Politics of Bangladesh and the people

After a long struggle and war, we have finally achieved true independence. The British ruled over us for almost 200 years, exploiting, oppressing, and dividing the entire Indian subcontinent (British India) based on religion. Bengal and Punjab – the two largest provinces of British India – were divided into India and Pakistan. The creation of Pakistan as a dominion and India as a dominion was established under the Indian Independence Act of 1947 passed by the British Parliament, which allowed for the two countries to have their own constitutions until that time. The date for the effective implementation of the constitution in India was January 26, 1950, which is also the day on which the Indian Republic was established. On the other hand, the date for the effective implementation of the constitution in Pakistan was March 23, 1956, which is also the day on which the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was established.

However, more than a hundred thousand Bengalis gave their lives in the struggle for independence from British rule! Yet, some of those Bengalis remained under subjugation because of the British leaving due to their actions.

At the meeting held on June 3, 1947, under the chairmanship of Lord Mountbatten, the leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League agreed to the transfer of power and the partition of India. From left to right in the photo are: Baldev Singh, Acharya Kripalani, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lord Mountbatten, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, and Abdur Rab Nishtar. [Image: Express Archive]
Our homeland ‘East Bengal’ became a part of independent Pakistan, named East Pakistan in 1955! The remaining parts formed West Pakistan, which was composed of the western Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan, and the North-West Frontier Province of British India and was known in our homeland. There was a distance of more than two thousand kilometers between these two parts of Pakistan. Besides, due to the division based solely on religion, there were many fundamental cultural, geographical, and linguistic differences between these two parts. Afterward, a new cruel chapter of exploitation and oppression began in West Pakistan in our homeland of East Bengal!

On February 23, 1948, at the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, Dhirendranath Datta, a member of the assembly, delivered a speech in Bengali alongside English and Urdu, proposing an amendment for the use of the Bengali language in government work and granting it the status of the national language. In his speech, he emphasized that Bengali is the language of the majority and should be recognized as such. He also protested against the decision to not use Bengali in official documents.

During this period, various demands for democratic rights are raised through mass movements in East Bengal, in addition to the language movement. The people’s consciousness is raised in demands for the separation of zamindari and land reform through democratic rights. Alongside the Tebhaga-Hazang-Tongk movement, the tea workers’ movement, and the strike of textile and railway workers, various professional movements become powerful. In addition, the equal rights of all people, individual freedom, freedom of the press, freedom to form associations and organizations, and democratic rights, including universal suffrage, fair wages for workers, land redistribution without compensation, and the implementation of the ‘land to the tiller’ policy among poor and landless farmers, and the demand for the cessation of foreign investment continues to be voiced by the freedom-loving people of East Bengal. In some places, bloody struggles break out.

In 1950, the people of East Bengal protested the brutal killings by the Muslim League government of Pakistan in the Rajshahi Khapra Ward. From the beginning of 1952, the Bengali Language Movement intensified to protect fundamental rights, and through the movement, the demand for establishing Bengali as one of the state languages of East Pakistan emerged. The movement gained widespread public support and turned into a mass movement, with the aim of establishing Bengali as one of the official languages of Pakistan.

On February 21, 1952, this movement took its final form. In an attempt to suppress the movement, the police issued Section 144, prohibiting gatherings and processions in the city of Dhaka, and declared them illegal and banned. Disregarding the order, a group of students and progressive political activists gathered at Dhaka University on February 21, 1952 (8 Falgun 1358). When the protest reached near Dhaka Medical College, police opened fire on the demonstrators, using the pretext of violating Section 144, and shot several rounds of bullets at them. As a result, several people, including Rafiq, the son of the owner of the Badamtali Commercial Press, Tejodipto Tarun Salam, Barkat, a student of MA class, and Abdul Jabbar, were killed in the gunfire.

February 21, 1952, Student Assembly at Dhaka University. [Photo: Bangladesh Archive]
The escalating mass movement forced the central government of Pakistan to accept demands for Bengali as one of the state languages and ultimately led to the adoption of the constitution in 1956, which recognized Bengali as one of the national languages of Pakistan.

In 1957, while addressing the youth members of Pakistan’s parliament in Karachi, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman protested the use of the name “East Pakistan” and said that there was a history and tradition behind the name “East Bengal”. He further stated, “And if we are to keep the name ‘East Pakistan’, we must get the people of Bengal to endorse it. We must seek their verdict on whether they accept this change of name or not, and only then should we proceed to adopt it.”

In 1962, a secret organization named “Nucleus” was formed under the leadership of Sirajul Alam Khan within the student league, which advocated for independence. They referred to this region as “Independent East Bengal”. Then, in 1969, the Ayub Khan regime fell and the slogan of the uprising was “Grab your weapons, liberate Bangladesh”. According to history, this was the first time that the term “Bangladesh” was used to refer to East Bengal. Later, on December 5, 1969, during a commemorative meeting for the sixth anniversary of the death of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s father, at an event, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared, “The name of our independent country will be Bangladesh.”

Leaders of the Awami League proposed various names in that meeting. Later, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman proposed the name Bangladesh, to which everyone unanimously agreed. The reason behind giving this name was stated by Bangabandhu himself: “Bangla was acquired through the struggle of 1952 and the country through the movement for independence. These two histories and struggles were combined to name it ‘Bangladesh’.” Even though official documents had to be written as East Pakistan, no one used that term. Everyone said Bangladesh. The Mujibnagar government, in its declaration of independence, also stated that the name of this country is ‘Bangladesh’. In the literature of the nineteenth century, undivided Bengal was referred to as Bangadesh or Bangladesh. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay also mentioned the word Bangadesh in his literature. Kazi Nazrul Islam used the name Bangladesh in his poetry in the 1930s. In the film by Satyajit Ray, the name Bangladesh was also used. On the other hand, Jibanananda Das called Bengal the ‘golden Bengal’ and Rabindranath Tagore identified Bengal as ‘sonar Bangla’.

After losing their independence from the British, the Bengalis in what is now Bangladesh found themselves under the rule of various other nations. Starting in 1947, they began fighting for independence in various ways, and eventually, the leader of this struggle became Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, one of the greatest Bengalis in a thousand years. Under his leadership, the struggle for independence became more intense.

In Lahore, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announces a six-point plan for the freedom of Bengalis in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) on February 5, 1966.

In February 1966, at a conference of opposition political parties in Lahore, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman presented the “Six-Point Demand” on behalf of the Awami League, calling for East Pakistan’s autonomy. In the following years, the movement for Bengali self-rule centered around these six points became increasingly powerful. The movement was so significant for Bangladesh that it is often referred to as the Magna Carta or the document of the Bengalis’ liberation.

Then in November 1968, an uprising against President Ayub Khan’s dictatorship was sparked, centering around student dissatisfaction, quickly spreading among the working class, farmers, and low-income professions in the cities and villages. The demand for Ayub Khan’s resignation united people across all parts of Pakistan. Essentially, it was this movement that led to Ayub’s eleven-year presidency ending with his resignation in 1969. This movement is also referred to as the Unrest of 1969.

On March 7, 1971, our beloved motherland Bangladesh, prepared for independence, was slapped on the face by the freedom-loving people of Bangladesh. On the night of March 25, the Pakistani military began the genocide of sleeping Bengalis!

The Pakistani military named their operation ‘Operation Searchlight’. The planned genocide, carried out by the Pakistani military, was intended to suppress the Bengali nationalist movements that had taken place in March and prior to that in 1971, following Bangabandhu’s call for independence. This genocide was carried out under the orders of the West Pakistani rulers and was a continuation of the operation called ‘Operation Blitz’ that took place in November 1970. The main objective of the operation was to take control of all major cities by March 26 and to eliminate political and military opposition within a month.

At midnight on 26 March 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman sent a message about attacks on EPR and police barracks in Dhaka, and declared the independence of Bangladesh through a telegram. The telegram was sent to Chittagong, where Awami League leader M. A. Hannan and Major Ziaur Rahman of the East Bengal Regiment broadcast the message on radio on behalf of Mujib. The declaration of independence was widely reported in newspapers around the world. As per the sixth schedule of the Constitution of Bangladesh, the text of Mujib’s telegram stated the following.

This may be my last message, from today Bangladesh is independent. I call upon the people of Bangladesh wherever you might be 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 Bangladesh and final victory is achieved.

Mujib’s telegram was widely reported on radio on 26 March 1971. M. A. Hannan, secretary of the Awami League in Chittagong, read out the statement in Bengali at 2.30 pm and 7.40 pm from a radio station in Chittagong. The text of the Hannan’s broadcast stated the following.

Today Bangladesh is a sovereign and independent country. On Thursday night [March 25, 1971], West Pakistan armed forces suddenly attacked the police barracks at Razarbagh and the EPR headquarters at Pilkhana in Dhaka. Many innocent and unarmed have been killed in Dhaka city and other places of Bangladesh. Violent clashes between EPR and police on the one hand and the armed forces of Pakistan on the other are going on. The Bengalis are fighting the enemy with great courage for an independent Bangladesh. May Allah aid us in our fight for freedom. Joy Bangla.

On 27 March 1971, Major Ziaur Rahman broadcast Mujib’s message in English which was drafted by Abul Kashem Khan. Zia’s message stated the following.

This is Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra. I, Major Ziaur Rahman, on behalf of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, hereby declare that the independent People’s Republic of Bangladesh has been established. I call upon all Bengalis to rise against the attack by the West Pakistani Army. We shall fight to the last to free our motherland. By the grace of Allah, victory is ours.

On 10 April 1971, the Provisional Government of Bangladesh issued the Proclamation of Independence which confirmed Mujib’s original declaration of independence. The proclamation also included the term Bangabandhu for the first time in a legal instrument. The proclamation stated the following.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the undisputed leader of the 75 million people of Bangladesh, in due fulfillment of the legitimate right of self-determination of the people of Bangladesh, duly made a declaration of independence at Dacca on 26 March 1971, and urged the people of Bangladesh to defend the honour and integrity of Bangladesh.

Rayerbazar killing field photographed immediately after the war started, showing bodies of Bengali nationalist intellectuals (Image courtesy: Rashid Talukdar, 1971)

After a 9-month-long war, our motherland, birthplace, beloved homeland Bangladesh became free from enemies. Our victory came on December 16th. During the 9-month-long liberation war, 30 million people were martyred fighting against the Pakistani military and their local collaborators. Two hundred thousand mothers and sisters were subjected to various forms of torture, including rape, by the Pakistani military.

After the War of Liberation, under the leadership of the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh was moving forward as an independent country. In 1972, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman ratified the constitution of Bangladesh. In 1973, the first national election was held, establishing a democratic foundation. In that election, the people of the country overwhelmingly voted for the political organization that led the liberation war, the Bangladesh Awami League, to bring them to power. The father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, became the president of Bangladesh as the leader of the Awami League in the democratic path in his beloved Bangladesh. As a war hero, he tirelessly worked to develop the country, addressing the basic needs of the vast number of people in a small country such as food, clothing, and shelter. However, on August 15, 1975, a group of Pakistani-minded army officers killed him in cold blood.

Human remains and war material from the 1971 genocide at the Liberation War Museum, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Khandaker Moshtaque, the chief planner of the assassination of Bangabandhu, took over as the new President. Within 10 days of assuming office, on August 25th, he appointed Ziaur Rahman as the Chief of Army Staff. The role of this army officer in the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975, was controversial. To stop the trial of Mujib’s killers in 1975, Khandaker Moshtaque had legitimized the indemnity ordinance with the approval of Justice Abdus Sattar Ahmed. After various events and incidents, on April 21, 1977, Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem was sworn in as the President of Bangladesh succeeding Ziaur Rahman. How many killers did he assist in sending abroad during the time of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as president? In addition, during the time of Ziaur Rahman’s rule, at least 3,000 military and non-military personnel were killed or missing. In a failed military uprising on October 2, 1977, 1,143 people were imprisoned in various jails on charges of being involved. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman rejected the communal mindset and promoted the politics of Jamaat-e-Islami, a political organization of Pakistani sympathizers, by allowing them to engage in Islamic-based politics. During the great liberation war of 1971, when Pakistan’s military aided in opposing Bangladesh’s independence, the then-Islamic student organization, Islamic Chattra Sangha, supported the Pakistani military. It is now known as the Islamic Chhatra Shibir. On May 30, 1981, Ziaur Rahman was assassinated in a failed military coup at the Circuit House.

In the context of a power shift, on March 24, 1982, President Ziaur Rahman removed the elected government led by President Abdus Sattar from power and took over the state authority. On December 11, 1983, he assumed power as the Chief Martial Law Administrator of the country. On that day, he took over his own authority from Justice AFM Ahsanuddin Chowdhury, the President of the country. In 1986, he founded the National Party and was elected as the President of the country for five years by the endorsement of this party in 1986. He dissolved this parliament on December 7, 1987, in the face of opposition protests. In the 1988 general election, all parties boycotted the election. Through mass protests against his autocratic rule, the people of the country unitedly removed him from power on December 6, 1990.

Now comes the power of Khaleda Khanum Putul. Khaleda Khanum Putul, the wife of Ziaur Rahman, who is known as Begum Khaleda Zia, became the Prime Minister of the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in the fifth national parliamentary elections on March 19, 1991. Following in her late husband’s footsteps, she brought the religious political parties to her side. After facing objections from all opposition parties, Khaleda Zia and her party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), won the sixth national parliamentary elections on February 15, 1996. The opposition parties, including the Awami League, boycotted this election. This parliament was only stable for 15 days. Khaleda Zia was also the Prime Minister of this parliament. Under strong public protests and international pressure, the bill of the incumbent government was passed in the sixth national parliament and Khaleda Zia resigned from her post. On June 12 of the same year, the seventh national parliamentary election was held in Bangladesh, and the Awami League, led by the leader of the liberation war, Bangabandhu, came to power. Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of the father of the nation, was elected as the Prime Minister. The work began to bring the country back to the spirit of the liberation war. However, before the eighth national parliamentary elections, the BNP formed a four-party alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami, Islamic Oikya Jote, and the National Party. In the parliamentary elections of 2001, the four-party alliance formed the government. Khaleda Zia was also the Prime Minister in this parliament. In this government, leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, who were directly opposed to the liberation war and took part in the killing of Bengalis in 1971, were made ministers. They tried to run the country according to a Pakistani ideology in the same country that opposed its independence. The term of this parliament ended on October 28, 2006.

In the national parliamentary elections held on December 29, 2008, under the leadership of Khaleda Zia, the Four-Party Alliance suffered a massive defeat due to vote rigging. The Awami League-led Grand Alliance, which played a leadership role in the Liberation War, came to power. Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu, was elected Prime Minister once again under the Awami League’s leadership.

Then came the tenth parliamentary election, held in Bangladesh on January 5, 2014. In this election, the Awami League, which was in power, won 234 seats. The election was boycotted by the main opposition party, the BNP, and 17 other parties contested against the Awami League and independents. In addition, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the election as 153 candidates won unopposed out of a total of 300 seats.

The eleventh parliamentary election in Bangladesh was held on December 30, 2018. The two major parties in Bangladesh, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), along with a coalition led by the Awami League and the National Unity Front, comprising a total of 39 registered parties in Bangladesh, participated in the election. The Awami League-led coalition won an overwhelming majority in the election. Sheikh Hasina, the president of the Awami League, was sworn in as the Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh for the fourth time, including her third consecutive term.

In the aftermath of Bangladesh’s independence in 1971 and the great liberation war, a movement began to bring all those involved in war crimes to justice. In 1972, under the leadership of martyred intellectuals, the movement began. Especially, Jahanara Imam played a leading role. In 1979, the movement was revived under the leadership of freedom fighters in the parliament. In 1988, under the leadership of Dr. M.A. Hasan, the movement was launched from the platform of Shaheed Lieutenant Salim. On December 29, 1991, when Golam Azam was declared the Amir of Jamaat-e-Islami, there was a surge of public protest in Bangladesh. As a part of the protest, on January 19, 1992, a committee named “Elimination of Collaborators of ’71 Mass Killing” was formed with 101 members, led by Jahana Ara Imam. She was the organizer of this movement. In addition, a platform against the awareness of the liberation war, consisting of 14 student organizations, major political alliances, and 70 organizations of workers, farmers, women, and cultural groups, came together. Later, on February 11, 1992, the “National Coordination Committee for the Realization of the Awareness of the Liberation War and the Elimination of Collaborators” was formed with unanimous support, with Jahana Ara Imam being elected as the leader. This committee held a historic trial of the collaborator of the genocide, Golam Azam, in Suhrawardy Udyan through the “People’s Court” on March 26, 1992. Ten specific allegations were raised against Golam Azam in a court of law. A panel of twelve judges, chaired by Jahanaara Imam, declared him guilty of ten crimes punishable by death. This movement was launched by the Sector Commanders Forum in 2006. In 2007, during the rule of the caretaker government, the movement called for the trial of war criminals who were students at the Government Bangla College and for the preservation of the memory of the liberation war at Bangla College. They also carried out peaceful activities such as human chains, hunger strikes, rallies, processions, sit-ins, candlelight vigils, and laying flowers on memorials. From 2007 to 2010, students continued to play an active role on the streets and through digital movements on the internet.

One of the main political promises of the Awami League in the ninth national parliamentary elections held on December 29, 2008 was to initiate the trial of war criminals. They won the election with an overwhelming majority. As per the promise, an Awami League MP proposed a bill for the trial of war criminals in the National Parliament on January 29, 2009, which was unanimously accepted.

2013 Shahbag protests, Protest against the war criminals in Shahbagh, Bangladesh.

Finally, 39 years after gaining independence, in March 25, 2010, a tribunal, a panel of lawyers, and an investigation agency were formed in Bangladesh for the trial of those accused of war crimes. During the great Liberation War of 1971, various groups, including Razakars, Al-Badr, and Al-Shams, formed and aided the Pakistani army, and the Jamaat-e-Islami and its student organization, the Chhatra Sangh, began the trial of their leaders who were involved in atrocities such as murder, looting, arson, and rape, along with the Pakistani army. These workers of Jamaat-e-Islami and Chhatra Sangh organized heinous crimes like murder, looting, arson, and rape with the Pakistani army. After the start of the trial, on February 5th, 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal convicted senior leader Abdul Kader Molla of war crimes committed during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War and crimes against humanity. He was accused of murder, including the killing of poet Meherunnesa, as well as 344 people in Alubdi village, and a total of 5 proven crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. However, the sentence of life imprisonment as a penalty for such murders, rape, genocide, and crimes against humanity was not accepted by the general public of Bangladesh. As a reaction to the verdict, a large number of people started gathering at Shahbagh in Dhaka and protests spread throughout the country.

In the history of independent Bangladesh, the Shahbag Movement was the largest nonviolent mass movement. At that time, millions of voices across the country demanded the highest punishment for all war criminals and banned Jamaat-e-Islami. The fate of Jamaat-e-Islami was sealed during the anti-liberation war protest. The Shahbag Movement marked the end of the coffin of Islamism. The movement required the Shahbagis to give their lives.More than a hundred activists have been forced to leave the country. We launched a movement, but day by day we are losing momentum and returning home. Despite this, our people, inspired by the spirit of the liberation war, have resolved to finish this fight. The politics of Jamaat remains unchanged. On February 6, 2019, in the 11th National Assembly, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stated that her government cannot ban Jamaat-e-Islami because the issue of banning them is pending in the highest court of the country. Sheikh Hasina said that there is a pending case regarding the declaration of this infamous political party as illegal in the court. Until the verdict of the case is delivered, we (probably) cannot take any steps regarding this matter. She said, “If we get the verdict of the court soon, then Jamaat will not exist as a political party illegally.”

In the past general election of Bangladesh, Jamaat-e-Islami symbolized their alliance with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) by using the symbol of “rice sheaf” and the Bangladeshi people rejected them. On the other hand, Jamaat failed to register with the election commission due to non-compliance with the conditions. After independence, the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman brought the war criminals to justice under the law, but Ziaur Rahman released them from punishment for their brutal killings after the assassination of Bangabandhu. By amending Article 12 and partially amending Article 38 of the constitution, Ziaur Rahman gave them the opportunity to engage in politics and civil rights, starting a dark chapter in the politics of independent Bangladesh. Recently, on February 15, 2019, Jamaat-e-Islami’s assistant secretary general, Barrister Abdur Razzak, resigned from the party due to its role in opposing Bangladesh’s independence. He advised Jamaat-e-Islami to disappear. He was the leader of the party’s legal team at the top of the War Crimes Tribunal.

This is the nature of the political history of Bangladesh. There are many other incidents in the course of history. However, February 5, 2013, Shahbag determined the direction of Bangladesh’s politics. And it is on that path that our future generations will live in a Bangladesh free from killers, brokers, and hooligans.

Joy Bangla

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