Bangabandhu waving at a crowd (not in the photo) while Hasina looks on at the historic Dhanmondi-32 house on March 23, 1971.
March 23, 1971 was an extraordinary day.
It had always been observed as Pakistan's Republic Day. And yet this
time in 1971, something different happened. Instead of the green and
white flags with a crescent and a star of Pakistan, green flags with a
red disc with the map of East Pakistan in golden colour superimposed,
fluttered atop all buildings in Dhaka.
On the streets, hawkers were selling this new flag.
Dr Kamal Hossain came out of his house at 6 in the morning and was
immediately floored by this extraordinary scene. He bought a flag near
the stadium and fixed it to his car. A strange sense of accomplishment
filled up his chest as he drove down to Dhanmondi Road 32 to meet
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Questions were crowding inside his head. Is this going to be true?
Will the Bangalis finally get their right to rule? Will the talks
between Bangabandhu and Yahya yield the results the whole nation is
waiting for? Will the people of East Pakistan be able to determine their
fate? Will they get the rightful share of what they deserved –
development and political power?
It was only 7 in the morning. Yet people chanting slogans were coming
in processions towards Bangabandhu's house. Some of them produced a
huge Bangladesh flag and unfurled it atop the house.
Events in East Pakistan were advancing at a breakneck speed at that
time. Legally Awami League, that had won the majority seats in the 1970
December election was supposed to form the government, ending 12 years
of martial law. All was set for it as president General Yahya Khan
called the assembly session on March 3. But he suddenly postponed it on
Bangalis erupted in protest. Bangabandhu declared an indefinite
non-cooperation movement from the same day. Since then nothing was as
before. Dhaka turned into a city of slogans. Offices and banks were shut
down. Schools and colleges were closed. The Pakistan government had no
control over anything in East Pakistan. Mujib became the de facto prime
Pakistan junta then presented a new trick by calling a dialogue with
Mujib on power transfer. It was later to be revealed that the dialogue
was nothing but a way to buy time for a military crackdown on the
raises the flag of independent Bangladesh before a jubilant crowd at
the gate of his Dhanmondi-32 home on March 23, 1971, the Republic Day in
Pakistan. Photo: Collected
Yahya had arrived in Dhaka on March 15 and met Bangabandhu the
next day. Mujib was visibly agitated about the postponement of the
assembly session. He wanted lifting of martial law and power transfer to
Yahya wanted to delay the issue by mentioning that this would create a
legal vacuum. Bangabandhu and his team could be convinced that an
interim arrangement could be made to avoid such vacuum before a final
constitution is drafted.
And so on this March 23 morning, Dr Kamal and his team had a very
important mission. They had to negotiate the draft of the provisional
constitution for Pakistan with Yahya.
At 11:30 in the morning, Kamal and his team drove down to the
President's House with Bangladesh flags fluttering on their cars to the
obvious displeasure of the military guards and officers there.
Inside the President's House they met president Yahya's advisor MM
Ahmed, who had been brought in with a team from West Pakistan to discuss
the provisional constitution with the Awami League team. Ahmed was more
or less amenable to the draft. But it was General Pirzada, PSO to
president Yahya, who put his foot down.
Pirzada suggested that Ahmed sit with the AL economic team to examine
the financial implications of the constitution that was drafted on the
basis of AL's Six-point demand, a document for self-governance.
Dr Kamal and his team sensed that it was just another delaying tactic
of the Pakistani junta. Are they doing it as part of some game plan? Or
are they just doing it to delay the inevitable – handing over power to
Awami League? For now Kamal and his team agreed to sit with Ahmed.
In the evening, as they met again, MM Ahmed handed a list of
insertions in the draft. He agreed that East Pakistan could deal with
its foreign trade. Tax collection and retention were a problem to be
From there the AL team came to Professor Nurul Islam's residence
where the AL economic expert team was continuously meeting and
discussing things. The issues proposed by MM Ahmed were presented before
the team. Long discussion was held on tax collection and management of
separate foreign exchange account. Because of the long economic
deprivation by West Pakistan, Awami League wanted East Pakistan's full
power on tax collection and retention of foreign exchange.
As the Awami League leaders were seriously pondering these issues,
news came that president Yahya Khan was absent from his residence the
whole day. He was busy in the cantonment overseeing the last touches to
Operation Searchlight, the horrific military adventurism to crush the
Bangalis' dream of freedom through genocide.
Bangabandhu and his team could feel that time was running out as
students were getting impatient and agitated. Frequent clashes with the
military were erupting place at various corners in the city. In
Chittagong, port workers blocked the road and refused to unload arms the
Pakistan government had brought on the MV Swat. Somehow the workers
could sense that these same arms would be used against them. In Tongi
and Joydevpur, many civilians were killed as the military opened fire on
people obstructing military convoys. In Rangpur, the army and the
public engaged in clashes. The situation in East Pakistan was very
architects of Operation Searchlight -- Gen Rao Farman (L) and Gen
Khadim Raja -- were busy finalising the plan to annihilate the
freedom-loving Bangalis as Yahya Khan was buying time in the name of
ANOTHER DAY WASTED
On the evening of March 24, the Awami League team was ready to
leave for the President's House to resume the crucial discussion because
time was running out. Before the team left, Mujib suggested Pakistan
should be known as Confederation of Pakistan.
The proposal created a strong disagreement from the government team
that wanted Pakistan to be named as Union of Pakistan. The Awami League
team argued that a single word cannot be the stumbling block in the
negotiation as the situation was getting worse and that the issue could
be sorted out by Yahya and Mujib.
The Awami League team wanted to finalise the draft that night so that
the next morning it could be presented to Mujib and Yahya to sign. An
important member of the Pakistan team, justice Cornelius agreed. But
Pirzada again objected.
“No, we have some discussions this evening, you may meet tomorrow
morning,” he said. Pirzada added he would call in the morning with the
time of the meeting. THE CALL NEVER CAME
March 25 dawned with a lot of apprehension.
Bangabandhu stayed the whole day in the downstairs hall of his
residence at Dhanmondi 32 with Kamruzzaman, Tajuddin, Captain Mansur
Ali, Syed Nazrul Islam, Dr Kamal and Gazi Golam Mostafa. They discussed
the future of East Pakistan, what the defeated leader of the Pakistan
People's party Zulfikar Ali Bhutto might now do and many other things.
Every now and then they glanced at the heavy black telephone set in the
corner, expecting the call.
The day wore out and yet that call from Pirzada about the meeting did
not come. A sense of apprehension and gloom took over the leaders'
Other calls came though. Numerous callers telephoned to pass
information that the Pakistan army was taking all kinds of preparation
for an imminent crackdown. A caller said Yahya Khan had just left Dhaka
secretly. He had not used his official car to escape prying eyes.
A little later, Sheikh Fazlul Hoque Moni, nephew of Bangabandhu, came
in. He informed Mujib that he was leaving Dhaka for Tungipara a little
later. London-based Awami League leader Zakaria Chowdhury came in to say
he was going to cross the border by night and fly to London. It seemed
everybody was dispersing as fast as possible, sensing the looming
apocalypse. BANGABANDHU'S DIRECTIVE TO TAJUDDIN
Bangabandhu then told Tajuddin Ahmed, Amirul Islam and Dr Kamal to
hide in the residence of an Awami League supporter in the old area of
the town when the military struck and then cross the river and melt into
the countryside to build resistance.
It was getting eerily quiet. You could hear the hands of the wall
clock moving in their eternal rounds. The city seemed to have become a
Around 8pm, Kamruzzaman, Capt Monsur Ali, Tajuddin Ahmed and Syed Nazrul Islam came in to meet Mujib again.
Around the same time, Kamal Hossain returned home to find people
waiting for him for the latest. Kamal told them that the military was
about to launch an attack and that everybody should go into hiding. A LAST VISIT
Kamal Hossain and Amirul Islam left hurriedly in a friend's car and
moved towards Satmasjid road to pick Tajuddin Ahmed who was later to
become the acting prime minister of Bangladesh government in exile.
But they detoured and stopped at Dhanmondi 32 to see Bangabandhu one
last time. Roads were already barricaded with felled trees. They had
travelled through the Dhaka University area, painstakingly maneuvering
the blockades. The students were barricading the road with anything they
could lay their hands on. The mood was grim.
Bangabandhu's residence, which was full of milling people until the
afternoon, looked dark and deserted now. Kamal and Amirul found him in
the dining room with his wife.
Mujib came out and said impatiently, “Why haven't you gone to the old town as you were told to do?”
As he walked them to the door, Kamal and Amirul asked him what he
would do now. Mujib said: “You leave that to me. From now, we are
independent. Our people are united and will fight.” 'I HAVE NO WAY OF GOING ANYWHERE NOW'
Bangabandhu looked a forlorn figure. The lonely warrior standing bravely in the face of the inevitable.
It was 11 and Bangabandhu had not had his dinner yet. His daughter
Sheikh Hasina (who is now the prime minister) and son-in-law MA Wazed
Mia, were on the rooftop, worriedly pacing up and down. Hasina was
worrying about her father as he had not come upstairs yet. It was long
past Dinner time. They usually would have dinner together around nine.
“Abba has not eaten yet,” Hasina said. “Let's go down and bring him up.”
As they descended, they found Bangabandhu standing at the foot of the
stairs, talking to Sirajul Alam Khan, Shahjahan Siraj and ASM Abdur
Rob, the three most prominent student leaders who had fired up the
students with their rousing speeches.
After he was finished with them, Mujib hugged Hasina and said in an
emotional voice: “Ma, I have not seen you the whole day.” His eyes were
Around 11:30, the house help came up and said somebody named Jhontu was waiting downstairs to see Mujib.
“Oh, I was just thinking about him. Wajed, go down and bring him
here,” Mujib was eager to meet the visitor. Jhontu introduced himself as
the younger brother of Zakaria Chowdhury, the Awami League leader who
had been there in the day.
Jhontu held Bangabandhu in a tight embrace and said,” Mujib bhai, the
Pakistan army is coming to kill you. You have to leave this place right
now. They are getting ready to enter Dhaka city with tanks, cannons and
heavy machine guns.”
Mujib wanted to know the details of the Pakistan army's planning.
Jhontu seemed to know a lot. He said the Pakistan army would attack
Dhaka university student halls. They would crush the police headquarters
and East Pakistan Rifles, shoot anyone found on the street and would
capture radio and TV stations.
Bangabandhu listened raptly and then loudly called out for his
daughters Hasina and Rehana. He told them to leave the house immediately
and take shelter in another house rented a few days ago at Dhanmondi
Road 8/A on the Satmosjid Road. It was Wajed Mia and Hasina who had
scoured the city for the last 15 days and finally rented this house for
900 rupees, apprehending such attacks.
Wajed Mia asked Bangabandhu what would he do now and where he did he want to go.
“I have no way of going anywhere now. So if they want to kill me,
they have to do it here. Kamal (Mujib's eldest son) has already slipped
out. Jamal (his second son) cannot stay without his mother. So he will
remain here.” HASINA LEFT HOME
It was an emotional moment. Hasina and Rehana started crying, holding their father in a tight embrace.
Wajed Mia quickly drove out of the house in his car with a suitcase
in the boot. It was dark outside. He noticed some unknown people
suspiciously walking opposite the house by the lake. They seemed to be
guarding the place.
He saw people putting barricades on the street. He reached the rented
house at 12 midnight. Soon after, Hasina and Rehana came with their
Gun shots started a little later. They could hear long bursts from
machine guns and heavy booms from cannons coming from the Pilkhana area.
The war had started.
Then they heard an army convoy rumbling towards Bangabandhu's house,
probably to take him in. Or to kill him as Mujib had apprehended. They
shuddered thinking of that tall, brave man who let everybody escape but
himself remained in his station like a true leader.
[The report has been prepared on the basis of the books " Bangladesh:
Quest For Freedom and Justice" by Dr. Kamal Hossain, " Bangabanhdu
Sheikh Mujib Ke Ghire Kisu Ghotona O Bangladesh" by Dr. MA Wazed Mia and
Mooldhara 71" by Maidul Hasan.]