search Light to curb the political and civil unrest, fighting the nationalist militias that were believed to have received training in India. What happened next is a painful and gory tale of sufferings of people of East Pakistan.Sheikh Mujib was arrested, but many of his supporters managed to escape to India, where they declared a provisional government for East Pakistan. After Mujib’s arrest a guerrilla war erupted between government forces and Bengali nationalists aided by India. An all-out war started between the Pakistan Army and Bangladesh-India Joint Forces and there was death and destruction everywhere. After 9 months of resistance and unrelenting struggle for independence, Mujibur Rahman on March 26, 1971 called for Bangladesh as an independent state. Mujib was arrested and moved to West Pakistan and kept under heavy guard in a jail in Faisalbad. In December 1971, Pakistani military troops led by Gen AAK Niazi surrendered to Indian Gen Jagjit Sing Arora in Dhaka. On January 8, 1972 following the official ending of hostilities, Mujib was released by Bhutto government. He flew to New Delhi via London and after meeting Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, he came to Bangladesh as national hero and father of the nation. Mujib assumed office as a provisional president, and later prime minister. He charged the provisional parliament to write a new constitution, and proclaimed the four fundamental principles of “nationalism, secularism, democracy and socialism,” which came to be known as “Mujibism.” A constitution for Bangladesh was proclaimed in 1973. Incidentally the same year ZA Bhutto got approved a new constitution of Pakistan from National Assembly. Like ZA Bhutto, Mujib nationalised hundreds of industries and companies and initiated land reform aimed at helping millions of poor farmers. By and large the experiment of nationalisation of industries by both Mujib and Bhutto proved to be disastrous pushing the economies on the back foot. Major efforts were made by Mujib government to rehabilitate an estimated 10 million refugees. However the economy of Bangladesh began recovering and a famine was prevented. So the two sovereign states simultaneously were on road to process of rebuilding and restructuring of their economies. Mujib made a significant trip to Lahore in 1974 to attend the OIC summit, which helped repair relations with Pakistan to an extent. But he did not live long to see normalisation of relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh. On August 15, 1975, a group of junior army officers invaded his residence with tanks and brutally killed Mujib, his family and the personal staff. Only his daughters, Sheikh Hasina Wajid and Sheikh Rehana survived because they were abroad at that time.In life he was a hero of Bengalis and in death he is revered as father of the nation.
(The writer is a columnist, analyst and former Pak diplomat)

By Ayaz Ahmed Pirzada

Published By :

Bangladesh Today (Dhaka) August 16,2008
Pakistan Observer (August 20,2008)
The Independent (Dhaka ) August 22,2008

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