On the 50th birth anniversary of Bangladesh, the nation was perhaps expecting that the government would declare April 17 as the country’s Republic Day. This is the day when the cabinet of the government-in-exile took an oath of office and accepted the challenge to lead the War of Liberation to achieve independence.
The venue was discreetly decided at Baidyanathtala, Meherpur in eastern Bangladesh (less than a kilometre from the Indian border). The site was secured by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) and mounted anti-aircraft artillery to thwart any air attacks by marauding Pakistan fighter jets.
A day earlier, the Ansar saw hundreds of BSF soldiers and vehicles pour in and secure the area. The following morning, April 17, the leaders of government-in-exile, Indian officials, scores of journalists, international photographers, and TV camera persons also arrived with senior BSF officers accompanied by hundreds of additional troops.
At 11 am the ceremony began with recitation from the Qur’an and playing of the national anthem. The oath-taking ceremony was conducted by Abdul Mannan, MNA, and the proclamation of independence was read out by Professor Mohammad Yusuf Ali.
The assignment of portfolios was assigned among the ministers on April 18. The incumbents of the government were: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (interned in Pakistan jail), president of Bangladesh. Syed Nazrul Islam (Vice President and also Acting President), Tajuddin Ahmad (Prime Minister), Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad (Foreign Affairs and Law Minister), Muhammad Mansur Ali (Finance Minister), AHM Qamaruzzaman (Home, Relief and Rehabilitation Minister), and Muhammad Ataul Gani Osmani (Commander-in-Chief of the Bangladesh Forces or Mukti Bahini). The guard of honour was given to Syed Nazrul Islam, the acting president of Mujibnagar.
The government-in-exile had an elaborate structure of administrative departments, agencies, and activities. Even though elaborate agencies were established, the government’s main work remained coordinating the Liberation War and boosting popular support in occupied Bangladesh.
Soon the government-in-exile operated from 8 Theatre Road, Kolkata. Tajuddin Ahmad supervised the military operations of the Mukti Bahini, held coordinating meetings with officials of Indira Gandhi, the Eastern Command of the Indian Army, the foreign dignitaries, the international NGOs in aid of the 10 million war refugees, and of course, smoothing the inner-conflicts within the hierarchy.
The Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendra broadcast was a moral inspiration for the millions of people who were either languishing in refugee camps across the borders of Bangladesh or living in hellish conditions in occupied Bangladesh.
The production of documentary films, postage stamps, propaganda posters, regular press briefing in Kolkata, definitely made a dent in telling the world of the genocide in Bangladesh and the war crimes committed by the marauding Pakistan troops.
Tajuddin Ahmad was an intimate colleague and a trusted comrade of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and enjoyed the recognition and full support of the Indian leadership -- which was an important resource that lent authority to his position, writes acclaimed economist Rehman Sobhan in his book Untranquil Recollections.
Well, the government-in-exile earned credibility and gave an alternative dichotomy to General Yayha Khan’s military regime in Rawalpindi.
Nonetheless, most historians interpret that the able stewardship of the Mujibnagar government, which was a symbolic icon of the nationalist struggle, had essentially lifted the morale of the revolution.
First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 20 April 2021
Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org> Twitter @saleemsamad