Historic 7 March being observed

MNA Feature Desk: The Historic 7 March, a memorable day in the history of Bangalees’ long arduous freedom struggle, is being observed on Wednesday with elaborate programmes.

This year, the day bears a great significance as Unesco recogonised the historic 7 March speech as a world documentary heritage.

The 7th March is surely one of the greatest days in the history of Bangladesh. On this day in 1971, the great leader, father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has delivered one of the most influential, sensible, intelligent and heartening speeches in the history of mankind.

It was given at the Ramna Race Course in Dhaka to a gathering of over two million people during a period of escalating tensions between East Pakistan and the powerful political and military establishment of West Pakistan. The speech inspired the Bengali people to prepare for a war of independence amid widespread reports of armed mobilization by West Pakistan.

Pakistan was created in 1947, during the Partition of India, as a Muslim homeland in South Asia. Its territory comprised most of the Muslim-majority provinces of British India, including two geographically and culturally separate areas, one east of India and the other west.

The western zone was popularly (and, for a period, officially) called West Pakistan; the eastern zone (modern-day Bangladesh) was called East Bengal and then East Pakistan. West Pakistan dominated the country politically, and its leaders exploited the East economically, leading to popular grievances.

In 1970, the Awami League, the largest East Pakistani political party, won a landslide victory in national elections, winning 167 of the 169 seats allotted to East Pakistan and a majority of the 313 seats in the National Assembly. This gave it the constitutional right to form a government. However, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party and a member of the Sindhi ethnic group, refused to allow Sheikh Mujib to become prime minister. Instead, he proposed having two prime ministers, one for each wing.

Negotiations began in Dhaka between the two sides. In January 1971, after the first round of negotiations, President Yahya Khan promised in the Dhaka airport that Sheikh Mujib would be the next prime minister and that the newly elected National Assembly would convene on 3 March 1971.

However, Bhutto was vehemently opposed to a Bengali becoming prime minister, and he began a campaign of racially charged speeches across West Pakistan to invoke fear of Bengali domination. He warned West Pakistani MPs-elect not to travel to the East.

Fearing a civil war, Bhutto secretly sent an associate, Mubashir Hassan, to meet with Sheikh Mujib and members of his inner circle. It was decided that Sheikh Mujib would serve as prime minister, with Bhutto as president. These talks were kept hidden from the public and from the armed forces. Meanwhile, Bhutto pressured Yahya Khan to take a stance.

On 3 March, the convening of the National Assembly was postponed until 25 March, leading to an outcry across East Pakistan. Violence broke out in Dhaka, Chittagong, Rangpur, Comilla, Rajshahi, Sylhet, and Khulna, and the security forces killed dozens of unarmed protesters. There were open calls for Sheikh Mujib to declare independence from Pakistan, and the Awami League called a large public gathering at Dhaka’s Ramna Race Course on 7 March to respond.

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