People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Bangladesh Observes 40th Anniversary of Freedom Struggle


                                                                                     Gautam Das


OUR neighbouring Bangladesh celebrated the 40th year of its independence on March 26. One may recall that the British imperialists ended their colonial rule over India in the year 1947 but not before dividing the country into two parts, India and Pakistan, against the wishes of the majority of our people. The partition and the creation of Pakistan took place on the totally unrealistic basis of religion, and the leaders of the Congress party and Muslim League fell prey to the British machinations. On the one hand Western Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province, Baluchistan and Sindh and on the other East Bengal, geographically and linguistically a completely separate entity, comprised the new country called Pakistan.


The new rulers of Pakistan, leaders of the Muslim League like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, could not unify the country into an organic whole. Though Bengali speaking people formed a majority in population, the federal government of Pakistan imposed Urdu as the official language of the country. The people of East Bengal, which was now called East Pakistan, opposed this imposition of Urdu language and started an agitation for recognition of their mother language, i.e. Bengali. Students of Dhaka University took the lead in this language movement and the Pakistani rulers tried to suppress the movement by the brutal use of police and military force. On February 21, 1952, four student agitators --- Rafique, Jabbar, Salam and Barkat --- laid down their lives on the streets of Dhaka for their mother tongue. The news of their brave martyrdom spread like a wildfire all over East Pakistan and people from all walks of life now jumped into the language movement. That was the first major mass discontentment against the Pakistani rulers.


Soon after independence, American imperialists too got themselves involved in shaping the Pakistani military forces in accordance with their geo-political designs. Within a decade, backed by American imperialism, the military of Pakistan captured the state power and throttled the fledgling democratic system. The new military rulers, led by General Ayub Khan, curbed all the democratic rights of the people and established a cruel military dictatorship. But the people of Pakistan, of both its western and eastern parts, now started a struggle for democracy. In 1969, the studentsí and the peopleís movement forced the military rulers to concede their demand of holding the parliamentary and provincial assembly elections while General Ayub Khan was forced to quit. The new military ruler, General Yahya Khan, held the elections in 1970. Led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman, Awami League secured an absolute majority in the National Assembly elections as well as in the provincial assembly of East Pakistan. But the military junta started its own game to stay in power and to deny the prime ministerís position to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.


The people again started a struggle to get power handed over to their elected representatives while the military rulers were only buying time to deceive the people. In a historic rally held in Dhaka city on March 7, 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman, undisputed leader of the people of East Pakistan, called upon his people to prepare for another freedom struggle. On March 25, 1971 the military rulers arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman from his Dhaka residence, flew him to Karachi and threw him behind the bars. The Pakistani military now embarked on a mass killing spree in East Pakistan.


The people of East Pakistan thus started their freedom movement from March 26, 1971. Almost 95 percent of the people participated in this struggle. Only Islamic fundamentalists helped the army who were killing the freedom fighters, raping women and committing other atrocities. More than one crore people of East Pakistan had to flee from their country and take shelter in India, mostly in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya. The Awami League leaders formed a provisional government in exile within a week of the start of their freedom struggle. The Communist party of India (Marxist) was the first political party in India to demand that the Indian government recognise the provisional government of Bangladesh and extend all possible help, including military help, to the people of Bangladesh.


The people of India extended all-out support to the struggling people of Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Aid and Solidarity Committee, led by late Comrade Jyoti Basu, built strong public opinion in favour of recognition of Bangladesh and collected huge relief materials including food, blood and other articles for the Bangladeshi refugees and freedom fighters. Ultimately, the government of India bowed to public pressure and recognised the provisional government of Bangladesh. The US imperialists tried to help the Pakistani military rulers in suppressing the Bangladesh freedom movement by sending their Seventh Fleet to the Chittagong port. But the anti-imperialist people of India raised their strong voice against American imperialists and forced them to retreat.


After nine months of a valiant struggle, the people of Bangladesh finally won their freedom, though more than three million people of Bangladesh had to lay down their lives in their struggle for freedom. On December 16, 1971, the defeated Pakistani army surrendered before the joint military command of Indian Army and Bangladesh Mukti Bahini at Dhaka. The people forced the Pakistani military rulers to free their leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman, who after return from Karachi Jail reached Dhaka on July 10, 1972 and assumed power as president of the new republic.


The division of Pakistan and the emergence of a new country (Bangladesh) has been an anathema to the Pakistani rulers as well as American imperialists. While the new government led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman adopted a secular and democratic constitution for the country and established friendly relations with India and many other countries, the pro-imperialist forces started a conspiracy against it. On August 15, 1975, some middle raking military officers attacked the house of the president and killed Sheikh Mujib and his family members. Only his two daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, survived as they were in Europe at the time. Pro-imperialist and Islamic fundamentalists helped the military officers to capture state power after overthrowing the elected government.


Various military officers ruled Bangladesh till 1990. But the people again fought back and re-established democracy in the country. In 2007, however, army officers made use of a political crisis to impose a caretaker government on the country and clamp internal emergency which lasted for two years.


In December 2008, the Awami Legue led by Sheikh Hasina, the elder daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman fought the parliamentary elections in combination with some Left, and democratic and secular forces, and secured an overwhelming majority. She now took over the prime ministerís position for the second time. Her new government took oath of office on January 6, 2009.


Though the people of Bangladesh achieved their independence 40 years ago, imperialist forces and other anti-liberation forces, particularly the Islamic fundamentalists, were still active and conspiring against the countryís freedom, trying to destroy the democratic set-up of the country. Within 45 days of the assumption of office by Sheikh Hasina, the Bangladesh Border Rifles (BDR), the largest paramilitary forces of the country, staged a revolt at their headquarters on February 25-26, 2009, and killed 57 army officers including the BDR chief. Earlier, Sheikh Hasina had escaped assassination attempts on two occasions.


Subsequently, the Sheikh Hasina government got a resolution passed for establishing an International Crime Tribunal for trial and prosecution of those who were involved in war crimes during the liberation struggle. Her government also revived the secular constitution through a court order and is striving to strengthen the democratic institutions by holding elections. For strengthening the economy of the country, the prime minister travelled to China, India, Japan and many Arab countries, and signed many agreement for building infrastructure of the country with foreign assistance.


Though the Sheikh Hasina government has earned successes in several fields, some negatives are also developing. Many anti- social elements have sneaked into the Awami League party and are creating the law and order problems. The Awami League had had an alliance with like-minded parties in the last parliament elections, but it contested alone in the recently held urban and local body elections and lost its majority in the local bodies as a result.


The main opposition party, that is the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and the Islamic fundamentalists aligned to it have been opposing every step of the government and continuously boycotting the parliament. Recently the BNP chairperson, Khaleda Zia, threatened the government that ďAny time anything may happen.Ē Thus the people of Bangladesh still have to go a long way to consolidate their independence.