On April 17, 1971, the provisional government of Bangladesh was sworn in. I was lucky to have witnessed the historic event first-hand. India was monitoring the developments in Bangladesh, particularly Pakistan army's build-up, from March 1, 1971 onwards. India had apprehensions that Pakistanis might create some mischief on the International Border (IB) to draw away the attention of Bangladeshis. Therefore, from March 20, the Indian Army deployed some units (including my one) on the IB as a precautionary measure. The Indian Army's Wireless Experimental Units (monitoring enemy wireless transmissions)—due to being located on the high mountains of Meghalaya—picked up all the VHF wireless transmissions between Pak formations and units from zero hours on March 26. India, thus, knew about all the developments inside Bangladesh. All BSF BOPs along the Indo-Bangladesh border were alerted to be ready to receive political leaders, civil servants, and armed forces personnel from Bangladesh.
Tajuddin Ahmad, the second-most influential Bengali leader after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, along with Barrister Amir-ul Islam came to the Indian border via Kushtia. They reached Banpur near Chuadanga on March 30, and sent a message to Banpur BOP that two Awami League leaders wanted to cross over to India. This information went up the chain of command to BSF IG Golok Majumdar, who personally rushed to Banpur to welcome them. He took them to Kolkata. Information about Tajuddin's arrival was passed on to New Delhi. He was personally escorted to Delhi by DG, BSF KF Rustomji by a special Indian Air Force (IAF) plane at night on April 1. In Delhi, they met other leaders who had reached there from Chattogram via Agartala.
Bangladeshi leaders met with Indira Gandhi on April 3 and asked for India's help in the liberation war, assistance in taking care of Bangladeshi refugees, and requested her to recognise Bangladesh as an independent and sovereign nation. She assured them of all possible help. During the second meeting with the Indian PM, a day later, it was decided that the provisional government of Bangladesh should be formed and installed at the earliest. After returning to Kolkata, Tajuddin embarked on a mission of collecting all leaders and arranging for the swearing-in ceremony. KF Rustomji and Golok Majumdar helped him in locating them. On April 11, when they were around Siliguri, Tajuddin Ahmad's pre-recorded message was broadcasted from the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra. This was the first address to Bangladeshis by any senior leader after the Pakistan military crackdown on March 26. He said that a provisional government had been formed in the liberated zone in north-west Bangladesh, and announced the names of zonal commanders of the liberation forces of Bangladesh.
A press statement was issued on April 13 stating that, "A six-member war cabinet headed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has been formed in Bangladesh with Nazrul Islam as Vice President and Tajuddin Ahmad as PM, which would guide and coordinate the liberation war."
Barrister Amir-ul Islam, then a young, dynamic Awami Leaguer, selected the village Baidyanathtala in Meherpur district for installation of the government. It was rechristened as "Mujibnagar". I met Barrister Islam several times in 1971. In 2017, we met again after a gap of 46 years, and jointly recorded a programme on Ekattor TV that was anchored by his charismatic daughter, barrister Tania Amir. We recollected the events of March/April 1971.
Two major factors were kept in mind while preparing for the swearing-in ceremony—firstly, the venue was to be inside Bangladesh, and secondly, tight security arrangements were to be ensured. This was the first major event of independent Bangladesh and, therefore, Indira Gandhi wanted to ensure its success. Foolproof security was arranged jointly by the BSF personnel in civil clothes and the Mukti Bahini. In addition, army personnel in civil clothes were also deployed to thwart any possible mischief by the Pak army or its agents. I was one of those in charge of ensuring security for the swearing-in ceremony, in civilian clothes.
The rundown of the events is as follows: On April 15, 1971, the GOC 33 Corps came to my unit by road from Kolkata after meeting with Lt Gen. JS Aurora, GOC-in-C, Eastern Command. He was received by my CO and 123 Brigade commander and headed to the unit operational room. All other officers were told to leave as the three went into a huddle. The Corps and Brigade commander left after some time. Later, CO summoned the unit officers and asked them to prepare for operations. The next day, the army liaison officer, for coordination with IAF for ground support, and artillery officers reported. One field regiment was deployed west of the IB on April 16/17 night. CO issued orders to secure the area beyond Baidyanathtala in civilian clothes along with Mukti Bahini members posing as BSF troops. An officer from military intelligence took me for reconnaissance on his civilian motorbike to identify the sites of deployment. All troops moved in the early hours of April 17 and secured the vantage points before first light. The IAF liaison officer and artillery Observation Post officers climbed the buildings or treetops to get a clear field of observation. They carried out a silent registration of targets off the maps. Wireless sets were kept on the "Listening Watch", i.e. on complete radio silence, which meant that anyone could pass a message only on spotting enemy activity. Three "quick reaction teams" of one rifle company, each mounted in vehicles, were ready to meet any unforeseen eventuality. An IAF "combat air patrol" was airborne 1300 hours onwards till further orders. A dais for Bangladesh government functionaries, and chairs and tarpaulins for media persons and spectators were arranged by the BSF in civvies.
All members of the National and Provincial Assemblies who had crossed over to India were taken there by road. A large contingent of journalists was also taken from Kolkata that included some foreign journalists as well. The function commenced around 1530 hours BST. A march-past by Mukti Bahini and recitation of national anthem were the important features of the ceremony. The Proclamation of Independence drafted by Barrister Amir-ul Islam was read by Professor Yusuf Ali on behalf of the people's representatives of Bangladesh. In order to keep similarity with Tajuddin Ahmad's broadcast on April 11, it was declared that this proclamation was made on April 10, 1971. After giving a brief background of events leading to the declaration, he said, "…declare and constitute Bangladesh to be Sovereign People's Republic and thereby confirm the declaration of independence already made by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman." The proclamation named Syed Nazrul Islam as Vice-President. He explained that if President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman "is absent, or cannot function or is incapacitated, Nazrul Islam would carry on the functions of the President." His address was followed by speeches by other government functionaries. The Mujibnagar declaration also named Khandakar Mushtaq Ahmed as Foreign Minister, AHM Qamaruzzaman as Home Minister, and Mansur Ali as Finance Minister. Colonel MAG Osmani was appointed the C-in-C of Bangladesh Army. Other functionaries were also named.
The function went off smoothly and was over by 1830 hours. Nobody suspected the Indian army or BSF's involvement. However, some media personnel asked why the location of the venue was so close to the Indian border. Tajuddin Ahmad replied, "It was to ensure your and our safety." He then pointed to a road that passed by the dais and said, "You can go deep into Bangladesh along this route uninterrupted." That evening, we celebrated in the officers' mess where the CO told us that barring the Army Chief, Eastern Army, 33 Corps, 123 Brigade commanders and him, no one else was kept in the loop. The principle of informing only those who "need to know" was strictly followed. We were ordered to keep our mouth sealed as the involvement of India was denied by the government.
The office of Bangladesh government was located at 8 Theatre Road (now Shakespeare Sarani) in Kolkata although it was claimed at the time that it was functioning from liberated areas. A prominent citizen of Kolkata, Ashutosh Ghosh, welcomed the Mujibnagar government including members of the National and Provincial Assemblies to his big house. This building at Circular Road (now Moulai Road) has become a part of the history of the Liberation War. The announcement of the independence of Bangladesh was repeatedly broadcasted on All India Radio and Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, which was heard in the whole of Bangladesh.
At that time, I did not realise that I had witnessed and participated in a historic event that would play such a big role in the glorious Liberation War of Bangladesh.
R P Singh, VSM is a retired Brigadier General of the Indian Army. He is a veteran of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, in which he was involved in different capacities from day one till the surrender of the Pakistan Army on December 16, 1971.