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Dhaka Tribune

Bangabandhu’s rise as Bengal’s spokesman

This is the fifth instalment of a 10-part series on the life and work of our founding father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

Update : 21 Mar 2021, 12:06 AM

Following the 1952 Language Movement, the young Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gradually became the spokesman of Bengal.

In 1953, Bangabandhu was elected general secretary of the Awami Muslim League at its council meeting and continued to gain prominence as a leading Bengali political figure.

The formation of the United Front under the leadership of Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy was one of the most remarkable events of the time, and Bangabandhu, as a young leader of Bengal, was highly involved with the alliance as it prepared for the provincial assembly elections in March 1954.

The United Front was a coalition of political parties in East Bengal which contested and won Pakistan's first provincial general election, defeating the ruling Muslim League at the elections, held on 10 March 1954. The United Front (Jukto Front) won 223 seats out of a total of 237. As part of the front, the Awami League alone secured 143 seats.

The coalition consisted of the Awami Muslim League, the Krishak Praja Party, the Ganatantri Dal (Democratic Party) and Nizam-e-Islam. It was led by three major Bengali populist leaders — Fazlul Huq, Suhrawardy and Bhashani.

The United Front crushed the former ruling Muslim League in the general election.  After the election, AK Fazlul Huq of the Krishak Praja Party became chief minister of East Bengal. Meanwhile, young leaders like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Yusuf Ali Chowdhury and Khaleque Nawaz Khan rose to prominence in the provincial government.

Bangabandhu won the election from the Gopalganj constituency, defeating the influential Muslim League leader Wahiduzzaman.

Bangabandhu was sworn in as minister of agriculture and forests in the new provincial government.

Bangabandhu writes in his autobiography, “The Unfinished Memoirs”: “On this day in May 1954, all of us assembled at 9 am at the Governor’s House to take oath. No sooner had we finished taking our oaths than we learned that Bengali and non-Bengali workers had clashed at Adamjee Jute Mill, leading to widespread violence in the area.”

After taking his oath as a minister, Bangabandhu rushed to the jute mill and reined in the rioting.

Two months later, in May 1954, the United Front ministry was dismissed by the central government, and Bangabandhu was arrested when his plane landed at Dhaka airport after a flight from Karachi on May 30. He was released on December 23.

Also read - Bangabandhu in Dhaka: A leader of the Language Movement

In 1955, the Awami League held a public meeting at Paltan Maidan to demand autonomy for East Pakistan.

The working committee of the party, led by Bangabandhu, soon took a decision that the Awami League members of the Legislative Assembly would resign if East Pakistan was not accorded autonomy. It is to be noted that Bangabandhu was a member of the Constituent Assembly.

Bangabandhu demanded in the assembly that the territory comprising today’s Bangladesh be referred to as East Bengal instead of East Pakistan.

Meanwhile, in the same year (1955), at its national council, the Awami Muslim League was renamed Awami League by jettisoning the word ‘Muslim’ from its name in order to give it a secular character and open its doors to all citizens. Bangabandhu was re-elected the party’s general secretary.

In 1956, Sheikh Mujib joined a second coalition government as minister for industries, commerce, labour and anti-corruption. However he resigned from the cabinet in 1957 to devote himself to reorganising the party in East Bengal.

In 1957, Bangabandhu visited China on an official tour from June 24 to July 13.

At various stages in the 1950s, Bangabandhu was imprisoned and continuously harassed with false cases filed against him. 

When martial law was imposed in the country in October 1958, Bangabandhu was placed under arrest. Released in 1961, Bangabandhu launched covert political activities against the martial law regime of Ayub Khan. He set up an underground organization called “Swadhin Bangla Biplobi Parishad” (Revolutionary Council for Independent Bangladesh), comprising leading student leaders, in order to work towards the creation of an independent Bangladesh.

In 1963, Bangabandhu went to London for consultations with Suhrawardy, who was there to receive medical treatment. Suhrawardy was to die in Beirut in December of the year.

In January 1964, Bangabandhu took the Awami League out of the National Democratic Front and began to give the party a clear Bengali nationalistic shape.

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