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Special issue on 38th anniversary of the New Nation

Manik Mia, The six point programme and national unity

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19th-Jun-2017       
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Dr. Kamal Hossain :
The fact that one of the first Cabinet decisions after liberation was to name the road on which the Jatiyo Sangsad building stands, Manik Mia Avenue, should provide an insight as to how those who had led independence viewed his role and that of the Ittefaq newspaper. I had the privilege after joining the High Court Bar in 1959 to meet him and be a regular visitor to his residence in Shantinagar. In those days when Ayub Khan's martial law had been imposed, political parties were banned and political leaders were being persecuted and prosecuted. The Ittefaq office and Manik Mia's residence were places where all those who were threatened by martial law could share their anxiety and discuss the problems they faced. Since I had the opportunity to visit Manik Mia's residence, in particular when Mr. Hoseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy visited, I was particularly privileged to meet Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who in those days was respected as our Mujib Bhai. He was always there when Mr. Suhrawardy visited. This not only gave me opportunity to participate in political discussions with him but also to obtain Mr. Suhrawardy's assistance in moving bail in the cases that were being instituted against him.
The elections in 1946 and the United Front Election in 1954, demonstrated the commitment of the Bengali people to democracy. Manik Mia remained uncompromisingly committed to the restoration of democracy. As the Editor of the Ittefaq, he, undeterred by martial law, continued to write forcefully in favour of democracy and informed the people of the repressive actions of martial law against political leaders. He, thus, contributed significantly to keep alive the spirit of democracy in those dark days. His columns under his pen-name "Musafir" were read as a source of inspiration. Progressively as the issue of discrimination and disparity to which Bengalis were subjected by the authoritarian government and exploitation by the central ruling coterie gave strength to the growing Bangali nationalism. The Ittefaq under the editorials of Manik Mia attracted young journalists, whose powerful pens contributed to the cause. One of them Ahmedur Rahman was killed tragically in an air crash in Egypt, but Serajuddin Hossain wrote on powerfully for the cause of the Bengali people until he was martyred in 1971.
Up until 1963 the united democratic movement had been focusing on restoration of democracy and free and fair election, led by leaders like Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Sher-e-Bangla A.K. Fazlul Huq. Political parties remained united and a national democratic front had continued to gain strength. On 5 December 1963 Mr. Suhrawardy had died. Following this Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had taken the initiative to revive Awami League. While supporting restoration of democracy and unity of democratic forces opposed to martial law, the revived Awami League emerged as a nationalist force to unite Bengali people in order to end the exploitation to which they had been subjected by the central government. Following the 1965 War, the movement against Ayub gained ground in both wings of Pakistan. It was in that context that in early 1966 a meeting was convened in Lahore at which Awami League was invited to participate. The distinctive role of Awami League leadership of Bangabandhu was to launch the six-point programme and to present it to the conference, but it met with a negative response from the West Pakistani leaders, who urged that free and fair elections alone should be pressed and not the demand for regional autonomy.
Between 1966 and 1969 the politics in Eastern wing gathered strength centered around the six-point programme. The Ittefaq's role in articulating the issue of disparity and discrimination from which Bangalis suffered continued to play a vital role in promoting the unity of the Bangali people. Manik Mia's position in this period was a particularly challenging one. Since he enjoyed broad support of political leaders his role was important in sustaining the unity of the Bengali people. Some Bengali leaders who took the view that election and democracy should be given priority within NDF kept up pressure on Manik Mia to support them. Manik Mia while maintaining respectful relations with those leaders continued to give forceful support to the six-point Programme for regional autonomy.
June 7, 1966 is a historic date in the six-point Movement since it was a national protest day. Ayub launched his repressive assault on that day, arresting Bangabandhu and his associates and Manik Mia and seizing and forfeiting the Ittefaq newspaper. The forfeiture order dated 19 June 1966 specifically included in its schedule, the following grounds for forfeiture:
    SCHEDULE B: News, comments, statements and reports regarding the proposed observance of 'Protest Day' by the Awami League on 7.6.66 and all matters connected with or relating thereto.
    SCHEDULE C. News, views, statements, reports or photographs concerning or relating to the observance of hartal and Protest Day in East Pakistan on 7th June, 1966 and Government measures taken in relation thereto.
    "SCHEDULE D: The news under the heading ¸wjel©‡Yi gyjZex cÖ¯Íve AMÖvn¨ in page 1 and 2 of the issue of 9th June, 1966, Dacca.
    1. The publication with the caption ivR‰bwZK g in page 4 of the issue of the 9th June Dacca.
    2. The news under the heading 6 `dvi ev¯Íevq‡b AvIqvgx jx‡Mi ch©¨vqµwgK Kg©m~Px in page 1 and 10 of the 12th June, 1966.
    3. The news under the heading Qq `dvi cÖ‡kœ †Kvb Av‡cvl bvB of the issue of 13th April, 1966.
    4. The news under the heading msMÖvg Pj‡eB-cë‡bi wekvj Rbmgy‡`ª †bZ…e„‡›`i †NvlYv  of the issue of 25th April, 1966 in page 1.
    5. The publication under the heading `xN©m~wÎZvi dj of the issue on 27.4.66."
This repressive assault on Ittefaq and Manik Mia drew me closer to Manik Mia and the Ittefaq, as I was among lawyers who filed the Writ Petition challenging his detention and the forfeiture of Ittefaq. For the main hearing we had obtained the assistance of Mr. Muhammad Ali Kasuri. He came to Dhaka and we together interviewed Manik Mia in the central jail. Mr. Kasuri insisted that our interview being a lawyer's interview, under the law no police officer could overhear our conversation. We insisted that the officers stand outside. They stood near the window, when Mr. Kasuri returned to them and said that since from the window they could overhear what we were saying, they must move further away which the police officers were compelled to do so that the lawyers interview could continue. Mr. Kasuri had to return to Lahore before the submissions could be completed. He, therefore, prayed for an adjournment. The Court directed that no adjournment could be allowed but that I should continue with the submissions, which gave me a unique opportunity to conclude the submissions on behalf of Manik Mia and the Ittefaq. The Special Bench of five judges, consisting of Justice Siddiky, M.R. Khan, S.D. Ahmed, A.M. Sayem and Abdulla, delivered their judgment on 9 August 1966, and held as follows:
"In terms of the unanimous opinion of the Court, the Rule in Petition No. 250 of 1966 is made absolute and the impugned order of forfeiture, dated 16.6.1966 is declared to have been made without lawful authority and is of no legal effect and the respondents are directed to withdraw or rescind the same."
Another critical role played by Manik Mia was in the context of the Roundtable Conference which Ayub held with political leaders in 1969. Manik Mia had hoped that political demands be met through discussions in the Roundtable Conference. Ayub Khan, however, was prevailed upon by those opposed to the six-point programme not to accept them so that at the end of the conference on 13 March he stated that he would not address the issue of regional autonomy but would provide only for direct elections to the national assembly on the basis of direct adult franchise, which could make the necessary amendments for a federal parliamentary form of government.
It was quite obvious that the anti-autonomy forces had succeeded in shutting the door to negotiations on regional autonomy. Bangabandhu therefore rejected the award. On returning from the conference hall, he sat with his senior colleagues to decide on their next course of action.
Before the press conference, Bangabandhu had telephoned Manik Mia in Dhaka, as he was anxious to gauge the popular reaction, which he had correctly assessed would support his decision to reject Ayub's award and to carry forward the political movement. Manik Mia in no uncertain terms said that the movement and the peoples' unity had been strengthened by Bangabandhu's decision which was fully supported by them.
The public reaction was to intensify the movement: spontaneous demonstrations in Dhaka denounced Ayub Khan, and pledged support to the Six Points movement. Bangabandhu's position as the authentic spokesperson of the Bangali people was confirmed by these demonstrations. Manik Mia's views thus contributed to the taking of the decision in March 1969 to intensify the six-point movement, which was a key chapter in our liberation struggle.
 (Dr. Kamal Hossain is the President of Gano Forum. He delivered this speech to mark the 47th Anniversary of Death of Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia, Founder Editor of the Daily Ittefaq observed by the Manik Mia Foundation on June 1, 2016 at Ittefaq Bhaban, Dhaka.)

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