The 1970 General Elections and its Aftermath

Let’s know the 1970 general elections and its aftermath. With the appearance of General Yahya Khan on the Political horizon of Pakistan in 1969, everyone heaved a sigh of relief with the expectation that “one man rule” would ultimately come to an end and democracy would be restored. Yahya was committed to bringing democracy to Pakistan based on ‘one man, one vote’.

From January 1970, political activity began again as the various parties began campaigning to elect a National Assembly of 300 members. That Assembly was to be given 120 days to draw up a new constitution. Three days after elections to the assembly, there would be provincial elections.

The elections were planned for October 1970 but had to be postponed because severe flooding in East Pakistan caused such chaos that voting was impossible. The elections were finally held in December 1970 and January 1971.

They were the first ever held in Pakistan on the principle of one man. One vote. The results were such a shock that they created a constitutional crisis in Pakistan. The elections gave the <B< Party People’s> led by Bhutto, 88 of the 138 seats in West Pakistan.

But for the first time, East Pakistan had been allowed to have a number of seat reflections the fact that it had a greater population than West Pakistan. There were 169 of them. It also secured 298 out of 310 seats in the East Pakistan Provincial Assembly.

Reasons for the Awami League success

A Major reason for the success of the Awami League was the sense of frustration felt by the Bengalis in East Pakistan towards their Muslim countrymen in West Pakistan. They also resented the fact that East Pakistan was under-represented in all aspects of Pakistan’s administration, from the government itself to the judiciary and civil service. In the army too. The majority of officers were form West Pakistan.

The Bengali people also felt that their province suffered from the lack of economic development. In 1951 the per capita income of East Pakistan was 85% of that of West Pakistan. By 1970 it was only 60%. The Bengalis believed that West Pakistan’s economic growth had taken place as a result of transferring resources from East to West Pakistan.

They argued that the single largest Pakistani export was jute, which was grown predominantly in East Pakistan. But the proceeds from the export of jute and jute products were not substantially allocated to the development of East Pakistan.

So when the election of December 1970 came, the Awami League was able to win support by proposing a program which called for a fairer share of government spending and more power to the provinces.

Why did the victory of the Awami League cause a constitutional crisis?

There were two major problems created by the results of the election;

  • The Awami League had won so many seats that it now had a majority not only in East Pakistan but in the national assembly as a whole. That meant that it was in a position to form the government on its own. In theory, the future Prime Minister and the entire cabinet could come from east Pakistan. Although the PPP has won an overwhelming victory in West Pakistan, it was quite possible for it to have no role in the government unless the Awami League invited it to share power.
  • The second problem was that the Awami League had won the election on a program limiting the power of central government over the provinces. The call for the provinces to have control of their foreign exchange earned from trade would greatly reduce the funds available to the central government in West Pakistan.

Consequently, there was no way that Yahya and the West Pakistani politicians were prepared to consequently, there was no way that Yahya and the West Pakistani politicians were prepared to allow the Six Points to be put into action. Mujib believed that they were negotiable, but he had little chance to explain this before steps were taken against him.

Central government reaction to the result

In January 1971, Yahya visited Mujib and ever referred to him as the next President of Pakistan. He hoped that by doing this he could persuading Mujib that he should not use the new Assembly to create a new constitution limiting the power of central government.

Following this, in February 1970, Bhutto announced that the PPP would not take up their seats in the National assembly unless Mujib talked with the other parties and reached an agreement about power-sharing beforehand.

On 1 March 1971, just two days before it was due to meet. Yahya postponed the opening of the Assembly, without setting a new date.

The freedom struggles and independence

Non-cooperation movement

The people of east Pakistan considered that they had been betrayed by Yahya and immediately began a camping of mass civil disobedience, including, strikes, demonstrations and refusing to pay tax. Hartal was observed on 2 March in Dhaka and on 3 march throughout the country. The students of Dhaka University vowed to create “Seadhin (Independent) Bangladesh”.

On 3 March, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman addressed a huge public rally at Paltan. He announced hartal program every day until 6 March from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Law was forced to announce that the National Assembly session would be held on 25 March. At the same time. Lt. General tikka Kahn was appointed Martial Law Administrator and Governor of East Pakistan.

On 7 March Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made his most famous speech at the Race Course (the present day Suhrawardy Uddyan). He called on those present to prepare for a Liberation War and announced an action Program of non-violent non-cooperation which was to be followed throughout Bangladesh. He announced 35 rules for running the civil administration and effectively became the leader of east Bengal.

Central government reaction to political mobilization East Pakistan: On 15 March Yahya and Bhutto Met Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Dhaka for further talks to resolve the situation. As it became apparent that no agreement could be reached.

Tikka Khan brought in reinforcements. On 25 March Yahya flew back to Islamabad and the next day but  left Dhaka. That night Tikka’s men moved on the Awami League. Mujib was arrested and hundreds of his supporters and colleagues were arrested or killed.

Pakistani forces surrounded Dhaka city with tanks and other military vehicles. Truckloads of army men spread out through the city streets for stamping out all civil resistance. At midnight, the Dhaka University halls of residences and staff quarters were attacked with tanks and armored vehicles. A number of teachers, students and officials were killed.

Many buildings including some newspaper offices were battered with mortar shells. Many people were burnt alive in the house set on fire. Various parts of old Dhaka, including Hindu majority Mahallas such as Shankhari Patti and Pantibazar zome unde martas shells.

Hundreds of inmates were gunned down. it was estimated that more than 50,000 men, women, and children were killed in Dhaka. Chittagong. Jessore, Mymensingh, Kushtia and  other cities within the first three days of the genocide beginning from 25 Source: Banglapaedia, Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.

The outbreak of civil war

Yahya had sent the army into East Pakistan to keep order and the Awami League was banned. In the absence of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Major Ziaur Rahman appeared at Kalurghat Swadhin Bangla Radio Station on 26 March and made a declaration of independence of Bangladesh on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The invading Pakistani army continued its attacks on Dhaka and other parts of Bangladesh. Dhaka city was almost destroyed through torching and bombing. To stop the spread of the news of the atrocities reaching the outside world, the army restricted the movements of foreign journalists and imposed strict censorship on their reports. But huge numbers of peasants, workers, students, young people, women, teachers, artists and intellectuals joined in fighting the Liberation War.

On 31 March, India declared its support for the people of Bengal against West Pakistan. The Indian Army began to help and train the Bengali army. which called itself Mukti Bahini. As a result, relations between India and Pakistan deteriorated rapidly. The Indian High Commission in Dhaka was closed, as was the Pakistani High Commission in Calcutta.

Government in exile

On 17 April 1971, in the village of Vaidyanathtala in the Meherpur district. Bangladesh formed its first government, with Mujibnagar as the became the capital of the Provisional Government. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was elected President, but as he was in a Pakistani jail. Vice President Syed Nazrul Islam became Acting President. Other important members of the government were:

  • Prime Minister: Tajuddin Ahmed
  • Foreign Minister: Khandakar Mushtaq Ahamed
  • Finance Minister: Captain (Retd.) Mansur Ali
  • Home Minister: A.H.M. Qamruzzaman

Colonel Muhammed Ataul Ghani Osmani became commander-in-chief of the Mukti Bahini.

Professor Yusuf Ali, Awami League member National Assembly, read out a statement declaring 26 March 1971 as Independence Day. Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam and Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed appealed to other countries to recognize Bangladesh’s independence.

The War of liberation

The first task of the Provisional Government was to lead the people in the Liberation War. It formed a regular armed Battalion, consisting of the Bengali  members of the then East Pakistan Regiment and Bengali Soldiers and officers of the Pakistani Army, another body of forces by the name of “Sector Troops” was formed with the members of Police, EPR, and Army.

Later on, three brigades were formed known as “K” force, “S” Force and “Z” Force consisting of the members of the regular armed battalion. They were treated as the gegular force. They were known as “Mukti Bahini” and Mukti Fauj”.

Students, others, peasants, workers and people from other professions helped form a guerilla force of ‘Freedom Fighter’ workers and people from other professions helped form a guerilla force of Freedom Fighter which played a very important role in the Liberation war.

There were a few collaborators, known as Rajakars. Al-Badr and Al-Shams, who aided the Pakistani army in their killing and oppression. But the vast majority of Bengalis found a way to support the provisional Government, either by fighting or more indirect methods, such as providing information.

Response of the world to the cause of Bangladesh

The first country to support Bangladesh in the War of Liberation was India. Around ten million Bengalis were forced to seek refuge in India when Pakistani forces started their genocide campaign. The government of Indira Gandhi and the people of India extended support to all who took refuge in India.

The Soviet Union also supported Bangladesh and in August 1971 Signed a Treaty of Peace. Friendship and Commerce with India. So the Indian government knew that if it went to war with Soviet support, came assistance from other Eastern European countries.

Unfortunately, the governments of some states, including the USA and China, did not support Bangladesh in the liberation war, but the common people of many countries sympathized with the hardships of the people of Bangladesh and provided them with practical assistance.

Bhutan was the first country to recognize Bangladesh as an independent sovereign country, closely followed, on 6 December 1971, by India. By that time, a full-scale war had broken out between India and Pakistan.

The Indian forces and the Mukti Bahini jointly formed combined forces and directed attacks within East Pakistan. At the same time, Indian air forces and the freedom fighters conducted air raids on important Pakistani installations. The Indian Navy also joined in this operation.

Due to the intensive attack of the combined forces, the Pakistani invading forces were compelled to surrender unconditionally. On 16 December Lt. General Niazi, Commander of the occupation forces, surrendered at the Suhrawardy Uddyan to the combined forces along with 93 thousand soldiers and weapons.

The Liberation War had been won and a new country established the sovereign and independent state of Bangladesh.

Showing pride in your nation

  • You have been asked to prepare a paper for a foreign visitor explaining how Bangladesh became independent and why it needed to be free from West Pakistan.
  • The culture differences between West and east Pakistan
  • Discrimination against East Pakistan
  • The language issue
  • The repressive measures of the central government
  • The 1970 election
  • The heroic actions of the people of Bangladesh in the Liberation war.

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