Ekushey is, and has always been, symbolic of the Bangalee national aspiration for self-expression. Just how important Bangla was to be was a theme already being discussed in the run-up to Partition.
There were, of course, those in the non-Bangalee Muslim community in pre-August 1947 India who for their part had begun to root for Urdu as the language of a future Pakistan. And when Pakistan came into being, it was Urdu and English that came in as the languages in which parliamentary business was to be conducted.
It was Dhirendranath Dutta, the quintessential Bangalee, who first demonstrated the sagacity to ask that Bangla be adopted as one more language in the conduct of parliamentary proceedings. He went further, to demand that Bangla be the lingua franca of the state of Pakistan.
His reasoning was based on the reality on the ground. Bangla, he reminded the Pakistan Constituent Assembly on 25 February 1948, was the language of the majority component of Pakistan's population.
While submitting his motion in the assembly, Dutta made it clear that he was not approaching the question from a provincial point of view. And then he moved on:
“Out of six crores and ninety lakhs of people inhabiting this state, four crores and forty lakhs of people speak the Bengali language. So, Sir, what should be the state language of the state? The state language of the state should be the language which is used by the majority of the people of the state, and for that, Sir, I consider that the Bengali language is a lingua franca of our state…. ”
Dutta developed his argument as he went along. Referring to the travails encountered by a Bangalee who did not know Urdu, Dutta told the Chair:
“A poor cultivator, who has got his son, Sir, as a student in the Dacca University and who wants to send money to him, goes to a village post office and he asks for a money order form, finds that the money order form is printed in [the] Urdu language. He cannot send the money order but shall have to rush to a distant town and have this money order form translated for him and then the money order, Sir, that is necessary for his boy can be sent.”
Dhirendranath Dutta's motion was rubbished by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, who went on to offer the spurious logic that “Pakistan is a Muslim state and it must have as its lingua franca the language of the Muslim nation.” He continued, “Urdu can be the only language which can keep the people of East Bengal or eastern zone and the people of [the] western zone joined together.”