Swadhinata Juddho (Bangladesh Liberation War) commenced on the night of 25 March 1971 when the West Pakistani Army massacred civilian in 'Operation Searchlight' in the streets of Dhaka after peace talks failed between Prime Minister-elect Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, President Yahya Khan and opposition leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. A nine-month violent warfare followed between the West Pakistani army and its collaborators, the Razakars, against the Bangladesh liberation army made up of defecting regular troops and its guerrilla warriors, the Mukti Bahini.
Victory was finally achieved on 16 December 1971 with the help of the Indian Army - but at a heavy cost. An estimated 3 million people died, over 200,000 women and girls were raped, 10 million refugees fled to neighbouring India and around 1,000 Bengali intellectuals were murdered.
Many heroes rose from all field of life amongst the 75 million population. But the real hero were - and still are - the ordinary people who sacrificed their lives to create Bangladesh with their blood.
A brief glance in Bangladesh's timeline of historical events post 1947 independence and it's easy to see the reasons for their grievances as Pakistan's eastern wing.
This period is blighted with one tragedy after another - the military imbalances where Bengali officers only made up 6% (army), 15% (navy), and 16% (air force) of Pakistan's force in 1965 and were restricted to meaningless jobs as they weren't considered a 'martial (military) race', economic disparities where the larger population of East Pakistan received less money in the common budget, the language controversy where Bangla was replaced by Urdu, fiasco of Agortola Shorjontro Mamla, poor governmental response to Bhola Cyclone where over half million people died, to name but a few.
Except for religion (Islam), there was nothing common between the two "wings". The Bengalis' language, their culture, their dress, their food habits, and their way of life was different from that of the West Pakistani.
The environment for genocide is often framed by estrangement of people via a dichotomised view of "us vs. them". Minds are ambushed via a devious psychosis: "either you are with us or against us". Such a perspective can turn airplanes into objects of terror, striking people randomly and indiscriminately...
Despite the disproportionate contribution and sacrifice made by Bengal's Muslim majority to bring about independence from colonial rule, the people of East Pakistan were marginalised and exploited soon after partition and, over time, treated as a colony. They became "them" for the ruling and military elite "us" of (West) Pakistan. In this dichotomy, the core hatred underpinning the subcontinent's Hindu-Muslim relationship affected the ties between Pakistan and India, spilling over to those between East and West Pakistan.
Steven L. Jacobs, editor of "Confronting genocide: Judaism, Christianity, Islam" (2009)
The West Pakistanis viewed the East Pakistanis as being inferior, a fact that has been mentioned even in the biography of Field Marshal Ayub Khan. The fact remains, however, that the East Pakistanis were culturally superior to West Pakistanis in their love of art, literacy, interest in music and poetry.
Rizwana Zahid Ahmed, author of "Pakistan – The Real Picture (A Comprehensive History Course)"
East Pakistan remained the world's most densely populated region and one of the poorest, as well as prone to disaster, afflicted with seasonal floods and cyclones which took a heavy toll in lives and property yearly.
However, as one of the most fertile land in the world, between 1948 and 1960, it contributed to 70% of its export earnings while it only received 25% of import earning. A transfer of $2.6 billion (in 1971 exchange rates) worth resources was also done over time from East Pakistan to West Pakistan - known as Purbo or Mashriq Pakistan and Poschim or Maghrib Pakistan in Bangla and Urdu respectively. Even in the flourishing textile industry, which were mainly owned by West Pakistanis, the number of textile mills in East Pakistan textile rose from 11 to 26 between 1947 and 1971 whilst in West Pakistan it increased from 9 to a whooping 150. Also, 75% of heavy industries of Pakistan continued to be located in the West wing.
From 1947 to 1953 the central government's loan from Karachi was Rs. 2,329 million for West Pakistan and Rs. 164 million for East Pakistan. During this period the total foreign exchange earned by East Pakistan was Rs. 2,900 million, out of which 70% was used by West Pakistan. Although jute and tea grown in East Pakistan earned most of the country's foreign exchange, the major portion of it was used to develop the western wing. Out of Rs 1,000 million spent on development in the 1950s and 1960s, only Rs 300 million (i.e 30%) was the share of East Pakistan. Therefore, rice production remained stagnant as tractors, fertilisers, import of seeds, etc, were unfairly apportioned to East Pakistan which now depended on the import of grain.
The more populous East Pakistan was denied protection from floods and cyclones which brought periodic devastation of life and property in their wake.
Major source of exploitation was the foreign exchange earnings from their 40 jute mills located at Chittagong, Chandpur, Saidpur and Dhaka and the tea gardens at Kaptai, Kishoreganj, Fenchuganj, Chattak and Chittagong. But only one-fifth (20%) of the foreign exchange earnings were made available to the Eastern wing.
Mihir K. Roy, author of "War in the Indian Ocean" (1995)
By the mid-1960s, West Pakistan was benefiting from Ayub's "Decade of Progress," with its successful "green revolution" in wheat, and from the expansion of markets for West Pakistani textiles, while the East Pakistani standard of living remained at an abysmally low level. Bengalis were also upset that West Pakistan, because it was the seat of government, was the major beneficiary of foreign aid.
Despite huge defence spending, East Pakistan received none of the benefits, such as contracts, purchasing and military support jobs. Central bureaucracy was more than 80% composed of West Pakistan mostly from Punjab and Sindh. By 1969, only 3 Bengalis were in bureaucracy (out of 20) that reached at the rank of secretary in a ministry, and in the army there was only 1 Bengali out of 25 in the general officer rank.
The British mindset, with regard to Bengalis being less martially inclined as compared to Punjabis and Pathans, persisted in matters of recruitment.
In 1956, the Pakistani Army had a total of approximately 890 officers (Major to Lieutenant General) out of which only 14 were from East Pakistan. Of these, only one was of Brigadier rank. Out of 593 officers in Pakistani Navy only 7 were from East Pakistan. The situation in the Air Force was a little better, out of 640 officers, 40 were Bengalis. This situation had marginally improved in the '60s.
Ravi Shekhar Narain Singh, author of "Asian Strategic And Military Perspective" (2005)
The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 over Kashmir also highlighted the sense of military insecurity among Bengalis as only an under-strength infantry division and 15 combat aircraft without tank support were in East Pakistan to thwart any Indian retaliations during the conflict.
Although East Pakistan accounted for 75 million of the country's 133 million population, political power remained firmly in the hands of West Pakistanis. After the assassination of first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951, political power began to be devolved to the President of Pakistan, and eventually, the military. Subsequent prime ministers were frequently sacked by the establishment, acting through the President.
East Pakistanis noticed that whenever one of them, such as Khawaja Nazimuddin (1951-1953), Muhammad Ali Bogra (1953-1955), or Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (1956-1957) was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, he was swiftly deposed by the largely West Pakistani establishment. In 1958 martial law was declared by Iskander Mirza, and the office of Prime Minister essentially disappeared until 1973. The military dictatorships of Ayub Khan (1958-1969) and Yahya Khan (1969-1971), both West Pakistanis, only heightened feelings of mistrust, frustration and injustice amongst the East Pakistanis. By late 1970, long-standing ethnic, political and economic differences between Pakistan's two wings had descended to its lowest point in the nation's history. Open demands for secession were increasingly heard on the streets of Dhaka.
Feelings of political deprivation also prevailed among the people of East Pakistan who felt they were ruled by West Pakistan in general and Punjab in particular as the political power remained firmly in the hands of Punjabis and Muhajir elite of the West Pakistan.
Despite the numerical superiority, East Pakistan was not given its share in government due to the domination of old landlords and religious leaders, mainly from Punjab and Sindh in Muslim League, the ruling party.
South Asian Studies, journal
On 14 October 1955 the four provinces of West Pakistan (Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and North-West Frontier Province or NWFP) was merged into one single province and Lahore was made the provincial capital. This was carried out to create political equality or parity between the two wings of Pakistan. The principle of parity (or principle of "50-50" as it came to be called) was the foundation on which the 1956 and 1962 constitutions had been erected.
Resistance to the One Unit Scheme grew during the 1960s' anti-Ayub movement. The 1965 war with India contributed to domestic unrest, as did Ayub's ill health and treatment of East Pakistan – which, he remarked, was militarily expendable.
On 26 March 1969, the army commander, General Yahya Khan, removed Ayub, imposed marital law, and dissolved the national and provincial assemblies. One Unit continued until General Yahya Khan, now President, dissolved it on 1 July 1970, a decade-and-a-half after it was introduced. Pakistan's western provinces regained their autonomy once again, and President Yahya adopted proportional representation for the upcoming general election. Under the one-man-one-vote system, East Pakistan, with a population of 75 million, got a larger representation in parliament (known as the National Assembly) than West Pakistan, which had 58 million people. This excited the East Pakistanis as they had hoped this would lead to a constitution which gave greater autonomy to the deprived province. The break up of One Unit scheme also made it possible for any disgruntled units to form a coalition with the eastern wing and dominate the central government.
The tragedy of 1971 could have created awareness among the people of Pakistan that they cannot be misled by the bureaucratic-military elite in the name of national security. Yet things have not changed if we analyse the role of power in Pakistan. Power is still held by the establishment with the collaboration of economic, political and religious groups, and yet nothing is done to break the vicious cycle of elitism and improve the socio-economic conditions of the people...East Pakistan separated from the western wing not because they were unpatriotic but on account of their rejection of a centralised administrative system governed by the bureaucracy and the military from a minority province. In the last 25 years we have been unable to discount the undue and unnecessary influence of these two instruments of power from our society.
Dr Moonis Ahmar, Professor of International Relations, University of Karachi
Since its inception as Pakistan's eastern wing in 1947, Bangladesh has been suffering from an identity crisis , perhaps not unusual for a new state emerging from a colonial past. In search of an identity of its own, it has been oscillating between Islam and Bengali culture.
Islamic nationalism actually had its ferment in East Bengal. It was here in Dhaka in 1906, that the first meeting of the All India Muslim League was held.
Ravi Shekhar Narain Singh, author of "Asian Strategic And Military Perspective" (2005)
This identity crisis only deepened during the Bengali Language Movement, which became the first major public demand for a new nation.
The Basha Andolan of 1948 - 1952, which resulted in the sacrifice of lives for the "marti basha" (mother tongue), was an occasion of disillusionment for East Pakistani Bengalis. It brought them to the realisation that the end of British colonial rule did not put an end to their subordination and exploitation - they were now under 'Pakistani colonial rule'. Linguistic discrimination was accompanied by economic and political exploitation. This exploitative rule led East Pakistanis to search for a separate national and political identity, and translated into explicit political aspiration in the 1960s, when two distinct visions emerged of what a future imagined as "independence" meant in contemporary political practice.
One vision, outlined by Sheikh Mujib's Six Point Movement (1966), resembled that of the Muslim League before 1941 and sought political autonomy and self-rule for East Pakistan, inside Pakistan. Here, the emphasis was to create a 'free' East Pakistan from domination by West Pakistan.
Another vision emerged outside constitutional politics, and found a voice amongst the students. It resembled the vision of radicals in India who demanded freedom from British India as early as 1905. It also resembled the vision of the Muslim League after 1941, when calls for independence invoked the "two-nation theory". In this vision of independence, which gained momentum and peaked during the 1970's election, a completely new country was sought and finally came into being in East Pakistan.
After 1947, in the context of Pakistan, an old independent spirit took new forms, inside entirely new political boundaries and institutions. A new national identity emerged in East Pakistan.
...These two political visions of independence - federation and sovereignty - had separate origins and thrived in different circles. Yet they informed one another and always overlapped in the context of Pakistan, as they had in the context of British India.
In 1952, students led the Language Movement and established a popular base for Bengali politics outside constitutionalism. In 1954, voters again voiced their independent spirit by supporting the United Front, which demolished the Muslim League in East Bengal elections and framed a 21-point blueprint for regional autonomy. When the new 1956 Pakistan Constitution rejected the idea of autonomy, Awami League president Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani said that if East Pakistan's grievances were not addressed adequately, Pakistan would become untenable for Bengalis. In 1962, after four years of military rule, following Ayub Khan's 1958 coup, a clandestine group of students, called the Bengal Liberation Force, was formed to develop the idea of a Bengali national revolution. Thus by 1962, the two visions of independence had taken political form and overlapped to some extent.
David Ludden, Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
The East-West Pakistan hostility reached a climax in 1970.
Severe monsoon flooding in East Pakistan in August 1970, followed by the terrible disaster of the November cyclone which claimed an estimated million lives, delayed the elections from October to December. The polling days for the National and Provincial Assemblies – the 7th and 17th – were declared public holidays. Almost a year had elapsed since the restoration of political activities at the start of the year.
East Pakistan had 17 political parties, but the three most important ones were Awami League, headed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, National Awami Party (NAP) led by Maulana Bhashani, and the Pakistan Democratic Party (PDP) led by Nurul Amin, a former Chief Minister of East Bengal infamous for his hardline stance during 1952 Bhasha Andolon.
The four leading parties in the western province were the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) led by Sindhi and former professor Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, NAP (Wali) led by Abdul Wali Khan, Muslim League (Qayyum) led by Abdul Qayyum Khan, and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.
Most parties except the Muslim League were, in effect, regional or provincial parties, but for a long time the Muslim League had been divided.
The two leading election personalities, from East and West Pakistan respectively, were 50-year-old lawyer Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and 42-year-old lawyer Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Of these two men, Bhutto was more widely-known internationally as he served as Foreign Minister (1963-1966) during Ayub Khan's regime, but Sheikh Mujib was the man most widely tipped as the next Prime Minister.
Sheikh Mujib was essentially a provincial politician, his primary aim was the betterment of the people of East Bengal. In pursuit of this aim, he had joined Jinnah's Muslim League and taken an active part in the Pakistan movement. Over the years, as he began to project the interests of East Pakistan - such as actively participating in Bhasha Andolan, spending half his life in jail for social causes, promoting regional autonomy culminating in the Agartala Conspiracy - the size of his constituency expanded enormously.
In contrast, Bhutto's political initiation had occurred much later than Sheikh Mujib's and under very different circumstances - he had been picked by General Ayub Khan to represent Sind in the cabinet. Bhutto, the son of a wealthy landowner, was educated in Britain and became an expert in international law before devoting himself into politics. As Pakistan's Foreign Minister he negotiated the country's agreement with its allies - including the trade pact with the Soviet Union which he signed in Moscow. At the United Nations he spoke for Pakistan in the country's dispute with India over Kashmir and other territories. However, after resigning from the Ayub Khan cabinet in 1966 and finding the socialist Pakistan People's Party the following year (November 1967), Bhutto served three months in jail for his anti-Ayub campaign only two years prior to this general election. And now with a Sheikh Mujib-led Awami League victory likely, there were intense speculation about the future of the fiery leader known to his supporters as "Quaid-e-Awam" (Leader of the People).
When Bhutto was introduced to politics, he had no personal constituency of his own and did not develop one for as long as he remained his job as foreign minister and began to tour the country that he developed a personal following. As with Mujib, the size of Bhutto's following increased very rapidly but, in contrast to Mujib, people were attracted to Bhutto for the novelty of the cause that he had begun to espouse. Bhutto's type of populism was not a new phenomenon in Third World policies. Very deliberately he had fashioned his style and his idiom after such Third World leaders as Sukarno [Indonesia], Nkrumah [Ghana], Peron [Argentina], and Castro [Cuba]. But for West Pakistan, this populist approach was a new development; until that time, West Pakistani politicians had followed a very low-key approach toward politics, preferring to negotiate among themselves rather than to use popular support to further their aims and ambitions. Bhutto was a new kind of leader. Accordingly, the constituency that he cultivated for himself was new - a constituency was galvanised into action very quickly, but when he left the scene, the constituency still remained. Like Peronism, Bhuttoism was to survive Bhutto.
Sanjay Dutt, author of "Inside Pakistan: Fiftytwo Years Outlook" (2000)
Overall, 20 political parties were expected to contest the election which would mark the handover from Army to civilian rule and could herald the end of martial law imposed in March 1969.
In the election, Pakistanis will choose 313 delegates - 169 from East Pakistan (7 of whom must be woman), 144 from West Pakistan (including 6 women). And, in accordance with the Legal Framework Order (LFO), President Yahya Khan gave the new assembly 120 days from the time of its first meeting to frame a new Constitution to preserve the country's unity. He also reserved the right to "authenticate" the constitution and warned that he will not accept a constitution that will tend to weaken the unity of the two parts of the country. In that case, he said, martial law would continue and he will still run the country.
In the provincial assemblies, East Pakistan had 310 seats (with 10 reserved for women).
Voting will take place in all constituencies on 7 December 1970, but the polling was postponed for few weeks for the 9 constituencies in the disaster area wrecked by Bhola Cyclone. Voting for 9 National Assembly seats and 21 Provincial Assembly constituencies in the cyclone-affected area will take place on 17 January 1971.
The political decisions taken will be among the most crucial in the country's 23-year history. After the election Pakistan could turn to Parliamentary government, martial law could continue, and there could be serious internal dissent in the country.
Some 56 million Pakistanis are due to cast their ballots in what is the country's first one-man-one-vote election. The election has been called to smooth the way from military to civilian government. The army will supervise the election.
The election will test whether the eastern and western parts of the country can co-exist and co-operate in a national government.
An intense election campaign took place in 1970 as restrictions on press, speech, and assembly were removed. Every party had its programme but two parties - the Awami League and the Pakistan People’s Party - were being eyed by the electorate as the potential winners.
The Awami League, the largest East Pakistani political party, contested the elections on the 6-Dafa Karmasuchi (Six-Points Programme), which were designed to maintain greater political autonomy (freedom) from central government in Islamabad, West Pakistan. Sheikh Mujib, who had already become the symbol of Bengali protest and nationalism, used the election campaign to rouse the general public with many passionate and highly emotive speeches. The Awami League campaign was used to air long standing grievances and focused on the history of the western wing’s treatment of East Bengal as a 'colony'. The 1970's natural calamities once again dramatised the disparities between the East and the West, as war had done, in 1965.
The new experience had only brought into sharp focus the basic truth that every Bengali has felt in his bones, that we have been treated so long as a colony and a market.
Mr Gandhi and other Congress leaders who opposed the partition of India but the Muslims had voted for Pakistan through referendum... In the colonial days the resources were utilised for the benefit of Britain and now the money earned in East Pakistan is being taken to West Pakistan in a planned manner.
The by now traditional charges were repeated of West Pakistan’s monopolisation of foreign investment, dominance of successive governments, larger and unfair share of the common resources of the two wings, dumping of manufactured goods in the eastern wing and misuse of the foreign exchange raised by its jute exports. Their decentralisation demands were also supported by other East Pakistani parties. This demand became increasingly intense, encouraged by natural catastrophes in the eastern province where the Bhola Cyclone, accompanied by a 30-foot tidal wave, in particular shattered the coastal districts. The perceived lack of response of the central government, with their base in the affluent western wing, and of the 'callously indifferent' West Pakistani politicians - in particular President Yahya - to the havoc that these catastrophes wrought, as well as the need for competing for the votes of an aroused Bengali electorate, meant decentralisation remained the eastern Pakistani parties' number one rallying cry. Autonomy was their platform.
On 28 October 1970, Sheikh Mujib detailed his federal scheme in a 30-minute long election speech on Radio Pakistan, inviting voters in Pakistan to help him frame a federal constitution.
In a broadcast on 28 October 1970, Sheikh Mujib advocated equality of all citizens and particularly equal rights for the minority community. While rejecting the thesis of Islam being in danger due to the Six-Point formula, he reiterated that 'nothing which promotes prejudice between region and region and man and man can be opposed to Islam'. He urged General Yahya Khan once again to repeal the restrictive provisions of the Legal Framework Order to allow the elected representatives of the people to function as a sovereign Assembly in the task of formulating the constitution. In the field of foreign policy he stated that normalisation of relations with neighbours would be to the best advantage of Pakistan. He stated that there should be 'a just settlement of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the UN resolutions' and also of the Farakkah problem which threatened to do 'grave and permanent damage to the economy of Bengal'.
During the ten months when Sheikh Mujib hit the campaign trail, he addressed on average 22 meetings a day, appealing to the people to vote for the boat symbol (chosen as Awami League's election symbol on 17 October 1970), and speaking to mammoth hysterical audiences eager to see him and hear his voice. In that process he transformed this campaign into a one-horse race and turned his party into virtually the only political party in the east.
There could be no mistaking the nationalist content and anti-colonial tenor of the Awami League's election campaign. This not only ensured that West Pakistan based parties, such as Bhutto's People Party, would fail to get any Bengali support but also eliminated the chances of any success in East Bengal of "moderate" and "centrist" parties, such as the Pakistan Democratic Party.
Just as the Muslim League in 1946 had present Pakistan as a panacea for social ills, the Awami League depicted the prospect of a Shunar (Golden) Bengal if the autonomy programme was implemented.
Ian Talbot, author of "Pakistan: A Modern History" (1998)
Meanwhile, the Awami League's serious contenders in the western wing, Pakistan People's Party (PPP), campaigned on a strongly nationalist and leftist platform. Launched only three years earlier, the party's slogan and driving motto was "Islam is our faith, democracy is our policy, and we believe in the supremacy of the people". The Chairman of the left-wing party, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, initially talked of bringing "secular scientific socialism" to Pakistan (as embodied in the PPP documents of November 1967) with the aim of totally restructuring the economy. His doctrine quickly changed to "Islamic Socialism" to appeal to the Pakistani traditionalist. However, during the election campaign, Bhutto was criticised by some religious parties of preaching "socialism" which they termed as "kufr" (anti-Islamic).
Socialism kufr hai. Muslim millat ek ho (Socialism is heresy: Muslim community become one).
Bhutto promised the masses that along with economic reform his party would bring democracy and an independent foreign policy to Pakistan. He said that the PPP would provide "roti, kapra, aur makhan" (bread, clothing, and shelter) to all, and proclaimed a "thousand year war with India", although this pronouncement was played down later in the campaign. This endeared him to the leftists and the intellectuals and the extreme anti-Indian line that he had taken when he was Foreign Minister (and afterward) had given him a nationalist image that was very attractive to Muhajirs and Punjabis alike. Thus Bhutto overcame the handicaps of being a Shi'a Sindi in a Sunni dominated country where East Pakistan and Punjab provinces had the greatest population.
Like Sheikh Mujib, Bhutto ran a highly rabble-rousing and rhetorical election campaign and warmed up the campaign by traveling all over the country, delivering rabble-rousing speeches. Transforming himself from a gentleman in a suit to a sharif in Salwar-Kamiz, he launched his election campaign on 4 January 1970 - on his 42nd birthday and three days after party politics were permitted by President Yahya - by addressing a public meeting at Nishtar Park, Karachi, where he declared in his forceful style that the people were his 'Round Table Conference'. Bhutto chose a sword as his party's election symbol. His following came mainly from his own stature in Pakistan politics, his enormous political acumen, experience, and charisma.
Bhutto's effective use of potent religious imagery is illustrated by his designating a sword as his party's election symbol, thereby alluding to the legendary Zulfiquar-e-Ali (Ali's sword). In so doing, Bhutto sought identification with Prophet Muhammad's wise and courageous cousin and son-in-law as well as Islam's fourth khalifah (caliph), who had defeated many an enemy of Islam with his famous sword, thus contributing to Islam's expansion and glory.
Moreover, Bhutto wanted the image of the sword to inspire the masses with the ideal of a jihad (holy war) to be waged by the PPP regime against the evils of capitalism and feudalism in particular and against exploitation and injustice in general. In the realm of foreign affairs, he promised a jihad against the evils of imperialism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism. He also stirred his audiences by saying that he was prepared to lead Pakistan into a 1,000-year-long jihad against India and celebrate Shaukat-e-Islam Day (Glory of Islam Day) in New Delhi and Srinagar.
During his whirlwind tours of West Pakistan, Bhutto pointedly made very publicised visits to the religious shrines of a few famous pirs (spiritual guides). He performed public prayers at popular Islamic festivals like Eid in an attempt to counteract his conservative Islamic opponents' criticism that he was a kafir (unbeliever).
The leaders of the two parties had devoted their energies to one wing only of the country, highlighting their lack of popularity in the other wing. Therefore, the election involved two separate campaigns - one in the east, one in the west. Efforts to create electoral alliances were unsuccessful both between the parties of east and west and among the parties of the different western provinces, which was a continuation of the regional party organisation and support that had began in the mid 1950s when Jukta Front, an eastern alliance, won a commanding victory.
The socio-political and economic differences between the two wings of Pakistan and the lack of sufficient aid when East Pakistan was hit by natural calamities, especially during the Great Bhola Cyclone, heightened the perception among the East Pakistanis that the West Pakistani elite were insensitive to their needs and welfare.
The disaster had two effects on the developing political situation. First, it further alienated East Pakistanis from the West Pakistan-based central administration because the former felt that the government had been unsympathetic and tardy in administering relief.
The new experience had only brought into sharp focus the basic truth that every Bengali has felt in his bones, that we have been treated so long as a colony and a market.
Secondly, it roused the sympathy of other countries for the plight of East Pakistanis and highlighted the latter's standing grievances against the West Pakistanis.
There is a reason why disasters require national solidarity. Without it, they can become even more disastrous. Deeply buried fissures in the social fabric can burst forth in volcanic anger. As we look around at the political, policy and citizen response to the current floods, one sees too many who wish to turn disaster into a political opportunity. Those who do would be well advised to remember Bhola. Indeed, we would all be well advised to remember Bhola.
History is not a predictive science. And I do not believe that there is a real parallel between the two situations.
But I do believe that there are important lessons to learn from our own mistakes. For the sake of our present, if not of our past, let us resolve not to make the same mistakes again. Let us not forget what is the real lesson of Bhola in 1970, as of so many other tragedies: dissatisfaction in times of crisis can be a force of agony, and political catastrophe can sometimes grow from seeds sown in natural disaster.
The loudest voice protesting against the western wing's injustices came from 90-year-old Maulana Bhashani, the NAP leader.
Following his visit to the damaged region of Bhola Cyclone, Maulana Bhashani held a mammoth rally in Paltan Maidan, Dhaka, on 23 November 1970 where he gave a fiery speech and declared independence of East Pakistan. He also announced that his NAP party would not participate in the upcoming general and provincial elections and questioned the ethics of election campaigns at a time when people needed aid.
Many a revolutionary leader and worker of the party did not believe in elections in the first place. They believed that the objective situation for revolution was rife. Whereas, I myself thought that revolution or no revolution, the timing was perfect for earning [national] independence. If I had participated in the elections, the voters would have been divided into two camps. Differences of opinion would have reached an extreme point. Subsequently, there would not have been a war of [national] independence. Hence, I [thought] let Mujibur win. Let territorial independence come, although that would not ensure [the people’s] emancipation. We will do the rest. Mujibur has made a grave mistake by making himself available for arrest [by the Pakistanis].
The Moulana meant business. He dismantled the Pakistan National Awami Party, keeping its eastern wing active, which caused dissatisfaction among many Bengali leaders of the organization. Leaders like Haji Mohammad Danesh left the NAP. But the Moulana was uncompromising.
New Age (Bangladesh)
Few days later, on 4 December 1970 - three days before General Election - Maulana Bhashani held another huge public rally attended by 300,000 where he announced a 'do-or-die movement' for 'sovereign East Pakistan'. He also made an appeal for Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to join the movement for the independence of East Pakistan, declaring that not even an outright electoral victory, let alone the mere holding of elections, would help put an end to the neo-colonial exploitation of East Pakistan by the West Pakistan-based ruling elite.
History was to prove the Maulana was correct.
Mujib, come and join the East Pakistan independence movement.
By the end of the campaign in early December  the Maulana had declared his determination to work for the establishment of an independent state of East Pakistan organised on the basis of the Lahore Resolution.
Richard Sisson & Leo E. Rose, authors of "War and Secession: Pakistan, India, and the Creation of Bangladesh" (1990)
Nomination papers for the National Assembly were filed on 14 October 1970 and for provincial assemblies the following day.
In East Pakistan the Awami League fielded 162 candidates out of which two seats were conceded - one of Nurul Amin for whom Sheikh Mujib had asked the workers to allow a few votes for the grand old man and the other of Raja Tridevrai as a minority member. PPP completely ignored East Pakistan and did not put up a single candidate to contest the election there. Instead, they concentrated all their efforts in the western wing and set the pace with candidates in 119 of the 138 seats. Awami League put up a 7 candidates to contest in the western wing.
Though it was generally predicted that the Awami League was going to be the biggest single party in the new National Assembly and might even have an overall majority, their margin of victory was still not clear. Bhutto admitted that he had little chance of sweeping the polls to form a National Government. He expects to get about 55 seats. In contrast, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman confidently expected his Awami League Party to win 157 of the 162 seats for eastern Pakistan. His supporters were predicting the Awami League may win as much as 97% of the East Pakistan national assembly places. Such was the confident in the Awami League camp that they refused to form an alliance with any other party and instead invited other parties to join them under the Awami League banner.
If Sheikh Mujibur forms the next Pakistan Government, there are likely to be fundamental changes in policy. Trade with India, and particularly with West Bengal, is likely to be resumed. Defence commitments may shift away from Kashmir, and defence spending, at present 70% of the budget, may be reduced. Chinese influence would be balanced by new contacts with India.
Since President Ayub Khan's regime was overthrown last year, the balance of power in Pakistan has shifted from the Punjab to Bengal. The most likely outcome of Pakistan's first election for twelve years is an Awami League Government in Islamabad.
East Pakistan must have maximum autonomy to run her own affairs within the overall framework of one Pakistan. It should have full charge of their destiny, planning and utilisation of its resources within the concept of Pakistan... I do not believe there is any tendency of separatism in East Pakistan. They are the majority. How can a majority separate from a minority?
...Martial Law would continue if the proposed Constitution was not framed in conformity with the five basic principles contained in the Legal Framework Order.
Yahya Khan at a press conference in Dhaka on 27 November 1970
Three days before the General Election, on 4 December 1970, President Yahya answered questions in Dhaka about his own political future. He discounted rumours said to be circulating in Pakistan that he was no longer in full personal control of the country and spoke about his personal situation to reporters at Dhaka Airport after a visit to the disaster area of East Pakistan.
On the eve of the elections Yahya Khan asked the candidate "to show humility in victory and patience and understanding in defeat". The military administration of Pakistan put the country's armed forces on the alert as polling day approached, and banned civilians from carrying fire-arms. It also mobilised the troops to ensure the elections were peacefully conducted. As result were to show, instead of bringing the eastern and western wings of Pakistan together, the 1970 national election contributed to the further polarization of the two regions of the country.
In the first democratic election since Pakistan was created in 1947 - 23 years ago - a total of 1,570 candidates, 769 in East Pakistan and 801 in West Pakistan, contested the election held on 7 December 1970. More than 56.4 million people were eligible to vote, of whom 31.2 million were in East Pakistan and 25.2 million in West Pakistan. By any criteria, the elections were free and fair. There was no interference from the government during the election campaign, which extended over the better part of a year.
However, the result of the election was simply disastrous from the standpoint of national unity and demonstrated the failure of national integration. There was not a single national party in the country which enjoyed the confidence of the people of Pakistan, both East and West Pakistan.
Only two parties achieved overwhelming success, the Awami League in East Pakistan and the Pakistan People's Party in the two most populous provinces of West Pakistan – the Punjab and Sindh.
With a 60% voter turnout (which included President Yahya as one of the voters), the Awami League won a landslide victory in the national elections. They won 167 of the 169 seats allotted to East Pakistan but in West Pakistan it could not secure a single seat from the 7 of 138 seats contested in the four provinces of West Pakistan. The percentage of votes secured by the Awami League in the four provinces were: 0.07 (Punjab), 0.07 (Sindh) 0.2 (NWFP) and 1.0 (Baluchistan). In contrast, Pakistan Peoples Party swept the West province board with 81 of the 138 seats but did not dare set up a candidate in East Pakistan.
|(Position) Party||The Punjab||Sind||NWFP||Baluchistan||West Pakistan (total)||East Pakistan|
|1. Awami League||0||0||0||0||0||160|
|2. Pakistan People's Party||62||18||1||0||81||0|
|3. Pakistan Muslim League (Qayyum)||1||1||7||0||9||0|
|4. Convention Muslim League||7||0||0||0||7||0|
|5. Jamiyyat-ul Ulama (H)||0||0||6||1||7||0|
|6. Jamiyyat-ul Ulama-i Pakistan||4||3||0||0||7||0|
|7. National Awami Party (Wali)||0||0||3||3||6||0|
|Reserved for women||-||-||-||-||6||7|
Awami League thus won a clear majority of the 313 seats in the Pakistan National Assembly, and gained the constitutional right to form a government.
In the normal course, the largest party had the right to form the central Government, but in this case it was not a workable proposition because of the federal character of Pakistan as a state and the exclusive provincial character of the party concerned.
The secular mood of Pakistan and ethnic divisions within it were dramatically demonstrated in the first national election in 1970. The secular Awami League, predominantly Bengali with no influence in West Pakistan, swept the board in East Pakistan, winning every seat but one; that one seat for the Chittagong Hill Tracts was uncontested to allow its tribal leader to be elected there. In West Pakistan, the Pakistan People’s Party, with its secular slogan of roti, kapra aur makan (food, clothes, and shelter), won a landslide victory in Sindh and Punjab, with the left-wing National Awami Party making a very good showing in Sarhad and Baluchistan. The Islamic parties won nowhere.
Anita M. Weiss, author of "Islamic Reassertion in Pakistan: The Application of Islamic Laws in a Modern State" (1986)
Both the leaders of the Awami League and Pakistan People’s Party were surprised by the magnitude of their win – especially PPP, which was only founded 3 years prior to the election. Both parties had proposed to other local parties not to contest the elections against one another. However, the other parties declined, partly due to their own expectations of electoral success and other inducements from advocates within the Yahya regime. Leaders of all parties underestimated the passions of a mass electorate that was participating in a national election for the first time and that in no province had voted in anything but village-level elections for a decade and a half.
The other unanticipated consequence of the elections was the profound change in the composition of political leadership. Most of the successful candidates were newcomers to public life; most of the older generation had been defeated. Except for a few political notables in the west, none of the newly elected members of the National Assembly had been active in all-Pakistan arenas previously. Although he had served as Ayub’s foreign minister, Bhutto had never been engaged in party politics; nor had he ever previously contested an election. Sheikh Mujib, who had apprenticed under the redoubtable H. S. Suhrawardy, had oriented his organisation activities toward East Pakistan; he, too, had never before been elected to public office. Transregional leadership in Pakistan, always limited and fragile, was reduced to marginal participants who had served intermittently as intermediaries between government and leaders of the major parties, but with little consequence. The elections thus continued the provincialisation of politics in Pakistan.
Richard Sisson & Leo E. Rose, authors of "War and Secession: Pakistan, India, and the Creation of Bangladesh" (1990)
However, Zulfikar Bhutto, whose Pakistan Peoples Party came second in the election, refused to transfer power and allow Sheikh Mujib to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
In political terms, Pakistan as a nation stood divided as a result of the very first general elections in 23 years of its existence.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali, author of "Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality" (1999)
Bhutto was also impatient. After the election, one senior minister told President Yahya that if Bhutto did not become Prime Minister within a year he would literally go mad. In the light of Sheikh Mujib's victory, however, it was clear that he had no chance to become Prime Minister of a united Pakistan.
The Election shattered the dream of Bhutto to become Prime Minister of Pakistan. The West Pakistan dominated administration could not relish the coming of an administration run by men from East Pakistan. They were not prepared to accept an end of the era of domination and exploitation of East Pakistan by the West Pakistan. They looked with suspicion and distrust Mujib's Six-Point Programme, which had been the central core of Awami League's Election Manifesto. They regarded it as a charter of sedition and tension against Pakistan. Consequently, steps designed, at first for delaying and then for denying the possibility of transfer of power to Mujib-led Awami League were initiated.
Kulwant Rai Gupta, author of "India-Pakistan Relations with Special Reference to Kashmir" (2003)
The result was more disquieting for Yahya Khan who had in a pre-poll assessment been told that no party could take a clear lead and there would be a coalition government which could be easily handled by Yahya from the top. With all pre-poll predictions gone wrong the rightists could manage only 37 seats in a house of 300.
A tormenting situation arose for Yahya. While Mujib sat in Dhaka discussing the future government’s priorities, Yahya saw himself in a quandary. He had pledged that the constitution would be prepared within 120 days or the assemblies would stand abolished; and now time was racing away.
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