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March 1971 Diary: Over the precipice

  • Published at 11:55 pm March 15th, 2021
File photo of Prof Rehman Sobhan - Mahmud Hossain Opu
File photo of Prof Rehman Sobhan Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

This extract is the seventh in a series that will run until March 25, in which we reproduce Rehman Sobhan’s contemporaneous account of the momentous events of March 1971. This was first published in Forum on March 13, 1971

The military capability is being reinforced and an attempt may be made to enforce authority on the renegade administrators whose allegiance is now pledged to the people. Sheikh Mujib’s response to Yahya’s challenge in his rally on March 7 has set the stage for another showdown. 

Despite considerable pressure from his rank and file, Mujib has however managed to keep the door open for an amicable solution to the crisis. The public mood wants much more than a mere dialogue which threatens to be frustrated by the LFO, reiterated once again as a challenge by President Yahya. Mujib has thus put his own leadership to the test in deferring the holocaust which must follow the inevitable confrontation with the reinforced hawks. 

In this he had to balance the urge for compromise by the middle-class elements already feeling the pinch from the hartals and fearful of the chaos to come, against the student-proletarian base which now dominates the mood on the streets. 

His speech was thus less than what the militants demanded from the dais but was no craven capitulation either. He succeeded in returning the challenge to President Yahya and placed the responsibility of genocide and national disintegration solely on those who wield power today. 

His demand for an end to Martial Law, the withdrawal of troops and power to the people is no more than a request to come to terms with the de facto situation in Bangla Desh today. Killing, looting, and arson has stopped and the majority has shown itself fully capable of coping with the situation. What exists of the administration is already being run by the Awami League, all officials willingly take orders from them to see that the province does not degenerate into chaos. 

To attempt to reverse this situation by attempts to recapture the administration under Martial Law can only bring the province to a state of total collapse. The capability of the regime therefore only extends to the point where they can shoot down unarmed civilians and impose a reign of terror. But they can never hope to get the economy and administration of this province functioning again without the people’s consent.

If they are therefore serious about their search for a viable solution to the nation’s future, the least they must do is to accept Sheikh Mujib’s terms. Whether this will be enough to convince the people that the nation can be held together will depend on whether the assembly will cede the minimum demands of the people or whether they are merely deferring a showdown. 

As it stands, it is not certain if even Six-Points is saleable any longer in Bangla Desh. Mr. Bhutto is reported to have said he saw no difference between Six-Points and disintegration. He is now being given a practical demonstration that an entire new world lies beyond Six-Points and that the authors of Six-Points were ironically perhaps the last true integrationists left in Pakistan.

Today the nation can hang together only by the freely given consent of the people of Bangla Desh. The power of weapons is no more capable of ensuring the integrity of the country than it was in keeping India under the British or united. 

Sheikh Mujib has recognised this point and risked his entire political life in buying time for a final answer. In this simple act he has shown that if the nation does break it will lie on the heads of those who pull the trigger.

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