Today is April 17—Mujibnagar Day. On this day in 1971, the Mujibnagar government was formed by the elected leaders of Bangladesh as the rightful constitutional, logical, and realistic step forward towards the full realisation of our dream of an independent country of our own.
The formation of the Mujibnagar government and its pronouncement to the world at large on April 17, 1971 was really a red-letter event in our national history, especially after the thumping victory of the Awami League in the elections of 1970 under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The 167 MNAs and 293 MPs who composed the Constituent Assembly, fulfilling their constitutional obligation to the electors, made the dream of an independent Bangladesh a reality. From this point of view, Mujibnagar Day is a landmark in our struggle for independence as well as in our national history.
The Mujibnagar government was formed at the Baidyanathtala mango grove of Meherpur, a former subdivision of Kustia district, following the April 10 proclamation of independence order of Bangladesh. The oath-taking ceremony was witnessed by hundreds of foreign journalists who had assembled there to hail the birth of a new nation.
The president of the new nation was Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; Syed Nazrul Islam became the acting president in the absence of Bangabandhu. Tajuddin Ahmed was the Prime Minister; M. Mansur Ali, the Finance Minister; M. Quamruz Zaman, the Home, Relief and Rehabilitation Minister; and Khandakar Mustaque Ahmed, Foreign Affairs and Law Minister. General M.A.G. Osmani, who was then a retired colonel and MNA elected from Awami League, was made the C-in-C of the Bangladesh armed forces.
It was a Herculean task. Organising civil administration and the freedom fighters, securing arms for the latter and training them, mobilising international support for the Liberation War through intense diplomatic action, ensuring speedy communication and effective coordination of various activities at a hundred different levels, and above all, keeping the morale of the freedom fighters high throughout the dark, difficult days of the war, called for extraordinary wisdom, dedication, patience, foresight and courage on the part of the Mujibnagar government and all those connected with it.
The formation of the Mujibnagar government had great significance for the nation as the great men who led the war in the absence of our supreme leader and continued the armed struggle over the following eight months, having allowed no breach in the unity of their people, fought valiantly involving everyone and kept our leader alive in the minds of every freedom fighter as if he were fighting side by side with them.
The creation of the government, in fact, gave the total war effort a fuller meaning. It cemented the unity of the people, brought the world closer to the freedom fighters, made the war effort blossom in its full focus, and above all ensured the presence of Bangladesh in the comity of nations. It was in effect a formal introduction to the rest of the world of the political leadership that was set to guide the nation into a concerted and organised war of independence.
Bangabandhu had never preached armed revolution and it had never been part of his platform either. Therefore, when the assault of the Pakistani military machine came, it remained for him to inform his associates that a long and hard struggle on the battlefield had become necessary. The declaration of independence which he gave moments before his arrest by the Pakistani military forced upon his associates the need for armed struggle. And that was proof that while he awaited uncertain and terrible incarceration, he had briefed his associates on what needed to be done. The dispersal of the leadership out of Dhaka as the army went into action was a sign that there was to be no turning back from the course that Bengalis had set for themselves. And thus the formation of Mujibnagar government was a decisive step by the trusted and capable associates of the great leader.
The establishment of the Mujibnagar government was an absolute necessity for another reason. Had it not been put in place, diffuse and disorganised guerrilla movements would have spawned all over the country without any form of central control. The danger inherent in such a development lies in an absence of legitimacy. And in Bangladesh's politics at that point in time, the absence of the Mujibnagar government would only have given the freedom struggle a clearly secessionist hue, to the delight of the Pakistanis and to the consternation of a Bengali population directly in the military's line of fire. Seen from this angle, the presence of Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam and Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed with their colleagues in Meherpur in April 1971 was a clear, unequivocal statement of intent: that the elected representatives of the people of Bangladesh had taken it upon themselves to give shape and substance to an independent statehood for them.
It was thus that the global community was left with hardly a choice. The initiation of the war of national liberation, given the fact that it was being waged by a leadership privy to the electorally acknowledged support of the nation, could not be dismissed as an insurrection or a secessionist enterprise. Moreover, the military's excesses and barbarities assisted the cause greatly. The killing of unarmed civilians, the razing of villages and townships, and the atrocities against women only strengthened the cause of the provisional government. In the months between March and December 1971, the flight of ten million people to India convinced the global community of the importance of the Bengali cause, and helped the Mujibnagar government to inform the world that there was no alternative to an independent Bangladesh.
The provisional government undertook the onerous responsibility of moulding international opinion in Bangladesh's favour: the effort was assisted to an great extent by the momentum of declaration of allegiance to the national struggle by Bengali diplomats stationed in Pakistani missions abroad. Placing the entire diplomatic efforts in the hands of a well-respected personality like Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury was yet another factor for the success of the efforts of Mujibnagar government in mobilising world opinion in our favour.
The speeches and statements made by the Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam, Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed and other leaders of the Mujibnagar government at the formal oath-taking ceremony and other subsequent occasions were widely appreciated the world over as those reflected the democratic and progressive principles of the new government. The guiding principles and the state policies announced from time to time by the exiled government were all fully democratic, based on universal human rights principles and other widely accepted international norms and protocols.
Finally, the formation of the Mujibnagar government saw the real birth of a new nation, a nation imbued with the spirit of democracy, nationalism, secularism, and socialism, and drawn by the call of a man whose stature as a statesman had surpassed that of any in his time and most of his predecessors. He united the Bengali-speaking people of the land and raised a nation so steadfast in its commitment that it went ahead to face the fierce army of Pakistan, equipped only with the strength of their conviction.
Zahid Hossain was associated with the Mujibnagar government as the Chief of Psychological Warfare, Ministry of Defense. This is an abridged reprint of an article originally published by The Daily Star in 2005.