Vol. 5 Num 725 Mon. June 12, 2006  

Revisiting the significance of the historic Six-Point Movement

AS a regular reader of ( also as an occasional contributor to) The Daily Star, I was literally elated to read an excellent article titled "7 June 1966: Revisiting the Six Points" by Syed Badrul Ahsan (DS, June 7, 2006). I am thanking you from the bottom of my heart for publishing such a thought provoking commentary on the significance of the historic six-point movement.

I don't know the writer personally even though I had the opportunity to read some of his earlier writings. In my humble appraisal, Mr. Syed Badrul Ahsan succinctly assesses the significance, magnitude, and impact of the six-point movement on Bangladesh's struggle for freedom and self-determination. The writer eloquently concludes his article with the following words: "The Six Points, when they were articulated in 1966, were a set of necessary national demands. Today they are looked upon, for all the right reasons, as a watershed in the history of the Bengalis."

I would like to underscore that the six-point movement in 1966 was the turning point in Bangladesh's quest for greater autonomy and self-determination from Pakistan's colonial domination. The demand for "maximum autonomy" based on the six-point formula seems to have shaken the foundation of Pakistan. Instead of fairly addressing the legitimate grievances and demands of the neglected and exploited eastern province of Pakistan, Punjabi-dominated power elite took a self-destructive decision to suppress the organisers and supporters the six-point demand.

Notwithstanding the deliberate distortions of our political history, the six-point demand has been widely credited as the 'charter of freedom' in our struggle for freedom and independence. The spectacular success of the six-point movement in 1966 had also seriously impacted and conditioned the subsequent political development in Pakistan. However, in any credible assessment of the historic six-point demand, it needs to be clearly stressed that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had presented not only the bold proposal for "maximum provincial autonomy" in early May 1966 but he also launched a viable mass movement (which he himself led till he was put in jail on May 9, 1966) for popularising and mobilising support for the six-point programme. In fact, the six points had generated spontaneous mass support throughout East Pakistan. The entire nation was galvanised throughout February-March-April-May-June, 1966.

The six-point movement had direct bearing on the following momentous events: the making of the infamous Agartala conspiracy case against Sheikh Mujib, the volatile student-mass movement of 1969, the withdrawal of the concocted Agartala conspiracy case and the unconditional release of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from solitary confinement on February 22, 1969, the removal of the infamous provincial governor Abdul Monem Khan, the sudden collapse of Ayub Khan's dictatorship and the rise of Yahya Khan's diabolical regime, the general elections in 1970 on the basis of adult franchise, the landslide victory of the Awami League in the general elections and the spectacular rise of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the sole spokesperson of the Bengali speaking people of the then Pakistan, the nine-month long liberation war in 1971, and finally the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent nation-state on December 16, 1971. Doubtless, these tumultuous events were milestones in the history of Bangladesh's struggle for freedom and independence. The name of the common thread that had firmly connected those milestones was Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

There is no doubt that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would have remained a top Awami League leader even in the absence of a bold provincial autonomy plan in the form of the six-point programme. Yet had there been no six-point movement in 1966, there is every doubt if the Agartala Conspiracy Case would have been hatched out against him at that particular time. Had there been no Agartala Conspiracy Case, the student-mass movement of 1969 would not have exclusively focused on his unconditional release from jail. Thus the six-point movement, the Agartala conspiracy case, and the 1969 student-mass movement had provided the much-needed context and momentum for his emergence as Bangabandhu (Friend of Bengal) Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. From that juncture of our history, he did not have to look backward. The whopping majority of Bengali speaking people of the then East Pakistan had vested their full trust in their Bangabandhu in the general elections of 1970. His emergence as the legitimate sole spokesperson and undisputed leader of his people due to his spectacular success in the historic general elections of 1970 can be traced back to the great success of the historic six-point movement in 1966.

I would also like to emphasise that the six-point plan had reflected the legitimate grievances and genuine demands of the people of the then East Pakistan. There is little wonder why the historic six-point movement had garnered so much spontaneous mass support throughout the province. The timing, first for presenting, and then starting a sustainable Bengali nationalist movement for realising the professed goals of six-point demand was crucially important. The economic and political demands, as stipulated and enumerated under the six-point programme, were the frontal assaults on the foundation of Pakistan's colonial exploitation and authoritarian modes of governance.

M Waheeduzzaman Manik is Professor and Chair, Department of Public Management, Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tennessee, USA.