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March 1971 Diary: Too little and too late - Part II

  • Published at 06:00 pm March 10th, 2021
File photo Professor Rehman Sobhan
File photo of eminent economist Prof Rehman Sobhan Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

This is the second in a series that will run until March 25, in which we reproduce Rehman Sobhan’s contemporaneous account of the events of that momentous month in Bangladeshi history, originally written for Forum magazine. This piece was first published in Forum on March 6, 1971

Today the people of Bangla Desh have been challenged. In the eyes of their rulers their struggle to realise their rights is merely the act of a handful of people out to instigate murder and loot. This crass reaction to the struggle and sacrifice of 70 million Bengalis would put even our ex-imperial rulers to shame.

In this context even the calling of the National Assembly is being overtaken by events. Mr. Bhutto’s acceptance, buttressed by reassurances of the LFO, is a mockery of the dead who gave their lives merely to make the chairman change his mind. Now their memory demands much more than a mere debate for this has already been overshadowed by a dialogue of death in the streets. How far anything will come out of this session is uncertain, but the crisis will merely be postponed. 

For the moment, the people of Bangla Desh have been reminded in no uncertain terms that power comes from the barrel of the gun. They have been reminded that sticks and rods are puny weapons when compared with the power of a mechanised force which sees itself as the sole guardian of the nation’s future. They have been told that if their expectations extend beyond the National Assembly they will have to face the consequences. In throwing down this gauntlet the authors have banked on the fact that this was an essentially middle-class dominated movement which in the moment of confrontation will act true to its salt and stand silent before the language of weapons.

Also Read - March 1971 Diary: Too little and too late

But they are mistaken. This is a people’s struggle. Today the emotions and interests of 70 million people are involved. Even the cautious civil servant has cast in his lot with the struggle. The extent of non-cooperation is almost unique. Today the loyalty of no one in Bangla Desh to the regime of the oppressor is certain. It matters not if the weak waiver because the workers, students, and eventually the peasants are aware and ready to throw themselves into the final phase of the struggle.

Their lack of military preparedness may make this a long drawn-out struggle where much blood will have to fertilise the soil of Bangla Desh. The struggle has merely confirmed what had been proved in 1969 -- that the people are no longer afraid of the gun.

But this is only a first step. The outcome is however never in doubt, only the time and cost in blood. Leaders may come and go but the people will carry the banner of freedom forward. The National Assembly may therefore meet and go through the motions of debate.

But it is now clear that unless this ratifies the elemental urge of the people of Bangla Desh for self-rule, it will merely be a staging post in the ongoing struggle of the people.

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