United Front Election & Historic 21-point Programme


Published on June 14, 2021
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The Bengali nation first united in an unprecedented way centring the 1952 Language Movement, which ultimately paved the way for realizing the rights and protests the exploitation of the Pakistani government. As young Sheikh Mujibur Rahman assumed the general secretary of the then Awami Muslim League, he rose the nation with the spirit of the language movement. He drew the world’s attention by delivering a speech in Bangla at the World Peace Council in China in 1953. Another renowned author Munoz Basu from West Bengal also gave his speech in Bangla in the programme.

Regarding Bangabandhu’s effort to ensure the highest status of the Bangla language, language movement veteran Gaziul Haque wrote that the first procession to mark the first anniversary of the language movement in 1953 was started with the arrival of Ataur Rahman Khan and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman among others in the university premises. The procession parading different important streets of the capital ended in the Armanitola followed by a rally where Sheikh Mujibur Rahman spoke on behalf of the Awami League. The rally demanded immediate release of all language movement protesters and prayed for the departed soul of the language martyrs.

Prime Issue - Bangla as the State Language

East Bengal witnessed a fresh agitation for the state status of the Bangla language again from 1953. People raised their voices for the demands and rights amid the social, economic and political exploitation and discrimination of West Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who had just been Awami Muslim League’s general secretary after the illness of Shamsul Haq, consequently became the torchbearer of the nation.

As the Pakistan government announced the schedule of the election in the East Bengal Legislative Assembly, an alliance named Jukto Front (United Front) was formed with Awami Muslim League, Krishak Sramik Party, Nezam-e-Islam and Ganatantri Dal on December 4 in 1953. To counter the then party in power Muslim League, the Front came up with the historic Twenty-One Point Programme as the election manifesto giving priorities to the status of the Bangla language and rights of the Bengali nation.

The 21-point programmes adopted by the United Front are:

  1. To recognise Bangla as one of the State Languages of Pakistan;
  2. To abolish without compensation zamindari and all rent receiving interest in land, and to distribute the surplus lands amongst the cultivators; to reduce the rent to a fair level and abolish the certificate system of realising rent;
  3. To nationalise the jute trade and bring it under the direct control of the government of East Bengal, set fair price of jute to the growers and to investigate into the jute-bungling during the Muslim League regime to punish those found responsible for it;
  4. To introduce co-operative farming in agriculture and to develop cottage industries with full government subsidies;
  5. To start salt industry (both small and large scale) in order to make East Bengal self-sufficient in the supply of salt, and to investigate into the salt-bungling during the Muslim League regime to punish the offenders;
  6. To rehabilitate immediately all the poor refugees belonging to the artisan and technician class;
  7. To protect the country from flood and famine by means of digging canals and improving irrigation system;
  8. To make the country self-sufficient by modernizing the method of cultivation and industrialisation, and to ensure the rights of the labourer as per ILO Convention;
  9. To introduce free and compulsory primary education throughout the country and to arrange for just pay and allowances to the teachers;
  10. To restructure the entire education system, introduce mother tongue as the medium of instruction, remove discrimination between government and private schools and turn all the schools into government-aided institutions;
  11. To repeal all reactionary laws including those of the Dhaka and Rajshahi Universities and to make them autonomous institutions; to make education cheaper and easily available to the people;
  12. To curtail the cost of administration and to rationalise the pay scale of high and low paid government servants. The ministers shall not receive more than 1000 taka as monthly salary;
  13. To take steps to eradicate corruption, nepotism and bribery, and with this end in view, to take stocks of the properties of all government officers and businessmen from 1940 onward and forfeit all properties the acquisition of which is not satisfactorily accounted for;
  14. To repeal all Safety and Preventive Detention Acts and release all prisoners detained without trial, and try in open court persons involved in anti-state activities; to safeguard the rights of the press and of holding meetings;
  15. To separate the judiciary from the executive;
  16. To locate the residence of the chief minister of the United Front at a less costly house, and to convert Burdwan House into a students hostel now, and later, into an institute for research on Bangla language and literature;
  17. To erect a monument in memory of the martyrs of the Language Movement on the spot where they were shot dead, and to pay compensation to the families of the martyrs;
  18. To declare 21st of February as ‘Shaheed Day’ and a public holiday;
  19. The Lahore Resolution proposed full autonomy of East Bengal leaving defence, foreign affairs and currency under the central government. In the matter of defence, arrangements shall be made to set the headquarters of the army in West Pakistan and the naval headquarters in East Bengal and to establish ordnance factories in East Bengal, and to transform Ansar force into a full-fledged militia equipped with arms;
  20. The United Front Ministry shall on no account extend the tenure of the Legislature and shall resign six months before the general elections to facilitate free and fair elections under an Election Commission;
  21. All casual vacancies in the Legislature shall be filled up through by-elections within three months of the vacancies, and if the nominees of the Front are defeated in three successive by-elections, the ministry shall resign from office.

Victory in the first election:

One of the key leaders of the United Front, Sheikh Mujib rushed to villages after villages to seek support for the 21-point programme. He held public rallies and delivered fierce speeches to raise the Bengali nation. Young Sheikh Mujibur Rahman defeated his opposition candidate Wahiduzzaman from Muslim League in his seat in Tungipara and elected as a member of the legislative body.

In the elections held in March 1954, the United Front managed to bag only nine seats whereas Awami Muslim League won 143 seats and Krishak Sramik Party 48 seats. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman sown as the youngest minister in the cabinet. He became the minister for agriculture, forest and cooperative ministry.

But the central government hatched a conspiracy and ran a riot at Adamjee Jute Mills where approximately 500 Bengali were killed. The newly elected cabinet was abolished, and the central government took over the power under section 92(A) on May 9 in 1954 holding the Jukto Front cabinet responsible for the riots. Iskander Mirza was also appointed as the governor for East Bengal on the same day. Then, there started a massive crackdown on Jukto Front and Awami Muslim League arresting thousands, including Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. As AK Fazlul Huq was in house arrest and Mawlana Bhashani and Suhrawardy were staying abroad, there was no demonstration against the incidents.