Following the failure of last-ditch talks on the formation of a government, Pakistani president Yahya Khan ordered the Pakistani Army to launch Operation Searchlight to suppress the nationalist movement. On March 25, 1971 the leader of the Awami League Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared the independence of Bangladesh and exhorted the Bengali people to resist the Pakistani state forces, and was arrested shortly thereafter and moved to a jail in West Pakistan.
The senior political leaders of the Awami League congregated at the town of Baidyanathtala, which was mainly a mango grove located in Meherpur, when it was a sub-district of Kushtia. Inaugurating the government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on April 17, the national anthem Amar Sonar Bangla was sung in chorus. Although Sheikh Mujib was declared the first President, Syed Nazrul Islam was appointed acting president and hoisted the flag of Bangladesh. Tajuddin Ahmed was appointed the first prime minister.
The government-in-exile at Mujibnagar had an elaborate structure of administrative departments, agencies and activities. Even though elaborate agencies were established, the government’s main work remained coordinating the guerrilla insurgency and to bolster popular support in East Pakistan by its political organizational work, media and propaganda.
* Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: President of Bangladesh
* Syed Nazrul Islam: Vice President; Acting President
* Tajuddin Ahmed: Prime Minister
* Khondaker Mostaq Ahmed: Foreign Affairs and Law Minister
* Muhammad Mansur Ali: Finance Minister
* A. H. M. Qamaruzzaman: Home, Relief and Rehabilitation Minister
* Muhammad Ataul Gani Osmani: Commander-in-Chief of the Mukti Bahini
* Major General Abdur Rab: Chief of Staff
* Abdul Mannan: Chief of the Department of Press, Information, Radio and Film
* Yusuf Ali: Chief of the Department of Relief and Rehabilitation
* Matiur Rahman: Chief of the Department of Commerce
* Amirul Islam: Chief of the Volunteer Corps
To coordinate nationalist activities and the guerrilla insurgency, Gen. Osmani organized the territory of East Pakistan into six zones, giving Mujibnagar politicians and nationalist military officers control and responsibility for carrying out the work of the nationalist struggle in different parts of the country.
* West Zone: Azizur Rahman and Ashraful Islam
* Northeast Zone: Dewan Farid Gazi, Shamsur Rahman Khan
* East Zone: Lt. Col. M. A. Rab
* Southeast Zone: Nurul Islam Choudhary, Zahur Ahmed Choudhary
* North Zone: Matiur Rahman and Abdur Rauf
* Southwest Zone: Phani Bhushan Majumdar and M. A. Rouf Choudhary
The Mujibnagar government organized a network of agencies in an attempt to establish a structure of government and leadership, as a credible alternative to the government of Pakistan. The Mujibnagar government’s efforts primarily focused on organizing relief for civilian refugees fleeing from the Pakistani army, recruiting and training volunteers for the guerrilla forces and using a wide variety of communications and media to project the nationalist message to the people in East Pakistan and across the world. The Mujibnagar government also appointed envoys to India and other countries in the hope of obtaining foreign political support for the goal of an independent Bangladesh.
* Planning Commission: Muzaffar Ahmed Chowdhury, Dr. Mosharraf Hossain; Dr. Anisuzzaman, Dr. Khan Sarwar Murshid, Dr. Swadesh Ranjan
* S. R. Mirza: Director, Youth Camp
* M. R. Akhtar Mukul: Director, Department of Information and Publicity
* Abdul Jabbar Khan: Director, Department of Films
* Quamrul Hasan: Director, Department of Arts and Design
* J. G. Bhowmik: Relief Commissioner
* Dr. T. Hossain: Director, Department of Health
* Envoys: Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, Humayun Rashid Choudhary, Hossain Ali
The Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra ( Free Bangladesh Radio Center ) was the primary broadcasting service used by the nationalists to project their messages to the population of Bangladesh, after the conventional media was suppressed and controlled by Pakistani state forces. The radio service was a major operation of the government-in-exile, as it was its primary means to encourage nationalists, garner popular support and preserve a sense of direction and information amongst the population. The radio service broadcast political, news and music program in Bengali, English and Urdu.
* Personnel: Ashfaqur Rahman Khan, Shahidul Islam, T.H. Shikdar, Balal Mohammad, Taher Sultan. Kamal Lohani (Bangla news), Aly Zaker (English news), Alamgir Kabir (English news commentary), Zahid Siddiqui (In-charge of Urdu programme), Samar Das and Ajit Ray (Music), Hasan Imam, (In-charge of Drama), Ashraful Alam (Outdoor broadcasting and interviews), Syed Abdus Shakoor and Rezaul Karim Chowdhury (Engineering).
The Mujibnagar government was manned by activists and politicians of the Awami League, nationalist militias, students and rebel Bengali officers and soldiers. The government-in-exile established important bases in New Delhi and Kolcata to garner financial and political support from Indian sympathizers, while its envoys traveled across the world in a bid to win the support of foreign nation. Mujibnagar personnel received extensive resources, support and training from the Indian Army, which aided the Mukti Bahini in the guerrilla war.
The Mujibnagar government sought to coordinate guerrillas within East Pakistan as well as Awami League sympathizers and activists who had been forced to go underground owing to the Pakistani army’s campaign of political suppression. The government organized attacks against Pakistani state forces and their Bengali allies, but proved unable to combat the systematic killings of Bengali intellectuals, Hindus and civilians across the country. The Pakistani government projected the Mujibnagar entity as a figurehead and stooge of India. Without Sheikh Mujib, political in-fighting soon erupted between government members, notably between Tajuddin Ahmed and Khondaker Mostaq Ahmed.
When the Indian Army obtained the surrender of Pakistani forces on December 16, 1971, the Mujibnagar government moved to the capital Dhaka and took ceremonial control of the new state’s institutions. Upon his release, Sheikh Mujib returned to Dhaka on January 10, 1972 and assumed the presidency of Bangladesh. On January 12, Sheikh Mujib dismissed Tajuddin Ahmed (a move widely suspected to be the outcome of the power struggle between Tajuddin Ahmed and Khondaker Mostaq Ahmed) and appointed himself prime minister. A provisional parliament would be organized, formally replacing the Mujibnagar system.
The Mujibnagar government’s legacy is largely that of providing leadership, unity and direction to the guerrilla war for independence. Many historians believe that without the explicit and organized government-in-exile, the guerrilla resistance to Pakistani forces would have been fragmented, disorganized and ineffectual. Many scholars and political observers believe that the Mujibnagar government was a symbolic center of the nationalist struggle, and served the essential purpose of lifting the morale of revolutionaries and those who supported the Awami League’s campaign for Bangladesh. The Mujibnagar government sought to serve as a credible alternative and counterpart to the Pakistani government, a system of political leadership distinct from the Indian government and a major contender for territorial control.
However, the political strife between the politicians who headed the Mujibnagar government have discredited the entity in the eyes of many in Bangladesh. Some historians regard the entity as an ineffectual, nominal symbol of the nationalist struggle that could function only due to Indian support and could not sufficiently respond to the Pakistani army’s campaign of political suppression and attacks on civilians or support the refugee camps of more than 10 million people who fled into India.
The Mujibnagar government is officially regarded as the first government of independent Bangladesh. April 17, the day of its formation is celebrated in Bangladesh as Mujibnagar Day, a major milestone for the Bangladeshi nationalists and the Awami League. A national historical monument has been constructed at Mujibnagar, and the place remains the focus of nationalist sentiments and the memories of the liberation war amongst the Bangladeshi people.