The civil servants of Bangladesh, including members of the Police and Ansar forces, technical and professional personnel, played a crucial role in the days leading to the declaration of independence by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the subsequent War of Independence in 1971. As the non-cooperation movement against the Pakistani military regime gained momentum in March 1971, many in the eastern wing of the then Pakistan felt the impending need for an armed struggle. This was reflected in the historic 7th March speech delivered at Ramna Racecourse ground by the leader of the movement and victor in the General Elections of 1970 - Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. But overall preparations were not yet ripe for an armed confrontation. Thus 25 March 1971 came as a shock to all, especially for those Bangali police, riflemen, bureaucrats and members of the army who put up the initial resistance.
In the backdrop of the historic 7 March call for independence by Bangabandhu, the then East Pakistan Association of CSP (Civil Service of Pakistan) officers informed all district administrations that they would no longer cooperate with the Pakistani regime. The CSP Officers' Association then started working in accordance with the instructions of the Awami League. The EPCS (East Pakistan Civil Service) officers of the province also joined hands with them in the non-cooperation movement.
On the night of 25 March 1971, genocide was started in Dhaka by the Pakistani military from 11.30 pm near midnight. The military campaign started according to the blueprint 'Operation Searchlight' prepared in Dhaka Cantonment on 18 March. Between March and December 1971, the Pakistani Army was encouraged to undertake indiscriminate armed attacks against unarmed Bangali civilians in the name of Islam and Pakistan. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared the independence of Bangladesh in the early hours of 26 March 1971, shortly before he was arrested. His message was transmitted all over the country through the EPR transmitter.
Following the crackdown by the Pakistani Military on the night of 25 March, the Awami League leadership went into hiding. Later, they moved on to the liberated areas and Indian territories with the aim of leading the nation in its war of independence. On 10 April 1971, the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh was constituted through a proclamation of independence issued from Mujibnagar. It confirmed the earlier declaration of independence made by Bangabandhu. Bangabandhu was named the President while Syed Nazrul Islam was made the Vice President. In the absence of the President, the Vice President was empowered to exercise the powers, duties and responsibilities of the President.
After the formation of the government, Chuadanga was declared the interim capital of independent Bangladesh. This invited intensified air attacks on Chuadanga by the Pakistani forces. Instead of getting bogged down by this onslaught, the Bangladesh government stuck to its decision to hold a formal inauguration ceremony at a place somewhere in the liberated areas of Chuadanga. This event was finally slotted for 17 April 1971, the venue being Mango Garden of Baidyanathtala village (renamed Mujibnagar) under Meherpur subdivision. Local sector commander of the liberation forces Major Abu Osman Chowdhury was asked to remain present at the ceremony along with his troops. Battalion commander of the Indian Border Security Force Lieutenant Colonel Chakravarty was entrusted with the task of constructing the stage and other related arrangements including the provision of security.
The morning of 17 April saw hundreds of people thronging the designated venue. At 9 am, Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam and Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad arrived at the scene, accompanied by Sub-divisional Officer of Meherpur Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury and the Sub-divisional Police Officer of Jhenaidaha Mahbubuddin Ahmed. Both of them had earlier defected to Bangladesh and were instrumental in launching the initial resistance against the Pakistani forces in the Kushtia-Jashore region.
In his memoir, Honorary Captain Dr. Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury (a former CSP and winner of the gallantry award 'Bir Bikram') described the inauguration ceremony of the Mujibnagar government as follows: "The mango garden was silent. The attending village-people had never witnessed such an occasion in the past. We had also kept the program a secret. I could easily decipher what the vacant gazes of the village-people implied. They were as if watching a mishap - staring in astonishment and disbelief".
"The much-awaited ceremony started at 11 am. Riding a jeep, I drove Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad and General MAG Osmani up to the archway, which was 50 yards from the dais. Syed Nazrul Islam then inspected the Guard of Honour commanded by Mahbub. General Osmani stood behind Syed Nazrul. When Syed Nazrul raised the flag, the journalists surrounded him".
"A small group then started to sing 'Amar Sonar Bangla' (My Golden Bengal) in a chorus. We were witnessing the moment of birth of a nation-state. I had read the tales of many such births in history books. But I really could not believe that a new-born state had started pulsating with life in front of my very eyes".
"After the Guard of Honour was over, the members of the cabinet took their seat on the stage. Syed Nazrul formally announced the formation of a sovereign Government of Bangladesh. One by one, he introduced the ministers to the audience".
"The Acting President then delivered his speech. After that, Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad spoke at a press conference. He asserted that Pakistan was buried under the corpses of lakhs of martyrs. And a new nation had emerged out of that grave. That nation was Bangladesh. The audience applauded".
Many civil servants working in different districts of Bangladesh played immensely patriotic role and even embraced martyrdom during the independence war of the country. Mention may be made here of HT Imam, who was serving as the Deputy Commissioner of Chittagong Hill Tracts district during March 1971. He put up resistance against the Pakistani military during the initial stages of the war with the help of Bangali civil and military officers and later joined the Bangladesh government-in-exile as the Cabinet Secretary.
Civil servants such as Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Faridpur ANM Yusuf, DC of Barisal Nurul Amin, DC of Pabna Nurul Kader Khan, DC of Rangpur Syed Shamim Ahsan, DC of Tangail Jalaluddin Ahmed and DC of Khulna Nurul Islam sided with the independence movement even before the start of the war. Of them, Nurul Kader Khan retreated to Indian Territory to join the government-in-exile. ANM Yusuf was taken captive by the Pakistani military along with Superintendent of Police (SP) Nurul Momen Khan and SDO of Rajbari Syed Rezaul Hayat; other captives included DC of Barisal Ayubur Rahman, SDO of Rajbari Shah Mohammad Farid and senior engineer of T&T Lokman Hossain. They were released only after the victory of liberation forces in December 1971. The SDO Jalaluddin got engaged in the war of resistance along with DC Khandakar Asaduzzaman in Tangail, and later moved to Sirajganj by crossing the river Jamuna. Jalal returned to Tangail later on.
The SDO of Pabna Shamsuddin Ahmed continued the war of resistance for a long time alongside the DC of the district Nurul Kader Khan. But he was later arrested by the Pakistani army and had to embrace martyrdom while in captivity. Another CSP officer who embraced martyrdom at the hands of the Pakistani army was the then Deputy Commissioner of Comilla Shamsul Haque Khan. Prominent martyrs from among the police forces included the then DIG of Rajshahi range Mamun Mahmud and the then SP of Rajshahi district Shah Abdul Majid, who had sided with the freedom fighters after the declaration of independence.
Other civil servants who gallantly fought and built up resistance in their localities included ADC Syed Abdus Samad of Chittagong Hill Tracts, SDO of Rangamati Abdul Ali, SDO Kamal Uddin Siddiqui in Narail, SDO Waliul Islam at Magura, SDO of Brahmanbaria Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad, SDO of Habiganj Akbar Ali Khan, and Assistant Commissioner Saadat Husain at Jashore. Engineer MH Siddiqui of the Jashore-Kushtia region also played a heroic role in organizing the war efforts. The project manager cum superintending engineer of Kaptai Hydroelectric Project Shamsuddin Ahmed was killed by the Pakistanis following his brave role in the fight against the occupiers.
The civil servants who crossed over to India after building the initial resistance and joined the Mujibnagar Government lodged at Theatre Road of Kolkata, West Bengal, also included the Commissioner of Rajshahi division Shamsuddin Ahmed, DC of Dinajpur distric Fayez Uddin Ahmed, Dr. Faruque Aziz Khan, and EPCS officers Md. Abul Kashem Khan, Abdul Momen, Lutuful Haque, JJ Bhowmik and BB Biswas. They were all given important assignments in the structure of the government-in-exile.
To sum up, members of the civil and military bureaucracy as well as the police and Ansars in occupied territories of Bangladesh tried to build up resistance in their own way against the Pakistani army with the help of local political activists and citizens, after switching their allegiance to Bangladesh, even in the absence of any clear-cut political directives on the issue. Almost everywhere, the local civil administration came forward to assist the masses in their pursuit of freedom.
The civil servants of Bangladesh also played a crucial role in running the Bangladesh Government-in-Exile at Mujibnagar.
The War of Liberation in Bangladesh was in fact a people's war, where the country's civil servants rose to the occasion and played a valiant role in it both in the building up of initial resistance against the Pakistani occupiers and also as key functionaries of the Government-in-Exile at Mujibnagar. However, as is the usual case, there were also many unsung heroes whose tales might not have received due recognition in the narratives of most historians and scribes of the country.
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary and former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly.
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