Six Points and June 1966
In the moving chronicles of history, there arise certain defining moments in the evolution of nations. In Bangladesh's case, such a moment came on February 5, 1966, when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, general secretary of the Awami League, revealed in Lahore a broad-ranging formula for regional autonomy for the federating provinces of Pakistan.
That formula was of course the Six Point plan, which in time would branch out to a wider movement and eventually culminate in an armed struggle for East Pakistan's emergence as the independent People's Republic of Bangladesh.
The Six Points placed Mujib and a large section of Bengali Awami Leaguers on a confrontation course with the All-Pakistan Awami League led by Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan. They also drew the ire and fury of President Mohammad Ayub Khan, who openly threatened to use what he called the language of weapons against the proponents of the Six Points. The plan, as Ayub and his regime saw it, was aimed at causing Pakistan's break-up and the exit of its eastern province from the rest of the country.
And then there were the conspiracy theorists, especially among the Left, who convinced themselves that the Six Points were but a political formula shaped in the United States, or more particularly in the corridors of its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
At home in East Pakistan, politicians not in the Awami League turned on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman over what they considered to be an ill-conceived programme of political action. And quite a few among the Bengali segment of the Awami League, most of whom had disapproved of the course the party had taken following the death of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy in 1963, felt uncomfortable at what they thought was a radical and dangerous plan.
Within weeks of the Six Points taking centre stage in Pakistani national politics, Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, yet to begin griping over the Tashkent Declaration and eventually leaving the Ayub regime, offered to debate Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the plan at Dhaka's Paltan Maidan.
Mujib ignored Bhutto's challenge. It was Tajuddin Ahmad, the young and cerebral rising star in the Awami League, who made it known that he would debate Bhutto at Paltan Maidan. In the event, Bhutto went silent. He did not turn up in Dhaka at all. It remains a point in history that in subsequent times, Bhutto was to be in mortal dread of Tajuddin. In March 1971, he would advise General Yahya Khan to keep the focus on Tajuddin, who in Bhutto's eyes was a dangerously formidable figure in the Awami League.
The Six Points, which the East Pakistan Awami League formally adopted on 18 March 1966, were the following:
1. Pakistan will be a federation in the true sense on the basis of the Lahore Resolution of March 1940, with the form of government being parliamentary in nature and elected through universal adult franchise;
2. The federal government shall deal with only two subjects, namely, foreign affairs and defence, with all other subjects to be handled by the federating units;
3. Two separate but freely convertible currencies for the two wings of Pakistan may be introduced or a single currency may be used, with guarantees that there will be no flight of capital from East to West Pakistan, the guarantees being in the form of a separate reserve bank to be set up for East Pakistan;
4. Powers of taxation and revenue collection shall vest in the federating units, with the federal government to be provided with its share of taxes through levies of a certain percentage from all state taxes;
5. There shall be two separate accounts for foreign exchange earnings for the two wings;
6. A separate paramilitary force shall be set up for East Pakistan.
Between March and early May 1966, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his lieutenants Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam, M. Mansoor Ali and Khondokar Moshtaque Ahmed crisscrossed the province drumming up support for the Six Points. By way of countering the groundswell of support for the plan, Governor Abdul Monem Khan, a fawning Ayub loyalist, threatened the Awami League leaders with imprisonment.
On May 8 that year, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was detained under the Defence of Pakistan Rules. Most of his colleagues were carted off to prison as well, leaving the party in the hands of its acting president Syed Nazrul Islam and acting general secretary Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury, who at the time was a member of the Pakistan national assembly. An embattled Awami League called a general strike (hartal) on June 7, 1966 in the province to generate support for the Six Points and call for the release of its detained leaders.
Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury and Amena Begum played a highly visible and prominent role as they prepared the demoralized party for the strike. At the same time Mizan Chowdhury and other Awami League MNAs, among who was Professor Yusuf Ali, raised the issue of government repression in the national assembly, thereby giving the Six Points a countrywide dimension. The government, for its part, compelled newspapers in both East and West Pakistan to refrain from publishing any news report of the hartal.
Despite the media censorship, the hartal was observed in totality throughout East Pakistan, a fact reinforced by the deaths of a number of individuals through police firing. The following day, June 8, newspapers carried only the government version of the previous day's happenings. And the version was to portray the 'violence' allegedly let loose by Awami League supporters on the streets.
Following the hartal, the AL decided, formally on July 23-24, to launch the second phase of the movement in August. It was at this point that Amena Begum, secretary of the women's branch of the Awami League, came in again. She launched the second phase at a public meeting on August 17, 1966 in Chittagong.
In the same month, Amena Begum and Syed Nazrul Islam embarked on a tour of the province as part of a campaign to popularize the Six Point programme among the masses.
The writer is a senior journalist