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March 1971 Diary: From non-cooperation to People’s Raj

  • Published at 12:00 am March 19th, 2021
Anwar Hossain's photo of 1971-1
Photo: Courtesy: Anwar Hossain Foundation

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

This however did not mean that all civil servants were sitting idle. They were carrying the struggle from its phase of non-cooperation to active cooperation with the Awami League. Groups of officials accepted the task of identifying problems and presenting them to Sheikh Mujib for decision. 

A sort of improvised Secretariat was in operation where streams of businessmen and civil servants were visiting in search of solutions to problems, consultation, and reassurance. The conditions of work were difficult, but decisions were being made and in many cases more rapidly than within the Eden Buildings. 

This left much to be desired in the organizational apparatus, conditions of work, and modus operandi. The lack of experience of the decision-makers itself is a constraint. But work went on. 

Today, as a result, writ of the people’s representatives covers the four corners of Bangladesh. Secretaries, deputy commissioners, circle officers, policemen, are all taking orders from them. Police operate in conjunction with the AL volunteers to enforce a degree of law and order which is unusual, considering the troubled times. 


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Local authorities in the mofussil have begun to collaborate with the Sangram Parishad (Resistance Committees) and take directives from them. Today, in fact, effective power and decision-making within the administration emanates from one source – the Awami League.

Whilst the collaboration of the administration provides a unique dimension to the present situation it is, in terms of effectiveness, far less significant than the response of the people. The sanctions on the senior administrators for instance are, in practice, being exercised by their own subordinates, the Class III and IV employees. 

Their overzealousness in safeguarding any attempt to sabotage party decisions has occasionally paralyzed those areas where administration has revived and sent officials weeping to Dhanmondi for assistance in imposing their own authority. 

Effective power has now moved from the secretary to his subordinate and, even when normal lines of authority are restored, the relationship between the boss and his subordinate can never be the same again. 

In private banks and offices again, as in factories, it is the workers who are safeguarding the interests of Bangla Desh from evasion and possible sabotage by the top executives. 

Whilst many of these have collaborated, either out of a genuine sense of commitment or simple fear of their subordinates, some have attempted to use the relaxations permitted by the decree to secrete money out of the system. 

That it is not much worse must owe to the patriotism and vigilance of their own employees.


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