Lest we forget - The legacy of Mujibnagar

Mujibnagar government leaders (L-R) Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad, Captain Mansur Ali, AHM Kamaruzzaman, General MAG Osmani. Photo: Collected

As Bangladesh marches towards a path of economic development, we humbly remember the extraordinary moments which redefined the course of this nation. One such crucial event was the oath-taking of the Provisional Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh on 17th April 1971. Often overlooked, Mujibnagar Day is the commemoration of a sovereign Bangladeshi political leadership. At the same time, it is also a celebration of certain key actors, who for various reasons, have been pushed to the fringes of our history books.

So, why is Mujibnagar Day significant? If one observes the dynamism that it brought to Bangladesh's struggle for self-determination, then it becomes quite evident as to why historians prioritise it as a turning point in our Liberation War. On 17th April, the Provisional Government of Bangladesh took oath in Mujibnagar, a town in today's Meherpur District. The provisional administration included the elected Bengali members of the national and provincial assemblies of Pakistan, and formed the Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh. Most significantly, the Constituent Assembly proclaimed that the Provincial Government had the obligation to "declare and constitute Bangladesh to be a sovereign Peoples' Republic and thereby confirm the declaration of independence already made by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman". Following this declaration, the Bangladesh Forces Command (BFC) was set up by the Mujibnagar Provincial Government on 11th July. The Mukti Bahini or the guerrilla freedom fighters, were brought under the purview of eleven geographical sectors across Bangladesh, and were led by eleven Sector Commanders. 

The formation of the Mujibnagar Provincial Government and the subsequent development of the BFC and the eleven sectors, gave a much-needed institutional structure to the armed resistance, and allowed the new Cabinet of Bangladesh to direct the liberation struggle in an organised manner. The radio announcements by Awami League leader MA Hannan's and the erstwhile Major Ziaur Rahman's reading out the declaration of independence received traction across Bangladesh and various corners of the world, but their announcements still required an official stamp of authority. Question was, with Mujib in jail, who would perform the duty? As such, the formation of the Mujibnagar Government and the subsequent declarations of the Constituent Assembly gave legal expression to the declaration of independence and established a diplomatic conduit to guide the war-efforts. 

From a slightly different angle, it is disappointing to observe that the actors who construed the ethos and spirit of the Mujibnagar Government are today treated as mere minuscule portions in contemporary Bangladeshi academia and history. While appointing Bangabandhu as the President of the Provincial Government ensured the continuity of the substantive manifestation of the liberation struggle, the importance of other Mujibnagar appointees cannot be underscored. Mujib was, in no uncertain terms, the architect of Bangladesh, whose vision, guidance and struggles had manifested into his unique stature as Bangabandhu. And his deputies and close confidantes played important roles in his absence, to help Bengalis realise the dream of an independent Bangladesh. This country rightly considers Mujib as its chief architect, but homage is also owed to Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, Mansur Ali and AHM Qamaruzzaman amongst others as its builders. Bangladesh indeed had one architect, but the building blocks of this nation were laid brick by brick, day by day, and moment by moment, by the courage and wisdom showcased by the Mujibnagar Government. 

The two influential Awami League statesmen Tajuddin Ahmad, Bangladesh's first Prime Minister, and Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam, led the political struggle in the nine-month long period. Whether it be coordinating with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi or getting weapons to the Mukti Bahini, Tajuddin and Nazrul were at the forefront of war organisation efforts. There remain other figures who this nation has seemingly forgotten. MAG Osmani, the highly respected military officer, served as the Commander-in-Chief of the Mukti Bahini. The likes of General Zia and KM Shafiullah operated under his command. Today, Osmani's name is barely mentioned whilst celebrating our independence struggle. Abdus Samad Azad, Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, Humayun Rashid Chowdhury, Yusuf Ali and others, all part of the Mujibnagar framework, played prominent diplomatic and bureaucratic roles to acquire independence for Bangladesh. Should we not commemorate these figures? 

As we look back on 17th April 1971, we honour the constitutional successes and the pride in establishing self-governance after 24 years of economic, political and cultural subjugation by the West Pakistan establishment. At the same time, we should celebrate the lives of the iconic Mujibnagar figures, without whose leadership and bravery, it may very well have been difficult for Bangladesh to achieve what was certainly a miraculous victory. Bangladeshis develop their perception of history based on their implicit and explicit support for their respective political parties. As such, our national leadership would do well to highlight the influence and contributions of the iconic Mujibnagar leaders, without whom the history of this country would be unequivocally incomplete. 

The writer is a third year undergraduate student of Economics and International Relations, University of Toronto. Email: [email protected]


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