Basic Principles Committee (BPC) recommends Urdu only

Last updated: 5 October 2017 From the section 1952 Bhasha Andolon

Nearly two years after gaining independence, Pakistan still did not have a constitution. The first major step in framing a constitution was taken when the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan adopted the historic 'Objectives Resolution' on 12 March 1949 defining the aims and objects of the new constitution.

The Objectives Resolution proclaimed that the state of Pakistan would not follow the European pattern, but would be a state wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed; wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Noble Qur'an and Sunnah; and wherein adequate provision shall be made for the minorities freely to progress and practice their religions and develop their cultures. The same year saw a cease-fire agreed upon by India and Pakistan, as well as a temporary demarcation line partitioning the disputed state of Kashmir. The new nation appeared to progress well on the road to statehood.

Yasmeen Niaz Mohiuddin, author of "Pakistan: A Global Studies Handbook" (2007)

A committee of all the parties was appointed to recommend the main guiding principles in accordance with the Objective Resolution on which the future Constitution of Pakistan should be framed and reconcile differences on constitutional issues. This committee, consisting of 24 members (in other literature, it's quoted as 25 members), was known as the Basic Principles Committee (BPC).

The BPC set up a special committee known as Talimaat-i-Islamia consisting of scholars well versed in Islamic jurisprudence to advise on matters relating to Objective Resolution.

On 28 September 1950, the BPC submitted its first blueprint known as the 'Interim Report'. This created severe repercussions in East Bengal. The Interim Report envisaged a parliamentary system with a bicameral legislature (i.e. two branches), consisting of the House of the Units (indirectly elected by the Provincial Legislature) and the House of the People (directly elected). In the former, all the units of Pakistan were to have equal representation, while the House of the People was to be elected on the basis of population. The Committee did not mention the number of seats in the House of the People. The Interim Report proposed for the establishment of a strong centre. The President was given the power of proclaiming an emergency and suspending the constitution. And, despite the Awami League's growing influence, Urdu was recommended as the only state language.

The Interim Report created much suspicion and opposition in East Bengal. It appeared to deny the Bengalis, though not explicitly, the appropriate representation in the National Assembly in accordance with their greater numbers (East Bengal had 54% of the country's total population at the time). Demonstrations and public meetings took place all over East Bengal attacking the Report as deliberately framed to cripple the eastern wing. Bengalis collectively resisted and opposed the draft vehemently on the ground that it would lead to domination by West Pakistanis. They were adamant on gaining full provincial autonomy and the recognition of Bengali as one of the state languages of the country. Some Bengalis boycotted the meetings of the BPC, staged protests, defected from the Muslim League, and organised opposition parties. Manwar Ali, former Education Minister of Assam, and Mahmud Ali, former General Secretary of the Assam Muslim League (and later the President of Purba Pakistan Jubo League), deserted the East Pakistan Muslim League (EPML) in protest. Shah Azizur Rahman, the acting secretary of EPML, called for the observance of hartal (protest meetings) all over East Bengal. A meeting held by 13 dissident deputies of the Muslim League also rejected the BPC's recommendations whilst Nikhil Purba Pakistan Muslim Chhatra League (All East Pakistan Muslim Students League) called a protest meeting in Victoria Park, Dhaka, on 27 October 1950.

For the first time demands began to be made in the province that Pakistan be refashioned as a confederation in line with the original Lahore Resolution of March 1940.

A more interesting aspect of the post-BPC report situation was that even important figures within the ruling Muslim League in East Bengal publicly made their opposition to the report known. In this they were joined by the Jamiatul Ulema-e-Islam. Shah Azizur Rahman, at the time acting general secretary of the provincial Muslim League, called for protest meetings all over the province over the BPC report.

He was, however, swiftly put down by Maulana Akram Khan, who thought that the anti-BPC agitation was being conducted by people with a motive of personal aggrandisement. He described Shah Aziz's position as illegal and called upon on people to stay away from any protest over the report. For his part, Shah Aziz withdrew his protest call but not before he had made it clear that the members of the Muslim League must be allowed to have their individual say on the issue.

Syed Badrul Ahsan, Journalist

This delayed constitution making. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was confronted with the difficult task of accommodating different provinces in the distribution of seats in the National Assembly, given that East Bengal had over half the population.

On 7 March 1949 speaking on the objectives of the Constitution, Liaquat Ali Khan said that it was "dictated by would be idle to think of a unitary form of government when the two parts of our country are separated by more than 1,000 miles". But as time passed by, the central government deviated from this pragmatic path and imposed a strong unitary government upon the country betraying the aspirations of the people of the eastern wing.

Salahuddin Ahmed, author of "Bangladesh: Past and Present" (2004)

Alternative Constitution for Pakistan formulated by Committee of Action for Democratic Federation

In the first week of October 1950, a group of lawyers, journalists and political workers formed a Committee of Action in Dhaka to mobilise public opinion in favour of establishing provincial autonomy. They distributed leaflets espousing a confederation and even organised a public meeting on the issue at Armanitola Maidan in Dhaka on 13 October 1950. The convenors of the committee, Ataur Rahman Khan, Vice President of East Pakistan Awami Muslim League, and Kamruddin Ahmad, an Awami Leaguer, held regular meeting between 17 - 28 October 1950 to chalk out politically coherent response to the report. These meetings were attended by Tajuddin Ahmad, Mohammad Toaha, Oli Ahad and Abdus Salam on a regular basis, whilst Kafiluddin Chowdhury, Mohammad Shamsuzzoha and Mirza Golam Hafiz were also frequent participants.

  • Mohammad Shamsuzzoha () - shamsuzzoha
  • Mirza Golam Hafiz ()

The Committee of Action launched a country-wide movement against the BPC report and the campaign for a Constitution that met Bengali nationalist interests continued.

Ataur Rahman Khan and Kamruddin Ahmad toured the interiors of East Bengal, visiting all the districts and sub-divisional towns, to educate and alert people against the serious consequences of the BPC Report upon the interests of the Bengalis. They set up branches of the Committee which came to be known as the Central Committee of Action for Democratic Federation The Committee organised a Grand National Convention in Dhaka District Bar Library Hall on 4-5 November 1950, which was presided over by Ataur Rahman Khan and attended by representatives of all political and cultural organisations supporting Bengali as a state language and regional autonomy including Tamaddun Majlish, East Pakistan Muslim Chhatro (Students) League and Awami Muslim League. The Convention proposed an alternative constitution. They prepared a list of nine questions to be placed before Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan where the key recommendation was the formation of a republican government with full autonomy to the provinces, thus empowering and benefiting the people. Only foreign affairs, currency and defence were to be placed under the jurisdiction of the central government. The convention proposed for a unicameral legislature (i.e. one legislative branch rather than the proposed two), the members of which would be elected on the basis of population, and Dhaka hosting half of the sessions of the federal parliament. The convention demanded that both Bangla and Urdu would be the state languages of Pakistan. These counter constitutional proposals made by the Democratic Federation in the convention received spontaneous support from the people. And on the initiative of the Democratic Federation, protest meetings and demonstrations were again held all over East Bengal on 12 November 1950 including meeting at the Armanitola Maidan Dhaka presided over by advocate Aftabuddin Khan demanding the approval of the above constitutional proposals.

In response to the call by the Dhaka University Action Committee, students from different colleges in Dhaka observed a strike and gathered in a joint meeting in University in which representatives of the pro-Pakistan Muslim League Nikhil Purba Pakistan Muslim Chhatra League, pro-Awami Muslim League Purba Pakistan Muslim Chhatra League, pro-Communist Students Federation and Students Association spoke. A mile-long demonstration of the students were taken out and the female students of the Eden College also observed strike. The protests at Chittagong led to almost complete stoppage of traffic throughout the day.

...The Pakistan Observer, in its issue of 1 October 1950, reflected the collective behaviour of the Bengalis against the BPC, noting that the citizens of Dhaka were rudely shocked on seeing the full text of the BPC Report. It was a shock to everyone, high officials, professors, teachers, lawyers, students, medical men, police personnel, etc. The first reaction was that of bewilderment.

Rizwan Ullah Kokab, Researcher

The BPC report, for the first time, provided the opposition with an important political issue that would mobilse the masses behind them. The Committee of Action, formed throughout East Bengal created mass opposition against the recommendations of the BPC. Maulana Bhashani, in his directive, asked party workers to mobilise public opinion against the un-Islamic and undemocratic BPC report and demanded its rejection. The Awami League leaders created among the people an awareness that East Bengal must get its due share. This was the crux of the anti-BPC movement. There was widespread discontent throughout East Bengal against the report.

M. Bhaskaran Nair, author of "Politics in Bangladesh: A Study of Awami League, 1949-58" (1990)

The East Pakistan Muslim League Working Committee also held a meeting on 29 October 1950, in which it protested against the measures of the BPC Report affecting East Pakistan adversely. They appointed a seven-man committee to suggest remedial steps for the new nation which was just declared an Islamic Republic (on 2 November 1950). The Purba Pakistan Jubo League (East Pakistan Youth League), formed in Dhaka in February 1951, also called for equality for Bengali, as well as for autonomy for East Pakistan.

In the western wing, the 1951 provincial elections in Punjab held between 10-20 March - the first direct elections held in the country after independence - returned the Muslim League with an overwhelming majority of seats in the legislature, establishing Mumtaz Daultana, the largest landlord in Punjab, as its leader. However, serious differences erupted between Punjab's chief minister Daultana and the prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan. During his visit to East Bengal to see for himself the attitude of the people against the report, Liaquat had hammered out a formula that would give parity to East Bengal with the combined provinces of western Pakistan in the allocation of seats in the National Assembly. A deputation led by Kamruddin Ahmad met Liaqaut Ali Khan and told him not to push through any constitution which did not guarantee full autonomy to East Bengal. Daultana opposed this scheme of the central government on the grounds that this formula would relegate his province to a secondary status vis-a-vis East Bengal. Daultana was supported in his opposition to parity by many other Punjabi leaders, most notably Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani, the minister of interior in Liaquat's cabinet. This further delayed constitution making.

Tensions over the language issue continued to escalate.

Second draft report of BPC rejected by Punjab for 'favouring' Bengalis

Realising the strong resentment of Bengalis, prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan announced in the Constituent Assembly the postponement of the discussion on the report. Suggestions were invited from the public on the Interim Report. The Constituent Assembly then appointed a sub-committee headed by Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar, Minister for Communications, to examine the suggestions and criticisms on the Interim Report. The sub-committee made requisite investigations on the suggestions received, and submitted its report to the Basic Principle Committee in July 1952. On the basis of this report the BPC prepared its Second Draft Report for submission to the Constituent Assembly.

The Second Draft Report of the Basic Principles Committee was presented before the Constituent Assembly on 22 December 1952 by the then prime minister Khwaja Nazimuddin.

The Report had the following features:

  • The parliament would consist of two Houses:
    - the House of Units was to consist of 120 members, 60 of whom were to be elected from East Pakistan. The seats for West Pakistan were allocated thus: Punjab 27, Sind 8, NWFP 6, Tribal Areas 5, Bahwalpur 4, Baluchistan and Baluch states 4, Khairpur 2 and Capital Karachi 4.
    - The House of People was to consist of 400 members to be distributed as follows: East Bengal 200 members to be elected directly, and 200 members were to be directly elected from West Pakistan.
  • The report proposed that to elect the head of the state, and in case of a conflict between the two Houses, a simple majority in a joint sitting of the both Houses would decide the issue.

The Second Draft Report of BPC thus mooted for the first time the principle of parity between the two wings of Pakistan. However, this too met the same adverse reception like the Interim Report. This time the Punjabis opposed the proposals on the ground that it would establish Bengali domination.

It fails to provide a constitutional framework that would satisfy the aspirations and safeguard the democratic rights of our people... The basic structure of the State, as envisaged in the Report, is likely to foster inter-provincial differences and to create a permanent political conflict between the people of East and West Pakistan. It may even threaten to destroy the fabric of our national unity...

The Pakistan Times wrote on 30 December 1952

The Dhaka Bar accepted the principle of parity only in the upper chamber and insisted on representation based on population in the House of the People. The Bar also demanded the establishment of a Supreme Court and the upper house of the legislature in East Pakistan. However, like the Punjabis, the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League was equally critical of the recommendation of the report. Ataur Rahman Khan, Vice-President, and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Secretary, in a joint statement described it as undemocratic and un-Islamic.

It is extremely unfortunate that no consideration has been given to the universal demand of the people of East Pakistan as was incorporated in the alternative sets of basic principles passed by the representatives of the people of all shades of opinion in the grand national convention. Nor has any heed been paid to the memorandum submitted by the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League on the basic principles and Fundamental rights. The creation of a bi-cameral legislature is clearly undemocratic and un-Islamic. The existence of an Upper House is unknown to Islamic Polity and was invented during the period of Feudalism. The composition of the Lower House on the basis of the parity is highly undemocratic as it has ignored the basis of population in respect of representation by the different provinces.

M. Bhaskaran Nair, author of "Politics in Bangladesh: A Study of Awami League, 1949-58" (1990)

The opposition from the Punjab to the Second Draft Report forced the Constituent Assembly once more to postpone its deliberation for an indefinite period.

Final solution to parity issue

Before the Constituent Assembly could accept the Second Draft Report, the cabinet of Khwaja Nazimuddin was dismissed (16 April 1953), and Mohammad Ali Bogra, a fellow Bengali from Bogra (Rangpur Division) was appointed the prime minister. As the distribution of seats among the various provinces in the central legislature made by BPC was unacceptable to East Pakistan and the Punjab, the new Prime Minister emphasized modifying the arrangements of distribution of seats. He was successful in bringing a compromise between the two wings of Pakistan by putting before them a new proposal. According to this formula, the central legislature would be bicameral with equal powers for both Houses. The Upper House was to consist of 50 seats, of which 10 would be for East Pakistan and 40 for West Pakistan. The Lower House was to have 300 seats of which 165 would be for East Pakistan.

However, the damage to the Muslim League government's reputation were done...

Though the anti-BPC movement was originally started by the combined opposition in East Bengal, the fruits of it were largely accrued by the Awami League. They projected themselves as the true champion of the interests of East Bengal.

Bhasha Andolon [Language Movement] was crucial to the development of the Awami League as a popular organisation. It gave to the party its mass appeal. The students and youth of East Bengal provided the leadership to the language movements in 1948 and 1952. This was largely because of the fact that during this period there were no organised opposition parties which could formulate the grievances and represent the interests of the people of East Bengal.

The Awami League which was an organisation of the East Pakistan middle class was still very weak. As such, the students and youth were the only organised community of this middle class. Being young, educated and enthusiastic, the students and youth were the most suitable for acting as the vanguard of middle class politics.

M. Bhaskaran Nair, author of "Politics in Bangladesh: A Study of Awami League, 1949-58" (1990)