A government in exile: Birth of a Nation

Nurul Islam Anu
The emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign independent nation is a fascinating event of contemporary political history. The amazing speed with which the liberation war was brought to a successful end stunned many inside the country and the world; it mesmerised skeptics; it puzzled political theorists and revolutionary pundits who believed in the traditional dynamics of successful revolutions. It defied traditional logic of time and date, nullifying many deeply held convictions about success of political struggles.

The event was overwhelming

The background of the political scene that made the struggle for political and economic emancipation inevitable is too well known to be repeated. The conspiratorial scheme of an insensitive minority to deprive the majority of its due share, the story of manipulative endeavour to perpetuate economic, political and cultural domination, form a classic component of the history of political repression. Invoking religion to sanitise the ugly scheme only added to its fragile character, and it collapsed.

It will be an attempt, in this column, to throw some light on the events that followed March 26, the formation of a government in exile in less than ideal conditions, and the tireless bold and inspiring political engineering that followed under the most complex of circumstances leading ultimately to the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent nation.

Revolutions or armed struggles do not occur in an ideological vacuum since that implies the absence of the critical motivating factor. Ideals inspire dreams about social reconstruction propelling human ingenuity to act, to suffer and to achieve. In the case of Bangladesh this was no exception.

The philosophical base of the struggle was prepared by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who brilliantly articulated the deeply held feeling of the Bengalis in the form of a political programme-the Six Point. This evolved over a long period of time passing through a chequered path of political repression, betrayal and conspiracy. He suffered repression of incredible magnitude culminating in the Agartala Conspiracy Case which glorified his defiant stand. Having supreme confidence in the content of the message, he took it to the furthest corner of Bangladesh, and a receptive crowd continued to be inspired. What made the message credible was its transparent sincerity backed by a desire to defend it even at the cost of the ultimate sacrifice. He spoke decisively when his thunderous voice roared on the 7th of March at the Race Course Maidan where a liberated Bangladesh was declared.

When the brutalities of 26 March commenced, the nation roared to defend itself, and that defiant spirit to be free engulfed everyone; a feeling of defiance was instantly ignited. Students in the schools and colleges, soldiers in the cantonments, common man in the villages, farmers in the fields, thousands crossing the border to join the Mukti Bahini, all owing their inspiration to the message of that political magician Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The whole nation stood prepared and inspired.

When the government of Bangladesh in exile was formed in the mango grove of Meherpur on the 10th of April, it represented the formal culmination of a long cherished desire to be free.

The establishment of the government in exile was an act of brilliant political strategy. Admittedly, the nation had to face 26 March without a definite operational plan to face it. The political leadership came to the quick realisation that the struggle had to be faced politically and the establishment of a legitimate political framework was an absolute necessity; because, that would provide the focus from which necessary political and policy directive would flow or even facilitate international alignment.

Even in ensuring this critically important task, the government at this fragile phase had to face the question of legitimacy; questions were raised whether this kind of political initiative by the existing leadership had the specific blessings of Bangabandhu, casting a shadow on the legitimacy of the move. For example, in the absence of any directive from Bangabandhu, to what extent was this kind of political initiative legitimate?

It was a sinister move encouraged by Khandaker Mushtaq and his lackeys mainly opposed to Mr. Tajuddin’s leadership, and it had the ominous potential of affecting the morale of the entire liberation force, besides presenting the image of a divided initiative before the Indian political establishment and the world. It was a serious challenge before this new government, and the issue was resolved in the form of a consensus in a conference at Baghdogra, where the acting President Syed Nazrul Islam made an inspiring speech before the Awami League MNAs highlighting the bad consequences of this vicious move to link the legitimacy of the provisional government to the innate political desire of Bangabandhu.

Politically speaking, it was critically important to ensure the universal character of such a vast movement and accommodating all shades of political opinion in it. It is well known that the progressive elements, particularly the Left, had their misgivings about Awami League’s political programme. While the Left, in its obsession with the concept of a class struggle, would only see in the success of Bangabandhu the triumph of a bourgeois movement, others would question his leadership with Maulana Bhasani as a potential challenger. These were confusing factors in the face of much needed cohesion.

The Awami leadership was bold enough to recognise the critical need for unity and resolved it in the form of the establishment of a cabinet consultative committee with Maulana Bhasani, Professor Muzaffar Ahmed and Comrade Moni Singh as members. This was an event of huge political significance. The Left’s potential isolation was eliminated and its inclusion as a vibrant force was ensured. More importantly, the unity of Bangladesh political leadership became clear to the Indians; the possibility of adverse Chinese political maneuvering was marginalised.

Projecting the proper image of the liberation war before the international world was another challenge before the provisional government. The attempt of the Pakistani Government to depict the war of the liberation as a secessionist movement was massive, and the entire Pakistani propaganda machinery was geared to that. This was intended to confuse the international community and even the Indian political establishment. The challenge was faced with courage and imagination. The Bengali community all over the world, particularly the UK and the USA, unleashed a relentless effort in depicting the background of the struggle to a hitherto illiterate audience, supported by stories of atrocities committed by the Pakistani Army. Political establishment in the UK and the USA swung decisively in the favour of the movement overwhelmingly, with Nixon and Henry Kissinger being an embarrassed minority; for Nixon, the Church-Saxbe Act prohibiting arms shipment to Pakistan, was a bitter political pill to swallow.

Justice Abu Syed Chowdhury in UK, Professor Rehman Sobhan as a relentless crusader and Barrister Amirul Islam and late Mr. M. R. Siddique (not to mention many other distinguished names), played a valiantly admirable role. In this regard, the move of Khandaker Mushtaq to lead Bangladesh delegation to the United Nations was legitimately sabotaged because of his suspicious role as a supporter of a confederation scheme with Pakistan. Justice Chowdhury’s leading the Bangladesh delegation to the United Nations was a severe blow to the prestige of Khandaker Mushtaq as foreign minister to carry out his scheme of a confederation with Pakistan, an exercise he kept indulging in without success.

The implied threat to Mr. Tajuddin’s leadership acted as a silent challenge to the provisional government throughout the entire nine months. The feeling grew out of a misconceived perception about his political ambition. Mr. Tajuddin’s political career was characterised by an unflinching sense of loyalty to Bangabandhu, and there is nothing in his role as Prime Minister of the provisional government to prove to the contrary. But this feeling, symbolised by late Fazlul Haque Moni, unfortunately cast a lingering shadow on the political content of Mujib Nagar Government, but did not seriously impair its effectiveness.

Mobilsation of support of the Indian political establishment and ensuring international support were two critical components for the success of the war and the defeat of Pakistan Army. Many Indians believed that India was being unjustifiably brought into a situation where they had to face the twin opposition of the Soviet Union and Communist China. Henry Kissinger’s erroneous theory of geo-political consideration, ruthlessly ignored a human tragedy of monumental proportion and compelling historical reality in Pakistan about the role of the majority in a democracy. Henry Kissinger’s position was intellectually dishonest, a position he could not defend before the American people and the US Congress, both sympathetic to the people of Bangladesh.

Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Gandhi tried to convince Nixon about the irrationality of the US position and was not successful. But it had the strategic component of a prior consultation making Mrs. Gandhi to take the boldest international initiative of her political career in invoking the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty as a countervailing threat against US and Chinese active opposition. The international scene was setup to support the war against Pakistan. The UN became an intense battleground of diplomacy with the Soviet veto standing as a shadow of threat to the US and the Chinese. The Indian permanent representative in the UN and later Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Mr. Samar Sen, played a brilliant role which is still worth remembering.

The rest is history-Pakistani Army ultimately surrendering on the 16th of December in the historic Race Course Maidan.

The Bangladesh war of liberation is a huge drama played on the international scene demanding the best from the participating players in terms of courage, wisdom, patience and political foresight.

On the Bangladesh side Mr. Tajuddin played the game with consummate skill inspiring the entire liberation force, neutralising the conspirators and managing a complex game with patience and courage, with the senior Awami League leadership, Syed Nazrul Islam, Mr. Quamruzzaman and Mr. Monsur Ali, extending him all the political support he needed. On the Left, Maulana Bhasani, Comrade Moni Singh, Professor Muzaffar Ahmed showing considerable political foresight in standing beside Mr. Tajuddin.

On the Indian side, Mrs. Gandhi showed incredible political courage, galvanising the Indian political establishment behind her overall strategy, and Mr. Bhupesh Gupta of the Communist Party and Bhabani Sen and Indrojit Gupta, all extending her commendable support. The leadership of the largest democracy in the world stood behind Mrs. Gandhi in what could be the most dangerous move of her political career. The story of appreciation would be incomplete without mentioning the name of two brilliant bureaucrats and diplomats, Mr. P. N. Haksar and Mr. D. P. Dhar, who worked relentlessly to provide critical support to Mrs. Gandhi.

And above all, the countless unsung heroes who sacrificed their lives for a liberated Bangladesh, and those who fought gallantly for their beloved in Bangladesh, to them this column pays a most grateful and beloved tribute.

The author is a columnist and former civil servant.


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