Bangabandhu and the Charter of Freedom
Professor Dr. Anwarul Karim :
Today is the 99th birthday of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh. The world pays tribute to him for his political farsightedness, undaunted courage and fearless struggle for freedom of Bangladesh from the hands of Pakistani Army junta, who in the name of religion made massacre and killed millions of people, men women and children. The 9-month War of Liberation, which was thrust upon the then people of East Pakistan, was blood-stained and over 3 million people shed their blood for their right to self determination.
Tungipara, the birthplace of Bangabandhu : A historic name
Such a great son of the soil as of Bangabandhu was born in an illustrious family at Tungipara, presently an Upozila under Gopalganj district, on March 17, 1920. He was a blessed child of his proud parents and became a blessing of Allah to the people of Bangladesh. Gopalganj was named after Naba Gopal, the grandson of Rasmoni of Khatra landlord during the Mughols and the British. The whole area was under the southern part of ancient Bengal, called Vanga. Here once lived, ' Gangaridae' dynasty with its capital at Kotalipara around 300 BC. They were known as 'Bongal'. The history of Greece records that Alexander, the Great who came to the Panjab, the western part of India, dared not to invade Bongal of Gangaridae dynasty as they maintained a strong naval force. The Greek historian Megasthenes (4th century BC) recorded the incident of 'Gangaridae' in his memorable work, 'Indica' (Karim, Anwarul: Water and Culture, page 60-62).
It is, in fact, a strange coincidence that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was born in Tungipara of the then Kotalipara now an Upozila under Gopalganj district and under his dynamic leadership Bangladesh was made free from the hands of West Pakistan. And though Bangabandhu was arrested by Pakistani army and kept at Pakistani prison, the Army junta was forced to free him immediately after the country was liberated.
Disparity : East Pakistan
The Independence of Bangladesh was the outcome of a long drawn struggle against Pakistan. East Pakistan had to fight for Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan against the central government headed by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, known as Quaid-i Azam. It took five years to establish Bangla as one of the state languages in 1956 after the Language Movement culminated on 21st February, 1952. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was also among other top leaders who fought for Language Movement. He was also imprisoned with others during the Movement. Meanwhile in 1958 Army took over and Military rule terrorized people. General Ayub Khan became the President of Pakistan. H. S. Suhrawardy, the then Prime Minister was dethroned and 'ebdowed'. Democracy was killed. East Pakistan suffered much. Pakistan looted out resources of East Pakistan like the British. The central government did not take any initiative to set up industries in East Pakistan despite enormous natural resources. Literacy rate was poor in East Pakistan. There were few College and only two Universities, such as Dhaka University which was established during the British India. Rajshahi University was the one that came into being during early Pakistani period. There was no big army posted in East Pakistan. Bengali people were never considered trustworthy to West Pakistan. The East Pakistan Rifle was mixed with the West Pakistani army. During 1965 war with India, East Pakistan was totally defenseless. Pakistani army was posted everywhere. People were at the mercy of Pakistani Army. The state of Emergency prevailed.
Six-Point Proposal at the Opposition Convention in Lahore, 1966
After the end of war, Pakistan and India had to make treaty with each other following intervention of external powers. Although, the war between the two countries was stopped, but the pact did not include 'no war' agreement. The opposition leaders of Pakistan convened a meeting in Lahore on February, 1966 to examine Tashkent Agreement. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman attended the meeting with his Six-Points Program:
1. The Constitution should provide for a Federation of Pakistan in its true sense based on the Lahore Resolution, and the parliamentary form of government with supremacy of a Legislature directly elected on the basis of universal adult franchise.
2. The federal government should deal with only two subjects : Defense and Foreign Affairs, and all other residual subjects should be vested in the federating states.
3. Two separate, but freely convertible currencies for two wings should be introduced; or if this is not feasible, there should be one currency for the whole country, but effective constitutional provisions should be introduced to stop the flight of capital from East to West Pakistan. Furthermore, a separate Banking Reserve should be established and separate fiscal and monetary policy be adopted for East Pakistan.
4. The power of taxation and revenue collection should be vested in the federating units and the federal centre would have no such power. The federation would be entitled to a share in the state taxes to meet its expenditures.
5. There should be two separate accounts for the foreign exchange earnings of the two wings; the foreign exchange requirements of the federal government should be met by the two wings equally or in a ratio to be fixed; indigenous products should move free of duty between the two wings, and the constitution should empower the units to establish trade links with foreign countries.
6.East Pakistan should have a separate Military or Paramilitary force, and Navy headquarters should be in East Pakistan.
Rejection of the Six-Point Proposal by the Opposition leaders
The opposition leaders did not see eye to eye with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Many of the leaders attending the program apprehended that the proposal was a move to split Pakistan. Non Awami League leaders from East and West Pakistan including Jamat-i- Islam and Nizam-i-Islam and National Awami Party. All disagreed and the proposal was turned down. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman also faced opposition from his own party men from West Pakistan. Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, the President, All Pakistan Awami League did not support him.
It was very shocking on the part of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as some of his own party men from West Pakistan did not support him. But the rejection of the Six Point Proposal could not dishearten him. He gathered strength to fight back this approach of the opposition leaders. It was a question of survival for East Pakistan. It was a big challenge for Bangabandhu. The Six-Point Proposal was submitted to the Convention of the opposition leaders with a view to ending the Continued exploitation of East Pakistan by the West Pakistani rulers. It looked for a greater provincial autonomy for East Pakistan. The proposals were placed before the Convention of the opposition leaders to get their support for a national movement against the Central Government of Pakistan for its step-motherly attitude towards East Pakistan.
The following is the background that forced Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to place the Charter of demand for the people of East Pakistan to ensure their safety and security from exploitation of East Pakistan by West Pakistan.
The Partition of India took place following implementation of the Two Nation Theory and Pakistan came into being with the two of its wings, East and West Pakistan. East Pakistan had the majority of its population. It also contained natural resources much more than West Pakistan. Jute was the 'Golden Fibre.' Exports were also a majority of Pakistan's total export income. But there was hardly any industry and no significant development was made since the country came into being in 1947. There was a clear disparity between East Pakistan suggesting a gross exploitation by West Pakistan through the central government.
A statistical overview of economic discrimination is shown in this table :
The above statistics clearly suggest that East Pakistan was facing a critical situation after being subjected to continuous discrimination on a regional basis, year after year. Such exploitation by West Pakistan was a gross violation of the rights of the people living in East Pakistan. And these forced Bangabandhu to come up with the Six-Point Proposal for a solution.
The Six-Point Proposal : The Charter of Freedom
The Six-Point Proposal was directed to press home the demands of the people of East Pakistan for a solution to the political and economic crisis that caused severe disparity between the two wings of East and West Pakistan.
In fact, the Six Point Proposal contained the Charter of Freedom for Bangladesh. Bangabandhu was the Architect of this historic Charter of Independence. It envisaged that the Constitution of Pakistan should provide for a Federation of Pakistan in its true sense based on the Lahore Resolution, and the parliamentary form of government with supremacy of a Legislature directly elected on the basis of universal adult franchise. The federal government should deal with only two subjects: Defense and Foreign Affairs, and all other residual subjects should be vested in the federating states. There could be two separate currencies, if not, then one for the whole of Pakistan but there should be a Para-military force for East Pakistan.
Reactions of the political leaders and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's response
It was indeed a matter of regret that the political leaders of the opposition parties in Pakistan without considering the pros and cons and also the merit of the Charter of the demand rejected the proposals and this unholy attitude of the opposition leaders suggested that they were afraid of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and were determined to curb him in collaboration with the central government. Leaders of opposition belonging to West Pakistan thought that it would be death blow to the economy of West Pakistan and it would be difficult for its survival also. The East Pakistani opposition leaders could not tolerate Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and were also afraid of his mass popularity. The demand of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was directed towards a greater provincial autonomy and to stop exploitation by the central government against the people of East Pakistan. Instead of endorsing or discussing the Six-Point Charter of Demand was viewed by majority leaders of Pakistan as a separatist design.
Ayub Khan was quick to denounce it as a separatist or secessionist move. He started discrediting the messenger of the Six-Point Program. Aimed at browbeating the dedicated champions of greater provincial autonomy, Ayub Khan had started discrediting both the message and the messenger of the Six-Point program. He condemned the Six-Point plan in the harshest possible terms in the final session of the Pakistan (Convention) Muslim League in Dacca on March 21, 1966, He characterized the Six-Point formula as a demand for 'greater sovereign Bengal'. Ayub Khan claimed that such a plan would put the 'Bengali Muslims' under the domination of 'caste Hindus' of West Bengal. He said that the nation might have to face a 'civil war' if such volatile situations were forced upon him by the 'secessionists' and 'destructionists.'
He had even threatened the alleged 'autonomists' and 'secessionists' with 'dire consequences' if they failed to shun the idea of provincial autonomy. Ayub Khan had also the audacity to threaten that the 'language of weapons' would be ruthlessly employed for exterminating the 'secessionist elements from Pakistan.'
Monem Khan, the infamous Governor of East Pakistan, emphatically declared, "â€¦â€¦..As long as I remain as the Governor of this province, I will see to it that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman remains in chains." Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the foreign minister of Pakistan, openly challenged Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and condemned his Six-Point Proposal as a secessionist move.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the Architect of Independent Bangladesh
At such critical situation, the people of East Pakistan gave an unqualified support to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Dr. Rownak Jahan in her celebrated book, 'Pakistan : Failure in National Integration, (The University Press, 1994, pp. 139-140), analyzed the Six-Point demand in the following words : "The Six-Point demand not only split the Awami League but also made it difficult for the East Pakistan wing to form an alliance with any other West Pakistan-based party. The CML (Council Muslim League) decried the Six-Points as a demand for confederation, not federation; the Jama'at-i-Islam branded it as a separatist design; the Nizam-i-Islam rejected it as a unilateral, dictatorial move on Mujib's part; and the NAP (National Awami Party) dismissed it on the grounds that it was parochial and did not include any measures to free East Pakistan from imperialist agents." Talukder Maniruzzaman in a seminal essay in 1967 maintained that the question of (provincial) autonomy appears to be more important after the war (between India and Pakistan in September, 1965). The time has come for making East Pakistan self-sufficient in all respects. He considered the Six-Point Proposal as the 'Charter of Survival.' (Talukder Maniruzzaman, National Integration and Political Development in Pakistan, Asian Survey, Vol. 7, No.12, 1967, pp. 876-885)
Sheikh Mujib's Press Conference
In an impromptu press conference held in Lahore on February 10, 1966, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman justified his proposal and made it clear that the proposed Six-Point demand was not at all designed to harm the common people of West Pakistan, the demand for 'provincial autonomy' for East Pakistan based on the Six-Point formula should not be misconstrued or dismissed as provincialism., He stated that the 17-day war between Pakistan and India in September 1965 made it crystal clear that East Pakistan had no sufficient defense to fight back the enemy and depended much on the contingent of army of West Pakistan. In view of these, he proposed for a strong defense to save East Pakistan from external aggression. He also made it clear that his Six-Point plan for provincial autonomy reflected the long-standing demands of the people of East Pakistan.
After his return from West Pakistan Sheikh Mujibur Rahman also arranged a press conference on February 14, 1966. Here he repeated the same thing what he had stated in Lahore Conference. He said, 'the question of autonomy appears to be more important for East Pakistan after the 17-day war between Pakistan and India. The time is ripe for making East Pakistan self-sufficient in all respects.'
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's demand for 'maximum autonomy' based on his Six-Point formula was a life-saving proposal for the people of East Pakistan. The Six-Point plan had exposed the fact that the real intention of Pakistan's ruling elite was to 'strengthen' the central government and not Pakistan in general. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman never spoke against West Pakistan and her people. He always wanted a strong Pakistan and not a biased central government. Ayub wanted to suppress East Pakistan and was unwilling to sit for any negotiation. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was alone with his party and non partisan people of East Pakistan.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman launched the Six-Point Movement
A fearless Sheikh Mujibur Rahman organized a public meeting. And here he spoke before a mammoth public meeting at Paltan maidan."No amount of naked threats can distract the deprived Bengalese from their demand for provincial autonomy based on their Six-Point plan." He was indeed the greatest champion of the rights of the people of Bangladesh for self-determination. On June 7 in 1966 the Awami League called a countrywide hartal in the then East Pakistan to press home the Six-Point demands. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with many others was arrested. Since then 7th June is observed as the historic Six-Point Day.
Pakistan Government headed by Ayub Khan tried to suppress the Movement. But the imprisonment of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and others on the Six-Point Movement could not stop the growing demand of the fulfillment of Six-Point program. And then the military government of Pakistan made the most false heinous and nefarious conspiracy against Sheikh Mujib and his associates.
Agartala Conspiracy Case
Meanwhile, Ayub Khan along with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto together with other Muslim League leaders made a conspiracy against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his associates and it was known as Martial Conspiracy. It was directed towards them to stop the growing movement for the Six-Point program and for that a false case infamously known as Agartala Conspiracy Case in January 1968 was filed against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and 35 others on the charge of conspiring with India to destabilize Pakistan. It was held that the conspiracy took place at Agartala in Tripura state. It was a sedition case during the Ayub regime against Awami League leaders.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman braved death a number of times and the Army who usurped power and enforced Military rule took him as a traitor to the state. The conspiracy was intended not only to put him behind the bar but also to get him killed by hanging for allegedly involved in anti-state activities. He was rightly given the title of 'Bangabandhu' as he never betrayed the cause of the people of Bangladesh in the face of death.
There were also more senior political leaders in other parties, including Maulana Bhasani, the founder of the Awami League, who vocally demanded provincial autonomy for East Pakistan. Maulana Bhasani had uttered more than once 'goodbye to West Pakistan'-at least a decade earlier than the historic Six-Point Movement. However, it was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's fearlessness and relentlessness that gave a more concrete shape to the autonomy movement in the then East Pakistan.
Meanwhile there was a dramatic change in the army rule of Pakistan. Ayub Khan resigned and the country saw the rise of General Yahya Khan. And during his time, there was general election in Pakistan. And Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came out victorious with absolute majority. But again General Yahya Khan along with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto conspired and he was not allowed to form government.
Historic speech of Bangabandhu on March 7, 1971 and Declaration of Independence
A general strike was called throughout the country on March 7, 1971. A public meeting was arranged at Race Course, Dhaka. Bangabandhu addressed the mammoth public meeting as the uncrowned king and defecto ruler of the country. The world honored him as the 'Poet of Politics.' It was the biggest ever attendance of the mass people at the Racecourse ground. Pakistan Army could not stop people attending the mammoth meeting of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. People spontaneously and voluntarily attended the meeting risking arrest and also of their lives. Here in the public meeting Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman emphatically made a Declaration of Independence of Bangladesh in an emotionally choked voice. He told the people attending the meeting :
"Today, I appeared before you with a heavy heart. You know everything and understand as well. We tried with our lives. But the painful matter is that today, in Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi and Rangpur, the streets are dyed red with the blood of our brethren. Today the people of Bangla want freedom, the people of Bangla want to survive, and the people of Bangla want to have their rights. What wrong did we do?"
He mentioned four conditions for joining the National Assembly on March 25 :
1. The immediate lifting of Martial Law;
2. The immediate withdrawal of all military personnel to their barracks;
3. The immediate transfer of power to elected representatives of the people;
4. A proper inquiry into the loss of lives during the conflict.
He also gave several directives for a Civil Disobedience Movement, instructing that:
1. People should not pay taxes;
2. Government servants should take orders only from him;
3. The Secretariat, government and semi-government offices, and courts in East Pakistan should observe strikes, with necessary exemptions announced from time to time;
4. Only local and inter-district telephone lines should function;
5. Railways and ports could continue to function, but their workers should not co-operate if they were used to repress the people of East Pakistan.
6. And then he gave the Declaration of Independence as an uncrowned king of the country.
The speech lasted about 19 minutes and then came the Historic Declaration: "Our struggle, this time, is a struggle for our freedom. Our struggle, this time, is a struggle for our Independence. Joy Bangla."
It was a de facto Declaration of Bangladesh's Independence.
War of Liberation and birth of Bangladesh
And then came the most ominous occasion wherein Pakistan Army let loose a reign of terror killing over 3 million people. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested and taken to Pakistan where it was believed that he might be killed. This has greatly inspired the people of Bangladesh to stand united and to fight back the Pakistani army despite torture and sufferings
It is generally held that Language Movement was the first move to fight back the Pakistani army for the realization of the rights of more than 70 millions of people to self determination and it was the Six-Point Demand which was taken as the Charter of Freedom that ultimately gave birth to the Freedom of Bangladesh.
No General and no politician ever could make such a glorious achievement in the history of the world. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman thus proved that he was the greatest son of the soil for thousands of years.
(The writer is a columnist and formerly Visiting Scholar, Divinity School, (1985), Harvard University, USA -E-mail:email@example.com)