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Remembering the heat of March 1971

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Dr. Md. Shairul Mashreque :
The nation observes March as a month of great historical significance in remembrance of a series of seminal events that set the final stage of Bangladesh movement that started from language movement (1952). Bangabandhu demonstrated statesmanship in giving a sense of direction to the angry masses as soon as the   postponement of the date of National Assembly was broadcast over radio. Public opinion became extremely agitated.  
Bangabondhu in consultation with some elected members of the National Assembly, who were veteran politicians and among top few in leadership position, masterminded the strategic plan to prove equal to the task. . His plan was a two-way traffic-negotiation efforts and preparation for the armed struggle. He uttered "hope for the best, prepare for the worst."    
The spirit of Bengali nationalism inspired the angry masses to stand united under his charismatic leadership to give tough resistance against any military action.
The sullen, bitter and hating Bangalees were ready for fight for liberation. The military forces were building up for a murderous strike with negotiation dialogue as a mere prevention. On the other hand     mass mobilization was going on with spontaneous support of public officials, technocrats, intellectuals, peasants and industrial labour for building up countervailing forces against army atrocities.
Racial hatred is a basic element in the development of Bengali nationalism. The two wings of Pakistan were separated by nearly 2000 km. of Indian territory. The people of the two wings were racially different. . The only thing they have in common were religion-the only factor behind for 'the creation of the improbable two-part nation in 1947, when British rule ended on the sub-continent.'
The domineering attitude of the Punjabi, the race that exhibited a strong superiority complex, caused differentiation, alienation and confrontation so far as Bangalees were concerned. . Even other ethnic groups were badly affected by Punjabi domination. There was gap between the two wings as for the benefits of development. This gap was honed razor-sharp by the Punjabi's systematic exploitation of East Pakistan politically, economically and militarily.
The East Pakistan was the majority wing with 75 million people compared to 61 million people in the west wing which had the advantage that the national capital was situated over there that received 'the overwhelming proportion of development funds, factories, public work projects, foreign aid, imports and defense facilities.'
The accentuation of the sense of alienation eventually turned into confrontation. The military bureaucracy nexus of Pakistan was exposed to the antagonism of vernacular elite as it committed acts of vengeance one after another to relegate the majority to a state of powerlessness. It denied Mujib the seat of power despite his party's landslide victory in 1970's parliamentary election. Yahiya Khan seemed to be puppet acting like a hypocrite at the instigation of the men behind the scene maneuver. Absolutely ill motivated the dialogue initiative of Yahiya was a mere pretension with the 'charade of negotiation' mobilizing military forces surreptitiously for the immortal strike. The danger was imminent.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutta refuse to attend the Dhaka session set for March3, 1971 which was supposed to prepare a new constitution for Pakistan. Yahya yielded to Bhutto's pressure and postponed Dhaka session. 'Protests and rioting erupted in East Pakistan, the army fired on Bengalis, killing many, and the Bengalis then answered.'  Bangabandhu reacted immediately organizing a parliamentary party meeting at Hotel Purbani. While talking to the pressmen Bangabandhu thundered "Only for the sake of a minority party's disagreement the democratic process of constitution making has been obstructed and the National Assembly session has been postponed sin die."
He issued directives to the people such as: observance of hartal in a peaceful manner from 3rd March to the 6th March from 6 A.M to 2 P.M., observing 3rd March as a day of national mourning, asking all Bangalees staff serving in radio, T.V. to refuse to cooperate if the authority failed to cover the statements of the straggling leaders and their version of events, addressing a mass rally on 7th March to issue further directives and continuing struggle in a peaceful and disciplined manner.
On 23rd March Mujib rejected the invitation of Yahiya Khan to attend the meeting of the leaders of the parliamentary groups in the National Assembly in the wake of widespread killing of unarmed civilians in some important places (Bangladesh Documents vol. I 1999)
While Bangabondhu demanded withdrawal of Martial law to harness the process of transition to democracy notification issued by the cabinet division on 6th March, 1971 to appoint Tikka Khan as the Governor of East Pakistan replacing extremely gentleman vice Admiral S.M. Ahsan was a great Provocation. The chief justice of the Supreme Court did not administer the oath of Tikka Khan.
At the public meeting on March 7, 1971 at the race course maidan attended by million Bangabondhu in a historic speech thundered: Ebarer sangram amader  muktir sangram, ebarer sangram sadhinatar sangram (our struggle this time is the struggle for emancipation, the struggle is the struggle for independence).
This was the clarion call of Bangabondhu. He categorically made it clear that he would attend the assembly if 4 point-demand was accepted. The 4 points were: 'the withdrawal of martial law', returning army to barracks, 'inquiry into the killings' and 'transfer of power to the elected representatives'. In the speech he 'called upon the people to turn every home into fortresses.
Bangabandhu called for a non-co-operation movement in defiance of the military junta. . Mujib issued 10 point directives to the people in the full sewing civil disobedience movement on March 7, 1971. The points were: no tax to continue, all government, semi-government and autonomous bodies and judicial institutions to observe hartal; appropriate exemption to be announced from time to time, the transports like mail, air to continue to function but should not be used for mobilizing forces, Banglaees working in electronic and print media should not co-operate otherwise if complete version of the statement of the leaders is not given, only local and inter-district telephone communication should continue, all educational institutions shall remain closed, banks shall not effect  remittances to the western wing either through the state Bank or otherwise, black flag shall be hoisted on all buildings, hartal to be withdrawn in all other places but complete or partial hartal may be declared at any moment depending on the situation and a sangram parishad to be organized in each union, mahallah, thana (sub-distric), subdivision and district under the leadership of the local Awami league units.
Non -co-operation movement 'eventually evolved into the creation of a kind of Awami league government.' The junta went out to fly troop reinforcement into East Pakistan at night. From March 10 and onwards leaders of minority party groups visited East Pakistan to meet Shaikh Mujib. They exchanged views with him slating Bhutto's provocative attitude.
Mujib in an announcement (15th March) expressed his determination to continue non-cooperation movement with 'fresh action programme' in 3rd week of March. In a statement given by Mujib on 18 March, he 'rejected the commission of enquiry' set up by ML Administrator, zone B as it would serve no purpose.
At the crucial stage of the non cooperation movement Dacca talk between Bangabondhu and Yahya progressed on March 19. All efforts failing and unnecessary delay in political solution Yahya imposed military solution.
In the fateful night of 25 March the soldiers started going on rampage killing of unarmed civilians at Dhaka with unprecedented brutality in the name of operation search light.
Bangabondhu in a clandestine broadcast transmitted the call for declaration of independence on 26th March 1971. Mujib also 'declared the 75 million people of East Pakistan as citizens of the sovereign independent Bangladesh'. Since then people were fighting gallantly with the occupation force across the country. The official proclamation of independence issued on 10 April 1971 confirmed the declaration of independence by Bangabandhu.

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