'I am not a Marxist. I am a socialist, but a socialist in my own way'
In the first couple of years of a newly-independent Bangladesh, the Father of the Nation was very optimistic about rebuilding the country with the help of the pro-independence people in his party and others despite having many critics in the opposition.
He dreamed of a prosperous country overcoming all odds – a weak economy, corruption and nepotism. But Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was irritated and his vision was hindered by some issues after he took office in 1972 – non-cooperation from politicians of other parties, notably leftist leaders Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, ASM Abdur Rob and Siraj Sikder, and recurrence of political violence across country.
He was embarrassed by wide-spread allegations of corruption, irregularities and abuse of power by his own party men and some within the Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini. He also had knowledge of the conspiracies hatched by several quarters in the army – inspired by some pro-Pakistani and pro-leftist mid-level army officers.
A month after forming Baksal, Mujib at a public meeting on March 26 made it clear to the nation that he had brought about the changes in the governance system for the benefit of farmers, workers and down-trodden. Decentralization of power was another key issue of his plan.
On the road to introducing the one-party system, Prime Minister Mujib on December 28, 1974 declared a state of emergency, which gave him the power to ban any political group. The order came into effect on January 6. He also promulgated the Special Powers Act.
On January 25, 1975 parliament passed a constitutional amendment authorizing a presidential system of government and a single national party with Mujib as the president. He characterized it as a “second revolution.”
The amendment authorized him to declare Bangladesh a one-party state, granted him extensive control over the judiciary, and institutionalized emergency regulations.
On February 24, President Mujib declared a one-party state, formed the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (Baksal) and banned the activities of all other parties.
Later in June, he promulgated the Newspaper Ordinance, under which the declarations of all but four state-owned newspapers were annulled.
The rules of Baksal required all other parties and associations, including various services and forces, to join the national party, and work unitedly in fighting corrosive forces and in rebuilding the nation.
As Baksal chairman, he appointed for the national party a 15-member executive committee, a 120-member central committee, and five front organizations, namely Jatiya Krishak League, Jatiya Sramik League, Jatiya Mahila League, Jatiya Juba League and Jatiya Chhatra League (peasants, workers, women, youth, and students respectively).
All members of the executive committee and central committee were to enjoy the status of ministers.
The Fourth Amendment provided that no person could continue to remain a member of parliament (elected in the 1973 polls) unless he joined the national party.
The Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD), Purba Banglar Sarbahara Party, Purbo Bangla Sammobadi Dal-Marxba-di-Leninbadi (East Bengal Communist Party Marxist–Leninist), East Pakistan Communist Party, and Bangladesh Communist Party (Leninist) did not join Baksal.
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A critic of Mujib’s leadership since early 1972, Bhashani also did not join Baksal but lent his support for the “second revolution” in March.
On June 6, President Mujib declared the constitution and five fronts of the national party.
On June 22, he declared a new district administrative system where each district would be governed by a council headed by a governor appointed personally by the president from among the members of Baksal.
Bringing all talents under one umbrella
In his speech before the first meeting of the Baksal central committee on June 19, Mujib insisted that his revision of the administrative system and imposition of a one-party presidential system were not designed merely to keep him in power, as his critics have charged.
He said these steps, constituting his “second revolution”, were necessary to combat corruption, bureaucratic ineptitude and unidentified foreign conspiracies.
He also stated that one of the main goals of his second revolution was to draw the most talented in the country into his government.
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Mujib’s speech underscored his ingrained predilection for seeking political solutions to the country’s growing economic and social problems. The president stated that a free style democratic system had not worked in Bangladesh and that the country needed a unique, indigenous free socialist economic system. He strongly implied that his single national party was the only acceptable vehicle for change.
The Baksal chairman hoped that by including the members of his national party into all levels of the administrative structure he could ensure the tight discipline and sense of responsibility that were necessary to make even a dent in the country’s problems.
He promised further changes at the lowest level within a year and the establishment of at least 60-100 multipurpose agricultural cooperatives.
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“He wanted to set up 61 such cooperatives in each of the 61 districts this coming year. He was not certain that there would be any further cooperatives established next year as he felt it might take at least two years to demonstrate the virtues of these cooperatives to the peasantry,” US ambassador David Boster wrote in a cable to Washington on August 6, 1975, a day after he met the president at the latter’s office.
“He said he did not wish to force Bangladesh peasants into the cooperatives but felt that, if the first 61 cooperatives were successful as he thought they would be, peasants would be eager to join in coming years to share in their benefits.
“He saw these farms eventually developing into administrative units at the rural level, combining not only farms but also fisheries and other activities,” Boster wrote.
Regarding the size of the Baksal party, President Mujib told Boster that the “controlling party” would be limited in numbers, as he wanted to be sure of the “Bangalee nationalism” of the membership, while the fronts would indeed be mass organizations with very large memberships.
Mujib said: “I am not a Marxist. I am a socialist, but a socialist in my own way. I want to be friends with all countries but I don’t want any country to think it can tell me what to do. I want to be good friends with the United States and with Russia, but I don’t want to be the agent of either Russia or the United States.”
The president said that he was happy with the economic reform measures his government had taken in recent months in accordance with the IMF recommendations.
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Corruption, Mujib said, was one of his most pressing preoccupations. He said he had told his police and security officials to spend 60% of their time on rooting out corruption; not to bother about reporting to him the political views of this or that official but to find out whether he was involved in corruption and nepotism or not.
He said he felt he had made some headway in this respect, and that although there were two or three bad areas, the situation had improved.
The unfinished task Mujib had raised the status of the 61 subdivisions of the country to districts. The district governors – a vast majority of whom came from among politicians, followed by civil servants and military bureaucrats – were supposed to take charge on August 16.
On the other hand, Baksal was scheduled to officially replace the nation’s other political parties and associations on September 1, 1975.
He was aware of the conspiracies in the army, but was not afraid of death. So he continued to implement the decisions he deemed necessary for the “second revolution.”
The killers did not give him the chance to implement his dreams. But even at gunpoint, Chairman Mujib did not bow down.
They brutally assassinated him along with most of his family members in the early hours of August 15 and the four national leaders – the torch-bearers of the party – on November 3; they barred the trial of the killers and rehabilitated them, released all anti-liberation operatives, and helped form a pro-Pakistani government to eliminate the pro-liberation forces from the scene.
Yet Baksal was neither abrogated nor operational until April 1979, when it was removed from the constitution and martial law was lifted by General Zia.
Mujib’s daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on November 15, 2020, told parliament that Bangabandhu had formed Baksal for five years to unite the nation and for the country’s rapid socio-economic development.
“I believe that if he could have done it in the subsequent five years, Bangladesh would now be established as a developed country in the world. But unfortunately he was not allowed to do so,” she said, adding that her party was working to materialize the dreams of Bangabandhu.