Vol. 4 Num 314 Sat. April 17, 2004  

Significance of Mujibnagar Day

As we look back to the eventful and memorable Mujibnagar days and the role played by the Mujibnagar government during the nine-month long War of Independence of Bangladesh in 1971, our hearts glow with warm feelings of pride and glory. The country and the people will always gratefully cherish the memories of the freedom fighters and those political leaders who led them with deep affection and profound regard.

The formation of the Mujibnagar government and its pronouncement to the world at large on April 17, 1971 is really a red-letter day in our national history specially after a thumping victory of the Awami League in the elections of 1970 under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The 167 MNAs and 293 MPs who composed the Constituent Assembly in their boundless duty, right and constitutional obligation to the electors, gave it a true shape and constitutional perspective on this day making the dream of an independent Bangladesh a reality. From this point of view Mujibnagar day (17th April) is a landmark in our struggle for independence as well as in our national history.

The Mujibnagar government was formed on April 17, 1971 at the Baidyanathtala mango grove of Meherpur, a former subdivision of Kushtia district following the 10th April proclamation of Independence Order of Bangladesh. The oath taking was witnessed by hundreds of foreign journalists who had assembled there to hail the birth of a new nation. The President of the new nation was Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; Syed Nazrul Islam became the acting president; Tajuddin Ahmed, the Prime Minister; M. Mansur Ali, the Finance Minister; M. Quamruz Zaman, the Home, Relief and Rehabilitation Minister and Khandakar Mustaque Ahmed, Foreign Affairs and Law Minister. General M. A. G. Osmani who was then a retd Colonel and MNA elected from Awami League was made the C-in-C of the Bangladesh armed forces.

Herculean task
It was a herculean task. Organizing civil administration and the freedom fighters, securing arms for the latter and training them, mobilizing international support for the liberation war through intense diplomatic action, ensuring speedy communication and effective coordination of various activities at hundred different levels, above all, keeping the morale of the freedom fighters high throughout the dark, difficult and strenuous days of the war. They called for extraordinary wisdom, dedication, patience, foresight, courage and tenacity on the part of the Mujibnagar government and all those connected with it.

The formation of the Mujibnagar Government had great significance for the fact that the great men who gave leadership to this great event in the absence of the supreme leader and continued the armed struggle for the following eight months, having allowed no breach in the unity of their people, which was one of the cornerstones of our total liberation war, fought valiantly involving everyone and above all kept the supreme leader alive in the minds of every freedom fighter as if he was fighting side by side with them.

17th April in fact, gave the total war effort a fuller meaning, it cemented the unity of the people, brought the world closer to the existence of freedom fighters and made the war efforts bloom in its full focus and realised the presence of Bangladesh in the comity of nations. It was in effect a formal introduction to the rest of the world of the nature of the political leadership that was set to guide the nation into a concerted and organised war of national liberation.

That Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the Paramount leader of the country, both in its struggle for constitutional legitimacy and military triumph was given political and moral sanction by everything that happened on April 17, 1971 in a spot of territory that was to be forever transformed in the annals of politics.

An absolute necessity
Bangabandhu had never preached revolution and political terrorism had never been part of his platform. Therefore, when the assault of the Pakistani military machine came, it remained for him to inform his associates that a long and hard struggle on the battlefield had become necessary. The declaration of independence he made moments before his arrest by the Pakistani military forced upon his associates the need for armed struggle. And that was proof that while he awaited uncertain and terrible incarceration, he had briefed his associates on what needed to be done. The dispersal of the leadership out of Dhaka as the army went into action was a sign that there was to be no turning back from the course Bengalis had set for themselves. And thus the formation of Mujibnagar government was undoubtedly a rightful constitutional as well as logical and realistic step by the trusted and capable associates of the great leader.

The establishment of the Mujibnagar government was an absolute necessity for another reason. Had it not been put in place, it is reasonably certain that diffuse guerilla movements would have spawned all over the country without any form of central control. The danger inherent in such politics lies in an absence of legitimacy. And in Bangladesh's politics at that point in time, the absence of the Mujibnagar government would only have given the freedom struggle a clearly secessionist hue, to the immense delight of the Pakistanis and to the consternation of a Bengali population directly in the military's line of fire. Seen in such light, the presence of Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam and Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed with their colleagues deep in Meherpur in April 1971 was a clear, unequivocal statement of intent: that the elected representatives of the people of Bangladesh had taken it upon themselves to give shape and substances to an independent statehood for them.

It was thus the global community that was left with hardly a choice. The initiation of the war of national liberation, given the fact that it was being waged by a leadership privy to the electorally acknowledged support of the nation, could not be dismissed as an insurrection or a secessionist enterprise. Moreover, the military's misadventure (swooping upon Bengali political aspirations through an exercise of brazenness) assisted the cause not a little.

Flight to India
The killing of unarmed civilians, the razing of villages and townships and the atrocities against women only strengthened the cause of the provisional government. In the months between March and December 1971, the flight of ten million people to India convinced the global community of the necessity and the righteousness of the Bengali cause, and helped the Mujibnagar government to inform the world that there was no alternative to an independent Bangladesh.

The provisional government undertook the onerous responsibility of moulding international opinion in Bangladesh's favour: the effort was assisted a great deal by the momentum of declaration of allegiance to the national struggle by Bengali diplomats stationed in Pakistani missions abroad. Placing the entire diplomatic efforts in the hands of a well-respected personality like Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury was yet another factor for the success of the efforts of Mujibnagar government in mobilising world opinion in our favour.

The speeches and statements made by the Acting President, late Syed Nazrul Islam, Prime Minister late Tajuddin Ahmed and other leaders of the exiled Mujibnagar government at the formal oath taking ceremony and other subsequent occasions were widely appreciated world over as those reflected really democratic and progressive principles of the new government. The guiding principles and the state policies announced time to time by the government in exile were all fully democratic based on universal human rights principles and other widely accepted international norms and protocols.

Finally the formation of Mujibnagar government was the real birth of a new nation -- a nation imbued with the spirit of democratic value, nationalism, secularism and socialism obtained from the call of a man whose stature as a statesman had surpassed that of any of his time and most of his predecessors, who united the Bengali speaking people on a piece of land as one man and raised a nation of indomitable courage, powerful and splendid in its commitment that went head on to face a fiercely equipped army of Pakistan, bare-handed bred with conviction and valour and strength of insurmountable will and unity to be independent and ready to shed the last drop of blood of every individual born on this soil then called East Pakistan.

Zahid Hossain now working as Senior Research Fellow, Bangladesh Enterprise Institute was associated with the Mujibnagar Government as the Chief of Psychological Warfare, Ministry of Defence.