March is the most important month in the history of Bangladesh. Our history means the events that happened in this country in March 1971.
We are proud of March as Bangladesh was born in this month. The War of Liberation of Bangladesh, the struggle for freedom of the Bengali nation, was started in this month under the bold leadership of our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Each day of March 1971 contains the memoirs of our independence. Every single moment of March was an acid test for Bangabandhu’s political career, his future politics, and the survival of the Bengali nation. Not thinking of own life, the leader of the Bengali nation Bangabandhu had made every decision for his people and succeeded in triumph crossing all fears. The result is today’s Bangladesh.
We know the general election of Pakistan was held on 7th December 1970. In fact, it was the first and last general election in the united Pakistan. The Awami League won a landslide victory in the election securing 160 out of 162 seats in East Pakistan (total of Pakistan’s 300 seats). The Pakistan People’s Party (81 seats) was in the second position. Time was passing, but there was no sign of formation of the new government. Instead of asking Bangabandhu (the Awami League) to form the government, General Yahya Khan was taking time in the name of discussions. Though wining a landslide victory, West Pakistani leaders were not, in any way, allowing the Awami League to form the government. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the leader of the PPP had been pressurising Yahya Khan in delaying the formation of the government. Actually, Bhutto wanted to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Frankly speaking, they did not want to see Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
On 1st March, President Yahya Khan was supposed to address the nation. People of the country were eagerly waiting in front of radio and television to listen his speech. But there was no speech from him. Instead, someone read out a statement saying that President Yahya Khan had postponed the forthcoming session of the National Assembly due to serious political crisis in the country. The news spread all over East Pakistan in a moment. Millions of enraged people spontaneously came down to the street and were demanding an outright declaration of the independence of Bangladesh. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman held a press conference. He announced the general strike on the next day (2nd March) in Dhaka and on 3rd March in the whole province. At that time, Bangabondhu also indicated that more programmes would be announced on 7th March. And that was the beginning of his ‘non-violent, non-cooperation movement’ against the government of Pakistan for an indefinite period.
Understanding the incoming situation, the Government imposed day long curfew on 2nd March in Dhaka city. But, thousands of people, ignoring the curfew, took to the street. Many people were gunned down by the Pakistani soldiers. Bangabandhu strongly condemned the firing of the military on unarmed people and had declared general strike from 3rd to 6th March (from 6am to 2pm) across East Pakistan.
On the same day (2nd March 1971), thousands of people including students gathered at the historic Bat Tala (which was in front of the Arts building of the University of Dhaka). Military helicopters were flying over the heads, but nobody was caring that. Central Students’ Action Committee leaders ASM Abdur Rab, Shahjahan Siraj, Noor-E-Alam Siddique and Abdul Quddus Makhan were standing in front of that huge gathering. They were holding the flag of independent Bangladesh. That flag contained a gold-coloured map of Bangladesh within the red circle, but the map was dropped from the flag in 1972.
The crowd was so excited that slogans, like - ‘Joy Bangla’, ‘Bir Bangali Ostro Dhoro, Bangladesh Swadhin Koro’, were coming out from all corners. In fact, the student leaders were continuously demanding the independence of Bangladesh. However, the Awami League leaders, especially Bangabandhu, were taking time to see the political consequences as well as the motives of the West Pakistanis.
It was a rare surprise to note that the then Governor of East Pakistan, Admiral SM Ahsan, refused to do so when he was asked to open fire on the Bengalis. However, for that act, he was replaced by General Sahibzhada Yakub Khan, who was also replaced by General Tikka Khan.
The making of the flag of future Bangladesh that we saw on 2nd March at Bat Tala has a history. To know that history, we should go back to 1970. It was the night of 6th June 1970, students leaders, like Shahjahan Siraj, Kazi Aref Ahmed, Monirul Islam, Hasanul Haq Inu, Sharif Nurul Ambia, Swapan Kumar Chowdhury, gathered in the room of ASM Abdur Rab at Sergeant Jahurul Haque Hall (the then Iqbal Hall) of Dhaka University. Actually, they finalised the designed of the flag of future Bangladesh at that meeting.
There was other development on 3rd March. In presence of Bangabandhu, student leaders ASM Abdur Rab and Shahjahan Siraj read out the declaration of Bangladesh’s independence in a public meeting. It is to be recalled that the negotiations between Bangabandhu and Yahya Khan in those days were seemed to be suspicious. In fact, a parliament session was supposed to be convened on that day in Dhaka, as promised by General Yahya Khan. But it did not happen. Understanding the gravity of the incoming situation, the great leader Sheikh Mujib demanded immediate withdrawal of army and transfer of power. However, the political situation of that day resulted to the imposition of curfew in other cities, like Sylhet, Rangpur, Chittagong and Khulna.
We know, finally, Bangabandhu had to ask his people to go for the War of Liberation in this month. That is why, March will remain in our heart as the inspiration of patriotism, struggle and achievement. We can certainly expect that our present generation will hold the same spirit in their heart to safeguard our beloved motherland, Bangladesh.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary