Today, this day in 1971, a Saturday, as was fifty years ago, a new independent state called the People's Republic of Bangladesh was born. Also, was born its very first independent government. So this is an auspicious day for me, also for all the independence loving people of Bangladesh. I am a proud witness to the birth of this independent Nation. 50 years ago, I was there – 50 years hence, I am here. Still alive and kicking, proudly reminiscing that glorious day of my life. A dignified day for the entire Bangla speaking, people of Bangladesh spread all over the globe.
It is a miracle that I am still alive, a pure miracle that I am still talking. Because just seven months after the date I was wounded, fighting a disastrous battle against Pakistani invaders in our nation's quest to liberate ourselves from Pakistani aggressive regime.
The battle I am referring to was fought in a village called Baliadanga. It was an unknown village near the Indian border. It was a deadly skirmish because we lost 13 men, got another lot taken prisoner. They were tortured gruesomely. I was personally wounded and almost dying from loss of blood. Five people, including myself were given gallantry awards by the Government of Bangladesh at the end of the war. We were only 60 people, caught behind enemy lines. Pakistan mobilized 800 soldiers and officers from all over Satkhira to get us out of their line of supply. They were afraid of me as they knew I was the person responsible for annihilation of 27 Baluch S&T battalion in Jhenidah and Kushtia from March 30 to April 01, 1971. They wanted to kill me at any cost.
The battle was waged and fought by the valiant freedom fighters under my command. We were outweighed by 1:20. Our arms and ammunition, compared to the enemy, was very little, not comparable. We had machetes and Enfield type 0.303 rifles with hardly 20-40 rounds of bullet per head. Our enemies had automatic Chinese weapons. My sixty men strong Mukti Bahini was incredibly small a number compared to Pakistani number of men. I had fought to the last bullet. When we were over-powered in fist fight within our trenches, I had ordered my soldiers to abandon posts. Nearly 15 sacrificed their lives, another lot got imprisoned and I had the scrap of a bullet which kissed my shoulder with a hiss. I got the shelter of a watery pond, which was an anathema for Pakistani soldiers. They appeared to have always lost their way in the water, swamp and the sodden earth of Bangladesh. In the watery, swampy and flooded paddy fields, I was bleeding profusely.
This attracted hundreds of leeches that rose to suck my oozing blood. Draining of blood weakened my limbs, which I managed to keep afloat by the wind stuck in the artificial drum of my puffed up shirt. And eventually, I was pulled out of the swamp by a couple of women, who yelled me for dead, as I had lost consciousness in the meantime. However, they nursed me to keep me breathing and alive.
It will not be out of place to recall that I had struck terror in the mind and spirit of the entire Pakistan Army in East Pakistan, in the battle of Kushtia and Jhenidah that took place between March - April of 1971. One full motorized support and transport battalion of Pakistan Army was totally annihilated by ordinary men and women of Jhenidah under my captaincy. From that day, the name Captain Mahbub had become their big target of retribution. So, when the news of my bullet hit permeated, Pakistan radio announced me dead, thinking they had got me right by the throat this time; they lost no time to announce themselves victorious. The radio released, in urdu language “In the deadly battle of Baliadanga, our soldiers have killed Captain Mahbub.” This upset many of my friends at Mujibnagar and Calcutta and they held rituals for the salvation of my soul. But by the grace of Almighty, I was finally rescued from the hut where I was being nursed. My other comrades in the vicinity were sent out for retrieval. They recovered me in a state of unconsciousness from a nearby border village and managed to send me to the Barrackpore Military hospital in the Indian state of West Bengal. After nearly four weeks of treatment there, I managed to return to the battlefront to take back my command. So I survived and am still breathing. Bangladesh is celebrating its golden jubilee of Independence. Isn't it a miracle!
I have other reasons to celebrate today on this Golden jubilee of our independence. It is a red letter day, enshrined in my heart of hearts because I had the singular opportunity of becoming a part of history of our nation's bloody birth.
I extended and led the guard of honor to the Acting President of the newly declared, first ever independent Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh. It was none other than Mr. Syed Nazrul Islam, a very long time disciple and most reliable political companion of the father of our nation, Banga Bandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. During this historic occasion, Banga Bandhu was interned by Pakistan Military junta led by its President Yahya Khan. For the sake of historical records, I shall try to narrate this momentous occasion in an orderly manner. I have chosen to do it in this grandiose 50th anniversary as a living witness and participant of the event.
It was a Saturday, beginning of the Bangali month of Baishakh. The previous night had swept the area by the first blast of “Kalbashakhi”. Seasonal change of wind direction created havoc on tall trees. Large branches were torn apart, tin roofs had shattered. We had crossed into the Indian Border outpost Betai, just across Meherpur town. We had to find our way through a narrow canal, over flooded by the torrential rain accompanied by squally wind coming in strong gusts – in the form of “Norwester”. It was pouring cats and dogs; large tall tree tops, as high as banyan, canopy of mango groves way was up rooted and fell like house of cards, flew helter skelter and even low mud houses were raged to the ground. We had to carry our provisions and weapons by head loads. Vehicles like trucks, jeeps and buses were to be dragged by simple muscle power. Once across, we fell asleep like logs on the ground. Soldiers, families, officials of different ranks – joined forces. Magistrates, doctors, engineers, bankers, farmers, day laborers, students and youth, all joined in large numbers. We were determined to throw out the Pakistanis from the soil of Bangladesh. This was a perilous journey.
Next dawn, when I was engaged in early morning chores, Tawfiq informed me that we had to go back to Meherpur, because ‘a big event of historic proportion was planned there and we have to rush.’
In no time, I got myself ready, ordered Mannan to line up my Jeep. My bodyguards were also asked to accompany. Tawfiq and I crossed the canal we had travelled through, the night before. The Meherpur town was deserted. It gave ghostly impression. The main thoroughfare had not a single human being around.
As we were in a hurry, we journeyed in virtual silence. There was a broken bridge to cross. We called out for assistance. Those living in the area came out in large numbers to help; with simple muscle power, and make shift arrangement with wooden planks, ropes and nails, an impossible task was made possible. While doing this, they all chanted Joy Bangla, at the top of their lungs. They virtually lifted the vehicles across. There was no waning of enthusiasm, although, we fighters had left the town the previous night and were generally feeling overworked.
On the side line, we had some discussion about the impending event. He told me that Mr. Tajuddin had called and asked him for assistance to hold the big event. He also had instructions to keep the news a secret. Our mission led us towards the bordering village of Boiddonathtala. Upon arrival, we found the place already agog with visitors – mostly gun trotting, shabbily dressed Muktibahini, village folks, politicians, student leaders, young men, and members of village police, popularly known as ansars and mujahids were present – all meeting and greeting one another. They gave a general appearance of shoddiness. None of us, including myself, were able to change our dress through the last 7-10 days, having been engaged in fighting. Throughout the south western part of Bangladesh, from the western border up to river Padma, we had raged several large confrontations and many pitched battles against the invaders. We invariably won and they lost, although we had many casualties. So our general moral was at its highest crescendo, and by contrast our enemy's collective spirit was at its lowest.
After going through all the hassle, we arrived at the quiet village known as Boiddonathtala. It was Indian border area, full of large mango gardens sprawling over huge land blocks. Until that day, it was a sleeping village, having seen no excitement perhaps in a millennium. On arrival, Tawfiq as the popular “SDO Saab”, got himself tied to errands being driven by ordinary villagers. A large number of people had already flocked from the area far and wide. I found many of my friends and political leaders with whom I had held many political meetings and battle plans. People and political stalwarts like MNAs and MPAs had already arrived with their large band of followers. Many carried arms with loaded magazines. In a few minutes, four youth leaders well known and revered for their closeness with Banga Bandhu arrived in a few jeeps. They had spent the last night in Chuadanga; this information came from their guides, Mostafa Mohsin Montu, and Khasru. They had travelled from Dhaka to Calcutta after the crackdown. The leaders were Sk. Fazlul Huq Moni, Abdur Razzak, Tofael Ahmed and Sirajul Alam khan. Mr. Abdur Razzak and Sirajul Alam Khan were known to me from Dhaka University days. Tofael Ahmed was also known but was junior to me by a year. By the time he appeared in the political center stage as a student leader, I had already left the university. So we had no opportunity to be close.
Both Khasru and Montu were sort of two buds of the same flower, waging a relentless fight against rightist government supported student faction surrounding Dhaka University, Dhaka College, Jagganath College and Quaide Azam College. These were the premier colleges in pre-Bangladesh time. Both these boys resided in the famous elephant road area of Dhaka. Both were very close to Sheikh Mujib and were well-known. By the time they rose to prominence, I had left study to join Government service, posted as ADC to the Governor of East Pakistan. But my student league roots, and my one year as a student leader in the Residential Hall politics during the University days, had left an indelible right to associate with them. Their pro people stance had brought us close through common associates like Mr. Abdur Razzak. Razzak Bhai and a few of his close associates were regular visitors to my office in the Government house.
Anyway, let me revert back to Boiddonathtala. There in that odd morning hours, a stage was being set out. Four wooden cots were collected from nearby homes, and roped together to avoid collapse. The rectangular outfit was covered with some indigenous nipa palm or mangrove palm, very commonly grown in the saline Sundarbans estuary of Bay of Bengal. A piece of old dirty rug was put as overall cover. Some old chairs with and without handle, were borrowed from local homesteads. An old harmonium was collected from the area to rehearse the national anthem “Amar Sonar Bangla, Ami Tomai Bhalobashi.” It was led by a student of Dhaka University named Shahabuddin Sentu of the village Bagwan. He was the son of the Chairman of Bagwan Union Parishad. He was supported by a troupe of at least 7/8 persons including Pintu Biswas (Bhaberpara), Asadul Haq (Dariapur) and a prominent Student leader of Dhaka University, ASM Abdur Rob. A tall slim bamboo pole was fixed looking skywards, with a Bangladeshi flag, embedded in green and red with the map of Bangladesh in the center in yellow. The flag was tucked and hung by a rope at waist level, in front of the stage. A banner in green satin with Joy Bangla written on it was roped atop a large mango tree spreading its tentacles as a canopy for the stage. Thousands of people were meeting around, exchanging greetings and shouting Joy Bangla. In totality, it bore the solemnness of a very austere and humble occasion, mused in excitement. While I was observing the scenery, a journalist walked up to me and introduced himself as a reporter of Ananda Bazar Patrika. Most probably he uttered his name as Shukhendu Chatterjee. He was impressed by my get up, although my attire bore the mark of long use. I had four police men all the time standing in alert around me. Perhaps that attracted his attention. He told me without my asking that the stage is 300 steps away from Indian border. I was astonished and asked him, “How do you know that?” He replied with zeal, “I just walked and counted my steps.” “Thanks”, I said and we exchanged pleasantries. I also thanked him for the sympathy we were receiving from the citizens of West Bengal before he walked away.
My next few moments were spent lost within personal thoughts. All of a sudden, a stout strong-built tall man in civvies appeared in front of me. He did not bear any gait of a Bengali person. He had no recognizable sign. I was a little surprised, and asked him, “You appear to be a non-Bengali. How on earth are you loitering here?” He was not afraid, rather with an amount of certainty he told me, “I am a BSF soldier. I have come here on duty. Our CO sent me here to protect the VIPs who will be reaching here very soon.” He added, “We have a large contingent spread over the whole area and will act against any provocation.” So saying he walked into the crowd and I moved onto a discussion with one of my political friends from Jessore.
In the meantime, a large cavalcade of Indian Fiats arrived at the venue. A lot of dignitaries alighted in somber silence.
Mr. Ameer-ul-Islam and Mr. Mannan, MNA from Tangail guided nearly 100 journalists packed on 50 Fiat cars from Calcutta. They were told after the assembly at the Calcutta Press Club that the Government of Bangladesh will be taking oath inside Bangladesh territory. But in spite of several attempts of the accompanying reporters, they did not disclose the location. VIPs like Tajuddin, Syed Nazrul Islam, Monsur Ali, Kamaruzzaman, Khondokar Mostaque and Osmany started for the destination very early from a prefixed RV in Calcutta. With them, accompanied a set of fifty cars. Those who boarded the fleet were not informed of the location either. Only the drivers were given coordinates of the place inside Bangladesh.
It was about 11:00 hrs. in the morning. One Manosh Ghosh introduced himself as the reporter of the Statesman. He had with him a few foreign journalists. Aminul Huq Badsha, the press secretary of Banga Bandhu and my year mate in Dhaka University came running. We held each other in a long embrace. Mr. Barrister Ameer-ul-Islam, bearing the look of a very busy person appeared and held me in embrace too. His beard had disappeared.
When both the fleet finally assembled at the designated spot and guests started greeting one another, for a few minutes the VIPs disappeared into the nearby Bangladesh border outpost to change clothes. Within no time, messers Nazrul Islam and Tajuddin re-appeared. Mr. Nazrul Islam in freshly ironed white Pyjama and Punjabi – he appeared impeccable. I had never met Mr. Osmany in the past, but saw his pictures in the press with an impressive thick white mustache for which he was well-known in the army circle. However, I found a short man moving in smart gait in a shirt. Barrister Ameer-ul-Islam introduced him to me as Colonel Osmany, a member of National Assembly from Sylhet. I was surprised as he did not have his trade mark mustache. I asked why he had gotten rid of the mustache? He told me that before fleeing from Dhaka he had to shave it off to avoid identification by the Pakistan army. Hiding in a truck fully loaded with sacks of some daily necessities he managed to reach the border. At his description, I could not help but sympathize with him. He also had disappeared in the meantime. When he came back he was smartly attired with fully ironed trouser and a khaki tunic with a khaki barrette fixed on his head. However, I did not see any of the stars or chemise to identify him as a high ranking military officer.
Within a short time, the swearing-in-ceremony started in full earnest. A recital from the Holy Quran was made by a student of Darshana College named Baker Ali. Fighters, politicians and those victims of genocide and atrocity of military of Yahya were remembered in grim one-minute silence. Mr. Mannan, MNA was conducting the meeting. He introduced Mr. M. Yousuf Ali Chowdhury, MNA as chief whip of the constituent assembly. He was requested to readout the declaration of independence. He took over the rostrum & read it out. It was announced that “as per will and verdict of the 75 million people of Bangladesh, in a democratic election held in December 1970, and a declaration of independence made by our leader, father of the nation, Banga Bandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, now we proclaim him as President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh. We further proclaim Mr. Syed Nazrul Islam, as the Vice President of the Republic. He will be acting on his behalf as the acting President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.” After the document was readout with several other proclamations, Mr. Yusuf Ali Chowdhury conducted the oath of office to Mr. Nazrul Islam. At that point Mr. Syed Nazrul Islam took over to conduct the oath of office to the Prime Minister Mr. Tajuddin Ahmed and other members of the cabinet. A session of speeches followed.
While I was trying to take a mental note of all that was happening, Tawfiq came running and told me loudly, “Major Osman was supposed to give the guard of honor to the President. He is getting late; I don't know what to do.”
Major Abu Osman Chowdhury was the EPR commander of the Chuadanga EPR unit. He was a self-appointed commander of South Western Command of Muktibahini. As an army officer, he knew the drill. But any delay in the function could endanger the lives of our leaders, men and villagers who had gathered there to witness the ground breaking occasion.
Anyway, I did not have any problem extending the Guard of Honor to the President of the Republic. To assure him that there was no problem for me to carry out the task, I said, “Don't worry! Towfiq, there is no problem. As a police officer I have received and gave Guard of Honor many times. Just allow me five minutes to get ready.”
He felt reassured and left in a hurry while I hastened to prepare for the drill that fell on my shoulder.
It was a bright sunny morning. The nearby trees bore the brunt of previous night's beatings. High wind, thunder and lightning had brought the rain pouring like timeless fountain, breaking the sky and gushing through in abundance. There were heavy showers accompanied by strong winds. The squally weather had flushed out the rut, filth, grime and sludge that disheveled mother nature the past year. At the end of the night, nature came out in fresh breeze and a clear blue sky. A new dawn was unfolding in its gleaming beauty. As the date co-incided with Baishakh 3, third day of the Bengali New Year, the sprint of celebrations knew no bounds.
With the rising new sun radiating its rays, deposits of tiny raindrops on green grass were sparkling like specs of diamond. The slanting sunrays peeping through the branches and leaves were shining like rainbow. In totality the surrounding bore multiple colors, bathing the green lawn, with baby mangoes sprinkled everywhere. The green of an innocent village was sharpened by the torrential rain of the past night. The ground had softened into mossy green carpet. In a nutshell, mother nature had embraced us visitors into a hallowed ground with her entire pervasive beauty, pomp and luxury. In the buzz of a large meeting crowd, I asked my guards to search for uniformed men. They did accordingly, and spotted a group of Ansars squatting in the crowd. We yelled at them and they came running. I ordered them to fall in two's. I asked my constables to join in. Fortunately, all carried 0.303 bore rifles. Some had bayonets fitted. As they fell in, I watched their gait. The Ansars, as well as, policemen had khaki shirts and trousers on – their outfits were soggy due to long use. Ostensibly, none had the opportunity to change, just like myself. Some had canvass cades, others were in boots, many of their footwear being bruised, carrying scrape marks. It was difficult, well nigh impossible, to feel how many miles every soldier had run, walked or crawled through, during the last 23 days and nights. Some wore torn and tattered shoes that exposed their toes, and others had helmets over their heads – then there were some with green or blue barrette and folded caps on. Altogether, the collection of armed men had no impression of uniformity. I noticed a few wearing green belts, some in khaki, while a large number had black belts tied around their waist. It was a unique untidy bunch, giving the look of partisan soldiers waging guerilla warfare behind enemy lines against German occupants under the leadership of guerilla commander Joseph Broz Tito of Yugoslavia during the Second World War.
As for myself, I had a green beret, presented by Major Osman from his EPR stock when he had christened me with the rank of a captain to strengthen his command. My shoulder badge was fixed by him with red chemise at the root with black rectangular peeps instead of silver stars used by the police. The lanyard was police blue and the belt was black. I was wearing a jungle boot. Fixed with my belt was a 0.38 bore Colt revolver which I carried as my personal weapon from day one when the fight for liberation had started. It was the personal weapon issued to me when I first took over command of Jhenidah police chief. It was cased in a khaki holster hung with the belt held onto the left side of my waist.
The entire contingent consisted of a whole range of disheveled men, with no particular uniform on. But we had one “common uniform”. “The uniform” of thought, feeling, emotion, jubilation and collective will to fight, to win or die. Our path was very straight. Fight the Pakistan military. Kill or get killed.
We all had tasted the victory in the battles of Kushtia and Jhenidah, and by now had proven to the world that the Bengalis can fight to win against any or all odds. And a spirit of heightened delight was visible on the radiant faces of the young men holding their arms in great pride when they fell into the parade: a parade of lifetime and generations to remember.
I collected the few odd men into some discipline of sorts. I made them practice the basics of the parade few times, like stand at ease, attention, falling into straight lines etc. Further attenuation consisted of “Shoulder Arms” and finally the “Present Arms”. The practice also articulated the way the president’s salute was to be rendered. As everyone in the contingent had been in uniform and were used to the use of rifles, they understood every command and move to be made. So it was very easy to tidy up the tidbits under the circumstances. I briefed them a few words on the solemnity of the occasion. Conjuring up all to be done took a few minutes, right before I marched them up in front of the stage. We maintained respectable distance from the dais and informed Tawfiq that I was ready. So at my request speech making was suspended, the crowd was told to stay calm and the platform was cleared; all those occupying chairs had vacated and stood behind the stage on the ground.
Now came the iconic, momentous hour; the historical page turning event was going to be staged in a remote part of the world. The guest of honor for the occasion moved slowly. Syed Nazrul Islam, who had already been elected to the title of Acting President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh came in the center of the stage and stood in somber silence, head held high. I alerted my men to come to attention from “stand at ease”. The arms were brought up to the shoulder to remain slanted on every person's left collar bone once I commanded, “Shoulder Arms.” With a deep thud they reverberated in the murmuring crowd. A few seconds passed and I held my breath and came out with my throat cracking command, “Parade will give president salute, president salute, present arms.”
The command for the men behind me, brought up the arms with bayonets held parallel to each person's body, looking straight up towards the sky with an ear piercing noise, and three consecutive simultaneous thuds on the body of the rifles. It was the signal for the President to return the salute at our salutation. My right palm went up and was held along the fore head in a military salute, while Mr. Islam responded similarly bringing up the palm towards his forehead. A few seconds passed in grim silence as if the whole crowd came to a limbo and got lost in total pause. And then suddenly as previously rehearsed, the team of singers burst into a chorus of our National Anthem, “Amar Sonar Bangla Ami Tomai Bhalobashi”. As soon as the song started, the Acting President who was standing like a statue, had come back to life as if from a dream, and approached the flag tied to the pole. It was unfurled and the crowd burst into a thunderous applause, clapping and chanting slogans Joy Bangla, Joy Bangabandhu. And then amidst the sonorous tune of the national anthem, the slogans unending, a frenzied crowd in exuberance, the flag continued in upward movement with the pull of the rope. While it was fluttering in the speedy wind, at some point the flag hoisting ended, roped on the slick bamboo pole. The president returned to his post to stand in salutation again. During this whole episode Col. MAG Osmany stood behind him in silence like a piece of stone. In this short but transient monumental journey, the blinding flashes of many cameras got into play. I was almost blinded by their repeated onslaught on my eyes. It was at that very moment of joy and pride when I felt that I was becoming the part of a historic birth of the independent Bangladesh. Although Mr. Islam was standing in front of me, in my vision of engrossed attention, and in my heart of hearts, the image of Bangabandhu was flashing through in a mind blowing euphoria and I stood astounded for a few seconds. As seconds passed by through the flash of camera, my thoughts blinked through to find images of my mother, my father, my sisters and brothers, who were in jeopardy like all the parents and off springs, locked up in a land of repression, misery and an uncertain future. My eyes looked up towards the sky through the green canopy of the mango grove, inundated in the light of a new dawn, a dawn of freedom. When I looked up through the broken branches and mighty trees hanging in the balance, I saw large beams radiating from the sun of a new day, peeping in unlimited delight and candor The golden rays were bathing the fluttering flag of freedom, a freedom bought at the cost of a sea of human lives. It was our dream come true; freedom wading through the nimbus into a vast bright blue sky. In my mind, I imagined a flock of cranes flying overhead, in the wide blue sky in limitless unconstrained liberation.
As the green flag with a big red sun at its heart embodying the map of golden Bengal continued to dance over our heads, the chorus ended and I ordered the parade to come back to the position of “Shoulder Arms” with two more smart moves. And with the troops standing at that position, I took a few steps forward in front of the stage and yelled again, “Guards ready for inspection, Sir.” On my request, the President came down in slow pace through the improvised staircase followed closely by Osmany. I advanced a few more steps and guided them towards the troops who stood by. I took him around, moving in a very slow motion with dignified steps, through the lines of the contingent. Photographers were following every step from various directions. Flash lights continued their sway with clicking noise. After the ceremonial inspection was over, I again guided them towards the stage. There the President stood at the center of the stage again and I moved a couple of steps backwards – stood in attention, faced him, raised my hands in salutation, brought the hand down and asked for permission to disperse. He consented and I ordered my troops to “attention, right turn” and walked towards the crowd to mingle with the humming thousands.
Before dispersal, I again observed the sunrays in beams, penetrating through the foliage, flooding the new dawn, the dawn of independent Bangladesh reverberating in merriment with overpowering slogans Joy Bangla, Joy Bangabandhu in an unending crescendo. The independence that was snatched away by the imperial British exploiters by defeating the then ruler Sirajuddoula in a mango garden of Plassey, hardly fifty miles away from this hallowed ground at Boiddonathtala; it was rising back like a Sphinx from the ashes of March 23, 1757.
Tajuddin the new Prime Minister of this Republic, named the area as Mujibnagar to honor our father of nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Hence forth, this place became the integral part of the warring government and we remember Mujibnagar to commemorate the event when on 17th April the first Government of the People’s Republic was born legally.
Thus, ended a titanic event of our history; the extraordinary birth of the Independent People's Republic of Bangladesh. I became the witness and participant to this very significant event which bore the imprints of several important milestones.
The ceremonial swearing in was the unifying event of the war of liberation. All the forces who had already raised themselves and started the armed resistance, needed a central command while the newly proclaimed government needed to show the world that it had total control and obedience of the forces fighting for emancipation across the country.
The journalists who came to attend the event had been sent back to Calcutta at the earliest opportunity so that they could immediately inform the world community that a Dejure Government has been established by the people’s representatives who were democratically elected in the territory now called Bangladesh. That this country is independent, it has a sovereign territory, a flag, a population, a national anthem and an obedient army to liberate new born state from the clutches of a highly repressive and exploitive regime.
At the end of the guard of honor, Mr. Tajuddin held a press conference to make some important announcement. As already stated earlier among other things he informed, the gathering where the oath taking ceremony was held will henceforth be called Mujibnagar and it will be the capital of the country. Thus the sleeping village of Boiddonathtala in Meherpur subdivision received its name Mujibnagar. He also informed that the newly established Government will carry out its functions from this place. Additionally, he announced that Mr. Noorul Kader was appointed as Establishment Secretary of Bangladesh government. Col. Osmany was also introduced as the chief of Muktibahini. In the same breadth Col. Rob, MNA was announced as the Chief of Army Staff.
Recently, a diplomat asked me a question which nobody ever asked me. He wanted to know if I was in any way afraid of the task bestowed on my shoulder in that moment. So I replied in the negative; I was not afraid.
I generally believed that although we had retreated towards the border, the Pakistani forces would have no guts to move fast without proper mobilization of force and strength. They could never collect themselves to a new level of moral courage and face the daunting force of Bengali fighters. Using air force from the sky was out of the question, because any air attack would lead to violation of Indian air space. That risk of a war with India was not yet the agenda of Yahiya's army. If you look at the geographical map of the location you will find that it is located in an enclave of Bangladesh on Indian border, to the extent that it had a triangular look with two sides extended inside Indian Territory with the third coalescing with the mainland Bangladesh. It had a very convenient approach from the nearby Indian town. It was very easy to enter and exit from India as it was a land border and had no barrier. There was no dividing canal like in other contiguous areas of Meherpur border. Also, it was already an open border by an unwritten order of Indian authority. It was clearly a part of Bangladesh territory, making it very diplomatically convenient for Bangladesh to show its oath ceremony had officially taken place in its own territory. Thus, this spot would also become the nation’s office for future governmental functions.
For all intents & purposes, the idea was to openly show the world that Bangladesh is a sovereign country with its sway over a defined territory.
Before I conclude, I must discuss the Declaration of Independence and the speeches delivered by Mr. Nazrul Islam and Tajuddin in the spectacular gathering. In a nutshell every piece was epochal in proportion.
First of all, what was embodied in the declaration needs elaboration: It was signed and read out by the signatory, the elected Chief Whip of the Awami League Parliamentary Party? It contained as the most important declaration that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman will remain the President of the independent People's Republic of Bangladesh till such time as a constitution is framed. It also contained a declaration that Syed Nazrul Islam will act as the head of the state. It proclaimed further that if President failed to be present physically for any reason the acting head of the state will carry on with powers conferred on the president including appointment of a prime minister and other members of cabinet. In the same breadth, it defined the powers of each in clear and no uncertain terms. In it, it was also declared that as declared on 26th March by Bangabandhu, “From today Bangladesh is independent.” It continued with the assertion that the cardinal principal of the state called People's Republic of Bangladesh created by the elected members of the Constituent Assembly will be, “Equality, human dignity and social justice.” Further it enshrined that the declaration of independence will be effective from 26thMarch.
In his speech Syed Nazrul Islam warned in very strong words, “Blood spilled by Pakistani military junta will not go unpunished. Our boys will destroy them with all their might at their disposal. March 25th marks the cease of this part of Pakistan’s existence, making it independent Bangladesh, and it will forever remain so.” He made a Clarion call, “I appeal to the freedom loving people of the world and big powers to help our legitimate Independence struggle, our struggle for freedom. Please recognize this sovereign independent government of Bangladesh and prevail upon the Pakistani military junta to leave our soil.”
He also said that our victory in this war is certain. “We shall expel the Pakistani invaders. Will win today, if not, tomorrow. If not tomorrow definitely day after tomorrow. The new state that has been added to the world map will remain forever.”
Almost a verbatim reinforcement of the declaration of independence by the father of the nation.
During his speech, Tajuddin made the following statement among others, “Pakistan is dead and buried under the mountain of corpses & a new Bangladesh is being created by the sweat and blood of Bengali freedom fighters.” He further stated, “Independent Bangladesh is a reality.” These are certain unequivocal cardinal statements and should be remembered as such till eternity.
After the press conference, the event came to its conclusion and the guests were invited to share some khichuri (a mixture of boiled rice and lintel, topped with vegetables and meat, seasoned with aromatic spices). I was also given a few morsels. With a hungry stomach, it tasted very delicious. All guests were provided a scoop or two. At the end of the sort of lunch, I walked into the BOP shed where I found the Prime Minister along with a couple of others like Mustak lying on a cold sheet crafted out of indigenous bamboo scrapings. I opted to rest as well. Incidentally, I was resting next to Mr. Tajuddin. In a few minutes, Mustak got out of his slumber, looked at me and said, “Mahbub, we have come to learn all about Jhenidah, and we are very happy for your great acts of bravery there. I shall write your name in my book.”
In a while Mr. Tajuddin was up awake and looked at the surrounding. When he found me napping next to him, he said, “Mahbub, we are very grateful for the efficient way you managed to pass Ameer-ul-Islam and me across the border. You are my first soldier of the liberation war.”
I was greatly humbled by these words and asked, “Sir shall we get arms?” He replied, “Don't worry. We are arranging everything.”
Then I added, “Sir pray that I die victorious after defeating the Pakistan army.”
“Yes, we will not stop till victory is ours.” he said. The monologues ended after few more words of empathy and it was time to depart.
In a few minutes all left for Calcutta, and Towfiq and I started our journey back to Betai where a lot of chores and many of our comrades were waiting for our next move.
A few days passed to organize ourselves into a cohesive fighting band. Then, we made a journey to Calcutta to know what exactly happened in Bangladesh Mission on the 18thApril. There our batch mate and university friend was working as a first secretary to the mission. We spent a night in his residence. Next morning, while taking breakfast, he brought an English Tabloid published from Calcutta and told me, “Mahbub, look here, see your big photo has been published in the cover page”. The visitors all stumbled and snatched it from his hand and I looked at the photo. It was a full length photo of mine attired in that dirty khaki, with the face of a smart young man looking up to the world. At the bottom there was a caption: “A youthful soldier giving guard of honor to the Mujibnagar Government.”
It was at this precise moment that I realized what a great momentous opportunity fate had bestowed on me. I felt very proud with my chest extended a few inches. I clearly understood that I was one of those very lucky ones, who created, participated in, and also witnessed our archival event closely. Everyone in the breakfast table congratulated me heartily.
While the pangs of the birth of our nation were taking place, almost simultaneously some other equally consequential events were under construction. These indeed turned out to be the stepping stones needed in due course. These were relentlessly conducted over decades of struggle spearheaded by our father of the nation and his staunch followers. I'm only going to narrate a few only, which eventually proved pivotal in making the independence possible.
I am writing these words for the posterity in order to quieten and dress down the attempts of some of our enemies of the state to distort and diminish our unparalleled achievement. They never respected the sea of blood sacrificed by the valiant freedom fighters, our sisters and mothers for achieving the freedom. And last but not the least, enemies of our freedom never accepted that it was under the leadership of a politician like Sheikh Mujib that brought the independence struggle to fruition. Had there been no political victory in the 1970 general election, the right of Sheikh Mujib to speak and wage war against Pakistani military hegemony would have been unacceptable to the civilized world. And we could have ended up as a Biafra or Palestine or UDI of Ian Smith of Rhodesia.
These steps are in fact the precursor to the steps that led to the dawn of Mujibnagar on 17th April.
As already narrated, Mrs. Shreemati Indira Gandhi expressed her country's solidarity with the legitimate right of 75 million people of Bangladesh who had earned their right to demand their rightful place in running the government of Pakistan by virtue of the landslide victory earned through a free and fair democratic election ever held in Pakistan in December 1970. This expression of solidarity was shown as early as March 30, 1971 in Indian parliament. This was an achievement of very high significance and cannot be conceived without political contact at the highest level. This statement proved highly significant in terms of regional political and economic impact for both Bangladesh and India to the common goal of mutual benefit.
Additionally, this solidarity bore more significance when ordinary citizens of India took side with our cause.
Before end of March, another significant step was taken by India. There was virtually no restriction in the border for movement of East Pakistani citizens. Infact BSF of India was asked to receive the elected representatives with dignity and honor.
That was the reason why Mr. Tajuddin and Ameerul Islam were received with great honor, although they were still using their pseudonyms Mohammad Ali and Rahmat Ali.
To make it easier, SDO Meherpur’s chit on a piece of paper with seal and signature was used for Visa. At BENAPOL CUSTOMS CHECKPOST. Major Osman’s seal and signature was treated as a visa for entry into Bangladesh as early as April.
Between March 25 and April 17, a few nodal steps were taken by the relevant concerns and authorities to set out the course of our unarmed peaceful non-cooperation movement into an armed war of liberation based on a legal footing.
Some important steps can be set out below:
1. Banga Bandhu Sheikh Mujib had already raised the flag of Bangladesh in his residence on 23rd March 1971 giving a final touch of integrity to Bangladesh as a free nation. Flag of Pakistan was dead on that day. People of Bangladesh gave him their total support to disown East Pakistan and call it Bangladesh. This was people's verdict and response on 23 March, the Pakistani national day. On that occasion Bangladesh turned green and red with yellow at its center and in that ocean of Bangladesh flags, Pakistan only existed in their cantonments as few small dots.
2. From the perspective of putting the people on war alert, formation of Sangram Committees at all levels of the society was highly important. On 7th March Bangabandhu narrated the potential of forming Sangram Committees under the leadership of Awami league. Truthfully speaking, this was the cornerstone of starting a guerrilla warfare. Its formation was personally supervised by him.
After March 7, he had summoned all the leading key figures of Awami Legue (AL) from various districts to ensure its execution.
For example, Mr. JKMA Aziz, Secretary of Jhenidah subdivision AL was called by him and specifically asked to start formation of Sangram Committees there. It was done as I started the resistance on March 25 before midnight – many came forward to take up police arms. This happened on many places. To my knowledge, once the Pakistani attack on Rajarbag police line started and the news spread through wireless all over the country police generally came forward to cooperate with the local AL leaders. This enhanced mobilization and participation of general members of the public in the immediate follow up actions. In Barisal, Mymensingh, Chittagong, Jessore, Jhenidah, Meherpur, Kushtia, Rajshahi, Rangpur the participation of the people was singularly extraordinary. In fact, in Kushtia and Jhinaidah the understanding between political leadership and those holding arms were so complete and functional that all members of Sangram committees had participated in the battles of Kushtia and Jhenidah, leading to total annihilation of invading Pakistani troops. Here people's victory over Pakistani Military was total. All Pakistani invades of Kustia and Jhinaidah were killed, all their arms and ammunitions captured by us. One Prisoner of war was taken.
3. Bangabandgu Declared independence rightfully, legally exercising extreme caution and political sagacity. He declared it only when Yahya let loose his hyenas to kill the unarmed non-cooperation peaceful movement of the people. This was executed with terrible venom suddenly, on a sleeping population of Bangladesh, under operation searchlight at the darkest hours around midnight of March 25. Thus, the war was thrust upon him by the brute force of Pakistan army, denying him right to rule, which he had earned through a landslide victory in the 1970 election. And his people were dying in unthinkably large numbers. To stem the invasion of Pakistani brutal force, he used his best political acumen. And he vied to earn the sympathy of the democracy loving world by declaring independence. And Yahya, in spite of his best efforts could not brand him a traitor, as he started the mass murder himself and world press saw it. At the down of 26th March at 01:20 hours, he declared independence. Before this specific hour, Yahya had already started his un-ignorable, inhuman operation search light to kill East Pakistan. So the Sheikh took his ethical and legal ground to declare, “This may be my last message, from today Bangladesh is independent. I call upon the people of Bangladesh whereas you might be and will whatever you have, to resist the army of occupation to the last. Your fight must go on until the last soldier of the Pakistan occupation army are expelled from the soil of Bangladesh and final victory is achieved.”
To reach his goal he did not wait a minute.
He ordered the Young Turks to head for India, specifically Calcutta to a prefixed location, to meet one of his important Ambassadors Chitto Ranjan Sutar. They did not waste much time to reach there. In fact, they reached earlier than most. The Sheikh had established political contact with Indian Government hierarchy through this channel. On the fateful night of March 25, Shaikh gave these four youth leaders many strategic instructions with regard to carrying on the struggle in his absence. They crossed over to India with assistance from Dr. Abu Hena Mustafa of Sirajgonj. Mr. Monsur Ali and Mr. Kamaruzzaman accompanied. Thus the final declaration of independence was the master stroke in his strategy of events painstakingly chalked out. By this single stroke he proved that Pakistan was the aggressor and East Pakistan the victim. The East Pakistani in leadership, therefore had no other alternative than to proclaim independence to guard their inherent right to exist as a free nation.
List of Participants in the Oath taking ceremony in Mujibnagar: Not necessarily as per warrant of precedence: It is an incomplete list, as the author was not acquainted with many who had attended the extraordinary occasion:
Janab Syed Nazrul Islam, Acting president of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
Janab Tajuddin Ahmed, Prime Minister of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.
Janab Capt. M. Monsur Ali, Hon’ble Finance Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
Knohdoker Mustak, Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.
Janab AHM Qamaruzzaman, Hon'ble Relief, Rehabilitation and Home Minister of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.
Professor Yusuf Ali Chowdhury, Chief Whip to the Constituent Assembly, People's Republic of Bangladesh.
Janab Abdul Mannan, MNA Tangail and conductor of the occasion.
Janab Sk. Fazlul Huq Moni, Leader youth Wing of Awami League.
Janab Tofael Ahmed, MNA, Leader Youth Wing of Awami League.
Janab Abdur Razzak, Youth Leader, Mujib Bahini
Janab Sirajul Alam Khan, Youth Leader, Mujib Bahini.
Janab Mostafa Mohsin Montu, Students leader, Dhaka University.
Janab Qamrul Alam Khan Khashru, Student leader, Dhaka University.
Capt. Mustafizur Rahman, Army Offier from Dhaka.
Lt. ATM Abdul Wahab, Jessor, Eng BN Officer.
Capt. Hafizuddin, Hero of First Bengal Regiment, Bangladesh Army.
Lt Col Megh Singh, BSF, India.
Major Abu Osman Chowdhury, Commander Four Wing EPR, Chuadanga and self appointed Chief of Muktibahini at the South Western Command.
Capt. A.R. Azam Chowdhury, hero of Kushtia People's War.
Capt. Shafiqullah, Professor Jhenidah Cadet College.
Janab Shahabudding Shentu, National Anthem Rehearsal Team Leader, Bhaberpara, Bagowan, Meherpur.
Janab Baker Ali, Student, Darshana College, Village Gourinagar, 2 Km away from Meherpur.
Stephen Pintu Biswas, Student of Notre Dame Collage, Village Bhaber Para. National Anthem team.
Janab Asadul Huq, Team Member, National Anthem Rehearsal Team, Dariapur, Student of Meherpur.
Two more unidentified members of National Anthem Reharsal Team.
Janab Aminul Huq Badshah, Press Secretary Banga Bandhu.
Barrister Ameeerul Islam, MNA, President Kushtia AL.
Janab Col. MAG Osmani, Prodhan Senapoti Muktibahini.
Col. MA Rab, MNA, Sylhet and Chief of staff Bangladesh Army.
Lt. Col. Reza, MNA, Sylhet.
Md. Nurul Kader, Deputy Commissioner, Pabna.
Janab Sukha Ranjan Sen, Journalist, Jugantor Patrica, Calcutta.
Janab Manosh Ghosh, Journalist, Statesman, Calcutta.
Janab Anil Bhattacharya, Journalist, Jugantor Patrica, Calcutta.
Janab Gourakishore Ghosh, Journalist, Ananda Bazar Patrika, Calcutta.
Janab Tushar Pandit, Journalist Ananda Bazar Patrika, Calcutta.
Janab Varun Sen Gupta, Journalist Ananda Bazar Patrika, Calcutta.
Janab Khairat Hossain, Student Leader, Jessore.
Janab Shahiuddin, MNA, President, Meherpur Muktijuddha Sangram Committee.
Janab Ismail, Secretary, Meherpur Muktijuddha Sangram Comittee.
Capt. AT Salahuddin, Bangladesh Army Officer from Dhaka Cantonment.
Janab Nurul Huq, MNA, Meherpur.
Janab Sultan Raja Mia, MNA, Kushtia.
Janab Raushan Ali, MNA, Jessore.
Janab Md. Golam Kibria, MPA, Kushtia.
Dr. Ashabul Huq, MPA, Chuadanga and Chief Civil Advisor of North Western Command, Muktibahini.
Barrister Badal Rashid, MP Chuadanga.
Janab Boga Mia, MPA, Pabna.
Janab Deb Dulal Bandopadhyaya, Akash Bank, Calcutta.
Capt. Motiur Rahman, MPA, Norail.
Janab Waliul Islam, SDO, Magura.
Janab Shamsul Alam Dudu, Student Leader, Kushtia,
Capt. Khondoker Nazmul Huda, Barishal, Accused Agartala Case.
Janab Nure Alam Siddiky, Student Leader Dhaka University and Past President of Student League.
Janab ASM Abdur Rob, Student Leader Dhaka University, and Past General Secretary Central Committee, Students League, Member of National Anthem rehearsal team.
Janab M.R. Akhtar Mukul, Bangladesh Journalist and Composer, Reader, Charam Patra, at Joy Bangla Radio, Calcutta.
Janab Iqbal Anwarul Islam, MNA, Jhenidah.
Janab Kamruzzaman, MNA, Jhenidah
Janab Abdul Majid, MNA, President, Jhenidah Awami League.
Janab Abdul Hye, Student Leader, Shailkupa, Jhenidah.
Janab Babu Brojen Das, Eminent Swimmer of East Pakistan.
Janab Mahbub Uddin Ahmed, Author.
Janab Towfiq-E-Elahi Chowdhury, SDO, Meherpur and main organizer of the event.
Janab Mizanur Rahman, Employee, Foreign Ministry, Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, Mujibnagar, Calcutta.
Janab Atar Ali, MP.
Janab Abdul Karim, Vice-Principal, Jhenidah Cadet College.
Father Francis, Bhaberpara, Catholic Mission, supporting hand for logistics like harmonium, chair, table, mat etc.
Smt. Terezana, Sister, employee of Bhaberpara Catholic Mission, supporting hand for logistics of the stage; she created a gate with banana tree and some pine branches at the entrance of Mujibnagar, Meherpur wrote on a banner on it with cotton, “Shagotom, Joy Bangla”.
Khan Tipu Sultan, student leader, Jessore.
Tabibur Rahman, MPA, Jessore.
Unspecified number of BSF members guarding the venue against probable incarceration by Pak Army.
A Large number of Muktibahini Members with fire arms to resist any Pak incarceration.
Sk. Mohammad Nowazesh Ali, Past President of Begwan Union Parishad.
Note: 17th April, 1971 was Saturday, 15th April, Thursday. Cleaning of the Pandall area was started on the 15th April, at the behest of Razzak Bhai, informs Shentu. It was Boishakh 3, 1378.
Writer: Mahbub Uddin Ahmed (SP Mahbub)