Opinion Desk: What happened on February 5, some 54 years ago

On February 5, 1966, history reinvented itself. It took a decisive turn for the Bengali nation, inexorably to a point that led to the inevitability of sovereignty. There was to be no turning back after that.

On that day in Lahore, the very city where a resolution for the establishment of Pakistan had been adopted by the All India Muslim League in March 1940 and where the Indian National Congress had met in session in 1930, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, general secretary of the East Pakistan AL — the future Bangabandhu — revealed 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, coming only months after the India-Pakistan war of September 1965 and barely a month following the signing of the Tashkent Declaration by the leaders of India and Pakistan, put Mujib and a large section of Bengali Awami League on a collision course with the All-Pakistan Awami League led by Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan.

It also provoked the fury of Field Marshal Mohammad 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 ZA Bhutto challenged Mujib to a public debate on the Six Points at Dhaka’s Paltan Maidan.

Tajuddin Ahmad, a rising star in the AL, accepted the challenge on behalf of his leader and close political associate. In the event, Bhutto did not turn up.

The Six Points, which Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made public in Lahore in February 1966 and which the East Pakistan Awami League formally adopted, in the teeth of opposition from many of its members and also from the All-Pakistan Awami League led by Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, on March 18, 1966, were the following:

1. Pakistan shall be a federation in the true sense on the basis of the Lahore Resolution of March 1940, with the form of government being parliamentary in nature and elected through universal adult franchise;

2. The federal government shall deal with only two subjects, namely, foreign affairs and defense, with all other subjects to be handled by the federating units;

3. Two separate but freely convertible currencies for the two wings of Pakistan may be introduced or a single currency would be used, with guarantees that there will be no flight of capital from East to West Pakistan, the guarantees being in the form of separate reserve banks for East and West Pakistan;

4. Powers of taxation and revenue collection shall vest in the federating units, with the federal government provided with its share of taxes through levies of a certain percentage from all state taxes;

5. There shall be two separate accounts for foreign exchange earnings for the two wings;

6. A separate paramilitary force shall be set up for East Pakistan.

Between March and early May 1966, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (who had been elected president of the EPAL) and his lieutenants Tajuddin Ahmad (the new general secretary of the EPAL), Syed Nazrul Islam, M Mansoor Ali, AHM 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 AL leaders with imprisonment.

On May 8 that year, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was detained under the Defense 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 AL 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 AL 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 in police firing.

The following day, June 8, newspapers carried only the government version of the previous day’s happenings. And the version was to portray the “violence” of AL supporters on the streets.

Following the hartal, the AL decided, formally on July 23-24, 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 AL, came in. She launched the second phase of the campaign for the Six Points at a public meeting on August 17, 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 program.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.