Bangladesh’s ‘Republic Day’

Would the country have achieved freedom even if the government was formed with someone like Khondaker Moshtaq Ahmed or any improvident student leader at the centre instead of Tajuddin Ahmad?

Acting president of Mujibnagar government Syed Nazrul Islam takes guard of honour at Baidhanathatala, a mango orchard, Meherpur on 17 April 1971

Many countries around the globe observe ‘Republic Day’ alongside their Independence Day and Constitution Day. Italy observes its Republic Day on 2 June, Iraq on 14 July, Iran on 1 April and Nepal on 28 May.

For Iraq, the day is turning into a republic from monarchy. Iran turned into an ‘Islamic Republic’ on the day. Nepal observes the day as it transformed into secular People’s Republic from a ‘Hindu State’. India and Pakistan observe the Republic Day on their Constitution Day.

Bangladesh observes 26 March as Independence Day as on this day in 1971, the independence of the country was announced after the people of the country were brutally attacked. The country achieved victory over occupying Pakistani forces on 16 December that year, after a bloody war of nine months. Since then, the country has been celebrating 16 December as Victory Day. Bangladesh observes 4 November as Constitution Day as the country’s constitution was adopted on that day in 1972.

Is there any ‘Republic Day’ of Bangladesh? Or, should there be any? I think we need such a day. The date is there, just waiting for government declaration. The day is 17 April 1971.

Let’s turn a few leaves of history. The oppressed people of ‘East Pakistan’ (now Bangladesh) bestowed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with the title Bangabandhu in 1969 because of the 6-point movement he led in 1966. The rulers of Pakistan did not hand power over to Awami League though the party, led by Bangabandhu, won a majority in 1970 elections. Rather, when they postponed the parliament session for an indefinite period even after summoning it in 1971, the fiery speech of Bangabandhu at the Race Course Maidan (now Suhrawardy Udyan) in Dhaka on 7 March 1971 unified the nation.

That’s why the nation did not wait for anyone’s announcement of independence when the Pakistani forces cracked down in the small hours of 26 March 1971. Instead, the nation started “facing the enemy with whatever they had” as Bangabandhu called for in his speech. The Pakistani forces arrested Bangabandhu and took him to Pakistan.

The erudite and dedicated general secretary of Awami League Tajuddin Ahmad, vice-president Syed Nazrul Islam and other leaders then gathered in neighbouring India and prepared the ‘Proclamation of Independence’ on 10 April 1971 and formed a government in exile with just a few ministers to achieve an independent country in reality.

The Proclamation of Independence was composed in English so that people around the world could understand it. It stated:

“Whereas the people of Bangladesh by their heroism, bravery and revolutionary fervour have established effective control over the territories of Bangladesh, We the elected representatives of the people of Bangladesh, as honour bound by the mandate given to us by the people of Bangladesh whose will is supreme duly constituted ourselves into a Constituent Assembly, and having held mutual consultations, and in order to ensure for the people of Bangladesh equality, human dignity and social justice, declare and constitute Bangladesh to be sovereign Peoples’ Republic: and thereby confirm the declaration of independence already made by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman…”

The government took oath at Baidyanathtala, a mango orchard, Meherpur on 17 April that year to lead the Liberation War as per the Proclamation of Independence. That government led the Liberation War-time government in exile taking office at Theatre Road, Calcutta, India.

In reality, composition of the Proclamation of Independence, constituting the government and taking oath were revolutionary acts. Observing the day only as ‘Mujibnagar Day’ is belittling. It does not help evaluate the contributions of the main leaders of the nation as well. In the process, we miss the chance of building solidarity among the people of the nation with the help of democratic plurality.

Let’s say, that revolutionary act did not take place, what would happen? Assume, no Proclamation of Independence was made on 10 April, neither any government was formed, an efficient person like Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury was not appointed to mobilise public opinion abroad in favour of Bangladesh, no single commander is appointed to lead the armed Liberation War. Could we have achieved victory by disorganised battles here and there?

And, would the country have achieved freedom even if the government was formed with someone like Khondaker Moshtaq Ahmed or any improvident student leader at the centre instead of Tajuddin Ahmad?

I think, despite a huge loss of lives, our loss would have continued till today. That’s why, in this golden jubilee of independence, 17 April should be declared as ‘Republic Day’ of Bangladesh, giving appropriate honour to the revolutionary Proclamation of Independence.

* Abdus Sattar Molla, PhD, is an education research and a retired professor of zoology. [email protected]

* This article has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza