26931Published on June 6, 2022
On 7th June in 1966, the people of the then East Pakistan observed a general strike in the province in support of the Awami League's Six-Point demands of autonomy announced a few months earlier by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The strike, in the course of which a number of individuals were killed in police firing and a number of others were injured, was a powerful instance of the Bangalees making their displeasure about their place in Pakistan known to the authorities.
But even as the general strike, or hartal, kept the province in its grip throughout the day, the central leaders of the Awami League -- Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam and others -- stayed behind bars. The strike would be spearheaded by two young Awami League politicians, Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury and Amena Begum.
Mujib, who would not become Bangabandhu till three years later, had been placed in detention under the Defense of Pakistan Rules on 8 May 1966. The reason was not hard to understand: Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, President of Pakistan, made clear his opinion on the Six Points. He told the country that the purveyors of the Six Points would be dealt with in the language of weapons.
Ayub Khan was not the only individual who spotted a threat to Pakistan's unity should the Six Points be acknowledged. His soon-to-be-out foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto challenged Mujib early in the year to a public debate at Dhaka's Paltan Maidan on the Six Points. It was Tajuddin Ahmed who accepted the challenge on Mujib's behalf. In the event, Bhutto did not turn up.
The Six-Point demands included the following:
1. Pakistan would have a federal structure of government based on the spirit of the Lahore Resolution of 1940, with a parliament elected on the basis of a universal adult franchise;
2. The central government would have authority only in defense and foreign affairs and all other subjects would be handled by the federating units of the state of Pakistan;
3. There would be two freely convertible currencies for the two wings of Pakistan or two separate reserve banks for the two regions of the country;
4. The power of taxation and revenue collection would be vested in the federating units;
5. There would be two separate accounts for foreign exchange reserves for the two wings of Pakistan;
6. East Pakistan would have a separate militia or paramilitary force as a measure of its security.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman planned to announce the Six Points at a conference of opposition political parties in Lahore in early February 1966. He was not permitted to do so by the other participants, including the chief of the Awami League at the time, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan. They found the plan too incendiary to be articulated. Rebuffed, Mujib announced the plan at a news conference in Lahore the following day, February 5, 1966.
Bangabandhu's move raised howls of protest all over Pakistan. The civil-military bureaucracy and politicians straddling both government and opposition circles were quick to dub the Six Points as a secessionist plot to dismember Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's arrest in May 1966, followed by the 7 June strike, swiftly led to circumstances where the Pakistan government opted for repression in East Pakistan. Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia, the respected editor of the Bangla daily Ittefaq, was arrested on June 16 over his support for the Six Points. The next day, a ban was clamped on his newspaper.
Events would move fast after June 1966. In January 1968, Mujib would be charged with conspiracy to break up Pakistan. The case, which would become notorious as the Agartala Conspiracy Case, would eventually be withdrawn under public pressure on February 22, 1969.
A day after his release, Mujib would be honored as Bangabandhu (friend of Bengal) at a historic rally in Dhaka.
From Six Points to Declaration of Independence: A Timeline towards Our Freedom
January 1966 Pakistan's President Ayub Khan and Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri sign a peace deal, following the September 1965 war between their two countries, in Tashkent. Shastri dies of a heart attack soon after. February 1966 East Pakistan Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman seeks to place a Six Point programme at a conference of Pakistan's opposition politicians in Lahore. He is rebuffed. He announces the programme at a news conference the next day. May 1966 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and a large number of other senior Awami League politicians are arrested under the Defence of Pakistan Rules. Around this time, President Mohammad Ayub Khan threatens to employ the language of weapons against advocates of the Six Points.
November 1967 Former foreign minister, and once Ayub loyalist, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto forms the Pakistan People's Party.
December 1967 Towards the end of the month, the Pakistan government announces the arrest of a number of individuals, all Bengalis. It is the first sign of what the authorities will later present as the Agartala Conspiracy Case.
January 1968 Early in the month, the Pakistan government implicates Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in detention since 1966, in the Agartala Conspiracy Case. Altogether 35 Bengalis, including civil servants and military officers, are charged with conspiracy to separate East Pakistan from the rest of Pakistan by force.
June 1968 The trial of the accused in the Agartala Conspiracy Case commences before a special tribunal in Dhaka. Headed by Justice S.A. Rahman, the tribunal has two Bengali judges on it, namely, Justice Mujibur Rahman Khan and Justice Maksumul Hakim. On the first day of the trial, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman tells a foreign reporter, “You know, they can't keep me here for more than six months.”
October 1968 As the Ayub regime prepares to celebrate its decade in power, political agitation breaks out across Pakistan.
November 1968 Potshots are fired at Ayub Khan in Peshawar. The president is unhurt. But a few days later, the government arrests Bhutto and Khan Abdul Wali Khan under the Defence of Pakistan Rules. Within days of the arrests, Justice Syed Mahbub Murshed and Air Marshal Asghar Khan enter politics in opposition to the regime.
January 1969 Widespread unrest spreads in East Pakistan as demands grow for the withdrawal of the Agartala Case. In West Pakistan, agitation against the regime grows apace.
February 1969 On the fifteenth, Sergeant Zahurul Haq, an accused in the Agartala case, is shot dead by guards in Dhaka cantonment. On the twenty-second, the case is withdrawn unconditionally and all accused, including Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, walk free. The next day, Mujib is honoured as Bangabandhu at a mammoth rally at the Race Course in Dhaka. Between late February and early March, a roundtable conference takes place in Rawalpindi between the government and the opposition. The talks eventually collapse.
March 1969 President Ayub Khan resigns and hands over power to the army chief, General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan. Martial law is declared all over Pakistan. Yahya stresses the creation of conditions conducive to the holding of general elections in the country.
January 1970 Political activities resume in Pakistan under a Legal Framework Order. The stage is thus set for general elections later in the year.
November 1970 A devastating cyclone batters the coastal regions of East Pakistan, leaving a million Bengalis dead.
December 1970 At the general elections on the seventh, the Awami League scores a sweeping victory, winning 167 of 169 seats in East Pakistan. Overall, the party secures a majority in the 313-seat National Assembly. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party ends up winning 88 seats, all of them in the Punjab and Sindh.
January 1971 Bangabandhu and the MNAs-elect belonging to the Awami League pledged to frame a constitution for Pakistan on the basis of the Six Point programme.
Toward the end of the month, Bhutto leads a PPP team to Dhaka for talks with the Awami League on power-sharing at the centre. They lead nowhere as the Awami League refuses to go for a coalition government.
February 1971 President Yahya Khan calls the National Assembly into session in Dhaka on 3 March. Within days, Bhutto announces his decision to stay away from the meeting unless the Awami League modifies its position on the Six Points. The Awami League, for its part, dismisses the PPP's reservations.
March 1971 In a surprise announcement on the first of the month, General Yahya Khan announces the postponement of the National Assembly session scheduled for two days later. The result is an outbreak of disorder in East Pakistan.
The next day, students at Dhaka University raise the flag of an independent Bangladesh on the campus. On the seventh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman tells a million-strong rally at the Race Course, “The struggle this time is the struggle for our emancipation; the struggle this time is the struggle for independence.” Talks on resolving the political crisis go on from the sixteenth to the twenty-fourth. Late on the twenty-fifth, the Pakistan army launches its genocide in East Pakistan. In the early hours of the twenty-sixth, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declares the independence of Bangladesh. Moments later, he is arrested by the Pakistan army.