7th March Speech of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
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The 7th March Speech of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a speech given by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a Bengali nationalist leader, on March 7, 1971 at the Ramna Race Course Maidan in Dhaka to a gathering of over two million people. He spoke at a time of increasing tensions between East Pakistan and the powerful political and military establishment of West Pakistan. The Bengali people were inspired to prepare for a potential war of independence, amid widespread reports of armed mobilization by West Pakistan. During the speech, Sheikh Mujib proclaimed, "Our struggle is for our freedom. Our struggle is for our independence" (Bengali: "এবারের সংগ্রাম আমাদের মুক্তির সংগ্রাম, এবারের সংগ্রাম স্বাধীনতার সংগ্রাম"). He also announced the civil disobedience movement in the province, calling for "every house to turn into a fortress". The war eventually began 18 days later, when the Pakistan Army launched Operation Searchlight against Bengali civilians, intelligentsia, students, politicians and armed personnel.
The state of Pakistan was created in 1947 during the Partition of India to be a Muslim homeland in South Asia. Its territory comprised most of the Muslim-majority provinces of British India. Pakistan included two geographically and culturally separate areas in the east and the west of India. The western zone was popularly (and for a period of time, also officially) termed West Pakistan and the eastern zone (modern-day Bangladesh) was initially termed East Bengal and later, East Pakistan. West Pakistan was seen to dominate the country politically and its leaders exploited the East economically, leading to many grievances.
East Pakistanis noticed that whenever one of them, such as Khawaja Nazimuddin, Muhammad Ali Bogra, or Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy were elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, they were swiftly deposed by the largely West Pakistani establishment. The military dictatorships of Ayub Khan (27 October 1958 – 25 March 1969) and Yahya Khan (25 March 1969 – 20 December 1971), both West Pakistanis, only heightened such feelings.
In 1966 the Awami League led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman launched the Six Point Movement, directed toward provincial autonomy of East Pakistan. The Pakistani establishment rejected the proposals. The military government arrested Sheikh Mujib and charged him with treason in the well-known Agartala Conspiracy Case. After three years in jail, Mujib was released in 1969; the case was dropped in the face of mass protests and widespread violence in East Pakistan, with people demanding his release.
In 1970 the Awami League, the largest East Pakistani political party and led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a landslide victory in the national elections. The party won 167 of the 169 seats allotted to East Pakistan, and a majority of the 313 seats in the National Assembly. This gave the Awami League the constitutional right to form a government. However, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (a Sindhi ethnic and professor by profession), the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, refused to allow Rahman to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Instead, he proposed the idea of having two Prime Ministers, one for each wing. Negotiations began in Dhaka between the two sides. In January 1971, President Yahya Khan left Dhaka after the first round of negotiations and in the airport promised that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would be the next Prime Minister of Pakistan and that the newly elected National Assembly would convene in Dhaka on March 3, 1971. However Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was vehemently opposed to a Bengali becoming Prime Minister of Pakistan. He had also opposed the Six Points proposal of the Awami League. Bhutto began a campaign of racially charged speeches across west Pakistan to invoke the fear of possible Bengali domination. He warned West Pakistani MPs'-elect not to travel to the East. Capitalization on West-Pakistan and East-Pakistani separatism, Bhutto feared a civil war, therefore, he secretly send his most trusted companion dr. Mubashir Hassan to meet with Mujib and his inner circle. Talks were succeeded and it was decided that Mujib would served as Prime minister with Bhutto as Mujib's President. These developments were kept hidden from public and from Pakistan Armed Forces. Meanwhile Bhutto increased the pressure on General Yahya Khan to take a stance.
The national assembly was thus "postponed" on March 3. This led to a massive outcry across East Pakistan as thousands protested the postponement which they felt was the last nail in the coffin for a united Pakistan. The cities of Dhaka, Chittagong, Rangpur, Comilla, Rajshahi, Sylhet and Khulna were engulfed in violence which saw the security forces killing dozens of unarmed protesters. The atmosphere became tense as across the province, Bengalis began hoisting the flag of a future independent Bangladesh. There were open calls from the masses for their leader Sheikh Mujib to declare independence from Pakistan.
The Awami League then called a mammoth public gathering at Dhaka's historic Race Course Maidan on March 7 to respond to the boiling tension across the province.
Speculation of unilateral declaration of independence
The eyes of the world focused on Dhaka's Race Course Maidan that day as international media descended upon East Pakistan amidst speculation that Sheikh Mujib would declare a unilateral declaration of independence from Pakistan. The speculation gained credibility as there were open calls by people in East Pakistan to make the unilateral declaration. However, keeping in mind the failure of the Ian Smith declaration in Rhodesia and the failure of the Biafra struggle in Nigeria, Sheikh Mujib tacidly left out a direct declaration of independence from his speech. Nevertheless, the speech was immensely successful in giving Bengalis a clear goal of their struggle, the goal of independence. It inspired millions across East Pakistan to get engaged in the freedom struggle.
7th March Speech in Popular Culture
- In his first English novel, The Black Coat, Bangladeshi-Canadian author Neamat Imam creates a character called Nur Hussain who memorizes Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's 7th March speech during the Bangladesh famine of 1974. Nur Hussain and his trainer Khaleque Biswas begin to earn money utilizing the nationalistic fervor of Bengali people, but as the famine deepens, Nur utilizes the tone of the speech to speak out his own mind against Sheikh Mujib's rule.
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- Bangladesh Liberation War. Mujibnagar. Government Documents 1971
- Sheikh Mujibur Rahman — the father and the founder of Bangladesh
- (Bangabandhu) Sheikh Mujibur Rahman — The architect of Bangladesh