A Golden Age

In December of 1970, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s party, the Awami League, wins elections in Pakistan with a clear majority. However, the victory of Awami League, a major political party in East Pakistan, is not acceptable to those in West Pakistan.

There is widespread opposition in the Pakistani military and the Islamic political parties to Mujibur becoming Pakistan’s prime minister. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, leader of Pakistan People’s Party, the largest West Pakistani party at that time, even threatens to boycott the assembly if Mujibur is allowed to form the new government.

As the rift between leaders of East and West Pakistan widens, Mujibur calls for independence of East Pakistan and asks the people to launch civil disobedience campaigns against the West Pakistani regime which had always treated them as third-class citizens. The people of East Pakistan, who were infuriated by the central government’s treatment of the devastating November’s cyclone victims, readily join in.

Following this, then Pakistani president Yahya Khan bans the Awami League, declares martial law and orders the army to arrest Mujibur and other East Pakistani leaders and activists. The ruthless decision, however, forces Mujibur to declare independence of East Pakistan at midnight on March 26, 1971, giving birth to Bangladesh.

Mujibur is later arrested and sent to prison in the West. But this does not quell the tension and the army can do nothing to stop the people, who by that time were determined to liberate Bangladesh from the hands of the authoritarian West Pakistani regime.

Bangladeshi writer Tahmima Anam’s debut novel, A Golden Age, finds its root in this tensed environment, where West Pakistan’s so-called attempt to restore order in Bangladesh results in terror and bloodshed. It is a story of a country at war, where chaos is the order of the day and disappearance and murder of people become everyday affair.

Amidst this situation, Rehana Haque, a widowed mother of two, finds it increasingly difficult to protect her children. Like every mother she has selfish love for them and since she had once been separated from them after her husband’s death she does not want to repeat the same ordeal.

But the war’s intensity is so great, no one can easily isolate or escape from it. As some of the characters of the novel put it: “Everyone is fighting—even people who weren’t so sure, people who wanted to stay with Pakistan.”

Then finally one day, Rehana’s eldest son, Sohail, comes home and says he has joined a clandestine guerilla operation launched by university students.

At first Rehana finds it hard to believe him. Yes, he was the revolutionary type who had posters of Lenin and Che Guevara on his room’s walls. He also recited speeches like ‘Peking or Moscow? Third World Socialism’ and ‘Jinnah: Statesman or Imperialist Demagogue?’ in college. But Rehana never thought her son would go this far. After all, she had always known him as a pacifist, someone who would not rush to join a war.

In this, as in all other things, Rehana tries to veer between “indulgence and censure”. “There was a part of her that wanted to allow her children to do anything—any whimsy, any zeal, any excess,” the author explains. “Another part of her wanted them to have nothing to do with it all, to keep them safe, at home.”

Rehana chooses the former and allows Sohail to go to war. In the meantime, her daughter, Maya, who had also joined the revolution, moves to Kolkata in India to work for a newspaper, which was supporting the Bangladeshi independence movement.

At this juncture, Rehana finds herself all alone in the house. Instead of Sohail and Maya, she starts living with talks about whereabouts of Mujibur and Anwar Sadaat and uproar, in the city or beyond, in Islamabad, where one punishing law after another was passed. “And every hiccup of the political landscape made its way to their door,” Tahmima writes.

A Golden Age is a story about a mother trying to keep her family intact during war. It is about the contribution made by a liberal middle-class Muslim family—living in harmony with Hindus—in liberating Bangladesh from the hands of Pakistan. It is a story about curfew sirens, empty streets, closed shops, locked gates, a burned and blistered city. At the same time it is also a story about courage and sacrifices, where mothers lose their children, wives mourn the death of their husbands and friends bury their fellow companions.

However, to give a light flavour to the gripping story the writer also talks about the love life of central character, Rehana, with a former army major who stays in her house for 96 days to recuperate from a major injury. She also talks about delicious foods like, paratha, samosa and puri and old Hindi as well as some English songs to give a breezy touch.

Tahmima’s style is sure and sharp, studded with illuminating images. She has not gone to the extent of over-explaining her characters and the novel’s plot is not monotonous.

Try the novel and you will have a sound knowledge on how Bangladesh emerged as an independent country in the 1970s. The book will also give you an insight into the strong ties that Bangladeshi family members maintain that provide them support in times of trouble. Moverover, it also gives you a bird’s eye view of Bangladeshi culture, their idea of merrymaking and their fondness for food.

Author : Rupak D Sharma

The Life and Death of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman



This, surprisingly, is the first biography in English of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, even though more 30 years have passed since he was assassinated in a bloody military coup on August 15, 1975. Known to most Bangladeshis as Bangabandhu, or friend of Bengal, a title bestowed on him by acclamation in a mammoth public meeting in Dhaka on 22 February, 1969, he was truly a man of the people, someone who had made the cause of his countrymen and women his own through endless trials and tribulations. And yet he had been assassinated in the country he had championed ceaselessly soon after it became independent. Also, he had disillusioned quite a few people in record time in governing it. How did he win the hearts of his people as “the father of the nation” and secure a place in their history as Gandhi did in India or Jinnah did in Pakistan? What caused him to slide in their esteem? But also, what was he like as a human being as well as a leader? And now that three decades have passed since his death, is it possible to arrive at a real estimate of the man and his achievements?

It is to S. A. Karim’s credit that he has tried to raise these questions implicitly and explicitly and answer them succinctly and objectively in his biography, Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy. Drawing on published sources, a few interviews with people who knew Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his own encounters with him as the first Foreign Secretary of independent Bangladesh, Karim has striven to give a balanced, accurate, and thoughtful portrait of the man. His conclusion is that he was a leader whose triumph was on a heroic scale but whose ending was, at the very least, tragic.

Karim begin his biography by providing us with the background to Mujib’s rise to fame, the partition of India, and the rise of the Muslim League. He was barely twenty years old in 1941 when he first encountered Fazlul Haq, the Chief Minister of Bengal, and more importantly, Shahid Suhrawardy, the Minister of Commerce, when they visited Mujib’s hometown Gopalganj, then in the district of Faridpur, for a public meeting. He was immediately drawn to Suhrawardy’s brand of politics and Kolkata, where he became a student of Islamia College. Here he began to attract attention as a Muslim League activist, working indefatigably to rally Muslim students of the region to work for Suhrawardy’s faction of the party, which, ultimately, joined the movement for Pakistan. After partition, Mujib relocated to Dhaka, but found himself becoming increasingly alienated from the conservative politicians of the Muslim League who had arrogated power in East Pakistan. Inevitably, he became involved in the movement to establish Bengali as a state language of Pakistan, and the movement in turn led to the creation of the Awami Muslim League. Courting arrest repeatedly, and resorting to hunger strikes time and again when in prison, Mujib immediately became prominent in East Pakistan because of his continuous and principled opposition to the communal and feudal politics of the Muslim League. In quick time, he became the General Secretary of the increasingly secular Awami League (it dropped “Muslim” from its name in 1955), and a minister of the United Front government that drove the Muslim League from power in the provincial elections of 1954.

From this point onwards, there was no stopping Mujib, except by confinement in jail. As Pakistani politics more and more became the preserve of the military, as the military conspired with a few West and East Pakistani politicians and bureaucrats to deprive Pakistan of democracy, and as the numerically superior Bengalis of East Pakistan found themselves increasingly thrust out of power, Mujib was in the thick of the action to wrest back the rights of his people through a secular, organized, and democratic movement, even as a succession of military generals attempted to rule Pakistan through martial law. In and out of jail in the latter half of the 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Mujib became convinced that Pakistan was a dead end for his people and that a way out of the clutches of the military-bureaucratic coalition that was ruling Pakistan at this time was needed urgently.

In his desperation, Mujib even thought of seeking the help of India. Karim suggests that it could have been his admiration for Subhas Bose that led Mujib to take a secret trip to Agartala in January 1963 where he met Satindranath Sinha, the Chief Minister of Tripura, to see if Indian assistance would be forthcoming for a separatist movement. But according to Sinha, whom Karim quotes without citing the source, Nehru was not interested and the trip was inconsequential. It is ironic, then, that it was for a trip to Agartola that he never took that the Pakistani government would try him for treason in what has come to be known as the Agartola Conspiracy case in 1967. Unfortunately for them, the effort at concocting a conspiracy backfired, for not only were they unable to sustain their case in front of the special tribunal that was set up for the purpose, they were also forced to release Mujib in the face of increasingly violent agitation against them in both wings of Pakistan. Indeed, the Pakistani dictator of the period, Ayub Khan, was forced to resign, and Mujib left the jail triumphantly in 22 February 1969, widely acknowledged by this time in his part of Pakistan as the man most suited to lead it forward to autonomy and prosperity.

The next two years saw Mujib at his best: inspiring his people through fiery speeches in countless meetings, seemingly inexhaustible energy, and an indomitable will. He kept highlighting his party’s demand for complete autonomy in East Pakistan until the message went home: in the elections held in December, 1970, the Awami League won 167 of the 169 seats in the province. But Mujib, committed to negotiations through democratic channels, was mistaken in his assumption that the Pakistani generals and Zulfiquer Bhutto, the clear winner in West Pakistan, were going to hand over power to his party merely because it had a clear majority when it was bent on getting the maximum autonomy conceivable for East Pakistanis.

In fact, Yahya Khan, the general who replaced Ayub Khan, colluded with Bhutto to postpone the March 3, 1971 opening of the National Assembly. The result was a spontaneous and angry civil disobedience movement in East Pakistan which, in effect, negated the Pakistani state, making Mujib the de facto ruler of East Pakistan. As if to show that he was worthy of the part, Mujib gave what is undoubtedly his finest speech to his people on 7 March, stopping just short of independence, but claiming self-rule in almost all matters. Yahya Khan’s response, once again was to scheme with Bhutto, and make a show of negotiations, bent as they were on keeping West Pakistan dominant in deciding the future of Pakistan. And so Mujib and his party kept negotiating with Yahya and Bhutto in good faith, even as the Pakistani army prepared themselves for a crackdown that would decisively and brutally neutralize Mujib and his party and ensure perpetuation of their hegemonic rule.

The date in which the Pakistani army moved to destroy Mujib and thwart the Bengali desire for complete autonomy was the night of March 25. As far as Karim is concerned, Mujib and his party leaders had “ignored signs of the gathering storm” and thus an unsuspecting, unprepared people were brutalized, the movement for autonomy stunned, and Mujib himself captured. Here again Karim is critical of Mujib’s decision to let himself be arrested to deflect the Pakistan army from wrecking havoc in his country, Mujib, reportedly, told his followers who wanted him to flee, “If I leave my house (Pakistani) raiders are going to massacre the people of Dhaka. I don’t want my people to be killed on my account”, but his decision did not prevent genocide; on the contrary, it exposed his people to the wrath of the Pakistan army.

While the Pakistani army went on the rampage, Mujib himself was taken to prisons in West Pakistan where he underwent a trial at the end of which he was found guilty of trying to break up Pakistan and was awarded the sentence of death by hanging. Meanwhile, Bengali troops who had defected, political activists of various parties, and students and refugees who had fled to India came together to organize a guerilla campaign against the Pakistani army and to launch a war that would liberate their country. Inevitably, India was drawn into the conflict, and on December 16, 1971, the Pakistani army in East Pakistan surrendered in Dhaka to the combined Indian and Bangladesh forces. This was how Bangladesh was born after nine blood-soaked months. With the Pakistani army in disgrace, and Bhutto calling the cards, and in the face of international pressure, Mujib was released from jail and flown back to Dhaka via London in a RAF plane on 9 January 1972.

Mujib’s homecoming marked the most triumphant moment of his career as a politician who had worked steadfastly and whole-heartedly for his people. But the next few years saw him sliding in popularity and having a torrid time coping with the innumerable problems facing a poor nation that had been denuded for over two decades by the West Pakistanis and that had hemorrhaged steadily for nine months. The prescriptions that he got from his advisers in the Planning Commission, inclement weather conditions that led to a terrible famine in 1974, rising global oil prices, growing lawlessness, his unwillingness or disinclination to be firm with party men and women and relatives who were clamoring for benefits and sinecures, underground movements that appeared to be gathering momentum and threatening the state, all appeared to conspire to show Mujib as unable to cope with the responsibility of steering a nation from political independence to peace, stability, and prosperity.

The stage was set, in other words, for triumph to turn into tragedy. The man who had staked his life repeatedly for democracy now attempted to create a one party state, proscribe newspapers, and stifle dissent. A radical leader died mysteriously while in police custody. Members of Mujib’s extended family suddenly began to assume more and more power. People who had shown total devotion to him and Bangladesh like Tajuddin Ahmed was dropped and sycophants were promoted to important positions. The air in Dhaka was rife with rumors of conspiracies and coups but Mujib chose to ignore them, convinced that the people he loved and had been ready to die for would never harbor conspirators against him. And so it was that he rendered himself completely vulnerable and was murdered by some adventurous, resentful, and ambitious military men in the early hours of August 15, 1975.

Karim’s verdict on Mujib’s rise to fame and the darkening world in which he died and his assessment of his subject’s personality, career and contribution to Bangladesh is surely sound. His Mujib is a gracious and compassionate person, generous almost to a fault. His love for his people and willingness to sacrifice himself for them is never in doubt. He had more or less “single-handedly” spearheaded the movement for Bangladesh in its climactic phase and until his incarceration in 1971. And he had struggled to cope with extremely difficult situations the best he could till desperation forced him to adopt undemocratic measures. He was, in short, a “tragic hero” flawed and yet great and even grand.

S. A, Karim’s Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy seems to have been written at leisure; the consequence is that it is even-paced, well-organized and sedate. He strives to be balanced and objective in his presentation and he writes out of a conviction that as a biographer he must be committed to presenting his subject truthfully and adequately. He has also tried to come up with a book that will be read by many and to that end he has decided not to overload it with “notes and references”.

It must be said though that Karim’s book is not the “comprehensive biography” he claims it to be in his Preface. For one thing, he spends far too much time sketching in the background and often loses sight of his subject in dealing with the historical contexts. At times, a few chapters might go by without any reference to Mujib and in scores of chapters he makes only a fleeting appearance. Indeed, one may occasionally even be mislead into thinking that one is reading a political history of Bangladesh where Mujib is the main actor and not his biography. Moreover, Karim appears to have not realized that a biographer’s task includes looking at archival material and contemporary newspaper reports and tracking down unpublished written sources as well as perusing published books and documents. He could have, for example, tried to include excerpts from the many speeches Mujib gave on public occasions that have been surely recorded in parliamentary proceedings; talked to his admirers, tracked his path to power doggedly instead of spending most of his time giving sketches of the political history of East Pakistan.

But what appears to be the singular defect of this biography is Karim’s reluctance to imagine himself into positions, crises and situations Mujib had to negotiate or to come close to his subject through what Keats had once characterized as “negative capability”. In his introduction to his incomparable biography of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell had claimed that the “more perfect mode of writing any man’s life” involved “not only relating all the most important events of it in order, but interweaving” it with the subject’s words and thought till “mankind are enabled to see him live”. In his conclusion, too, Boswell had felt with satisfaction that in his book the character of the great man had been “so developed “in the course of his work “that those who have honored it with a perusal, may be considered as well acquainted with him”. Karim follows Mujib from a great distance and almost never allows him to speak for himself. There is little or no effort to see Mujib from up close and there is definitely no attempt to get into his mind. The result is a biography that does not make us “see him live” and think and feel and this is a pity for by all accounts Mujib was a passionate, loving and caring man. Karim tries to make a virtue out of detachment and objectivity not realizing that what he needed to do was creatively represent the thoughts and emotions of a man who was overpowering because of his love for his people and conviction about what was right for them.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to be thankful for in Karim’s Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy. At the very least, a sensible effort has been made to present the life of a great and generous even if flawed leader; surely others will now follow to give us a more intimate, imaginative, intensely realized and fuller portrait of the father of Bangladesh and the friend of all Bengalis everywhere. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman deserves no less!

Author : S. A. Karim.

The University Press Limited, 2005. pp. 407, Tk. 500.00 ISBN 984 05 1737 6
Fakrul Alam is on leave from the University of Dhaka and now teaches English at East West University, Bangladesh.

The nationalist that was Mujib

#bangabandhu : Eminent scientist Professor Abdus Salam had been invited by the then Islamic Academy, Dhaka to give a lecture on religion and nationalism a couple of months before the presidential election in 1964. The Academy was housed in an old two-storey abandoned building. That house was demolished to construct Bailul Mokarram shopping complex in the late sixties. My friend Ahmed Safa, the late writer, and I attended the lecture.

After the seminar was over, the Director of the Islamic Academy, Abul Hashim, a politician and thinker, was chatting with Dr. Salam and some other distinguished persons including Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah and Dr. Qudrat-e-Khuda. All on a sudden, Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Dr. Mofazzar Ahmed Chowdhury, a reader in the political science department at the University of Dhaka, showed up on the veranda of the Islamic Academy. Seeing Prof. Salam and Abul Hashim in the auditorium, they joined them. It was a Sunday morning. Perhaps they had gone to Awami League office, opposite the Academy, for party work. We were listening to their conversation from a considerable distance.

Almost all major political parties in East Pakistan had been supporting “provincial autonomy.” Their idea of autonomy was some kind of “political autonomy.” But Maulana Bhasani and Sheikh Mujib’s concept of autonomy was different from that of other Bengali leaders. They demanded full provincial autonomy and an “autonomous economy” for East Bengal.

I still remember the gist of this informal conversation. Speaking on the provincial autonomy, Sheikh shaheb pointed out the disparity between the two wings of Pakistan. He quoted from Dr. Mahbubul Huq’s newly published Strategy of Economic Planning in Pakistan, and said that in order to redress the economic disparity between the two wings it was necessary to dismantle the central Planning Commission to create two powerful regional planning bodies. He emphatically said that the region should have the authority to tax, and the power to make fiscal and monetary policy on its own. So far as I can recollect, Dr. Salam endorsed the views of Sheikh Mujib. Bangabandhu further said that the provinces should have the power to form foreign policy and conduct foreign relations. It was two years before the announcement of his Six Points.

By the early 1960s, Sheikh Mujib was known to all as the standard-bearer of Bengali nationalism. It was the period of military dictatorship of Field Martial Ayub Khan. Sheikh Mujib was his greatest opponent. He fought relentlessly for the revival of democracy in Pakistan and provincial autonomy for East Pakistan. From the nationalist and from the conservative standpoint, his role in power politics was unparalleled.

In 1963, Sheikh Mujib went to London to consult with his ailing political guru, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, who was in self-exile. The two had detailed discussions on the political situation prevailing in Pakistan. Mujib didn’t like foreign involvement in achieving the rights of the people of East Pakistan.

Suhrawardy wrote in his unfinished memoirs: “Mujib has doubts that national unity and national integration will solve the problems of East Pakistan. He is not interested in the field of foreign politics as he does not believe that any foreign country should become deeply committed here; East Pakistan must work out its own destiny. Hence, there is no point seeking foreign political involvement.” [Memoirs of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, P. 71]

After the death of Suhrawardy in December 1963, it became difficult to keep the party together. Ataur Rahman Khan was a gentleman politician. He had neither courage nor charisma. Neither he nor any other leader had any command over the younger leaders and workers. At that crucial time, Mujib took over the helm of the party. Sheikh Mujib not only led the Awami League, but also led the nation to independence in seven years.

After liberation, Bangabandhu had to tackle multifarious problems. He faced severe opposition from various quarters at home and abroad. Anti-liberation parties like Jamat-e-Islami, Muslim League and Nezam-e-Islam, which were banned by the government, and other reactionary forces, communal elements, and underground ultra-Left outfits went on with their conspiracy and anti-government propaganda. The political and social elite did not cooperate with the government. Because of economic hardship the ordinary people were frustrated. In the meantime, creation of Baksal — one-party rule — angered the Western capitalist bloc.

The Bangladesh liberation war got active support from the Soviet Union and its East European allies. Both the US and the Soviet Union were trying to gain influence in the impoverished nation. The influence of US was more than that of the USSR as the US was able to pour in more aid and assistance and its intelligence was more efficient and pro-active. Pakistani intelligence was also active and got support from the US. China and Muslim countries were against the Bangladesh freedom movement because of India’s total support to Bangladesh. In these circumstances, Bangabandhu had become a victim.

The people of Bangladesh had experienced the military coups of Ayub and Yahya Khan. Both were bloodless. But the August 15 coup was the worst possible military savagery.

Who killed Sheikh Mujib? Dalim-Faruk and others in the army were mercenaries. And Mushtaq? Brutus was better.

Samar Sen, an astute diplomat, was India’s high commissioner to Bangladesh in 1975. He saw the political developments in Bangladesh from close quarters. Twenty-three years after the coup, Sen told the Frontline journalist Sukumar Muralidharan in 1998: “We had been keeping in touch with all elements within Bangladesh. India’s intelligence services — whose operations few of us know much about — retained contact even with elements hostile to Sheikh Mujib. He felt that these contacts were uncalled for and asked us to stop them. We did so. As a result, until the time of the coup, we had no idea that things had deteriorated quite so badly. In retrospect, it is clear that the August coup, apart from being a rude awakening, was perhaps a logical outcome of the situation of chaos that prevailed.”

The August 15 military action was a coup with a difference. It changed, among other things, the secular and democratic character of Bangladesh.

I saw Bangabandhu for the first time in 1954 on the banks of the mighty Padma at Aricha ghat. The last I saw him was in the Bangabhaban Darbar Hall on July 31, 1975. To him, personal relationship was very important. He maintained excellent relations with his opponents and adversaries. Two weeks before the 1973 elections, National Awami Party chairman Maulana Bhasani was admitted to PG Hospital. Bangabandhu rushed to visit him. Hearing the voice of Bangabandhu, the Maulana sat up from the bed. Bhasani touched the hands of Mujib and wished him all success in the election. He stressed on “a stable government” under his premiership.

While in the IPGMR, the Maulana did not have the chance to eat any food supplied by the hospital. Admirers sent home-made food for him. Begum Fazilatunnesa Mujib herself went or sent somebody to the hospital almost everyday with big tiffin-carriers. She cooked small fish curries with hot green chilly and spices to the taste of the Maulana. This gesture of the Mujibs annoyed the leaders and candidates of NAP.

I would like to cite another anecdote. A couple of months before the August tragedy, poet Jasimuddin asked me: “Bhai, could you accompany me to Dhanmondi? I’ve an urgent talk with Bangabandhu.” I gladly agreed. So far as I can recollect, the rickshawalla demanded taka two. It was exorbitant. The poet got angry. He haggled with the rickshaw-puller over the fair and hired the rickshaw from Bangladesh Bank to Bangabandhu Bhavan for taka one and a-half.

On reaching Bangabandhu Bhavan, the poet paid and patted the rickshawalla and walked straight to the drawing room. I followed him. Bangabandhu came down from the first floor. The two great Bengalis exchanged warm greetings and sat down on a sofa.

The poet said: “You’re from Faridpur, I’m also from Faridpur (district). I’ve come to you for a tadbir (a favour). My son-in-law is your son-in-law. Isn’t it?” “Of course,” Bangabandhu laughed and quipped: “Your son-in-law (meyejamai) is my son-in-law. I do understand what you want to say. You and Bhabi should not worry for Maudud. He is alright in jail. He will be released as soon as possible. I’m giving the order.”

Then they chatted for some time. The poet was highly gratified by the gesture of the president and supreme leader of the nation. Bangabandhu knew very well that the palli-kavi shouldn’t be entertained with tea or coffee. So, he asked his servant to serve him with muri, gur (molasses) and coconut — favourites of the poet.

This was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. As a politician and statesman, he was not above mistakes or follies. As a mortal human being, he had his weaknesses and limitations. History will absolve all his mistakes and weaknesses. As the independence hero and nationalist leader, he is second to none.

Author : Syed Abul Maksud is a noted writer, researcher and columnist.

POEM : Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

Rounding the Galaxy,
A golden star feels sensation,
Suddenly it decides to come in this world as man,
He is nobody,
He is Bangabhandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Staying in this world,
You were always dedicated for the people,
You voice was always active,
For the rights of the people of East Pakistan.

You gave the Six Points ”
To save the rights of East Pakistan,
Although West Pakistan denied it,
To continue repression on us.

Antagonists tortured on you,
But you endured it,
You were the great person,
Dedicated for East Pakistan.

When you understood,
The necessity of liberation war,
You declared the war of independence,
Against repressive West Pakistan.

You gifted us an independent Bangladesh,
Nation acknowledges it,
You are our golden leader,
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

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