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Dhaka Tribune

Bangabandhu's declaration and the beginnings of a new dawn

As we commemorate this historic day, we delve into the events leading to this declaration, the relentless struggle for autonomy, and the indomitable spirit that paved the way for a sovereign nation

Update : 26 Mar 2024, 11:16 AM

On this day, 53 years ago in 1971, the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, declared the independence of Bangladesh at 00.30 hours, breaking the chains of oppression and paving the way for a free nation. This day symbolizes the courage and resilience of the Bengali people. On this glorious occasion, I am taking the opportunity to share my thoughts about March 26 and an independent country, Bangladesh.

Before delving deeper, allow me to address a few frequently discussed matters. To begin with, why did Bangabandhu declare independence on this particular day? What was the rationale behind the announcement? Lastly, how did it result in the creation of a new nation? We will try to find these answers throughout today's journey.

Background of the historical day

Several major factors led to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's proclamation of independence on March 26, 1971. 

First, the political demands of East Pakistan, including greater autonomy and recognition of Bengali identity, had long been ignored by the ruling authorities in West Pakistan. East Pakistan was deprived of its legitimate position in the cabinet even though it had won the majority of seats in the general elections of the 1970s. 

Second, cultural suppression was another major issue. The imposition of Urdu as the sole national language of Pakistan disregarded the linguistic and cultural heritage of Bengalis in East Pakistan, where the majority spoke Bengali. The Bengali Language Movement of 1952, which sought recognition for Bengali as a national language, was met with violence and repression, further alienating the people of East Pakistan.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's declaration resonated with the aspirations of the Bengali population

Third, East Pakistan felt economically exploited by West Pakistan, with resources from the eastern region being diverted to benefit the western part of the country. Due to this economic inequality, the Bengali people demand more autonomy and control over financial resources. And finally, the democratic mandate was not fulfilled by the Pakistani military junta. The Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a landslide victory in the 1970 general elections, securing an overwhelming majority of seats in the National Assembly. However, the military junta in West Pakistan, led by General Yahya Khan, refused to transfer power to the elected representatives from East Pakistan, leading to a political deadlock. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's declaration resonated with the aspirations of the Bengali population, who saw it as a step towards achieving their long-awaited freedom and self-determination.

How the seeds of an independent country were sown:

Since partition, Bengalis have protested for their rights. Regarding this, in February 1966, Bangabandhu proposed the Six Points in Lahore, Pakistan, known as the "charter of freedom," demanding autonomy for East Pakistan. The 1969 mass uprising in East Pakistan led to the overthrow of Ayub Khan's autocratic regime, planting the seeds for Bangladesh's independence. It was a pivotal moment in Bangladesh's history, igniting the flame of resistance and setting the stage for the liberation movement. On December 5, 1969, during a party meeting, Bangabandhu said, "The name of our independent country will be Bangladesh." After that, on March 7, 1971, Bangabandhu's historic speech at Dhaka's Racecourse Ground called for independence and the liberation war, with the iconic slogan "Joy Bangla" symbolizing Bengali nationalism.

Bangabandhu's declaration

The Pakistani military junta did not agree to hand over the power. Both Yahya Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto were very desperate to “finish off” Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. According to freedom war researcher Afsan Chowdhury, "The Pakistani military junta decided to attack the Bengalis after the general elections in 1970. That means Sheikh Mujib would not be given power."

On the other hand, Bangabandhu was not afraid of his life. He knew that he was on the right track, and nobody could refuse his demands.What were the demands? Simply, Bangabandhu wanted a bloodless, peaceful, and democratic solution for attaining absolute autonomy in East Pakistan, built on his six-point formula. That is why Bangabandhu patiently waited, even until March 25, 1971. But the Pakistani junta continued to carry out their conspiracy. There were two options for the Pakistani junta: either granting full autonomy to East Pakistan or suppressing demands for autonomy through military force as part of their predetermined blueprint.

Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, Yahya Khan did not want a peaceful solution. So he chose the second one and opted for a crackdown instead of providing an agreeable LFO (Legal Framework Order). The crackdown began at 11pm on March 25, 1971. Therefore, this time Bangabandhu had no other option but to declare the message of the liberation war.

According to the famous book "Bloodbath in Bangladesh," written by Prabodh Chandra, “The 25th of March was spent by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his party leaders in awaiting a call from General Pirzada for a final meeting with Yahya Khan and also for the final drafting session for working out the details of the interim transfer of power. No such call came. At zero hours on March 26, the army swung into action against the unarmed people of East Pakistan, launching an operation on a war scale. Meanwhile, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman proclaimed the birth of the sovereign, independent state of Bangladesh.”

So, what was the message? The text of Bangabandhu's message was as follows:

“This may be my last message. From today, Bangladesh is independent. I call upon the people of Bangladesh, wherever you are and with whatever you have, to resist the army of occupation to the last. Your fight must go on until the last soldier of the Pakistani occupation army is expelled from the soil of Bangladesh and final victory is achieved." The text of this message was transmitted through EPR wireless throughout the country. Sheikh Mujib's proclamation of independence was initially transmitted over the radio on March 26. Belal Mohammad, Abul Kasem, a few representatives of the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, and local Awami League leader MA Hannan were among the pioneers of this broadcast.

The sacrifices made during this period ultimately led to the birth of Bangladesh as an independent nation

Impact and legacy

March 26, 1971, stands as a symbol of the Bangladeshi people's unwavering determination and resilience in their struggle for independence. This day marked the beginning of a nine-month-long liberation war in which the Pakistani military brutally carried out a genocide. The sacrifices made during this period ultimately led to the birth of Bangladesh as an independent nation on December 16, 1971.

After independence, Bangladesh was called the "bottomless basket," but over time, that statement proved wrong. Bangladesh embarked on a path of reconstruction and development guided by the principles of Bangabandhu's “Sonar Bangla.” After 53 years of independence today Bangladesh has improved gradually to meet international standards in areas such as infrastructure, education, healthcare, private sector investment, domestic output, foreign commerce, technology, resource management, and per capita income. On March 26, Bangladesh celebrated the arrival of freedom and set out on a path towards prosperity and sovereignty under the rising sun of liberty.

Ashibul Islam Rifat is a Dhaka Tribune correspondent.

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