History’s first Bengali government comes home …

The provisional government of Bangladesh, formed in a remote region of Meherpur in Chuadanga district on Apr 17, 1971, holds a special place in history

Syed Badrul AhsanSyed Badrul Ahsan
Published : 21 Dec 2022, 09:14 PM
Updated : 21 Dec 2022, 09:14 PM

Late in the afternoon of Dec 22, 1971, the Mujibnagar government came home. It was one of the more momentous of events in the nine-month saga of the struggle for freedom, all of which had been spent in ensuring that liberty came to define the global position of the Bengali nation through a spirited War of Liberation.

That war commenced on Mar 26, 1971, moments after the Pakistan occupation forces, having scuttled the political negotiations then going on towards a resolution of the crisis earlier engendered by it and self-serving political leaders from West Pakistan, cracked down on an unarmed Bengali population. Operation Searchlight, as the inauguration of the genocide was euphemistically put across, swiftly put an end to the lives of thousands of Bengalis -- academics, writers, students, rickshawpullers and passersby caught in the fury of the military.

The provisional government of Bangladesh, formed in a remote region of Meherpur in Chuadanga district on Apr 17, 1971, holds a special place in history. And it has to do with the fact that it was the first ever government formed and administered by Bengalis, which in itself was a unique happening given that at no earlier stage in their history had Bengalis been witness to a government established to ensure their security and welfare.

And not since the formation of a free government of India by Netaji SubhashChandra Bose in 1943 had the arrival of a political dispensation, composed as it was of the elected representatives of the people -- lawmakers voted to the national assembly of Pakistan and the provincial assembly of East Pakistan through adult franchise in December 1970 -- symbolised the kind of drama and expectations generally associated with such a revolutionary move.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in the custody of the Yahya Khan military regime in distant West Pakistan, was chosen President of a battle-engaged Bangladesh. In his absence, Syed Nazrul Islam officiated as Acting President of the republic, with Tajuddin Ahmad, the Prime Minister, leading a cabinet comprising M Mansoor Ali, AHM Quamruzzaman and Khondokar Moshtaque Ahmed as ministers. Colonel MAG Osmany was appointed head of the Mukti Bahini(freedom fighters) and soon the entirety of the territory of Bangladesh would be segmented into eleven military sectors to be headed by such officers as Khaled Musharraf, KM Safiullah, Ziaur Rahman, AK Khondokar, Abu Taher, MA Jalil, Abu Osman Chowdhury, M Nuruzzaman, MK Bashar and others.

The Mujibnagar government, over the next many months, would draw into it Bengali government officials cheerfully and selflessly deserting their posts in occupied Bangladesh and offering their services to a government they considered their own. Abroad, Bengali diplomats posted at various Pakistani missions would renounce their Pakistani citizenship and go on a diplomatic offensive abroad in support of their native land.

Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, former Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University, would serve as Bangladesh's Special Envoy abroad. Bengali artistes, having left home, would give shape to Swadhin Bangla Betar and travel through the refugee camps and the battlefields inspiring their fellow countrymen in the idea that freedom was in the air, around the corner. Tens of thousands of Bengali youths, men as well as women, would leave home in the towns and villages of occupied Bangladesh to join the Mukti Bahini.

The Mujibnagar government did the job of conducting the War of Liberation gloriously well. Not for a moment did it waver in its conviction that the war to free Bangladesh of Pakistani occupation would result in success. Never during those months of agonising struggle did it entertain thoughts of anything less than full, unconditional and unfettered freedom for the people of Bangladesh.

Afternoon was about to pass into evening when Syed Nazrul Islam, TajuddinAhmad, AHM Quamruzzaman, M Mansoor Ali, Khondokar Moshtaque Ahmed and MAG Osmany arrived home to a devastated but free Bangladesh. In their speeches at the old airport in Tejgaon, both Syed Nazrul Islam and TajuddinAhmed let it be known that Bangladesh's freedom could only come full circle, could only attain completeness when the Father of the Nation, BangabandhuSheikh Mujibur Rahman, returned home from incarceration in what had by then become a rump Pakistan.

If the surrender of the Pakistani forces on Dec 16, 1971 had been the first stage in the emergence of a free Bangladesh, the arrival home of the Mujibnagar government on Dec 22, 1971 was certainly the second.

The third would be the triumphant return of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to a sovereign Bangladesh on Jan 10, 1972.

Indeed, on the very day the leaders of the Mujibnagar government arrived in Dhaka, the new government of a truncated Pakistan under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto moved the incarcerated Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was under a sentence of death in Mianwali, from solitary confinement and placed him under house arrest at a guest house in Sihala near Rawalpindi. Soon the Pakistani authorities would initiate the process that would lead to the freedom and flight home of Bangladesh’s founding father.