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Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, 1972-75

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman ("Mujib") The Father of the Nation, declared the independence of Bangladesh on March 25, 1971. He was elected the President of the provisional Mujibnagar government through a Proclamation of Independence issued on 10 April 1971. The formal inauguration ceremony, however, took place at the mango grove of village Baidyanathtola (renamed Mujibnagar) under the present Meherpur district on 17 April 1971. Mujib remained President in absentia until his return to Bangladesh from Pakistan (where he was interned) on 10 January 1972. On 12 January 1972, he stepped down from the office of President to become the Prime Minister of the country. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman once again became President on 25 January 1975 with the amendment of the Constitution from Parliamentary to Presidential form of government.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had an eventful political carrier. Born on 17 March 1920 at village Tungipara under Gopalganj sub- division (now a district), he graduated from Islamia College, Kolkata in 1947. In 1946, he was the general secretary of the Islamia College Student's Union. After the creation of Pakistan, he took part in the Language Movement and suffered imprisonment. Sheikh Mujib was elected one of the joint secretaries of the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League in 1949.

From 1953 untill 1966, he held the post of General Secretary of East Pakistan Awami League. In 1954, he was elected a member of the East Bengal Legislative Assembly and was appointed a Minister of the United Front Government (the youngest Minister of the Huq Government). In 1955, he was elected member of the second Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. He was again appointed a Minister when AL formed the provincial cabinet under Ataur Rahman in 1956. But he voluntarily left the cabinet in July 1957 to reorganize his party.

On the proclamation of Martial Law by General Ayub Khan in October 1958, Mujib was imprisoned for fourteen months, and again suffered imprisonment in 1962. He placed his historic Six Point programme at a political conference in Lahore in February 1966. This programme called for a federal state structure for Pakistan and full autonomy for East Pakistan with a parliamentary democratic system. Mujib became President of Awami League in March 1966. However, he was arrested under the Defence of Pakistan Rules on 8 May 1966, and in 1968 charged with sedition to make East Pakistan independent with the help of India. The case is known as the Agartola Conspiracy Case. In the face of mass upsurge, President Ayub Khan was compelled to withdraw the case in February 1969 and release Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

In the general elections to the National Assembly that took place in 1970 and in January 1971, AL won an absolute majority. On 7 March, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman addressed a mammoth public meeting at the then Ramna Racecourse and delivered a historic address. In his speech, he advised the Pakistani authorities to immediately withdraw Martial Law, send the military personnel to barracks, and transfer power to the elected representatives of the people. He also alerted the Bengalis to remain vigilant and be prepared for independence struggle, if need be. But the West Pakistani vested interest groups were determined not to hand over power to Mujib and conspired to sabotage the results of the polls.

When talks in March 1971 between the AL and Pakistani authorities failed to bring fruitful results, genocide was launched on the midnight of 25 March 1971. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested and taken to Pakistan as a prisoner. A liberation war ensued that continued for nine months leading to the emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign and independent state on 16 December 1971. Although Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was in Pakistan jail during the liberation war, he remained the main inspiration throughout. After release from prison, he arrived in Dhaka via London and India and assumed Presidency on 10 January 1972.

The first government of the new nation of Bangladesh was formed in Dhaka with Justice Abu Sayeed Choudhury as President, and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman -- who was released from Pakistani prison in early 1972 -- as Prime Minister. Sheikh Mujib was at the helm of affairs after independence but took control of a country where Indian troops were still stationed. He convinced Indian authorities to withdraw their troops from Bangladesh, which they did by 15 March 1972. The Government of Sheikh Mujib repatriated the stranded Bangladeshis from Pakistan.

Mujib had an unfailing attachment to those who participated in the struggle for independence. He showed favoritism toward those comrades by giving them appointments to the civil government and especially the military. This shortsighted practice proved fatal. Mujib denied himself the skill of many top-level officers formerly employed by the Pakistan Civil Service. Bengali military officers who did not manage to escape from West Pakistan during the war and those who remained at their posts in East Pakistan were discriminated against throughout the Mujib years. The "repatriates," who constituted about half of the army, were denied promotions or choice posts; officers were assigned to functionless jobs as "officers on special duty." Schooled in the British tradition, most believed in the ideals of military professionalism; to them the prospect of serving an individual rather than an institution was reprehensible.

Opposed to the repatriates were the freedom fighters, most of whom offered their unquestioning support for Mujib and in return were favored by him. A small number of them, associated with the radical Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (National Socialist Party), even proposed that officers be elected to their posts in a "people's army." From the ranks of the freedom fighters, Mujib established the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini (National Defense Force), whose members took a personal pledge to Mujib and became, in effect, his private army to which privileges and hard-to-get commodities were lavishly given.

Mujib came to office with immense personal popularity but had difficulty transforming this popular support into the political strength needed to function as head of government. A Constitution for the country was framed within a record time of one year (which came into effect from 16 December 1972). The new constitution created a strong executive prime minister, a largely ceremonial presidency, an independent judiciary, and a unicameral legislature on a modified Westminster model. The 1972 constitution adopted as state policy the Awami League's (AL) four basic principles of nationalism, secularism, socialism, and democracy.

The country Mujib returned to was scarred by civil war. The number of people killed, raped, or displaced could be only vaguely estimated. The task of economic rehabilitation, specifically the immediate goal of food distribution to a hungry populace, was frustrated by crippled communications and transportation systems. The Government restored the ruptured Communication system and cleared the port of mines and sunken vessels The Bangladesh Shipping Corporation was established in February 1972 in view of the importance of inland water and overseas communication.

The new nation faced many other seemingly insurmountable problems inhibiting its reconstruction. One of the most glaring was the breakdown of law and order. In the wake of the war of independence, numerous bands of guerrillas still roamed the countryside, fully armed and outside the control of the government. Many fighters of the Mukti Bahini joined the Bangladesh Army and thus could legally retain their weapons, but many others ignored Mujib's plea that they surrender their weapons. Some armed groups took the law into their own hands and set up territories under their own jurisdiction. In time these challenges to central authority contributed to Mujib's suspension of democracy.

Despite substantial foreign aid, mostly from India and the Soviet Union, food supplies were scarce, and there was rampant corruption and black marketeering. This situation prompted Mujib to issue a warning against hoarders and smugglers. Mujib backed up his threat by launching a mass drive against hoarders and smugglers, backed by the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini. The situation only temporarily buoyed the legitimate economy of the country, as hoarding, black marketeering, and corruption in high offices continued and became the hallmarks of the Mujib regime.

Mujib's economic policies also directly contributed to his country's economic chaos. His large-scale nationalization of Bangladeshi manufacturing and trading enterprises and international trading in commodities strangled Bangladesh entrepreneurship in its infancy. The enforced use of the Bangla language as a replacement for English at all levels of government and education was yet another policy that increased Bangladesh's isolation from the dynamics of the world economy.

Most Bangadeshis still revered the Bangabandhu at the time of the first parliamentary elections held under the 1972 constitution were in March 1973. No other political party in Bangladesh's early years was able to duplicate or challenge the League's broad-based appeal, membership, or organizational strength. Mujib was assured of victory, and the Awami League won 282 out of 289 directly contested seats. Relying heavily on experienced civil servants and members of the Awami League, the new Bangladesh Government focused on relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction of the economy and society.

Economic conditions remained precarious, however. After the election, the economic and security situations began to deteriorate rapidly, and Mujib's popularity suffered further as a result of what many Bangladeshis came to regard as his close alliance with India. Mujib's authoritarian personality and his paternalistic pronouncements to "my country" and "my people" were not sufficient to divert the people's attention from the miserable conditions of the country. Widespread flooding and famine created severe hardship, aggravated by growing law-and-order problems.

In December 1974, Mujib decided that continuing economic deterioration and mounting civil disorder required strong measures. In January 1975, the Constitution was amended to make Mujib president for five years and to give him full executive powers. After proclaiming a state of emergency, in February 1975 Mujib used his parliamentary majority to win a constitutional amendment limiting the powers of the legislative and judicial branches, and establishing an executive presidency. The next month, in a move that wiped out all opposition political parties, Mujib proclaimed Bangladesh a one-party state, effectively abolishing the parliamentary system. He renamed the Awami League the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (Bangladesh Peasants, Workers, and People's League - BAKSAL) and required all members of Parliament (and senior civil and military officials) were obliged to join. The fundamental rights enumerated in the Constitution ceased to be observed, and Bangladesh, in its infancy, was transformed into a personal dictatorship.

Despite some improvement in the economic situation during the first half of 1975, implementation of promised political reforms was slow, and criticism of government policies became increasingly centered on Mujib.

On the morning of August 15, 1975, Mujib and several members of his family were murdered in a coup engineered by a group of young army officers, most of whom were majors. Some of the officers in the "majors' plot" had a personal vendetta against Mujib, having earlier been dismissed from the army. In a wider sense, the disaffected officers and the several hundred troops they led represented the grievances of the professionals in the military over their subordination to the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini and Mujib's indifference to gross corruption by his political subordinates and family members. By the time of his assassination, Mujib's popularity had fallen precipitously, and his death was lamented by surprisingly few.

His two daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, were out of the country. A new government, headed by former Mujib associate Khandakar Moshtaque, was formed. The elder, Sheikh Hasina was elected the Prime Minister of the country as she was in the regime from 1996-2001. She is also the President of Bangladesh Awami League the ruling party of Bangladesh Government.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was posthumously awarded the highest national honour- the Swadhinata Puraskar (Independence Award) in 2003. The award was given to this great nationalist leader for his contribution and role in the pre-independence struggle for realizing the right to self-determination in the fight against Pakistani rule, exploitation and repression and for establishing a constitutional government in the post-independence war ravaged country.

The diplomatic status of Bangladesh changed overnight. One day after Mujib's assassination President Bhutto of Pakistan announced that his country would immediately recognize the new regime and offered a gift of 50,000 tons of rice in addition to a generous gift of clothing. India, however, under the rule of Indira Gandhi, suffered a setback in its relations with Bangladesh. The end of the Mujib period once again brought serious bilateral differences to the fore. Many Bangladeshis, although grateful for India's help against Pakistan during the struggle for independence, thought Indian troops had lingered too long after the Pakistan Army was defeated. Mujibist dissidents who continued to resist central authority found shelter in India.

By the Islamic Foundation Act of March 1975, the Baitul Mukarram Society and the Islamic Academy were integrated into one organization. For greater integration and development of the country, Sheikh Mujib declared general amnesty to collaborators (earlier the Bangladesh Collaborators Special Tribunal Order of 24 January 1972 decided to try them) on 16 December 1973. In the sphere of foreign affairs, Bangladesh obtained membership of the Commonwealth on 18 April 1972, that of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1973, of the United Nations and that of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) in 1974.

The coup leaders escaped justice for 25 years. The military rulers who governed the country after the killing of Mujibur Rahman granted them indemnity. The case against them only began in 1996 when the assassinated leader's daughter, Sheikh Hasina first came to power. It slowed down again when her political rival ousted her, five years later.

The case against five former army officers convicted of killing the nation's independence leader in 1975 drew to conclusion under a government led by the assassinated leader's daughter, Sheikh Hasina. The five men were sentenced to death in 1998. But various appeals delayed the death sentence.

In November 2009, Bangladesh Supreme Court upheld a death sentence handed out to the five men by a lower court. On 26 January 2010 the last legal barrier for the execution of the five men convicted for killing the country's founder, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was removed when the supreme court dismissed an appeal for a review of their death sentences.

The five convicted killers were executed on 28 January 2010. The five men were executed in the early hours of Thursday in Dhaka Central jail, as hundreds of police and security forces stood guard outside. Roads outside the prison were closed to traffic. The five men executed did not deny their role in his death, but were given immunity for two decades by subsequent governments which benefited from the coup. Their trial only began in 1996, after their immunity was revoked by a government led by the assassinated leader's daughter, Sheikh Hasina.

Along with the five who were executed, ten others had been found guilty and sentenced to death when the case began in 1996. Six had fled the country, while three were acquitted on appeal. One is believed to have died. Sheikh Hasina's government was making efforts to extradite those who are living abroad.

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Page last modified: 18-05-2012 15:25:53 ZULU