At Kolkata Press Club on April 16, 1971, two nondescript Bangladesh officials kept journalists waiting for hours. Finally, the officials arrived in the evening and expressed an apology for being late.
Abdul Mannan, an MNA (later the first home minister of Bangladesh in 1972) remained silent, while Barrister Rahmat Ali, without waiting for an introduction, told the crowded journalists that they are requested, including the foreign press representatives, to return to the press club for an important announcement the following morning.
The following morning, Kolkata Press Club was overcrowded with local and foreign journalists accompanied by a battery of camerapersons and press photographers.
Ali announced: “Gentlemen, on behalf of the government of Bangladesh, I invite you to our country,” which jolted the journalists as the Liberation War history was unfolding.
The rally of cars carrying journalists did not know where they were going, whom they would meet, and what they would witness. Everybody was worried about what kind of dispatch they would send to their newsroom. When the vehicles stopped at a mango orchard in Meherpur, inside Bangladesh, the Kolkata journalists quickly dubbed the place as Mujibnagar.
Of course, India and the entire world was taken by surprise that Bangladesh formally announced the “Proclamation of Bangladesh Independence” and the formation of a government-in-exile to coordinate the Liberation War.
What surprised many, was that among the Kolkata media circle, none leaked the story of the secret endeavour of the Mujibnagar episode. The thoughtful journalists maintained secrecy to avoid the enemies being alerted from a single line published in an Indian newspaper.
Journalist Sukharanjan Sengupta saw a vehicle with a diplomatic number plate entering the porch on March 22.
The curious journalist rushed towards the office of Chief Secretary Nirmal Sengupta and waited for the person to come out.
The person was nobody else but the deputy high commissioner posted in Dhaka during the crucial period. Time was ticking for Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as New Delhi was impatiently waiting to see what emerges from the negotiation in Dhaka.
Fortunately, the journalist knew the diplomat and quickly asked whether the negotiation to resolve the political crisis will go in the favour of Sheikh Mujib or will there be a bloodbath.
The diplomat was in a rush. He frowned and said the second one and was then escorted to the Kolkata airport and to New Delhi to hold a confidential debriefing on the Bangladesh crisis with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
On March 23, the Republic Day of Pakistan, the “Joy Bangla” flag was fluttered all over the country, except for the military cantonments and a few government offices in Dhaka.
On March 25, Bangabandhu was still negotiating with the advisors of Pakistan’s military leader General Yahya Khan to avoid a bloodbath in the streets.
However, near midnight on March 25, the Pakistan army launched the genocidal campaign “Operation Searchlight,” leaving Bangladesh no choice but to go to war.
First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 27 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