Six-point programme – prelude to independence

Abdul Mannan

6th June, 2020 08:45:00 printer

Six-point programme – prelude to independence

“It is quite obvious that this man (Sheikh Mujib) is a menace and will continue to mislead the Bengalis as long as he lives.” (Diaries of Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, 1966-1973. Edited and Annotated by Criag Bazxter-p100).” This is how Pakistan’s Military and Civilian rulers before and after him assessed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, later the Father of the Bangladesh Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Mujib changed the destiny of Pakistan and lead the creation of a new country, Bangladesh. Mujib as a young student in Calcutta (Kolkata) fought alongside with the Muslim League leaders for the creation of a separate country for the economically and socially downtrodden Muslims in Bengal. He saw from his early childhood school days how the Muslim community of Bengal suffered economic and social deprivation at the hands of large Hindu land owners, Zamindars, money lenders and social elites. This happened all over undivided Bengal. 

Mujib was a person who was very much concerned   with what he saw around him and when he went to Calcutta for his College studies, he thought he got a platform to fight against the oppressors to emancipate the oppressed and soon became an active worker of student front of the Muslim League. He became a witness of the horrific Bengal famine of 1943 and the communal riots of 1946. Soon he came into contact with popular Muslim Leaders in Calcutta, like Huseyn Shahid Suhrawardy, A K Fazlul Hoque, Abdul Hashim and others. Like most Muslims he was also mistakenly convinced that only a separate homeland for them could improve their socio-economic conditions of the Muslims in Bengal. He was not much aware about the Muslims in other parts of India.

India was divided into two separate states, India and Pakistan and the separation came into effect on 14 August 1947 based on the strange Two Nation Theory of Jinnah. To put things in proper perspective there were others who also believed in this strange theory. Pakistan also became a unique country with one thousand miles of Indian territory in the middle and there were more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. When the two new countries were carved out of one undivided, sub-continent most people were not aware which country they belonged to as the line of demarcation was not published till 17 August 1947. This led to another catastrophic riot in many parts of Indian sub-continent, especially Punjab. The Muslim Leaders of Bengal along with many others migrated to the newly created the then East Bengal (later East Pakistan and subsequently Bangladesh) just to find out the main reason behind the so called a separate country for the Muslims. It was a just a ploy to replace the English and the large land and money owning exploiters by the rich capital owing Punjabis, only the large land owners of West Punjab who had the money and muscle. They just used Jinnah as their front-line crusader as he had western education, studied law and behaved like a westerner. He was not considered a Muslim by orthodox Muslims as he came from an Ismaily Khoja family in Gujrat.

Jinnah did not speak any other language, other than English and a bit of Gujrati. That same Jinnah came to Dhaka in 1948 and declared English will be the lingua franca of Pakistan which simply meant 94 percent of the population of Pakistan will virtually become illiterate as only 6 percent of the people of Pakistan, most of whom migrated from the Northern India spoke Urdu.  At birth of Pakistan East Pakistan had 56 percent of the total population of Pakistan and their language was Bangla. When Jinnah declared that only Urdu shall be the lingua franca of Pakistan it was the people, especially the students of Dhaka University who protested, amongst them Mujib being one of them. The people realized that there will not be any change in their socio-economic condition of the people of Bengal. The creation of Pakistan only changed the rulers and not the plight of the common people. The rich money owners of especially Punjab have replaced the English and the Hindu Zamindars and big land owners.

The unjust decisions of Pakistan’s rulers never went unchallenged in East Pakistan, the students playing the vanguard. But the vigilant students also understood that instead of an organised protest they needed an organised platform and thus they formed the East Pakistan Muslim Students’ League virtually the first opposition party of Pakistan in 1948 and East Pakistan Muslim Awami League the following year. In the formation of both organisations young Mujib played important roles. He could see the future of the people of Bengal and how these political platforms would come to play an important role in shaping their destiny.

The first testing time for the people of East Bengal came in the month of February of 1952 during the language movement. The language movement was a crucial turning point in the history of East Pakistan.

In 1954 the first ever election of Pakistan was held in East Bengal to elect the members of the Provincial parliament. It was a testing time for Muslim League the party in power and the entire administration behind it. Though initially the political parties of East Bengal decided to compete in the election individually the students of Dhaka University again made a history when they managed to forge an alliance of major political parties, names United Front or Jukta Front Awami League taking a leading role. ‘United Front’ was led by Maulana Bhashani, Huseyn Shahid Suhrawardy and A K Fazlul Hoque. They went to the people with the 21 points manifesto which highlighted the discrimination the people of Bengal imposed on them by the rulers in West Pakistan. The 21-point manifest, among others included (a) complete autonomy of each province as promised in the Lahore resolution of 1946. Only Défense, foreign relations, and foreign currency related issues will be dealt by the Centre, Bangla would be one of State Languages of Pakistan, release of all political prisoners, separation of judiciary from the administration complete land reforms favouring the landless farmers etc. Each and every point of the 21 point was pro-poor and pro-people. The election was won by the Front with a landslide victory with only nine seats going to Muslim League. Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Hoque was sworn in as the Chief Minister of East Bengal on 2 April 1954 he formed a cabinet with Sheikh Mujib as one of the members. But the conspiratorial rulers of West Pakistan dissolved the provincial government in a matter of 48 days on 20 May 1954 and imposed the Governor Generals Rule in East Pakistan and arrested most of the leaders of United Front.  This may be seen as a victory of the people of East Bengal as it was evident that the West would never allow the people of this part of Pakistan to fight for their legitimate rights. It was evident that the rulers sitting in the West would never yield to the legitimate demands of the people of Eastern wing, they were born to be subjugated as they mistakenly thought.  

Following the dissolution of 1954 provincial government in East Pakistan, Governor General Khawaja Nazim Uddin. His successor Ghulam Mohammad dissolved the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1956. Army Chief General seized power on Ayub on 27 October of 1958 who himself was removed by Pakistan’s army chief Ayub Khan who declared Martial Law. Thus, began the long journey towards the disintegration of Pakistan. Ayub Khan as mentioned earlier considered Sheikh Mujib as his sworn enemy and did everything to annihilate him. In the meantime, the disparity between the two wings of Pakistan continued to grow. 80 percent of the export earnings of Pakistan came from jute and tea produced in the Eastern wing but of development budget Eastern wing never got more than 30 percent. Pakistan changed its Federal Capital thrice, Karachi to Rawalpindi and built a completely new city called Islamabad as its capital coming from the export earning of East Pakistan.

Maulana Bhashani who was the founding President of Awami League left Awami League in 1957 floating his own party National Awami Party (NAP), preaching his so called ‘Islamic Socialism.’ United Front also disintegrated. Awami League’s President Huseyn Shahid Suhrawardy died in a hotel in Beirut in a mysterious circumstance. Earlier all major political leaders of Pakistan formed an anti Ayub alliance called National Democratic Front (NDF). Mujib thought without the leadership of Suhrawardy NDF will be meaningless. Other political parties were remerging and so should Awami League, thought Mujib.  Indeed Awami League did emerge under the leadership of Mujib.

Following the 1965 India-Pakistan war an all-party National Alliance was formed and the alliance announced a conference in Lahore on 6 February 1966, currently known as the Magna Carta of emancipation of the people of East Bengal. It is said the six-point programme was drafted by Mujib himself and it highlighted the legitimate rights of the people of not only of people of East Bengal but also the people of the other four provinces of Pakistan. Sheikh Mujib accompanied by Tajuddin Ahmed left for Lahore on 4 February. In total there were 21 representatives from East Pakistan and six hundred from West Pakistan. Mujib raised the Six Point on 10 February in the Subject Committee meeting but the Committee rejected the Six-point. West Pakistan media wrote Mujib wanted to separate East Pakistan from Pakistan. Next day Mujib and his small team left Lahore for Dhaka and at the airport explained to the waiting journalists what was in his Six-point programme. There was nothing new he said. He wanted (a) Pakistan will be a Federal State and will have a parliamentary form of government; (b) the centre  will retain the power of Défense and foreign policy and other matters will be left to the provinces; (c) regarding monetary policy Mujib advocated two options; the first is two different types of currency will be announced for both the wings or there may be one currency for the entire country provided that the transfer of capital from one wing to the other will have to be separately accounted for; (d) each province will be sovereign in deciding upon levying of  taxes; (e) foreign trade of each province will be decided by the provinces themselves and the Centre will get a share of export earning judiciously and finally (f) each province will have the power to raise a regional armed forces and para military forces.

Not all Awami League leaders endorsed Mujib’s Six-Point programme. On 13 March 1966 the Six-point programme was tabled before the Working Committee of Awami League and was adopted by the majority. Unfortunately, the Awami League President Abdur Rashid Tarkabagish did not endorse the Sic-point programme and left Awami League.

On 20 March 1966 Awami League in a special council meeting reorganised the party nominating Sheikh Mujib as the President and Tajuddin Ahmed as the General Secretary. Immediately after the Council meeting Sheikh Mujib and his colleagues toured different parts of the country explaining to the people the genesis of the Six-Point. He termed the Six-point programme as the “Six-point is the key to our survival’. On 6 May 1966 Mujib was arrested from Naryangonj while publicizing his Six-point programme. On 6 June 1966 the Budget Session of East Pakistan was on in Dhaka. Awami League members in the Assembly boycotted the session and called for a Hartal on the following day. Next day was an eventful day for the people of East Pakistan. The call for Hartal was successful throughout the country and in police firing eleven people were killed in different parts of the country according to the government press release, though the number was perceived to be much higher. 7 June 1966 was a turning point in Pakistan’s political history as well as in the history of the people of East Bengal. 

Charges of sedition was brought against Mujib and soon a so called `Agartala Conspiracy’ case was filed against Mujib and many others by Ayub Khan followed by the mass movement of 1969. Ayub Khan was compelled to release Mujib and his colleagues, the case was withdrawn. Soon Ayub Khan was removed from power by General Yahiya who announced the general election of 1970 whose sole responsibility was to frame a constitution. Mujib declared that Awami League will contest the election and the Six-point programme will be his election manifesto. Yahiya announced that if the new Constitution does not satisfy him, he will dissolve the parliament and bin the draft (under a Legal Frame Work). Many asked Mujib how he proposes to go ahead with the election with his Six-point programme. He publicly said once his party gets a majority in the parliament, he will just shred LFO into pieces and frame the Constitution based on Six-point programme. The rest is history. Awami League won the election, led the War of Independence and framed the Constitution based on the Six-point programme the difference is this time he did not have to think of a united Pakistan. He who became the Father of the Nation gave a Constitution to a sovereign nation-Bangladesh. 7 June is observed as the Six-point day in Bangladesh every year. Tributes to the Father of the nation and to those who gave their lives for the realisation of the Six-point programme on 7 June, 54 years back.                 

The writer is an analyst and a commentator