The historical significance of June 7
June 7 remains a seminal moment in national history, a definitive point of reference in Bangladesh’s political narrative.
On this day in 1966, the people of what was then East Pakistan enforced a total general strike in the province in support of the Awami League’s Six Point program of autonomy.
The Six Points had been announced a few months earlier by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, yet to be Bangabandhu, in Lahore, where he had gone to attend a conference of Pakistan’s opposition political figures.
The strike, in the course of which a number of individuals died from police firing and a number of others were injured, was a clear instance of the Bengalis making their displeasure about their place in Pakistan known to the authorities.
For the first time in the 19-year history of Pakistan, stirrings of revolt, loud and insistent, were felt all over Pakistan.
But even as the general strike, or hartal, kept the province in its grip throughout the day, the central leaders of the AL -- Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Tajuddin Ahmad, and others -- stayed behind bars.
The strike would be spearheaded by two young AL politicians, Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury and Amena Begum. Mujib, who would not become Bangabandhu till three years later, had been placed in detention under the Defense of Pakistan Rules on May 8, 1966.
The reason was not hard to understand: Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, who had seized power in a coup in October 1958 and declared himself president of Pakistan, had made clear his view of the Six Points.
He told the country that the purveyors of the Six Points would be dealt with in the language of weapons. He had found the enemy.
In time, it would be Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who would turn out to be the most vocal and therefore the most dangerous enemy of the Ayub regime.
Ayub Khan was not the only individual who spotted a threat to Pakistan’s unity should the Six Points be acknowledged.
His soon-to-be-out foreign minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, challenged Mujib early in the year to a public debate at Dhaka’s Paltan Maidan on the Six Points.
It was Tajuddin Ahmad who accepted the challenge on Mujib’s behalf. In the event, Bhutto did not turn up.
The Six Point program included the following.
1. Pakistan would have a federal structure of government based on the spirit of the Lahore Resolution of 1940, with a parliament elected on the basis of universal adult franchise.
2. The central government would have authority only in defense and foreign affairs and all other subjects would be handled by the federating units of the state of Pakistan.
3. There would be two freely convertible currencies for the two wings of Pakistan or two separate reserve banks for the two regions of the country.
4. The power of taxation and revenue collection would be vested in the federating units.
5. There would be two separate accounts for foreign exchange reserves for the two wings of Pakistan.
6. East Pakistan would have a separate militia or paramilitary force as a measure towards ensuring its security.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman planned to announce the Six Points at a conference of opposition political parties in Lahore in early February 1966.
He was not permitted to do so by the other participants, including the chief of the All-Pakistan Awami League at the time, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan.
They found the plan too incendiary to be articulated. Rebuffed, Mujib announced the plan at a news conference in Lahore the following day, February 5, 1966.
Mujib’s move raised howls of protest all over Pakistan. The civil-military bureaucracy and politicians straddling both government and opposition circles were quick to dub the Six Points as a secessionist plot to dismember Pakistan.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s arrest in May 1966, followed by the June 7 strike, swiftly led to circumstances where the Pakistan government opted for all-encompassing repression in East Pakistan.
Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia, the respected editor of the Bengali daily Ittefaq, was arrested on June 16 over his support for the Six Points.
The next day, a ban was clamped on his newspaper.
Events would move fast after June 1966. In January 1968, Mujib would be charged with conspiracy to break up Pakistan.
The case, which would become notorious as the Agartala Conspiracy Case, would eventually be withdrawn under public pressure on February 22, 1969.
A day after his release, Mujib would be publicly acclaimed as Bangabandhu (friend of Bengal) at a historic million-strong rally in Dhaka.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is journalist.