The long forgotten day in public imagination that was the very same 25th of March ,52 years ago, in doomed year of our national history,1971, when General Yahya Khan and his ilk decided to launch Operation Search Light in East Pakistan that ended with fall of Dhaka and a humiliating defeat of Pakistan. The operation and incidents aftermath have become an untouchable subject in academia and popular media was launched to curb the agitation and lawlessness in East Pakistan which resulted in Yahya’s decision to postponed assembly’s session under pressure of top military brass and his comrade Z.A.Bhutto. His decision infuriated Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rehman and his Awami League, the largest political party at that time and a government-in-waiting and he decided to begin a non-cooperation movement on 7th of March of 1971. Instead of persuading the most popular leader of the country to table talk and handing over the power to elected representatives, martial law administration decided to treat the ‘’traitor Bengalis’ ‘through heavy-handed tactics. A grand military operation was launched and Sheikh Mujeeb was arrested from his house, only to be later transported to Rawalpindi. This operation continued for more than 8 months and thousands of people were killed in massive crackdown upon political and armed wings of Awami League. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the leader of second largest party of the country, appreciated and approved the decision of operation in East Pakistan and thanked heavens for saving the federation of Pakistan from collapse and dismemberment and later lauded the government’s decision to proscribe his biggest rival’s party Awami League. This operation ended all the hopes of any reconciliation between West and East sides of Pakistan and millions of people fled to India to save their lives.
Military action against Awami League enraged the world community and massive condemnation poured from democratic world with the demand to hand over the power to elected representatives of people but the men in power had decided to punish the Bengalis. Ironically, this was the same Bengal and Dhaka which once hosted the historic and inaugural session of 1906 when All India Muslim League was founded and its leaders aimed to protect the rights of Indian Muslims in British Raj. Moreover, it was the same Bengal which was divided to accomplish the Muslims demands and later unified by Raj in wake of massive Hindu protests and this unification sowed the seeds of partition of India on religious basis. Furthermore, A.K Fazal Haq, known as Tiger of Bengal, was the person who initiated the Lahore Resolution, later known as Pakistan Resolution, on 23rd of March 1940 to suggest establishment of an independent Muslim state in Subcontinent. The people who were facing the grand operation and guns in 1971, were the very same who won the decisive elections of 1945-46 for Muslim League and consequently India was divided while Punjab could never amass such support for the cause of an independent state and Muslim League and its politics remained largely dominated by feudal and Raj loyalists. Bengali Muslims also won the referendum in Selhet, a bordering region in Asam, to make the district a part of Pakistan and Awami League’s leader Sheikh Mujeeb played a pivotal role in campaign. Then why did all that happen? The answer doesn’t lie in Pandora’s box neither we need any supernatural prowess to reach the conclusion. The fault was never in the stars but in the deeds and that started with the declaration of Urdu as national language of Pakistan by Jinnah during his first and only visit to East Pakistan.
Mr Jinnah declared ‘’Urdu and only Urdu’’ as state language of Pakistan during his address to a convocation gathering of Dhaka University on 24th of March, 1948.Bengalis couldn’t show their discontentment and express their deeply entrenched anger in presence of mighty Jinnah but they never accepted the decision to adopt a language unknown to majority of the people, not only of Eastern wing but to the Western part of Pakistan as well. At that time, Urdu was a language of a smaller but influential class who migrated from other parts of subcontinent especially from UP but on the other hand the language had established itself as most popular language of north India. The adherents of Bengali language with its rich history, affluent literature and strong cultural bonding, considering it an onslaught on their identity, couldn’t bear the burden for too long and with the demise of Jinnah they were in streets to protect their language. Bengalis took the sensitive issue to the streets while on the other hand the ruling class of Punjab who despite being the heirs of second largest language of the country find it convenient to put their weight in the side of Urdu. Ah, Punjabis were always men of convenience.
Language and politics attached with it initiated the mass protests and use of force against these demonstrations resulted in loss of lives on 21st of February,1952 and it gave the very first signs of blood to Bengali movement. In 1956, Bengali was accepted as a national language for the temporary satisfaction of erstwhile Eastern part of Pakistan but fundamental rights of electing a representative government was denied to people and a dirty and tiring power struggle between Punjabi-dominated military and bureaucracy led Bengalis to conclude that they would always remain underlings and subaltern. The country saw the first great dictator in form of Ayub who glared himself as Field marshal and mocked French general to called himself de Gaulle. Though he snatched power from Sikandar Mirza very unlikely to De Gaulle who snatched his country from enemies, his reign saw massive campaign of modernization and industrialization in the country. General drafted a new constitution, built large water reservoirs, fought war against arch-rival India, patted US president’s cheeks, put his political opponents behind the bars, defeated Miss Jinnah in a sham presidential elections and remained a formidable figure in Pakistani politics for a decade.
Ayub’s fall as a result of discontentment and agitation, brought Yahya in power who decided to hold first ever general elections in history of Pakistan. Sheikh Mujeeb led his campaign on 6 points agenda and promised a loose central government to his supporters during his campaign while Bhutto promised nationalization of industries and a socialist revolution in country. The people of Pakistan voted on such a grand scale for the first time since 1945-46 and as a result Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rehman and his party emerged victorious and representative of the people of Pakistan. Second to Awami League’s 162, Bhutto’s PPP stood high with a tally of 86 though both parties couldn’t win any seats in other’s strongholds. Constitutionally, rationally and practically, it was Awami League and Mujeeb who had all the rights to form a government. But on the other hand, political and military establishment had other plans and they decided to teach Bengalis a good lesson for demanding a share in power.
In alliance with Bhutto, Yahya prolonged the call for assembly session while Bhutto threatened his people to attend any parliamentary session in Dhaka. For much of Bhutto’s frustration, finally Yahya announced a date to hold assembly session only to be cancelled later.
On sensing betrayal, Mujeeb attended a large crowd in Palttan Ground on 7th of March 1971 and announced a non-cooperation movement against martial law authorities. The law and order situation deteriorated and authorities decided to launch the doomed Operation Search Light which later turned into a bloodbath and concluded in dismemberment and collapse of largest Muslim country on Earth and creation of Bangladesh as an independent state. The dreamer’s dream and a lawyer’s logic once built a great nation was divided forever on 25th of March 1971.