Independence Day of Bangladesh - 2009
Time for renewed pledge to protect the country‟s sovereignty
Dr K M A Malik
For the last 38 years, the people of Bangladesh have been celebrating the „Independence Day‟ on the 26th March. The day has special meaning for the people of Bangladesh, because on that day in 1971, the people of Bangladesh finally decided to opt for a sovereign state of their own independent of the erstwhile Pakistan. This was an inevitable and irreversible response to the Pakistani army‟s genocidal campaign on the people of Bangladesh that started from the night of March 25 and lasted for about nine months until December 16.
The then East Pakistan was a predominantly agricultural country and treated as a colony by the Pakistani central government dominated by a group of feudal landlords, army and civil bureaucrats, and about 20 business houses based in West Pakistan. The people of East Pakistan were denied their political, economic, linguistic and cultural rights, and soon they started mass movements for cultural and regional autonomy. But the military dominated central Government of Pakistan suppressed the legitimate demands of the Bengali people.
The movement for regional autonomy reached a new height after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his Awami Leaque party gained an overwhelming majority in the 1970 general elections. According to democratic rules, Mujib should have been the prime minister of Pakistan, but the Pakistani military rulers supported by Z. A. Bhutto, the most dominant political leader of West Pakistan, refused to accept the electoral verdict. In the first week of March 1971, Sheikh Mujib launched a „non-cooperation movement‟ and in a mammoth public meeting on March 7, 1971, issued an ultimatum to the military government to meet his demands immediately. He also asked his people to prepare for a resistance struggle „with all means available‟.
Unfortunately, the Pakistani military regime opted for a „military solution‟. They arrested Sheikh Mujib on the night of March 25, 1971, and unleashed a reign of terror and genocide on the Bangladeshi people. This murderous onslaught transformed the struggle for autonomy into the struggle for total independence, which was formally declared by a young Bengali army officer Major Ziaur Rahman (later, major general, army chief and President). Major Zia made his declaration of independent Bangladesh on behalf of the acknowledged leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. His broadcast from the Kalurghat radio station (Chittagong) on March 27, as heard throughout the world, opened with the lines, “I, Major Ziaur Rahman, declare the independence of the People‟s Republic of Bangladesh, on behalf of our great national leader, Bangobondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman”.
Sheikh Mujib remained in Pakistani jail, but the people of Bangladesh continued armed resistance for about 9 months to free the country from the occupying Pakistani forces. This struggle involved the sacrifice of about 1 million lives , including the resistance forces, students, teachers, journalists, women and children. But the courage and heroism of Bangladeshi people triumphed ultimately, and on December 16, 1971, the Pakistani occupation army surrendered unconditionally
to the joint forces of Bangladesh Liberation Army and the allied Indian Army. For the first time in modern history, the Bengali speaking people succeeded in achieving an independent, sovereign state of their own.
March – 1971 and 2009
March 1971 was a month of defiance, uncertainty and fear for the people of Bangladesh. People were defiant of Pakistani authorities; vocal for an independent and sovereign state of their own; and fearful of the uncertain future and potential consequences that a full scale confrontation with a modern army would lead to. When the Pakistani army launched the bloody campaign during the night of March 25, most of the BAL political leaders (except Sheikh Mujib) fled to India. There was no clear-cut strategy for immediate armed resistance by the political leadership. But the Bengali officers and soldiers of the Army, EPR(BDR) and Police forces took initiatives, organized into small groups, and started armed resistance at different places across the country. This was subsequently organized better and coordinated under General Osmani‟s leadership after a
provisional government-in-exile was formally declared by Syed Nazrul Islam (acting president) and Tajuddin Ahmed (prime minister) in the mid-April 1971. The dependence of the BAL-led provisional government on India‟s goodwill and help made it easier for the latter to influence,
guide and control the overall direction of the country‟s independence struggle. And taking advantage of the help provided in 1971, India has since been trying to establish its hegemonic influence on Bangladesh politics and policies.
In March 2009 we notice a remarkable difference with the situation in March 1971. At the time of Independence struggle, the whole nation (except few pro-Pakistani elements and razakars) was united for one cause only. Sheikh Mujib was absent from the armed battlefield, but he was the symbol of national unity and the war was fought in his name.
In 2009, the nation is not united but divided into two main political groups and several subgroups. Practice of democracy is being thwarted by crude partisan power politics and vested interests. At the present time, we have an elected government but the ministers and advisers are yet to prove their competence. The curse of poverty and ignorance is still haunting the nation. People‟s aspirations for a peaceful and prosperous life are yet to be realized. Most worrying fact is that the country‟s sovereignty is being reduced by an unholy alliance of powerful external actors and their local collaborators.
There are many reasons for the existing ills especially in the fields of national development and democratic governance. One important reason is the bitter power struggle between the successors of two political families (one camp led by Sheikh Mujib‟s daughter Sheikh Hasina and the other led by Ziaur Rahman‟s widow Khaleda Zia). The two ladies have dominated Bangladesh political landscape since mid-1980s. Since 1991, they have occupied, alternately, the positions of prime minister and leader of opposition. The army-led Fakhruddin government (2007-08) tried to exclude both these leaders from politics, but the attempt failed due to the lack of grass-root support for the project. After the recent (December 28, 2008) general elections, Sheikh Hasina became the prime minister while Khaleda Zia became the leader of opposition. But both the ladies
seem, as before, to be interested more in denigrating the other than engaging in dialogue and compromise for the greater interests of common people. They have another striking similarity: both of them want their controversial sons to „inherit‟ the leadership of their respective parties.
They refuse to abandon the concept of „feudal democracy‟ and learn any lessons from history, even from their recent predicament under the „minus two‟ formula.
In 1971, we had to face and fight one enemy – Pakistani occupation army and their local
collaborators. The identity and ruthless nature of these enemies were clearly known and there was no illusion about their purpose. It was a „do or die‟ situation - victory or death.
In 2009, however, we as a nation are confused about the identity of our real enemies and genuine friends. We fail to see that many powerful forces, both external and internal, are spreading lies about us and hatching conspiracies against our country and people. Their not-so-hidden agenda is to marginalize Bangladesh as a sovereign state and reduce it to the status of a „dependent country‟ politically, economically, culturally and strategically. Powerful quarters in our „friendly‟ India are making endless demands on Bangladesh and, emboldened by their strategic alliance with the US and Israel, are now openly advocating a policy of military intervention. Yet, we seem to be indifferent to the potential threat to our national interests and sovereign existence.
The irony is that even some leaders of the ruling alliance including some ministers are blinded by their allegiance to India-US-Israel axis and fail to see the potential dangers to the country‟s
independence and sovereignty. Some of them even act as India‟s emissaries in Bangladesh rather
than upholders of our nation‟s dignity and vital interests. Public statements by different ministers including Sahara Khatun, Farok Khan, Dipu Moni, Hasan Mahmud, Jahangir Kabir Nanak, Sohel Taj and Ramesh Chandra Pal on different issues such as transit, water and trade with India, militancy and terrorism, regional security, inviting foreign intelligence agencies, etc., have disappointed the nation. They seem to be acting as emissaries of foreign powers rather than guardians of Bangladesh‟s interests and sovereignty.
Despite openly pro-Indian policies of the Awami Leaque government, the Indian print and electronic media have not stopped their campaign of lies, deception and disinformation about Bangladesh being a haven of „Islamic terrorists‟ and a „security threat to India‟. The aim, of course, is to marginalize the country further and weaken its civil and security establishments, so that it remains permanently dependent on the big-brother‟s goodwill.
During our independence struggle, the people of India stood by the side of our people for which we are grateful to them. But helping a people in distress cannot be an excuse for establishing control and hegemony, a policy very aggressively pursued by the Indian rulers since 1971. The US policy towards Bangladesh is also highly deceptive.
In 1971, the Bangladesh people had to struggle hard and shed blood to win their national independence from a vicious enemy, which was once a „friend‟. In 2009, they are faced with challenges and threats from a different enemy in the form of India-US-Israel axis. The situation is
indeed very grim. The constellation of forces allied against Bangladesh‟s sovereign existence is very strong and ferocious, but we have to decide if we wish to surrender our sovereign rights to the intimidation and threats from big powers or we shall resist all their covert and overt attempts to protect the sovereignty and dignity of our nation?
[Dr. K. M. A. Malik is a former Professor of Chemistry, Dhaka University, and a Lecturer in Chemistry, Cardiff University (UK). He has published about 370 research papers in chemistry journals. As a freelance columnist, he also writes regularly on contemporary political and social issues. His published books include: Challenges in Bangladesh Politics – a Londoner‟s view
(2005); War on Terror – A pretext for new colonisation (2005), and Bangladesher Rajniti - Mookh O Mookhosh (2003). His e-mail contact: firstname.lastname@example.org]