Agartala Conspiracy to Mujibnagar Government: Bangladesh's Provisional Government in Exile

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Published on April 17, 2021
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Squadron Leader (Rtd) M Sadrul Ahmed Khan:

50 years ago in 1971 the provisional government of the People`s Republic of Bangladesh popularly known as the Mujibnagar government was formed on 10th April and took oath on 17th April at Meherpur sub-division of the then Kushtia district. . It was the first-ever government of Bangladesh. Agartala conspiracy case 1968 was deeply rooted with the Mujibnagar government. Bangabandhu planned for an independent country and there was no plan "B". During my deputation in Bangladesh Parliament, I worked closely with the then deputy Speaker Colonel Showkat Ali, MP. He told me many inside stories of his adventures regarding the Agartala conspiracy case. He was one of the prime accused with Bangabandhu in the Agartala Conspiracy case in 1968. Bangabandhu and all accused were arrested and detained in the Dhaka cantonment. The people of Bengal were burst into anger and demanded the freedom of the accused.

On 15th February 1969, one of the accused Sergeant Zahurul Haque was killed in the custody of the Pakistani Army. This news came like a bolt from the blue, the country stud against such cowardice act by the Pakistani Army. There were countrywide strikes, demonstrations and possessions. Finding no other alternative Ayub Khan government quashed the conspiracy case on 22 February 1969 and freed all the accused. It was a moral defeat of Ayub Khan. Many a time Colonel Showkat Ali told me that the Agartala conspiracy was all real. On 22 February 2011, Colonel Shawkat Ali told the parliament,” the Agartala conspiracy case was not false and the charges brought against the accused were all true.” Bangabandhu started to dream about a new country since 1962, He gave scope and guideline of an independent country. Father of the nation drawn all the pen picture of the new country, he planned all basic elements of a country population, boundary, government and sovereignty.

Bangabandhu was one of the smartest politicians in the cold war era, he was aware that Pakistani would term our freedom fighters as separators, they would defame our liberation war as insurgency. That’s why Bangabandhu planned a provisional government in exile. A government in exile is a temporary government moved to or formed in a foreign land by exiles who hope to rule when their country is liberated.

Bangabandhu discussed it with his close allies, party secretary Taj Uddin Ahmed and a few other key personnel were briefed as well. But he was concern about the post-WW II geopolitical situation, again the experience of Tibbet was also in his mind. Central Tibetan Administration (Exile Government of Tibet) was formed in 1959 but to date, they were not independent. That’s why Bangabandhu planned for an inclusive, constitutional and logical government in exile. By this government we would achieve international recognition as a country, the UN would intervene in the war, our captured fighters would receive the status of POW, our countrymen took shelter in refugee camps would receive help from international agencies like Red Cross, UNHCR etc. Bangabandhu briefed his subordinate leaders about the master plan of the new country, armed revolution, political pressure and diplomatic engagement etc. That’s how the 7th March Speech 1971 came like an Operation Order for total war. On 25 March 1971 Pakistani Army started "Operation Search Light" to swooped upon the Bengalis. Pakistani army arrested the supreme leader of the nation in the night on 25 March 1971. Before he was arrested, Bangabandhu sent the declaration of independence to the then Awami League Leaders to disseminate the same thereafter Maj Zia also announced the same. Accordingly, Bangladesh was declared independent.

Father of the nation made up his mind that he would not go underground and stay in his Dhanmondi house in Dhaka. But he had instructed his second in command in Awami League Secretary Tajuddin Ahmed that in case he was arrested or killed, Awami League leaders should cross over to India and form a Government in exile. Father of the nation could avoid arrest but he knew that would have been a moral victory for Pakistan Army, from the next day Pakistani would hang a wanted picture of Sheikh Mujib. On the contrary, if they arrest or kill him it will be a disaster for Pakistani. Starting from 1952 after every arrest Bangabandhu was more popular and Bengalese were more united. After the arrest of Sheikh Mujib, the war got international shape. Bangladesh government in exile appealed to the international community to free Sheikh Mujib and recognize the new country “Bangladesh”.

As per the previous instruction of Bangabandhu, from 26 March 1971 Leaders of the Awami League was heading towards neighbouring borders to form a government and operate the liberation war. The then General Secretary of Awami League Taj Uddin Ahmed and Barrister Amirul Islam crossed the Kusthia border, they were escorted to Kolkata by BSF. On 1st April Taj Uddin Ahmed flew to Delhi by AN-32 aircraft of Indian Air Force IAF. He met Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi on 3rd April and expressed the plan of Bangabandhu to form a Bangladesh Government in Exile and operate the liberation war. After discussion, Prime Minister Mrs Indira Ghandhi assured of all support from her side to the new country and new government.

After returning to Kolkata from Delhi Taj Uddin Ahmed started looking for his fellow Awami League leaders. It was not an easy task because of zero communication in different borders and camps. With the help of IAF aircraft Taj Uddin flown all the refugee camps by hopping into the airstrips made by the British during WW-II. Finally, he took all the prominent leaders from these camps and gathered in Agartala. So Agartala is the place where Bangabandhu expressed his plan to make a new country, Just after 3 years, the members of the exile government of the country was gathered in the same place with the same purpose. A provisional constitution was made on the 10th day of April 1971. This provisional constitution is also known as the proclamation of independence. As per this provisional constitution and the proclamation of independence, the first government was formed for Bangladesh.

Bangladesh government in exile was fully legitimized so far the legal and political issues were concerned. The government consisted of the members who were elected by the general election held in 1970. So the Bangladesh Government in exile was a representation of the elected people’s representatives. So the claim of our legitimate government was justified. The newly formed government took oath on the 17th day of April in 1971 in the then Meherpur district. The venue of the oath was a mango forest in Baidyanathtala which was also renamed Mujibnagar by the provisional government. The selection of venue was very interesting, preliminarily the place was free from occupational Pakistan Army, roads were difficult to approach from the Bangladesh side, three sides were covered by India. But air attack by PAF was a threat. So, the mango forest in Baidyanathtala worked as a natural camouflage.

The main aim of the Mujibnagar government was to organizing civil administration and the freedom fighters, securing arms and training them, mobilizing international support for the Liberation War through intense diplomatic action, ensuring speedy communication and effective coordination of various activities at different levels and above all, keeping the morale of the freedom fighters high throughout the dark, difficult days of the war. Two main tasks of the new government were,
1. To gain international support for the newly declared independent country.
2. To coordinate our war of liberation.

The newly formed government took oath on the 17th of April in 1971.

The members of the cabinet were:

1. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (President of Bangladesh)
2. Syed Nazrul Islam (Vice President and Acting President of Bangladesh)
3. Tajuddin Ahmad (Prime Minister of Bangladesh)
4. A. H. M. Qamaruzzaman (Minister of Home Affairs, Relief and Rehabilitation)
5. Mansur Ali (Minister of Finance and Planning)
6. Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Law)
7. Colonel M A G Osmani (Commander-in-Chief, Mukti Bahini)

The effectiveness of a government in exile depends primarily on the amount of support it receives, either from foreign governments or from the population of its own country. Mujib Nagar government was successful in achieving both.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the paramount leader of the country, both in its struggle for constitutional legitimacy and liberation war. With the spirit of Bangabandhu, the successful leadership of the Mujibnagar government steered the Liberation War to victory on 16th December 1971.

There cannot be any match to the supreme sacrifice of many individual freedom fighters, who gave life at the call of the nation, left everything but did everything to uphold the freedom of the nation, and therefore, they should be remembered in every step in our life. It is a matter of pride that our nation has given birth to those brave leaders, party workers, soldiers, valiant students, peasants, professionals, diplomats and individuals who sacrificed for the independence of the motherland. However, at present, we need firm determination, selfless sacrifice, a deep sense of patriotism to protect the essence of our hard-earned independence and make it a "Sonar Bangla" of Bangabandhu.

Writer: Former Deputy Serjeant-At-Arms; Member, Bangladesh Awami League, Finance and Planning Affairs Subcommittee