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March 1971 Diary: From non-cooperation to People’s Raj

  • Published at 11:59 pm March 16th, 2021
Life of Bangabandhu
Dhaka Tribune

This extract is part of a series that will run until March 25, in which we reproduce Rehman Sobhan’s contemporaneous account of the events of the momentous month of March 1971. This was first published in Forum magazine on March 13, 1971

There are few precedents for what is going on in Bangla Desh today. In a matter of one week a de facto transfer of power from the Islamabad government to the people’s representatives has been effected. 

This has not been achieved by any spectacular victory on the battle front or by foreign intervention, or a formal surrender of power by the rulers, but largely by peaceful means. 

One says this in spite of the massive death toll in the last week because these deaths were at the cost of the people of Bangla Desh and the forces of oppression. 

The unique feature of this condition springs from the fact that peaceful non-cooperation has been taken a stage beyond to active cooperation with the people’s representatives. In most freedom struggles non-cooperation was a vital element in the struggle. This was designed to paralyse the economy and administration and make life for the rulers untenable. 

Such a move could not be sustained indefinitely because the ruling power could always depend on a class of collaborators from the ranks of the administration, business and property-owning classes. 

These elements have made it possible for even the French to enforce their writ in Indo-China at the height of the resistance and even the Germans and Japanese to keep the society functioning during the period of occupation in Europe and South East Asia. 

In the freedom struggle in India, the civil service, judges and other elements, were always available to keep the show on the road and the police force was there to enforce law and order at all times. Only very rarely were troops required and this too in support, rather than in substitution, of the local administration. 

What is therefore unprecedented for Bangla Desh is the fact that non-cooperation with the rulers in Islamabad is total. For the last week, not a single element in the administration has been available to collaborate, from the chief justice of East Pakistan to the chief secretary. This has never happened to my knowledge in any other country, in contemporary history. 

In the extraordinary case of Radio Pakistan, when the military arbitrarily suspended the broadcast of Sheikh Mujib’s speech at the Race Course, after having given prior permission, the staff simply closed shop and went home. 

This created a major crisis in the districts where the abrupt cancellation of an announced broadcast threatened to create a law and order situation as people suspected that Mujib had been arrested. 

When this prospect was intimated to the military authorities, along with the fact that no news at all would henceforth be broadcast from any radio station in Bangla Desh, they agreed to let the news be broadcast on the 8th morning. 

On such terms did the radio network here resume operations and continue to operate their own news bulletin from Dacca Betar Kendra, leaving Radio Laos from Karachi to tell us all about news in Laos and the Middle East -- anywhere but about Bangla Desh. 

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