Mujibnagar Government - first government of Bangladesh

"Gonoprojontontri Bangladesh Sthayi Shorkar" (aka Mujibnagar Shorkar or Probashi Shorkar) - first government of Bangladesh

Last updated: 9 September 2020 From the section 1971 Muktijuddho

From Delhi, Tajuddin Ahmad and Barrister Amir-ul Islam returned to Kolkata and went to 10 Rajendra Prasad Street. This was the hideout of young Bengalis. Tajuddin had overheard this address, when student leaders Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni, Abdur Razzak, Tofail Ahmed, Sirajul Alam Khan, Abdul Kuddus Makhon, were giving this briefing. By now senior Awami League member A. H. M. Kamruzzaman had also reached this address from his home town of Rajshahi in Bangladesh. Tajuddin and Amir consulted him separately and he appreciated the steps they had taken and agreed with them to form a government.

But the youth leaders did not agree. Since there were various opinions among the group, a meeting was called at a small hall at a BSF guest house nearby.

8 April 1971: Revolutionary council vs Government row

On 8 April 1971 a meeting was held in the small hall room of Lord Sinha Guest House of Kolkata attended by Bengalis. A passionate debate took place and disagreement rose regarding the best political structure to handle the crisis. Should they form a Government of Bangladesh or should they form a revolutionary council?

In the guest house Tajuddin Ahmad had pre-recorded a speech announcing the formation of a Bangladesh government-in-exile. But the younger generation found this unacceptable. Most student and youth leaders were in favour of forming a strong revolutionary council, not a government, to counter the Pakistan occupation forces. The loudest voice was Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni, the Jubo League leader who was also the baghna (nephew, sister's son) of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He argued that there was a war going on and there was no time to be wasted on forming a deep political structure. A leadership would emerge out of the war in due course. Sheikh Fazlul was supported by Tofail Ahmed, Sirajul Alam, student leaders, and other youngsters.

When our youngsters are in trenches and sacrificing their blood from their chest for the freedom of Bangladesh, that's not the time to play this formation of government. We must all go to battlefields and from there will rise a new leadership.

Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni's powerful emotional speech

Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni gave a passionate speech. In it he said, "There's a war going on. Our young men are bleeding for the war. We need to fight and win this war. It's not the time to form a government. We cannot play this game of creating a government." He was a very powerful orator. And he carried the house.

If we were not able to persuade (Sheikh Moni and co) then our war would've been different. It would've taken a different path.

Amir-ul Islam

Sheikh Moni's emotional speech was delivered in a way that it had convinced almost everyone. However, Tajuddin Ahmad was embarrased by their demand. Amir-ul Islam was also very uncomfortable with Sheikh Moni's solution. It fell on young lawyer to explain the danger of a disorganised campaign for independence. Amir stood up and questioned how and to whom the armed forces, police, East Bengal Regiment, Ansar, government and semi-government officials would report if there was a revolutionary council?

One should not forget that Bangladesh is a country of Baro Bhuiyan. Nobody knows whether or not forming one council would follow forming more.

...Who will represent Bangladesh while dealing with the Indian government, military and paramilitary officials?

Barrister Amir-ul Islam reminds the participant in the meeting

Amir informed them that Bengalis had to prove they had an effective government and that they were in control in Bangladesh, and that they were involved in a war and the realities of the war. If they were not able to show that to the rest of the world then their struggle would not be quickly successful.

Without a government, Bangladesh's war of independence could be defined as a separatist movement as was the case of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, mujahids in Kashmir and so on. And no other country would support the war. The right to forming a government with the people's representatives was also recognised in the 1966 UN International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, Amir-ul Islam added.

Few reasons for creating a Provisional Government of Bangladesh, as highlighted by young Barrister Amir-ul Islam on 8 April 1971:

  • At this turning point of history, it was paramount to express people's needs through their elected representatives and making sure these expression are fulfilled.
  • A legitimate authority was required to be responsible for conducting the war on people's behalf. Since fighting was conducted to free the country from Yahya Khan's occupation and restore the balance of power, a representative body was required as a point of reference for the international government, international organisations (e.g. United Nations) and the world at large.
  • To facilitate communication with other governments and international organisations.
  • It was the ideal moment for transforming a de facto government into a de jure status - Proclamation provided it with the constitutional cloak and introducing new identity to a country.
  • Freedom fighters (including armed and civilian officers) throughout the new nation could perform their duties with allegiance to a legitimate authority. This then allowed them to enjoy the status of lawful armed forces as opposed to vigilantes or 'miscreants' as West Pakistanis tried to paint them as.
  • A Government of Bangladesh was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's objective, as he personally expressed to Amir himself in 1963
  • It was a war of all Bengalis, not just Awami League members and supporters. Who would the rest of the people report to?
  • Charu Majumder's Naxalbari Movement was now taking place in Kolkata. What guarantee could they provide Indian government that the arms they supplied for the Bangladesh Liberation War would not go to the militant Naxalites?
  • Guerilla wars, e.g. Biafra's in Nigeria and Mujahid's in Kashmir, not supported by international community. Only where elected representatives of people led the war, such as George Washington in USA, has it been successful

What you just said is normal and logical in a war situation. But we don't have any leadership, he is imprisoned, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. But he is leading us from there. We must follow his directions and decide how our leadership would form now.

When I came back from England (in 1963) he said "We want to liberate our country and will require arms, etc." He said to me one thing in 1963 that "At first we must change people's mind. Thereafter, it's not my job to know where the ammunition would come from – that's up to you (to arrange). But, when people's mind will change, then the people will liberate the country." So from 1963 onward the liberation fight that he fought on, today we are reaping the fruits.

That is, that every person participated in the war. It wasn't just Awami League, Chhatro League, and Jubo League, there were EPR, military force, civilians from all over the country came for the cause. But our Awami League leadership will only be followed by only Chhatro League and Jubo League. But what about those who left their government roles and military ranks to join our force? Who will they report to? For that we need a government.

Secondly, where we are now is a volatile place. There's also a concern here. That is, there is Charu Majumder's Naxalbari Movement is going here in Kolkata. A major part of the city's defence has been deployed here to control the messy situation. We have to ensure that the arms and ammunition that is given by the Indian government for our war do not fall in the Naxalites' hands. Can we offer any guarantee for that? They are very sensitive on this matter and discussed this matter in Delhi with their officials.

Also, if you look at the event of two - two-and-half month ago, in Biafra in Nigeria, they had declared independence and separated. After that thousands of people died in the subsequent bombing. But nobody in the world flinched! Because their war was seen as a 'situationist revolt' (against a constitutional government), hence they were not successful. Now, this guerrilla fighting you are talking about, the Mujahids of Kashmiri are doing guerrilla fight also. There's no news of that (i.e. it's unsuccessful).

But, there's only place which has had success, where the elected representatives of the people led the war and brought independence, that is United States of America. George Washington led the war accompanied by Jefferson to Benjamin Franklin. And they were victorious in the war. We are in that same situation and state.

You must remember when Bangabandhu wanted to attend the election in the Legal Framework Order (LFO), the central committee asked him "What will you gain from this election? Even if we gain unanimous majority and create a constitution, and (President) Yahya Khan does not sign it, parliament will dismantle and a new election can be ordered. Then why are we participating in this election?". That's when he (Bangabandhu) said a very important thing, he said "Look, I'm not attending this election to gain power. But through the election I want to prove who are people who will be speaking on behalf of the people of Bangladesh."

These two objectives (to speak on behalf of the Bengalis and to form a government) are in line with international law's first two articles of 1963 which says that the elected representatives of the people has the right to form a government. So the international law supports our right to form a government. This is what Bangabandhu hinted at me in response to my question (in 1963) and this is now the case (in 1971).

Amir-ul Islam's comprehensive argument for creating a government of Bangladesh, as delivered to the meeting on 8 April 1971

We said the Yahya government was illegal and unconstitutional but ours would be legal and constitutional.

Amir-ul Islam

Barrister Amir-ul Islam's comprehensive argument based on logic, awareness of international law and international history, and the personal demand of Father of Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, had the desired effect. The meeting decided to constitute the government. It would be made up of parliament members who had been elected through the 1970 general elections.

With that, I saw the whole house had changed. This was my life's biggest advocacy and the biggest challenge.

Amir-ul Islam

There was adhan (Islamic call to prayer) after which we did munajat (supplication). There was not one of us who didn't have tears in our eyes. We wondered how Bangabandhu, our leader, was in jail, in what state. Please Allah look after him...

Everyone was missing Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, says Amir-ul Islam

8 April 1971: Barrister Amir-ul Islam drafts Proclamation of Independence

After the meeting, when everyone went to bed, Amir-ul Islam drafted the Proclamation of Independence.

He slept in the same room as Tajuddin Ahmad. Amir sat on the side table, which had a table lamp, and wrote the Proclamation incorporating 3 core principles of "equality, human dignity and social justice". It was the people who are the source of all powers and safeguarding their human rights was fundamental for a progressive nation. This Proclamation of Independence, Amir-ul Islam intended, was going to be the genesis of the Constitution of Bangladesh.

The inspiration for Amir's draft was the USA's Declaration of Independence. He had that in mind when writing.

He also had access to the two covenants regarding Bangladesh: the formation of a government of elected representatives, and the Declaration of Independence as given by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 26 March 1971.

Amir had a separate document of the speech that Sheikh Mujib gave on 26 March 1971. The speech was transmitted by engineer Nurul Haque, the Chief Engineer of Wireless Communication in Dhaka. The transmission was received everywhere, starting from America to other foreign countries. It was received here in India also. So after receiving this document, Amir-ul Islam wrote the Proclamation of Independence based on Sheikh Mujib's independence declaration of 26th March 1971.

Proclamation of Bangladesh as written by Barrister Amir-ul Islam on 8 April 1971 (in English)

Whereas free elections were held in Bangladesh from 7th December, 1970 to 17th January, 1971, to elect representatives for the purpose of framing a Constitution, and Whereas at these elections the people of Bangladesh elected 167 out of 169 representatives belonging to the Awami League,
Whereas General Yahya Khan summoned the elected representatives of the people to meet on the 3rd March, 1971, for the purpose of framing a Constitution,
Whereas the Assembly so summoned was arbitrarily and illegally postponed for indefinite period,
Whereas instead of fulfilling their promise and while still conferring with the representatives of the people of Bangladesh, Pakistan authorities declared an unjust and treacherous war,
Whereas in the facts and circumstances of such treacherous conduct Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the undisputed leader of the 75 million people of Bangladesh, in due fulfillment of the legitimate right of self-determination of the people of Bangladesh, duly made a declaration of independence at Dacca on March 26, 1971, and urged the people of Bangladesh to defend the honour and integrity of Bangladesh,
Whereas in the conduct of a ruthless and savage war the Pakistani authorities committed and are still continuously committing numerous acts of genocide and unprecedented tortures, amongst others, on the civilian and unarmed people of Bangladesh,
Whereas the Pakistan Government by levying an unjust war and committing genocide and by other repressive measures made it impossible for the elected representatives of the people of Bangladesh to meet and frame a Constitution, and give to themselves a Government,
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
in order to ensure for the people of Bangladesh equality, human dignity and social justice,
declare and constitute Bangladesh to be a sovereign Peoples’ Republic and thereby confirm the declaration of independence already made by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman,
do hereby affirm and resolve that till such time as a Constitution is framed, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman shall be the President of the Republic and that Syed Nazrul Islam shall be the Vice President of the Republic,
that the President shall be the Supreme Commander of all the Armed Forces of the Republic,
shall exercise all the Executive and Legislative powers of the Republic, including the power to grant pardon,
shall have the power to appoint a Prime Minister and such other Ministers as he considers necessary,
shall have the power to levy taxes and expend monies,
shall have the power to summon and adjourn the Constituent Assembly,
do all other things that may be necessary to give to the people of Bangladesh an orderly and just Government,
We the elected representatives of the people of Bangladesh do further resolve that in the event of there being no President or the President being unable to enter upon his office or being unable to exercise his powers and duties, due to any reason whatsoever, the Vice-President shall have and exercise all the powers, duties and responsibilities herein conferred on the President,
We further resolve that we undertake to observe and give effect to all duties and obligations that devolve upon us as a member of the family of nations and under the Charter of United Nations,
We further resolve that this proclamation of independence shall be deemed to have come into effect from the 26th day of March, 1971.
We further resolve that in order to give effect to this instrument we appoint Prof. Yusuf Ali our duly Constituted Plenipotentiary and to give to the President and the Vice-President oaths of office.

I merely decorated the Proclamation with the principles (of the Declaration of Independence of 26th March 1971).

But there were 5 words: first was 'equity', second was 'humanitarian dignity', and the third was 'social justice' - our Constitution was based on these 3 principles. I also added 2 structural words: 'justified' and 'lawful'. These words were incorporated in our constitution, which was officially declared on 17th April (1971).

The principles that define Bangladesh, as drafted by Barrister Amir-ul Islam

While drafting the Proclamation, a rare privilege, greater than any work I could have ever done, the awareness, alertness and articulations as flow from it, cannot be an expression of an individual. This could only can stem from the collective oneness of mind of a nation sharing together for realization of a dream inherited from our past generations and their experience culminated over centuries in to an urge to become the master of their own destiny; and that is the rare moment of history when individuals overcome their barriers and limitations otherwise inherent in physical existence distinct from the rest merging into a single entity becoming part of the process in the making of a Nation, a Country-a State in the family of nations so that we may prosper in freedom and may make our full contribution towards International peace and co-operation in keeping with the progressive aspirations of mankind.

Having had the privilege as member of the institute of International law and Comparative Studies and an active member of movement for colonial freedom in UK in early part of sixties headed by Lord Fenner Brockway and participating in active deliberation towards the need for two Covenants (ICCPR and ICESCR) while they were at conceptual/consultative/drafting stage for providing teeth to the 1948 UDHR, I carried those memories and experiences actively in my mind as well as those visions of understanding the right to self determination and human rights germinated since those days, helped me in drafting the Proclamation of Independence for our dream country to be named as People's Republic of Bangladesh.

Amir-ul Islam on his grand achievement

The Proclamation not only gave the government the legitimacy as was to be recognised by the world at large but it also gave a momentum to the war of liberation and particularly the "Mukti Bahini" operating in difficult situation for the objects acknowledged by the Proclamation for which many sacrificed their lives in order to liberate the country. Proclamation thus being based on sound legal and constitutional argument helped the freedom fighters gaining momentum in fighting a legitimate war and to receive such acknowledgment in the international media. This helped building the world opinion.

Pakistan's propaganda could not make any dent on our status and the legitimacy of the cause for self determination reinforced by our pledge to abide by the laws at all times 'whether in war or in peace'. The Proclamation thus made out a full proof case for Bangladesh.

...In this background, Proclamation of Independence was not only a necessity but also an imperative, as we owed to our people, freedom fighters and the world at large.

Amir-ul Islam

Amir's proclamation was read out on the formal swearing of the Mujibnagar Shorkar on 17 April 1971.

10 April 1971: Initial formation in a secret parliamentary session held in a jungle tent

Two days after deciding to form a government, on 10 April 1971, a secret parliamentary session was held with all the elected MNAs and MPs who were in India at that time in a jungle tent somewhere at the source of the river Teesta. In the session, the MNAs and MPs formed a constituent assembly in exile and approved the Proclamation of Independence as drafted by Amir-ul Islam two days earlier on 8 April 1971.

A provisional government for Bangladesh called the "Gonoprojontontri Bangladesh Sthayi Shorkar" (People's Republic of Bangladesh) was formed. Plans for the new government-in-exile were outlined after a lot of deliberation, especially since Khondaker Mushtaq Ahmed had serious reservation. The veteran MP wanted to go to Makkah, Saudi Arabia and requested to be sent there. Later, after several discussion, he agreed to remain as foreign minister.

10 April 1971: Tajuddin Ahmad's radio announcement and reconfirmation of Declaration of Independence of Bangladesh

Tajuddin Ahmad announced the formation of this government-in-exile via Akashbani Calcutta in the night of 10 April 1971. This was the first time he had addressed the new nation.

Extract of Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad's first address to the nation on 10 April 1971

Extract of Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad's first address to the nation on 10 April 1971

Like their predecessors Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Ziaur Rahman, the Mujibnagar Government also declared the independence of the new nation via a written Proclamation of Independence, two weeks after the famous informal radio declaration. They broadcasted the Declaration to the new nation via Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra on 10 April 1971.

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 People's Republic, and thereby confirm the declaration of independence already made by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and do hereby affirm and resolve that till such time as a Constitution is framed, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman shall be the President of the Republic and that Syed Nazrul Islam shall be the Vice-President of the Republic, and that the President shall be the Supreme Commander of all the Armed Forces of the Republic...

Bangladesh Declaration of Independence by Mujibnagar Shorkar on 10 April 1971

Interim Constitution of Bangladesh

The Proclamation of Independence served as the interim Constitution of Bangladesh from 26 March 1971 to 16 December 1972, and even received the status of 'genesis of Bangladesh Constitution' as pronounced by Bangladesh's Supreme Court in the Judgment of 8th Amendment case. It was simultaneously accompanied with 'Laws Continuance Enforcement Order', both dated 10th April, to come into effect since 26th March 1971. The Order permitted all laws which were in force on the 25th day of March 1971 to be continued in Bangladesh and subject to future change by competent Legislature or other competent authority when necessary. The Order - drafted also by Barrister Amir-ul Islam - was issued by Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam during the formal ceremony on 17 April 1971.

On 16 December 1972 - on the first anniversary of Bangladesh's Victory Day - the new Constitution of Bangladesh was implemented. This Constitution was drafted by 34-member team which included Barrister Amir-ul Islam, Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, Khandakar Mushtaq Ahmed, and Begum Razia Banu, who was the only female member. Dr. Kamal Hossain, aged only 35, was appointed Chairman of the drafting committee.