Politics of history and history of politics: On partisan narratives of Bangladesh’s liberation war – X

by Nurul Kabir

The dreaded Pakistani military crackdown, codenamed Operation Searchlight, began in Dhaka a little before the midnight of March 25, 1971. They resorted to dreadful attack simultaneously on some pockets of civilian population, the student halls of residence and teachers’ quarters of Dhaka University, on the one hand, and barracks of the police as well as the paramilitary East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) composed of Bengalis, on the other. Besides, they tried to disarm the Bengali officers and soldiers in different cantonments and garrisons, particularly those belonging to the East Bengal Regiment of the erstwhile East Pakistan, resulting, however, in revolts by the Bengalis in question.
Initially, it was a hopeless situation, for as Muyeedul Hasan says, ‘Sheikh Mujibur Rahman embraced arrest… the politically innocent people started getting killed in the gruesome attack by the Pakistani army — the attack that none had warned the people about. The Awami Leaders fled the scene, the others followed suit’. (Muyeedul Hasan, in Muktijudhher Purbapor, p 18) There was no immediate resistance from any political quarter, for there was not any preparation on part of the political parties to immediately resist such heinous military crackdown. Under the circumstances, the only spontaneous resistance came from the Bengalis belonging to the police, the EPR, Ansars and the East Bengal Regiment of the armed forces of Pakistan, most of whom were caught unawares while asleep in the barracks in the dead of night. The immediate resistance was more of an act in self-defence, which, however, soon turned to be organised resistance against the occupation forces of Pakistan.
In a major development of the events, the rebel commanders of the East Bengal Regiment assembled at the Teliapara Tea Estate in Sylhet on April 4, 1971 to discuss challenges of the war of resistance against the occupation army of Pakistan and work out a combined strategy to fight the war of liberation.
The meeting was attended by, among others, Col (rtd) Ataul Gani Osmani, known as the founder of the EBR, Lt Col Abdur Rab, Major Ziaur Rahman, Major Khaled Mosharraf, Major Shafiullah, Major (rtd) Quazi Nooruzzaman, Major Nurul Islam and Major Momin Chowdhury.
The meeting made two historically important decisions — political and military. They resolved to seek heavy weapons and ammunitions from India. In this regard, they felt the need for the formation of a government of independence by politicians. However, without waiting for the formation of the government in the given circumstances, they constituted an integrated Mukti Fauj, composed of all the units of rebel forces, and entrusted the responsibility of its leadership to Col Osmani’. (Muyeedul Hasan, Muldhara Ekattar, p 15)
The Colonel, the erstwhile defence adviser to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, happily agreed to take the military leadership of the ensuing war of liberation though, ironically, he had already deposited his licensed guns and rifles to the Pakistani authorities in compliance with an order of the Pakistani military junta. Quazi Nooruzzaman, who commanded a sector in the liberation war, recollected later that they ‘found it incredible that having gone to war against the Pakistanis, how anyone could think of depositing their firearms with the occupiers’. (See Quazi Nooruzzaman, A Sector Commander Remembers: Bangladesh Liberation War 1971, (tr) Zahiruddin Md. Alim, writers.ink, Dhaka, undated, p 32)
Contrary to Col Osmani, Tajuddin Ahmad, the erstwhile general secretary of the Awami League, who would politically lead the war of liberation, stepped out of his residence at the night of March 25 ‘with a rifle on his shoulder and a loaded pistol in the pocket of his trousers’. Barrister Amir-ul Islam, who accompanied Tajuddin in the latter’s journey to the other side of the border, later observed, ‘Tajuddin bhai looked clearly decided about the journey’ — a journey leading towards ‘an armed revolution’. (Barrister Amir-ul Islam’s interview with Sharmin Ahmad, in Sharmin Ahmad, Tajuddin Ahmad: Neta O Pita, Oitijjhya, Dhaka, 2014, p 267)
Be that as it may, Tajuddin Ahmad and some of his party colleagues crossed over to India in the shortest possible time after the Pakistani crackdown in Dhaka on March 25 and resolved to seek Indian assistance to wage a war of resistance against the occupation forces of Pakistan.
Tajuddin Ahmad met Indira Gandhi, the erstwhile prime minister of India, in New Delhi for assistance on April 3. Advised earlier by some Indian officials, Tajuddin presented himself as the ‘prime minister’ of the ‘provisional government’ of Bangladesh so that India found it diplomatically easier to help Bangladesh in its efforts for independence. Tajuddin received Indian assurance for supports — political, military and otherwise.
There was, however, no reason for Tajuddin Ahmad to be disappointed by the Indian political establishment for Bangladesh’s legitimate political aspirations to independence from Pakistan and India’s strategic interest in breaking up Pakistan coincided in 1971. Dr Triguna Sen (1905–1998), former vice chancellor of Jadavpur University and Banaras Hindu University and later a Union Minister for Education of India, admitted to Belal Muhammad in Tripura in the last week of April 1971, “We had set up a ‘Bangladesh Cell’ in 1949. I have been heading the Cell since then. After so many years, the two rivers have met in the same confluence.” (Belal Muhammad, Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, 2nd reprint, 4th edition, Anupam Prokashni, Dhaka, 2012, p 84)
However, after the Indian assurance of supports, Tajuddin now genuinely required to form a provisional government, with himself as its prime minister, to politically organise and preside over the war of liberation. He also decided, in consultation with some of his party colleagues also reaching Delhi, to broadcast a speech on the ‘principles of liberation war’ on April 10 to boost the confidence of those who were already putting up a resistance against the Pakistan army within Bangladesh. He returned to Kolkata on April 8, 1971.
The process of forming a government and conducting the war of liberation, however, did not progress in a straight line, as many an Awami League intellectuals want people to believe. Instead, the process advanced through a zigzag path, with a lot of conflicts and compromises, resistance and counter-resistance, affronts and accommodations within the Awami League leadership and beyond. Many a group of the party stood in Tajuddin’s way to lead the war smoothly while Tajuddin himself stood in the way of ‘others’, particularly the left political forces, for them even to participate in, let alone having a say on, the process of the liberation war — finally agreeing to accommodating a faction of the left into the fold, and that too under certain compulsion arising out of the polarisation of international powers around the war.
Be that as it may, the first encounter that Tajuddin faced came from some of his party colleagues and the powerful youth leaders of the party, who were being found at a house on 10 Rajendra Prasad Avenue, Kolkata, which was being maintained by a R&AW agent, Chittaranjan Chhutar, who would continue to influence the Awami League politics in the months to come. As he briefed them about his meeting with Indira Gandhi and the latter’s assurance of supports for the liberation war, Tajuddin discovered himself in a severe internecine conflicts of the party over the leadership of the provisional government. He would eventually discover in a few months that a significant section of the Awami League leadership, not only Khandaker Mushtaq Ahmed and his loyalists, was against the idea of the independence of Bangladesh in the first place, let alone a war to wrestle out independence.
The Awami League leaders present at Chittaranjan Chhutar’s den, notable among them Kamruzzaman, unambiguously questioned the legitimacy of Tajuddin’s claim to be the prime minister of the provisional government. The youth/student leaders of the Awami League, who were instrumental behind turning the party’s movement for East Pakistan’s autonomy into that of Bangladesh’s independence, appeared the most critical about Tajuddin Ahmad and his political move. The youth/student leaders in question were Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni, Sirajul Alam Khan, Abdur Razzak and Tofail Ahmed. They crossed over to Kolkata in the first week of April 1971 and continued since then to question the political authority of the Awami League leadership in general, and Tajuddin Ahmad in particular, in conducting the liberation war.
In this regard, Muyeedul Hasan writes, “As soon as they crossed over to Indian border, these four leaders started publicly claiming that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had entrusted only them, none else, with the responsibility for arranging training for armed forces and organising as well as supervising the liberation war. They continued to claim this till the end of the liberation war.” (Muyeedul Hasan, Muldhara Ekattar, p 8)
On hearing Tajuddin’s briefing about his meeting with Indira Gandhi, Sheikh Moni reacted sharply. Muyeedul Hasan writes, “Moni even opposed the idea of forming a government and demanded stoppage of broadcasting Tajuddin’s proposed speech about the formation of the government and that of the military command. Then, he sent an appeal, signed by 42 leaders of the Awami League and its youth front, to the Indian prime minister seeking to stop broadcasting Tajuddin’s speech.” (Ibid, p 16) The government of Indira Gandhi did not, however, respond positively to Sheikh Moni’s appeal.
Meanwhile, some of the military commanders of the proposed Mukti Fauj, who had also resolved to start an organised war of resistance and felt the importance of having a political government to carry forward the war, also assembled in Kolkata in search of the Awami League leaders. Some of them, Quazi Nooruzzaman for example, were persuading senior Awami League politicians to form a government and take the political leadership of the liberation war. Their experience was frustrating, initially. In this regard, Quazi Nooruzzaman writes: “The political leadership was going on and on about announcing the establishment of a government, but could not find a single leader who could take the responsibility. The leaders were double minded and indecisive.” (Quazi Nooruzzaman, A Sector Commander Remembers: Bangladesh Liberation War 1971, p 33) The Quazi found Khandaker Mushtaq Ahmed’s stance most astonishing, for Mushtaq told him that ‘if they formed a government, the wealth and property of the Awami League leaders would be appropriated by the Pakistani government’. “I was at a loss. What about the fate of the members of the army, police, Ansars? Would we be identified as mere mutineers.” (Ibid)
Still, some major developments took place within a week.
The official ‘proclamation of independence’ — promising ‘equality, human dignity and social justice’ for citizens of Bangladesh was also announced on April 10 and Tajuddin’s ‘prime ministerial’ speech explaining the political context and legitimacy of the liberation war to people of Bangladesh — was broadcast through a clandestine radio transmitter in Shiliguri on April 11. Besides, the official formalisation of the ‘liberation army into an organised force’, namely Mukti Fauj, with Col Ataul Gani Osmani as its ‘general officer commanding-in-chief, was done by prime minister Tajuddin Ahmad on April 14.
Earlier, on April 11, Tajuddin managed to get his senior party colleagues, such as Khandaker Mushtaq Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam, Mansur Ali, Abdul Manaan and Col Osmani — some taking refuge in the Tripura state of India and others hiding within Bangladesh territory — assembled in Agartala, the capital city of the Indian state of Tripura. Following two days of debates and discussions, Tajuddin finally reached a negotiated settlement with the Awami League leaders in question and secured their consent to announce formally a provisional government with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as its president, Syed Nazrul Islam as vice-president, who is being acting president in the absence of the Sheikh, and himself as its prime minister. Finally, the government was announced in Baidyanathtala, renamed as Mujibnagar, of the erstwhile Kushtia district of Bangladesh on April 17, 1971. The headquarters of the government was set up in Kolkata.
However, the government of Tajuddin Ahmad started arranging for armed training for the youths aspiring to fight for liberating Bangladesh from the occupation forces of Pakistan in the middle of May 1971. The idea was to build up a combined force of Mukti Bahini (MB), composed of Freedom Fighters (FF) and Mukti Fauj (MF). The students, peasants and industrial workers receiving guerillas trainings constituted the force of Freedom Fighters while members of the armed forces, the police and the EPR who defected to Bangladesh constituted the force of Mukti Fauj. The FFs and MFs were collectively known as Mukti Bahini (MB).
The youth leaders in question, although all for the independence of Bangladesh, were extremely unhappy about the newly formed government-in-exile of Bangladesh. Of the four leaders, Sheikh Moni was dead opposed to the government. Barrister Amir-ul Islam says, “Sheikh Moni has never accepted the government that we duly formed through the proclamation of independence…. He told Tajuddin Ahmad in front of me that he has at his disposal a document signed by Bangabndhu authorising only him to represent Bangabandhu in the latter’s absence and to act on his behalf.” (Barrister Amir-ul Islam’s interview with Sharmin Ahmad, in Sharmin Ahmad, Tajuddin Ahmad: Neta O Pita, Oitijjhya, p 271)
Under the circumstances, the youth leaders took separate moves to organise their own force beyond the control of the government of Tajuddin Ahmad and military command of Col Osmani. The political and intelligence establishments of India readily agreed to the idea. Hence the Bangladesh Liberation Force (BLF) was being organised under the direct supervision of the R&AW, and special armed training was arranged in Dehradun for the young boys specially selected by the youth leaders in June 1971. In order to receive special training, ‘the members of the BLF required to take an oath of allegiance to the Commander in Chief Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and in his absence Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni’. (Muyeedul Hasan, Muldhara Ekattar, p 77)
To be continued

Source: New Age