On December 22, 1971, the Mujibnagar government came home to a liberated Bangladesh. The moment remains an indelible part of our history, for the provisional government of Bangladesh constituted in April 1971 was the very first instance in history of a government formed by, composed of and administered by Bangalees.
Among those who were part of the enterprise, in what was clearly the darkest moment in Bangladesh's history with the Pakistan occupation army running riot all across the occupied country, were acting president Syed Nazrul Islam, prime minister Tajuddin Ahmed and ministers M Mansur Ali and AHM Quamruzzaman.
The Mujibnagar government served as a huge inspiration to the 75 million people of Bangladesh, who had felt lost and without leadership since Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had been taken prisoner by the Yahya Khan junta and secretly flown to (West) Pakistan. By April 12, 1971, Tajuddin Ahmed had put a skeleton government into shape. As prime minister, he made a radio broadcast to the nation to announce the historic move.
However, it was on April 17 at Meherpur, Chuadanga, that the provisional government, with the incarcerated Bangabandhu as president of Bangladesh, took office. With Col MAG Osmany as commander-in-chief of the Mukti Bahini, the government devised battlefield strategy against the Pakistani occupiers. Bangladesh was divided into 11 war sectors, with each sector operating under a sector commander. The proclamation of independence, drafted and finalised by barrister Amirul Islam, was read out by Prof Yusuf Ali.
Additionally, a wartime administration was put in place, where Bangalee officers of the Pakistan government, having made their way out of Dhaka, took charge of various responsibilities. Within weeks of the Mujibnagar government coming into being, the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra (Free Bengal Radio) went on air with a tranche of programmes -- news, commentaries, drama, humour skits, songs -- aimed at inspiring Bangalees with hope of freedom.
Abroad, Bangalee diplomats, having defected from the Pakistan foreign service, were soon spearheading programmes geared to making people in Europe and the Americas and elsewhere aware of the Bangladesh struggle. The government sent eminent Bangalee scholars, economists and politicians abroad to explain the national cause. Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, in London, served as Bangladesh's top spokesman abroad.
On the fading afternoon of December 22, 1971, the Mujibnagar government came home to a rapturous welcome. At Tejgaon airport, acting president Syed Nazrul Islam and prime minister Tajuddin Ahmed told the crowd that victory would not be complete until Bangabandhu was freed by Pakistan to return to Bangladesh.
Unbeknownst to Bangladesh's people, on that very day in distant Rawalpindi, Pakistan's new president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ordered moving Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from solitary confinement in Mianwali to house arrest at a guest house outside Rawalpindi. It would be a prelude to the eventual release of the Father of the Nation and his heroic journey home.