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The Mujib Bahini during Liberation War

Helal Uddin Ahmed | December 16, 2021 00:00:00

(From the left) Shirajul Alam Khan, Sheikh Fazlul Haq Mani, Major General Sujan Singh Uban, Tofayel Ahmed and Abdur Razzak. This picture has been taken near Dehradun, India — Collected Photo

The Mujib Bahini, also known as Bangladesh Liberation Force (BLF), was constituted during the War of Liberation in 1971 alongside the regular Mukti Bahini commanded by Colonel MAG Osmany. While the Mukti Bahini was directly affiliated with the Bangladesh Government-in-Exile or the Mujibnagar Government, the Mujib Bahini remained outside its control. The force maintained its separate identity till the end of the liberation war on 16 December 1971. It was mainly composed of activists drawn from the Awami League and its students' front 'Chhatra League'. It enlisted over 5,000 fighters who were deployed in four sectors of Bangladesh with a 19-member central command at the top. It was perceived to be constituted as a check-and-balance to the Mujibnagar government headed by Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad as well as the leftist elements in the political and military leadership of Bangladesh.

Initially, the sector commanders of Mujib Bahini operated from Barrackpur, Shiliguri, Agartala, and Meghalaya bases of India. Tofail Ahmed, Sirajul Alam Khan, Abdur Razzak, and Sheikh Fazlul Haq Moni were the central commanders with Moni acting as the commander-in-chief. This force was trained under the direct supervision of Brigadier (later Major General) Sujan Singh Uban of India at the Dehradun Hills. General Uban was a renowned counter-insurgency cum guerrilla warfare expert who had been previously handpicked to lead the Special Frontier Force (SFF) under the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of the Indian Government. Sheikh Moni was put in charge of the eastern region comprising Sylhet, Chittagong and Comilla districts. Abdur Razzak was in charge of the north-western region comprising greater Mymensingh and Sirajganj areas. Sirajul Alam Khan was in-charge of the northern region, while Tofail Ahmed was in charge of the southern region comprising Kushtia, Jessore, Khulna, Barisal, Patuakhali, Pabna and Faridpur districts. Other leaders of Mujib Bahini included Abdul Quddus Makhan, Shahjahan Siraj, Nure Alam Siddiqui, Kazi Arif, Abdul Mannan, Amir Hossain Amu, Ilias Chowdhury, M A Bari, Mofizul Islam Kamal, Marshal Moni, Swapan Chowdhury, Sheikh Shahid, Dr. Chanchal, Hadiuzzaman, Rabiul Husain, Nimchandra Bhowmik, Mostafa Mohsin Montu, Khasru, Hasanul Haque Inu, Nurul Ambia and Mahbubul Haque. Many Mujib Bahini fighters including Swapan Chowdhury had embraced martyrdom while waging guerrilla warfare in Bangladesh territory during 1971.

It was claimed that the Mujibnagar Government was not informed about the formation and training programmes of Mujib Bahini. Besides, the Bahini or Force never made any formal declaration of allegiance to the Mujibnagar Government. So, controversies were created within and outside the Bangladesh Government-in-Exile regarding the formation of Mujib Bahini. For resolving this dispute, some senior civil and military officials of India like D P Dhar, General Manek Shaw, and General Jagjit Singh Arora mediated between the Mujibnagar Government and the Mujib Bahini leaders. The Government of India provided the Force with modern weaponry including one C-4, one N-12, and an old Dakota aircraft along with trucks and jeeps.

Many believe that the Mujib Bahini was formed to face the emergence of any alternative leftist leadership in the event the liberation war was prolonged. Others opine that the leaders of Mujib Bahini created this force because they were not satisfied with the workings of Mujibnagar Government and the leadership of Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad. They were also suspicious about the activities of a few leftist and rightist factions of the Awami League as well as the Communist Party radicals and the Bhashani-led National Awami Party activists.

In the battlefield, the Mujib Bahini fought shoulder to shoulder with other freedom fighters, but there were problems of coordination and linkages with the regular Mukti Bahini fighters. The latter aspect was often the subject of complaint by the Commander-in-Chief of Mukti Bahini Colonel Osmany. Mujib Bahini carried out daring raids inside the Pakistani occupation army's positions in the south, the south-west, and some areas around Dhaka. It was especially trained in guerrilla warfare and was equipped with comparatively better weapons supplied by RAW.

The activities of the Mujib Bahini were elaborately discussed with the Indian authorities during the visit to Delhi by Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam and Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad in August 1971 at the invitation of the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. At this time, Colonel Osmany had become quite impatient about the manner in which the Mujib Bahini was being operated. The Acting President and Prime Minister held discussions with the Indian Principal Secretary P N Haksar and the RAW Chief Rameshwar Kao on the subject. This resulted in agreements on the following points: (a) Supply of military arsenal by India for the Mukti Bahini; (b) Bringing the Mujib Bahini under some kind of control; (c) Provision of direct assistance and support to the Mukti Bahini by the Eastern Command of the Indian Army; (d) Specific instructions to be issued by RAW to Brigadier Uban, as the Indian Manager of Mujib Bahini, to cooperate with Colonel Osmany. All these resulted in an improved situation on the warfront and the gearing up of the liberation war in Bangladesh territory.

The concept of Mujib Bahini appears to have been developed in the middle of the 1960s. It remained as an academic theme for a long time within the confines of Dhaka University and among some nationalist intellectuals. In fact, the core members belonging to Mujib Bahini had forged the Sharbadaliya Chhatra Sangram Parishad (All-party Students' Action Council) and campaigned for the eleven-point programme of Chhatra League in 1969. They were also in the forefront of the Mass Upsurge of 1969. It was this very group that led the nationalistic struggle for independence of Bangladesh from 1 March 1971, declared independence on 3 March at Paltan Maidan of Dhaka by raising the flag, and organised subsequent preparations for an eventual War of Liberation.

Dr Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary, ex-Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly, and former Editorial Columnist of The Financial Express.

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