• Tuesday, Nov 30, 2021
  • Last Update : 05:33 pm

1971: Bangabandhu leads the nation to independence

  • Published at 11:33 pm March 24th, 2021
THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE-bangabandhu sheikh mujibur rahman
Photo courtesy: Bangabandhu Memorial Trust Special thanks to CRI

This is the ninth instalment of a 10-part series on the life and work of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

In 1971, years of effort from Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman culminated in the final push for an independent Bangladesh. 

In December 1970, the Awami League, led by Bangabandhu, won a landslide victory in the first and last general election of the then-undivided East and West Pakistan. Although the victory gave Bangabandhu the mandate to lead the country, the rulers in West Pakistan attempted to deny his legitimate claim to leadership.

On March 1, 1971, Pakistan President General Yahya Khan postponed the first session of the National Assembly in which the Awami League would have an absolute majority just two days before it was to be held. Following the announcement, Bengalis from every section of society took to the streets in massive protests.

From March 1 onwards, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became the de facto head of government of Bangladesh (then-East Pakistan).

On March 2, students at Dhaka University under the banner of the Chhatra Sangram Parishad, formally raised the flag of a free Bangladesh at the Arts Faculty building of the university. On March 3, Bangabandhu called for a non-violent non-cooperation movement. It quickly became clear that he was the political authority in Bangladesh. 

General Yahya Khan, taken aback by the severity of the reaction to the postponement of the National Assembly session, invited the leaders of ten political parties to a Round Table Conference in Rawalpindi on March 10. However, Bangabandhu rejected the invitation as he did not trust the West Pakistan leadership to uphold the will of the Bangladeshi people.

On March 7, Bangabandhu delivered his historic speech at the Race Course Maidan ( today’s Suhrawardy Udyan) before a million-strong crowd. In the 19-minute extempore speech, he exhorted Bengalis to wage a decisive struggle against the Pakistani occupation forces 

Calling on the people to prepare for the War of Liberation and independence of Bangladesh, he said: "We have already spilled our blood…we are ready to shed more blood. The people of the country shall be freed, Inshallah!

"Ebarer sangram amader muktir sangram, ebarer sangram swadhinatar sangram (The struggle this time is for our emancipation, the struggle this time is for our independence),” the great leader added.

General Yahya Khan came to Dhaka on 15 March and held a series of meetings with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman between March 16 and March 24, none of which could reach a resolution. Meanwhile, People’s Party leader Z.A. Bhutto arrived on March 21 and joined the talks on March 22. The talks led nowhere. In the evening on March 25, General Yahya Khan stealthily left Dhaka. At 11.30pm on March 25, the Pakistan army launched a heinous campaign of genocide against unarmed Bengalis. 

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman proclaimed the Independence of Bangladesh in the early hours of March 26.

Right after the proclamation, Bangabandhu was arrested by the army and flown to West Pakistan. On April 10, 1971, the first government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh was formed, and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was elected president by the constituent assembly.

Syed Nazrul Islam was elected vice president and took over as acting president in the absence of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, while Tajuddin Ahmad was made prime minister. Inspired by Bangabandhu, these four national leaders led Bangladesh in the Liberation War of 1971.

The government took the oath of office on April 17 at the famous mango garden (Amrakanan) at Baidyanathtala in Meherpur, now known as Mujibnagar.

Between August and September 1971, the Pakistan Junta sentenced Bangabandhu to death in a secret trial. Freedom-loving people from across the world were enraged by the decision and called for security to be ensured for the president of Bangladesh.

After nine months of bloody war Bangladesh was liberated through the surrender of the Pakistan occupation army on December 16, 1971. 

On December 27, the Bangladesh government sought the immediate and unconditional release of Bangabandhu.

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