Syed Badrul Ahsan
On 5 February 1966, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, general secretary of the East Pakistan Awami League, revealed in Lahore a broad-ranging formula for regional autonomy. That formula was the Six Point plan, which in time would lead to a wider movement and eventually an armed struggle for East Pakistan’s emergence as the independent People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
The plan put Mujib, the future Bangabandhu, and a large section of Bengali Awami Leaguers on a collision course with the All-Pakistan Awami League led by NawabzadaNasrullah Khan. It also invited the fury of Field MarshalMohammad Ayub Khan, at the time President of Pakistan, who openly threatened to use what he called the language of weapons against the proponents of the Six Points. In Ayub’s view, the plan would lead to Pakistan’s break-up with the secession of its eastern province from the rest of the country. Foreign Minister Z.A. Bhutto challenged Mujib to a public debate on the Six Points at Dhaka’s Paltan Maidan. Tajuddin Ahmed accepted the challenge. In the event, Bhutto did not turn up.
The Six Points, which the East Pakistan Awami League formally adopted on 18 March 1966, were the following:
Between March and early May 1966, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his lieutenants Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam, M. Mansoor Ali, A.H.M. Kamruzzaman and Khondokar Moshtaque Ahmed barnstormed the province to drum up support for the Six Points. Governor Abdul Monem Khan, a zealous Ayub loyalist, threatened the Awami League leaders with imprisonment. On 8 May that year, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was detained under the Defence of Pakistan Rules. Most of his colleagues were hauled away to prison as well, leaving the party in the hands of individuals such as acting party president Syed Nazrul Islam and acting general secretary Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury. The latter was at the time a member of the Pakistan national assembly. An embattled Awami League called for a general strike (hartal) on June 7, 1966 to generate support for the Six Points and call for the release of its detained leaders.
Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury played a highly visible and prominent role as he prepared the demoralized party for the strike. At the same time Chowdhury and other Awami League MNAs raised the issue of government repression in the national assembly, thereby giving the Six Points a countrywide dimension. The government, for its part, compelled newspapers in both East and West Pakistan to refrain from publishing any news of the hartal.
Despite the media censorship, the hartal was observed in totality throughout East Pakistan, a fact borne out by the deaths of a number of individuals through police firing. The following day, 8 June, newspapers carried only the government version of the previous day’s happenings. And the version was to portray the ‘violence’ of Awami League supporters on the streets.
Following the hartal, the AL decided, formally on 23-24 July, to launch the second phase of the movement in August. It was at this point that Amena Begum, secretary of the women’s branch of the Awami League, came in. She launched the second phase at a public meeting on 17 August 1966 in Chittagong. In the same month, she and Syed Nazrul Islam embarked on a tour of the province as part of a campaign to disseminate the message of the Six Point programme.
(Syed Badrul Ahsan: Editor-in- Charge, Tha Asian Age. Contributing Columnist, Shottobani)