1 April 1971: 'Understanding' achieved on key issues with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi

Last updated: 6 September 2020 From the section 1971 Muktijuddho

Tajuddin Ahmad and Amir-ul Islam escorted to Kolkata and clothed by Rustamji

Once on Indian soil, Tajuddin Ahmad and Amir-ul Islam were taken straight to Dum Dum Airport (currently Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport) in Kolkata with a jeep. At the same time, Rustamji himself had flown in from Delhi and came in a plane to receive the two men. But before getting on the plane, a black ambassador car - usually reserved for VIPs such as governors - came to receive Tajuddin and Amir and they were driven to a state guest house.

We got inside the car. Our dirty and torn clothes were in a bag and our body stank, even we couldn't tolerate our own smell. Regardless of all that, they took us in a VIP car. Rustamji came and opened our door and gave us a salute.

Respect shown to the two Bengali representatives

When they reached the guest house, Tajuddin and Amir's only wish was that they needed to take a shower to get rid of their bad body odour. But they didn't have any clean clothes to change into. That's when Rustamji came to their rescue.

He (Rustamji) said "We have extra clothes, which we can offer you." He gave us two fresh long kurtas and pyjamas. I told him "The long kurta is sufficient as it'll reach my feet!"

Amir chuckles

Rustamji sets up telecommunication link from Kolkata to Chuadanga

Bathed, shaven, fed and clothed by Punjabi and Pyajama donated by Rustamji, the two Bengali men were now ready to meet the Indian Prime Minister. But first, Rustamji called all his relevant authorities and that same night did a conference in front of Tajuddin and Amir. Among the attendees were the Chief of Police, chief of telecommunication, and other officials.

Rustamji told them that he wanted direct telecommunication access from Kolkata to Chuadanga onward. Any time they wanted. All senior officials worked tirelessly to achieve this objective that same night.

By now, Mohammed Zillur Rahman and Nurul Kader Khan (then district councilor of Pabna) - both men later worked as first Establishment Secretary of the Mujibnagar Government, the provisional Government of Bangladesh - had come to Chuadanga. Tajuddin and Amir spoke to them and to Dr. Asabul Huq Joardar. They told them to be prepared for a potential inaugural ceremony. They were thinking of Chuadanga as a centre of operations and to carry on with their tasks. From Delhi they'll get in touch and give you further instructions, they told the three men.

Rustamji telephoned Indira Gandhi who told him to send the two Bengali representatives immediately to the capital New Delhi to meet her.

Old Russian cargo aircraft takes Tajuddin and Amir from Kolkata to Delhi

BSF had a Russian cargo aircraft. It was very old model, noisy and hot after taking off. It didn't have any seats, just some belts. Tajuddin and Amir had to sit on those belts, tie themselves and set off for Delhi. Feeling extremely drowsy throughout the flight, the two men finally reached their destination that same night.

But nobody knew.

Since they were going as VIP guest, and it was all hush-hush, nobody knew about it. Everything was kept a secret. Only BSF chief and Indira Gandhi knew. The order was given that the whole airport had to be blacked out so nobody would knew. Once they landed, they got into a car and were driven to a guesthouse.

However, just like Golok Bihari Majumder, RAW and other Indian intelligence agencies had raised doubts about the identity of the two Bengali escapees. Fortunately for them, prominent Bengali economist Rehman Sobhan, who helped draft the 6-Dafa Karmasuchi (Six Point Programme) was residing in India at the time and he was able to confirm the identity of the two protagonist.

Tajuddin Ahmad, Amir-ul Islam and Rehman Sobhan decide upon Proclamation of Independence and formulate key demands for India

On 1 April 1971, whilst waiting for Indira Gandhi and information regarding the latest development within their beloved motherland, the three men - Tajuddin Ahmad, Amir-ul Islam and Rehman Sobhan - decided upon a Proclamation of Independence to announce to the rest of the world the creation of Bangladesh and formulated key demands for India.

We had envisaged that we would create a ceremony in front of the world and officially introduce our government and our proclamation of independence. We would take an oath and hold the ceremony in Chuadanga.

Chuadanga selected as prime location for formal oath ceremony of new Government of Bangladesh

Tajuddin Ahmad met Indira Gandhi to explain his plans to form a government-in-exile. He knew that exile, both his and that of everyone else in this time of horror, would need to be purposeful. With this in mind, he lost no time in setting out the three men's plan for freeing Bangladesh of its murderous Pakistani presence.

Main point of understanding between Indira Gandhi and Tajuddin Ahmad:

  1. It was a Bengali war - to be fought and led by Bengalis alone and India can play the role of an ally to a sovereign nation. The Bengali freedom fighters fighting throughout the country should also be regrouped and given training, arms and other necessary supplies.
  2. Bengali refugees resulting from the Pakistani oppression would be provided with food and shelter.
  3. India will provide help for international publicity and diplomatic activities.
  4. A radio station was required for publicity work.

Tajuddin Ahmad also requested recognition of the new country by India and informed her that he was meeting her as a minister and representative of the independent state and not to seek charity. However, Indira Gandhi said recognition would be given in "due time, the time of recognition did not come yet - first form a government".

Tajuddin saheb also said "We want to fight the war by ourselves. We don't want this to become a Indo-Pak war." Shrimati Indira Gandhi was really impressed by this.

Amir-ul Islam

The truth of the matter is that Mr. Tajuddin was a fiercely patriotic man. He knew that we were too small to do anything to a powerful country. We do not have that ability. But we do have our honour, we can't and won't accept anyone's pity, which is the message he wanted to convey, nothing more nothing less.

...There was a popular image about him in some circles as a pro-Indian fellow. It was far from the truth. He was, in fact, a completely non-aligned person. The first six months after the end of the war, yes, I have seen him in a pretty pugnacious mood against the US because of their hostilities, but after that he became a pragmatic politician. He no longer held the view that he could support India, support Russia, but not the Americans. His attitude was this: during a war we may get help from somebody, may not get from some others, anything can happen in the course of the war, but that doesn't tie us to a lifelong obligation of loyalty to any of them. No, that is not going to happen.

Frankly, I do not believe Mr. Tajuddin was aligned to India in any way. He wasn't the one to bend his knees to anyone. He didn't have that kind of weak personality. If he had any strong feelings about any particular country, that was Bangladesh, his own country. He was, above all, a pro-Bangladeshi. In all the years I had the privilege of working with him I never saw him compromising on anything just because it was India. I worked with him for three years, never heard him say: alright, let it go, India is our friend. Nor did he ever believe that we had to be soft in our negotiations just because it was India. Never.

What he had, though, is gratitude. India gave us shelter, refuge, help, food, during the War, so he was grateful to them. But when it came to negotiating with them on matters of selling our jute to them or buying their fertilizer we would be just as tough with them as with anyone else. Mr. Tajuddin never asked us to go soft on them.

Nurul Islam, Deputy Chair of the First Planning Commission of Bangladesh

2 April 1971: Russian President Nikolai Podgorny sends letter to every nation's head to put pressure on Pakistan to ensure Sheikh Mujib's safety

One of the first thing Indira Gandhi wanted to know when she met Tajuddin Ahmad was how was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Tajuddin had assumed that their beloved leader was captured, but told her honestly that when he had taken leave from Sheikh Mujib he was in good condition, but he didn't know thereafter. Tajuddin requested Indira Gandhi to find more information and to create international pressure on Pakistan to ensure Sheikh Mujib's safety.

That was our first request to Indira Gandhi. Indira Gandhi kept that request.

Safe return of Bangabandhu was paramount to the Bengalis

The following day, on 2 April 1971, Tajuddin Ahmad and Amir-ul Islam received a letter from Soviet President Nikolai Podgorny which was sent to every nation's head. In it, President Nikolai asked the leaders to put pressure on Pakistan so no harm is done to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Few months later, the Russian president also sent a letter to President Yahya on 28 November 1971 advising him to release Sheikh Mujib unconditionally.

These were the harsh realities that Pakistan and its envoy in the key capital faced. Moscow began early, in March, with friendly attention and polite concern. (Jamsheed) Marker [Pakistan's Ambassador from 1965 - 1995] reproduces the contents of an Oral message from Kosygin to Yahya on 28 March 1971, which was delivered to him in Karachi.

It pleaded for an end to the bloodshed. President Podgornys message to Yahya on 3 April 1971 was badly received. On 17 April 1971 Kosygin sent another message to Yahya. It was somewhat cold and formal in tone and continued to stress the need for peaceful settlement, but for the first time made an ominous reference to the lawful wishes of the parties and to the interest of the population of both West and East Pakistan. Yahya did not respond to this message but sent instead a special envoy M. Arshad Husain, a former Foreign Minister of Pakistan and also former Ambassador in Moscow. He was received by Kosygin on 26 April 1971, and although the meeting was lengthy and frank, it was by no means friendly. In my report to the Ministry, at the conclusion of Arshad Husains visit I stated that. They would, in the overall interests of peace and stability, prefer a united Pakistan, but they had doubts about our ability to bring the situation in East Pakistan under control, and feared that a continuation of instability would help Chinese interests to prosper in the region.

It was a sound assessment. From July onwards Soviet messages became increasingly hostile, and so did our responses resulting in a mutual contribution to deteriorating relations.

A. G. Noorani in Frontline magazine (India)