Exactly 46 years ago on this day the 26th March 1971 Bangladesh became independent. Even a day ago on 25th March 1971 Bangladesh was called East Pakistan. But with some mesmerising words articulated spontaneously and categorically by a towering personality we achieved a country wherein we hover like free-birds. However, it is a matter of great regret that for many years together some vested quarters have raised the question of such articulation and challenged the person who made it – and even disputed the day of Bangladesh’s independence. But history is history and it cannot be erased with any mechanism so far invented.
The true history Bangladesh’s independence goes with a “historic call” which was made on the late night of 25th March 1971 by the one and only undisputed leader of Bengali Nation – Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. This historic call is denoted as the declaration of independence and it will ever remain with Bangladesh as long as it lives on the globe. Today, on the eve of 46th Independence Day I am taking the opportunity of describing how the historic declaration of independence came from Bangabandhu to begin the era of an independent country “Bangla Desh”. I hope this will give a vivid picture to those who still have scepticism due to their ignorance and arrogance. This write-up has been prepared based extensive study of national and international documents.
Before getting into the main point of this write-up, please permit me to say a few words. I have no fascination for any of our self-seeking political parties or their hypocritical political ideologies. I always yearn for becoming a non-partisan free thinker and try to love my soil, its liberation struggle, its history and its brave leaders who contributed for the independence of Bangladesh. And that is why I want to see that our history is being made with facts, not with fantasies – because our history is our invaluable asset and an identity of the Bengali Nation.
First of all it is important to note that Bangabandhu had a long-cherished dream of establishing an independent Bangla Desh (pronounced separately before liberation). For that purpose he had been struggling for an independent nation with some leading political leaders of the then East Pakistan since 1948 and succeeded in planting a number of milestones including the magna carter of the Bengalis, the historic Six Points. Today I want to take the opportunity to share two paragraphs below from the most authentic book written by a Pakistani by himself. This will indicate how Bangabandhu was planning (to the Pakistanis “conspiring”) to secede from West Pakistan to make East Pakistan an independent Bangla Desh. Siddiq Salik observed in his most popular book titled Witness to Surrender:
It was the first anniversary (26th March 1970; added by this writer) of the second martial law in Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was on his way to a rural town in East Pakistan to address an election rally. On the back seat of his rattling car sat with him a non-Bengali journalist who covered his election tours. He provoked Mujib on some current topic and quietly switched on his cassette tape recorder. Later, he entertained his friends with this exclusive possession. He also played it to me. Mujib’s rhetorical voice was clearly intelligible. He was saying: ‘Somehow, Ayub Khan has pitched me to a height of popularity where nobody can say “no” to what I want. Even Yahya Khan cannot refuse my demands.’
What were his demands? A clue was provided by another tape prepared by Yahya Khan’s intelligence agencies. The subject was the Legal Framework Order (LFO) issued by the government on 30 March 1970. Practically, it was an outline constitution which denied a free hand to Mujib to implement his famous Six Points. He confided his views on LFO to his senior colleagues without realising that these words were being taped for Yahya’s consumption. On the recording, Mujib said: ‘My aim is to establish Bangla Desh. I shall tear LFO into pieces as soon as the elections are over. Who could challenge me once the elections are over? When it was played to Yahya Khan, he said, ‘I will fix him if he betrays me.’
In his life Bangabandhu was the follower of Gandhian philosophy of “non-violence” and wanted a bloodless, peaceful and democratic solution for attaining absolute autonomy in the East Pakistan built on his Six Points formula. He was dead sure that with the passage of time the autonomy would have led to an independent Bangla Desh with popular support from international community. General Yahya also assured Bangabandhu that an LFO would be formulated to give full autonomy to East Pakistan and its people, and that is why Bangabandhu patiently waited even until 25th March evening in 1971. However, with apprehension of “fixing him and the Bengalis” he was also ready for responding to any treacherous suppressive move by the Pakistani junta, if Yahya had planned not to accept the framework of autonomy proposed by Awami League. The preparation was in the form of declaration of independence and start of an all-out freedom-fight to counter any possible attack by Pakistani armed forces. As part of this plan Bangabandhu got a pre-recorded message ready for transmission as a counteraction against any form of possible crackdown.
Unfortunately Yahya Khan opted for a crackdown instead of providing an agreeable LFO. The apprehensive crackdown began at 11.00pm of 25th March 1971. Therefore, this time Bangabandhu had no other option but to okay the transmission of the pre-recorded message of declaration. At around 11.30pm of 25th March 1971 this pre-recorded message went on the air from a handy transmitter, purposefully set up at Boldha Garden. Many in Dhaka heard this message because it was cleverly transmitted on the frequency very close to Radio Pakistan Dacca. The purpose of this transmission was to inform the foreign journalists and diplomats, listening naturally to Radio Pakistan Dacca, about the compelling action of declaring independence against the crackdown by Pakistani army. This move was successful because many heard the message very clearly, among whom was David Loshak of The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph of London, who was then in Dhaka on duty. Back to London a few weeks after the 25th March he published an authentic book called “Pakistan Crisis”. When this book was published, Bangla Desh was still a couple of months away from gaining independence. So there should not be any dearth of doubt that Bangabandhu made a declaration of independence – at least this is the book, which is above any doubt – (even Late Honourable President Ziaur Rahman officially registered this declaration during his presidency). Tikka Khan also mentioned about this declaration while giving an interview to Musa Sadik (war correspondence in 1971) and Rezaur Rahman (of Ain Adalat) during the SAARC summit in Pakistan in 1988. Moreover, Bangla Desh documents published by Foreign Ministry of Indian Government also contains this declaration. To speak the truth, although heard by small number of people, this was the very first declaration of independence in the real sense by Bangabandhu. The message read like this: “This may be my last message. From today Bangla Desh is independent. I call upon the people of Bangla Desh, wherever you are and with whatever you have, to resist the army of occupation to the last. Your fight must go on until the last soldier of the Pakistan occupation army is expelled from the soil of Bangla Desh and final victory is achieved.” …Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The text of this message was also transmitted through EPR (East Pakistan Rifles) wirelesses throughout the country all-over Bangladesh. However, it may be mentioned here that in his historic 7th March speech he gave a clarion call for independence and liberation war in a diplomatic language for technical reasons. This was a “green signal” to all walks of life for an impending liberation war, including the then Major Ziaur Rahman who categorically mentioned this in his great write-up Ekti Jatir Jonmo in 1972.
Moreover, apart from signalling his men to transmit the pre-recorded message Bangabandhu also dictated another message of declaration of war after 11.00pm of 25th March 1971. The dictation was given, among others, to Dr Mazharul Islam, Col (retired) Osmani and Tajuddin Ahmed. After the pre-recorded message was transmitted this second message was also given to EPR for transmission all-over the country as well. The message read like this: “Pak Army suddenly attacked EPR base at Pilkhana, Rajarbagh Police Line and killing citizens. Street battles are going on in every street of Dacca and Chittagong. I appeal to the Nations of the World for help. Our freedom fighters are gallantly fighting with the enemies to free the motherland. I appeal and order you all in the name of Almighty Allah to fight to the last drop of blood to liberate the country. Ask police, EPR, Bengal regiment and Ansar to stand by you and to fight. No compromise. Victory is ours. Drive out the last enemy from the holy soil of motherland. Convey the message to all Awami League leaders, workers and other patriots and lovers of freedom. May Allah bless you. Joy Bangla.” …SK Mujibur Rahman. During that time the telecommunication system was not very efficient and that is why some parts of the country received the first message while other parts received only the second one. However, in some parts of the country both the messages were picked up.
Anyway, whichever the message was, the contents were very clear to the receivers – that Bangabandhu declared independence. After the receipt of the message(s) instant measure was taken up by political leaders to announce the declaration of independence by using loudspeakers. It is important to note that when Bangabandhu gave his messages and instructions it was late night of 25th March 1971, but the mass people all-over the country received this declaration on the next day, i.e. the 26th March. That is why our Independence Day is observed on the 26th March.
Especially for Chittagong Bangabandhu’s strategy was different. As an initial strike of the freedom-fight he wanted his people and armed forces to liberate Chittagong and proceed to Comilla. Besides the above-mentioned formal messages he also sent a couple of secret instructions in this regard to Chittagong through telephone lines by Nayeem Gohor and Mosharraf Hossain (ex energy and mineral resource minister). Bangabandhu wanted to make sure that his instructions had been reached without any fail to the intended receivers of Chittagong and that is why he opted for two persons at a time to convey the same instructions through two different telephone lines.
In Chittagong many people received both the formal messages. They copied them with carbon papers and in cyclostyles and distributed among the people. Loudspeakers were also used to disseminate the contents of the messages. One of the leading Awami League leaders of Chittagong MA Hannan took a remarkably courageous step. For a brief period he managed to switch on Chittagong Radio and broadcast the contents of the messages as the first person to do so on behalf of Bangabandhu at 2.30pm on the 26th March 1971. This was followed by similar repeated broadcasts quoting “Bangabandhu’s declaration in Dacca” by the initiators of Swadhin Bangla Biplobi Betar Kendra from Kalurghat. Almost all the leading global press and broadcast media including those of India quoted these declarations on the 26th and 27th March – Anil Bhattacharjiya of PTI was the man who picked up the announcement of these messages and reported to Gouhati news media. From there Akashbani, BBC and other news and press media came to know about the declaration and broadcast its contents in their news items or printed in their newspapers. Moreover, one Japanese ship anchored midstream of Chittagong harbour also caught the message possibly from Shitakund wireless station and informed the foreign countries about the declaration. Radio Australia was the one to pick up the declaration and broadcast over the radio. Australian newspapers also covered the news of Bangabandhu’s declaration of independence. On the following day in the 27th March issue the Statesman of India published the news that after the crackdown by the Pakistani forces Sheikh Mujib declared Bangla Desh as Democratic Republic. The news of the Statesman looked like the following:
March 27, 1971
BANGLA DESH DECLARES FREEDOM- RAHMANS’S STEP FOLLOWS ARMY CRACKDOWN- CIVIL WAR ERUPTS IN EAST PAKISTAN- AWAMI LEAGUE LEADERS GO UNDERGROUND
Press Report from Delhi on March 27, 1971
Pakistan’s eastern wing, rechristened the independent state of Bangla Desh by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in a clandestine radio broadcast, was in the throes of a civil war on Friday with west wing troops restoring to force to regain control and the people, aided by the east Pakistan rifles and the police, resisting the attempt, reports UNI.
Heavy fighting was going on in Dacca, Chittagong, Sylhet, Comilla and other towns, according to reports from across the border gathered by UNI bureaus in Shillong and Calcutta and correspondents close to the border in the eastern sector. Casualties were believed to be heavy.
Mr. Rahman and other Awami League leaders had gone underground according to highly reliable reports received in Gauhati by PTI and UNI. A later report said Pakistan troops went hunting for them but could not find them.
Speaking over “Swadhin Bangla” (Free Bengal) Betar Kendra, Mr. Rahman later proclaimed the birth of an independent Bangla Desh.
Moreover, the American Spot Report also mentioned that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared East Pakistan a sovereign and independent People’s Republic of Bangla Desh. Subsequently, many leading press media of the world covered the news of the declaration by Bangabandhu with his picture. The American Spot Report (DIA Report) of 26th March 1971 looked like the following:
Pakistan was thrust into civil war today when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman proclaimed the east wing of the two-part country to be “the sovereign independent People’s Republic of Bangla Desh. Fighting is reported heavy in Dacca and other eastern cities where the 10,000 man paramilitary East Pakistan Rifles has joined police and private citizens in conflict with an estimated 23,000 West Pakistani Regular army troops. Continuing reinforcements by sea and air combined with the government’s stringent martial law regulations illustrates Islamabad’s commitment to preserve the union by force. Because of logistical difficulties, the attempt will probably fail, but not before heavy loss of life results.
Ziaur Rahman as a Major of the 8th EBR (East Bengal Regiment) of Chittagong also gave a declaration on behalf of Bangabandhu on the 27th March 1971. He was very spontaneous when one of the initiators of Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, Belal Mohammad requested him to give a declaration as a representative of Bengali military forces. His first declaration was quite a long one which began with “I, Major Ziaur Rahman, do hereby declare the independence of Bangladesh on behalf of our great national leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman”. It was at 7.30pm on the 27th March – at least 44 hours after the declaration by Bangabandhu and the start of mass resistance by common people and Bengali armed forces.
Some uninformed people influenced by a vested interest group claim that Major Ziaur Rahman was the first to declare the independence of Bangladesh and it was only after his declaration the liberation war began. In fact, this is a ridiculous fantasy because, as I already mentioned, the very first declaration was made by Bangabandhu and the liberation war starting with mass resistance began since the night of 25th March 1971. However, it is also true that Ziaur Rahman’s declaration acted as immense encouragement for those military personnel who heard it. We must also remember that it was only in the name of Bangabandhu our liberation war was initiated and carried out.
There is one more thing that is also brought forth linking the declaration of independence issue. It is also claimed for years together by a vested interest group that it was Ziaur Rahman’s declaration alone that gave a direction to an unprepared nation for a war. This claim is also an utter fantasy. Very briefly, please be informed that Bangabandhu was hundred percent prepared for a war, had the Pakistanis compelled him to do so. Secretly before his 7th March Speech India’s consent for an all-out support for freedom-fight was sought and ensured, MAG Osmani was made the de-facto commander-in-chief of the liberation force, different sectors were planned and divided, declaration of independence was recorded, meeting (planned earlier) between Indira Gandhi and Tajuddin was held on the 3rd April 1971, Bengali army officers met at Telia Para under Osmani’s command on the 4th April for sector-wise encounters, and much more. Please read extremely useful books like Witness to Surrender, Muldhara Ekattur, Pakistan Crisis, Emergence of a Nation, Bloodbath in Bangladesh, Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, Bangladesh Wins Freedom, The Evolution of Politics in Bangladesh, The Last Days of United Pakistan, American Spot Report, Legacy of Blood, Bangla Desh Documents, and so forth. I can give you a book-full of details on this issue, but for now please be satisfied with this.
Moreover, it is also a fact that even Late President Ziaur Rahman in his lifetime never claimed that he was the first to declare independence of Bangladesh. In front of President Ziaur Rahman nobody ever said or dared to say that the then Major Ziaur Rahman was the first to declare independence in 1971. The reason was that Ziaur Rahman had very strong personality as an army officer and was uncompromising in his personal life about speaking the truth. He strongly disliked people flattering him and that is why the vested interest group of today had no access to him in his lifetime in regard to the declaration of independence issue. I shall give you one example from many in this short write-up. Mir Shawkat was very close to Ziaur Rahman. During Ziaur Rahman’s lifetime he himself admitted that he heard the powerful voice of MA Hannan announcing for the first time the declaration of independence on behalf of Bangabandhu from Chittagong Radio on the 26th March 1971. Please find his statement in the original 15 volumes of historical accounts, which Ziaur Rahman himself took very sincere initiative to compile and publish. I do not know how people with political interest evaluate Ziaur Rahman about his honesty to the liberation war, but his sincere and uncompromising efforts for the compilation and publication of the 15-volume historical accounts of our liberation war has truly made him an adorer of independence. He engaged Hasan Hafizur Rahman to make the volumes. And that is why in the original version of those 15 volumes the declaration of independence by Bangabandhu was included without any question, by Ziaur Rahman himself. If he wished or had the declaration been a sceptical one, Ziaur Rahman could have easily discarded that declaration from the volumes, but he did not do that because of two reasons. Firstly, he knew about declaration very much, which he himself learnt on the 26th March 1971 in Chittagong and secondly, he was not at all craving for snatching or grabbing any undue credits. But it is really very sad that after the death of Ziaur Rahman in 1981 a vested interest group has been unnecessarily engaged in making him equivalent to Bangabandhu by capitalising the issue of declaration of independence – which is practically an absurd approach. We are quite aware why this vested interested group is so eager to pull Ziaur Rahman up to the level of Bangabandhu, which is just impractical and not a relevant matter of discussion today.
In support to what I have written here I can furnish a host of quotes from different sources that can simply authenticate the declaration of Bangabandhu, but that would increase the volume of this write-up. However, here are a few quotes on the declaration of Bangabandhu given by the direct witnesses. I hope this will give some light to those who are lacking relevant information and ignorantly engaged in discarding Bangabandhu’s declaration.
“Tajuddin came to my residence for shelter in that terrible night. It was, most probably, 12:45am (26th March). With great concern Tajuddin told me about two serious events: 1. Bangabandhu has officially declared the independence of Bangladesh and sent it to Chittagong and other districts via wireless; 2. I implored him (Bangabandhu), holding his knees, to leave his residence and hide out, but he did not agree” … Mr Abdul Gafur, Engineer Bangladesh Railway
“…Before he was arrested, Sheikh Mujib made a formal declaration of independence of Bangladesh sometime between 12:00am and 1:30am on March 26, 1971. It was broadcast over the clandestine Swadhin Bangladesh Betar (Radio) controlled by the Mukti Fauj (freedom fighters) at noon of March 26, 1971” … SK Chakrabarti, The Evolution of Politics in Bangladesh
“…The 25th of March was spent by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his party leaders in awaiting a call from General Pirzada for a final meeting with Yahya Khan and also for the final drafting session for working out the details of interim transfer of power. No such call came. At zero hours on the 26th March, the army swung into action against the unarmed people of East Pakistan, launching operation on a war scale. Meanwhile Sheikh Mujibur Rahman proclaimed the birth of sovereign Independent State of Bangladesh” … Prabodh Chandra, Bloodbath in Bangladesh
“…In the night of March 25, 1971, he (Mujib) formally declared the independence of Bangladesh. This declaration was later broadcast all over the country via wireless. In the morning of March 26, 1971, I got this message at Mymensingh Agricultural University (BAU). The then Vice Chancellor of BAU, Kazi Fazlur Rahman called all the teachers, showed them Mujib’s declaration message and said: “This message came via the Mymensingh Police Line and Mr Rafiq Bhuiyan, the leader of Mymensingh Awami League, personally brought this message to me”. Immediately after the VC’s announcement, a meeting was held where Mr Bhuiyan read out the declaration of independence and recounted the dreadful military crack down in Dhaka city the previous night…” …Shamsuz Zaman Khan
…“Soon after darkness fell on March 25, the voice of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came faintly through a wavelength close to that of the official Pakistan Radio. In what must have been, and sounded like, a pre-recorded message, the Sheikh proclaimed East Pakistan to be the People’s Republic of Bangla Desh. He called on Bengalis to go underground, to reorganise and to attack the ‘invaders’…” …David Loshak, Pakistan Crisis
…“The full text of the proclamation is published in Bangla Desh Documents released by the Indian Foreign Ministry. It said, ‘This may be my last message. From today Bangla Desh is independent. I call upon the people of Bangla Desh, wherever you are and with whatever you have, to resist the army of occupation to the last. Your fight must go on until the last soldier of the Pakistan occupation army is expelled from the soil of Bangla Desh and final victory is achieved’…” …Siddiq Salik, Witness to Surrender
Finally let me tell you that the declaration of independence by Bangabandhu is an absolute truth like the daylight and there should not be any dispute over this historical event. Therefore, the people who are engaged in discarding the declaration of Bangabandhu from the annals of our liberation war are not only doing injustice but also dishonouring a man, for whom we take pride on a glorious liberation war and are honourably independent today on the globe. Moreover, we must remember that it is the human quality to pay respect and gratitude to someone when one does a favour for us. Even from that perspective these history distorters are lacking a human quality to claim themselves as real human beings. We also should bear in mind that any distortion of our glorious history means divide in our Nation. We should not forget that our history is our pride and we must uphold this for the sake of our respectful existence.
[The writer is a development worker working with Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF); Email: shazzad @ manusher.org]