Bangabandhu's monumental victory was foiled and brought disaster31 October 2021 MAINUL HOSEIN
As I was in charge of the most powerful daily, the Daily Ittefaq, the occurrences that happened outside in the streets and in the darkness of the closed door dialogue kept me awfully disturbed about how to guide the readers of the Ittefaq and how to influence the ongoing politics. I could see the ominous signs that the situation was not going Bangabandhu's way. Much pressure was being built by student leaders and agitators on him to go for independence, though unprepared. Besides, the people were not responding to the call of students. They showed no sign of agreeing. The conspirators were thinking of the power of India to do the job of division of Pakistan. Mrs Indira Gandhi showed no interest in talking with the Pakistan government for a peaceful settlement.
I saw Gen Yahya Khan's team included many experts as advisers. He also brought former renowned Chief Justice Cornelius with him. I suspected Bangabandhu was prodded from behind by a few who thought themselves too clever and others not so clever. They thought they could get independent Bangladesh with other side, not even Bangabandhu, realising it.
But independent Bangladesh was never a people's issue. They certainly wanted Pakistan army to be punished for this ruthless oppression.
I have to admit that I was not sure who were in charge of our national politics. It was treated as secret affair of the few experts. That worried me. Because solution had to be political to be offered by political representatives of the people. After the election we knew who were our representatives and who could speak on our behalf. But the voice of non-representative students became stronger than that of the people's representatives as the street movement went along.
Bangabandhu at one stage insisted that Gen Yahya Khan should lift martial law and transfer power to him. This was not a practical suggestion. So I was getting concerned that Bangabandhu was not getting proper legal advice. Martial law could not be ended without restoring the Constitution it suspended or producing a new Constitution. It was also common knowledge that Bangabandhu suggested the National Assembly to sit separately to make two Constitutions to resolve the political differences. We did not know who influenced him with such ridiculous idea.
I was getting nervous to see how impractical hurdles were being raised against our own clear demand of autonomy. No country achieved independence through secession without the preparations of a war. The independence was not approved by the people and nobody should have discussed independence.
It was clearly a momentous matter where the unity of Pakistan was at stake. But our side was represented by a few technocrats from behind the scene with Dr Kamal Hossain as Bangabandhu's trusted person. They were not practical politicians to put things politically.
There is no scope for confusion that the six-point election mandate was not for independence. Shifting from popular mandate was bound to change the whole perception and basis of legitimate politics. Those who wanted us to fall into the tangle of undemocratic politics of theirs were zealously doing exactly that. The demand for independence was incompatible with the popular mandate and incompatible with the ongoing negotiation. Moreover, to talk in war language, with no preparation, is to invite disaster. That is what happened.
The post-election politics was moving fast in full contradiction of the people's mandate. Those who had opposed Bangabandhu from going for the election were now very agile to foil the election mandate to be replaced by their own agenda not to have a settlement with Pakistan. They wanted to finish the leadership of Bangabandhu by misdirecting the politics and its popular foundation.
Bangabandhu was negotiating six-point autonomy in the indoor politics, but the outdoor politics he inspired was very much for independence of Bangladesh. But officially, Bangabandhu stuck to his six-point demand for autonomy. But a different politics was going on in the streets of Dhaka.
At this time in the whole of East Pakistan Bangabandhu's call of non-cooperation was being observed and the borders were open for all to come in and leave. So, outsiders had no problem infiltrating to detract Awami League from its course of politics.
It was a great relief to the nation when after many days of anxiety about the consequence of failure of the negotiations, it came as great hope that a consensus agreement on six-point demand was possible. The media also published speculative news about successful end of the talks. Bangabandhu himself spoke optimistically.
Bangabandhu regarded the six-point demand, prepared by some former bureaucrats, as such a sanctimonious document that the same must be upheld word for word. The hands of our elected MPs were tied claiming that six-point demand was now the public property. There would be no room for deviation and so it was unalterable.
The politics can never be a one sided affair when there are two sides. Bangabandhu became a man of one word - six-point had to be accepted as it was. In his exasperation he even reminded Gen Yahya Khan of the dire consequences.
So it was a great feat of achievement for Bangabandhu to have a consensus settlement on the six-point. We could see no excuse for not abiding by the consensus agreement. By casting off the agreement the government was given a strong pretext to mobilise the army to establish the authority of the government against non-cooperation movement. The government in East Pakistan was in a suspended state for the non-cooperation call.
What was most harmful was the borders between India and Bangladesh disappeared. Pakistan had the information of infiltration of Hindus in a big way. Those Hindus wasted no time to flee for safety to India.
When the army started moving in, nearly one crore people became refugees in India as paupers. Thus even the common people anticipated the army reaction would be beastly. Thousands of unarmed people were butchered by the Pakistan army in the full knowledge that our leaders were not here to protest or resist. The heroic agitators were also not in the country. No effort was made by the army to understand the situation or give our people a chance to be heard. We were all treated as enemies of Pakistan. The hard truth was that the student leaders were active in Dhaka and Delhi but failed to elicit the public support to their demand of independence from Pakistan.
As soon as the Pakistan army was moving in our leaders were moving out in haste. No need was felt to warn the people about the impending attacks.
The police were not apprehending any attack from the army and most of them were in sleep. They become the first target of concerted attack of the Pakistan army. A large number of them were killed for their unpreparedness in the midnight attack on them by the army. They tried to defend themselves bravely, but the police rifles were nothing before the fire power of the army. Finding the military fire power so overwhelming, those who could, ran to save their lives. We lost so many police men without any indication from our leaders of what was coming, though they knew and left the country.
There was no call from Bangabandhu to Bengali army to revolt. Bangabandhu's specific message was that he would let them know if any such need arose. It was not apprehended that there would be any cause for armed confrontation. The talks were going on patiently, though not without hitches but in the end a settlement was arrived at. Military operation comes with a warning, if not a secret operation against enemies. But the army operation against Bengali people was sudden and secret. Our own leadership was in disarray.
Thus creation of Bangladesh was not the result of our cool and calculated thinking our leaders.
Bangabandhu himself admitted to me in the presence of auntie that settlement was possible and he would be the Prime Minister. Auntie was not favour of the idea.
When preparations were underway to disarm the Bengali army only then they revolted. Major Zia shot his superior officer pointblank out of disgust before leaving the cantonment with others.
As the news of massacre in Dhaka spread about, only then some angry reactions exploded in isolated places of the country. Even then the general public remained calm though shocked. But nothing like organised "stiff resistance" was met by the Pakistan army anywhere as claimed by Gen Yahya in his affidavit submitted before the Justice Hamidur Rahman Commission. Nevertheless, the terror of military rule and systematic killing of men and abusing our women persisted for long nine months till their humiliating defeat by the Indian army. The six-point autonomy was our people's electoral mandate and the people's victory. But generals of Pakistan refused to see it that way. The military brutality on peace loving people of East Pakistan was totally unwarranted and ill-motivated.
Those who had shouted and raised high throttled slogans of taking up arms to fight like brave Bengalis (exi evOvjx A¯¿ ai, evsjv‡`k ¯^vaxb Ki) disappeared the fastest before others knew. They created a crisis for our leadership not to succeed.
How tragically their power-game was affecting our long-term politics should not have escaped our attention. We were loosing our grip over our destiny.
This contradiction between words and deeds was so glaring and heart-wrenching that everybody saw how suddenly Bangabandhu was left alone. The general people were sitting ducks in the face of the savage assault by Pakistan army. Still, they expected that the innocent general public would not be so brutally treated. But the army's mission was to kill and punish our people indiscriminately. So that the question of living together did not arise.
The saddest thing is we were not even sure of the plan of our own leadership. Our confused ways of political leadership has made the third party win.
After the six-point demand was accepted and when nobody including Bangabandhu denied the same, there was no reason for our change of political direction. Bangabandhu's pride was wounded and hurt by the fact that India's involvement with war against Pakistan resulted in the creation Bangladesh.
For Bangabandhu's resorting to revolutionary politics of BAKSAL was motivated to establishing that Bangladesh was achieved through popular uprising at his call of 7th March. To follow up the revolutionary way he formed BAKSAL one party rule as a revolutionary government leaving no room for democracy.
So far as I know this is the logic of Bangabandhu becoming a revolutionary leader and BAKSAL was described as his second revolution.
Bangabandhu's death was tragic but he died frustrated, not knowing how to save himself from the clutches of conspirators within and outside.
(The writer is Chairman, Editorial Board, The New Nation)