After the partition of India, and having obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1947, Sheikh Mujib relocated to Dhaka and enrolled in Dhaka University to study law. However, feeling increasingly alienated from the conservative politicians of the Muslim League who had arrogated power in East Pakistan, Sheikh Mujib co-founded the Purbo Pakistan Muslim Chhatro League (East Pakistan Muslim Students League) on 4 January 1948 and subsequently became involved in the movement to establish Bengali as a state language of newly-formed Pakistan.
Courting arrest repeatedly, and resorting to hunger strikes time and again when in prison, Mujib immediately became prominent in East Pakistan because of his continuous and principled opposition to the communal and feudal politics of the Muslim League. In quick time, he became the General Secretary of the increasingly secular Awami League (it dropped “Muslim” from its name in 1955), and a minister of the United Front government that drove the Muslim League from power in the provincial elections of 1954.
This language movement, known as Bhasha Andolon (Fight for the Language, or Language Movement), was triggered off by East Pakistan’s chief minister Khwaja Nazimuddin, a fellow Bengali himself, when he declared at the Legislative Assembly on 23 February 1948 that his people, the East Pakistanis, would obey Urdu as the state language – even though the Bengali-speaking population were the majority in both wings of Pakistan.
Khwaja Nazimuddin's remarks touched off a storm of protest across the country. Sheikh Mujib immediately plunged into hectic activities to build a strong movement against the Muslim League’s premeditated, heinous design to make Urdu the only state language of Pakistan. He established contracts with students and political leaders
On 2 March 1948, a meeting of the workers of different political parties was held to chart the course of the movement against the Muslim League on the language issue. The meeting held at Fazlul Huq Hall approved desolation placed by Sheikh Mujib to form the Sarbadaliya Chhatra Sangram Parishad (All-Party Students Action Council).
The Action Council protested against Nazimuddin’s remark by numerous rallies and sit-downs and called for a general strike on 11 March 1948. Whilst holding the demonstration in front of the Secretariat building, Sheikh Mujib was arrested along with other student leaders – Golam Azam, Ali Ahad, Shamsul Haque, Abdul Wahed and six others. In response the student community of the country rose in strong protest on the following days demanding their freedom, resulting in their release four days later on 15 March 1948.
Following their release, the Sarbadaliya Chhatra Sangram Parishad held a public rally the very next day at Dhaka University Bat Tala. Sheikh Mujib presided over the rally, which were soon set upon by the police. In protest, Sheikh Mujib announced a countrywide strike for 17 March 1948.
On 19 May 1948, Sheikh Mujib staged protests in support of the Dhaka University Class Four employees fighting for their workers’ rights. He was re-arrested on 11 September 1948 and jailed for four months.
Nothing pleased him more than being close to the masses, knowing their joys and sorrows and being part of their travails and triumphs. He spoke their soft language but in articulating their sentiments his voice was powerful and resonant. He had not been educated abroad, nor did he learn the art of hiding feelings behind sophistry; yet he was loved as much by the urban educated as the common masses of the villages. He inspired the intelligentsia and the working class alike. He did not, however, climb to leadership overnight.
Upon his release on 21 January 1949, Sheikh Mujib and his colleagues were accused of instigating successive showdowns in Dhaka University, for which the university administration cancelled their studentship, thereby preventing Sheikh Mujib from completing his law degree.
Sheikh Mujib, then a second year LLB student, lost his studentship along with four others - Kalyanchandra Dasgupta, 1st year MA, Naimuddin Ahmed, 2nd year LLB, Nadera Begum, 1st year MA, and Muhammad Abdul Wadud, 1st year BA. They were expelled on 26 March 1949 on charge of supporting a movement by fourth-class employees of the university. The five were given conditions that they should pay a fine of Tk 15 and offer guarantee of future good conducts by filling in a form which was to be endorsed by their guardians and returned before 17 April 1949. A defiant Sheikh Mujib refused to do this, whilst the others accepted the condition.
The fight to reverse this decision was taken up by the Bangladesh Unnayan Sangbadik Forum (BUSF) in 2010 who sent a letter to President Zillur Rahman, also the chancellor of Dhaka University, demanding the withdrawal of Sheikh Mujib’s expulsion from the University. A copy of the letter was also sent to the Vice Chancellor of the university, AAMS Arefin Siddique.
After a emergency meeting of the Syndicate, the highest decision making body of the university, 14 out of 17 members unanimously agreed to reverse it – 61 years later. This decision was made and announced straightaway by the Vice Chancellor on 14 August 2010, a day before the 35th anniversary of Sheikh Mujib’s death.
A mistake can be amended even after 100 years, and we have done it.
On 26 April 1949, the anti-Muslim League candidate Shamsul Huq won a by-election in Tangail by defeating the then famous and high profile Muslim league leader kurrum Khan ponni, a local zamindar. This created a political storm throughout the whole of India.
This feat created the hope for the general people to unlock the politics from the elite society which eventually led to form the political party of general people "Pakistan Awami Muslim League" where awami means Janata (general people). So it is said in a word Awami League party is established basing the popularity of the then young leader Shamsul Hoque.
Two months later, on 23 June 1949 the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League, the predecessor of the Awami League, was formed by Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani in the famous Rose Garden mansion in the old part of Dhaka. Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani was elected the first President of the party, Shamsul Huq as General Secretary, while Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Khandaker Mushtaq Ahmed and A. K. Rafiqul Hussain were elected the party's first Joint Secretaries.
In October 1949, political differences caused Sheikh Mujib and Maulana Bhashani to demand the resignation of Chief Minister Nurul Amin, the then head of the provincial government, at a meeting of the Awami Muslim League. Immediately afterward, both leaders were thrown to jail for leading a delegation to Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan.
The three of us used to pray together and after Magrib prayer Maulana Bhashani would teach us about religion from the Qur'an. This became a routine but Mr. Huq was a bit of a problem since he seemed unable to finish any prayer in under an hour.
On 1 January 1950 Liaquat Ali Khan came to Dhaka. Amid the growing food crisis in East Pakistan at the time, Sheikh Mujib, who had by now been released from jail, staged protests against failed government policies in food distribution and management of the crisis. He was swiftly arrested and jailed again, this time for two years, for leading the demonstration.
On 26 January 1952, Khwaja Nazimuddin, now the governor general of Pakistan, declared once again that Urdu would be the state language of Pakistan. An all-party student council was formed immediately to protest the decision which, on 31 January 1952, set dates for wider movements. Though still in jail, Sheikh Mujib encouraged fellow activist groups to launch strikes and protests and undertook a hunger strike on 14 February 1952 for 13 days.
From prison he sent out a call to the State Language Action Council to obverse 21 February as Demand Day for releasing political prisoners and making Bangla the state language.
When Sheikh Mujib heard of the Bhasha Andolon killing he released a statement from jail condemning the police firing and registering his strong protest. He was then moved from Dhaka central jail to Faridpur Jail to prevent him from making contact with the organizers of the movement. With his health deteriorating from the lack of food, the authorities were compelled to release him from jail on 28 February 1952.
I know at least this much that no one shall be murdered because he holds views different from mine. That certainly was not what Islam taught and such an action was tantamount to a crime in the religion.
The lesson in all these is that if leaders make mistakes it is the people who have to pay.
Sheikh Mujib on the role of Khwaja Nazimuddin during 1947 demarcation of boundary between India and Pakistan when Pakistan lost a number of Muslim majority territories
On 9 July 1953 Sheikh Mujib was elected general secretary of East Pakistan Awami League. A special council session of the party was held on 14 November 1953 with the objective of competing against the Muslim League in the provincial polls. Political powerhouses of Moulana Bhashani, A.K. Fazlul Huq and Sheikh Mujib’s mentor Shaheed Suhrawardy combined to form the Jukta Front (United Front) and won a landslide victory in the general election held on 10 March 1954.
The Jukta Front won 223 seats out of a total of 237, including 143 captured by the Awami League. Sheikh Mujib, in his Gopalganj constituency, swept aside the powerful Muslim League candidate Wahiduzzaman by over 13,000 votes. Jukta Front government took office on 15 May 1954 where Sheikh Mujib was named in the cabinet as minister of agriculture and forest.
However, the central government of Pakistan, shocked by the poll results at the East, abolished the Jukta Front government on 29 May 1954, i.e. within two weeks, and Sheikh Mujib was again arrested once he landed at Tejgaon airport, Dhaka, after a flight from Karachi, West Pakistan, on 30 May 1954. This time he was jailed for about seven months and freed on 23 December 1954.
On 5 June 1955 Sheikh Mujib was elected a member of the legislative assembly. The Awami League held a public meeting at Paltan Maidan, Dhaka, on 17 June 1955 where it put forward a 21-point program demanding autonomy of East Pakistan. Few days later, on 23 June 1955, the Working Council of the Awami League decided that its members would resign from the legislative assembly should the central government not grant them autonomy.
Sir, you will see that they want to use the phrase 'East Pakistan' instead of 'East Bengal'. We have demanded so many times that you should use Bengal instead of East Pakistan. The word 'Bengal' has a history and tradition of its own. You can change it only after the people have been consulted. If you want to change it, we have to go back to Bengal and ask them whether they are ready to accept it. So far as the question of One Unit is concerned it can be incorporated in the constitution. Why do you want it to be taken up right now? What about the state language, Bengali? We are prepared to consider One Unit with all these things. So, I appeal to my friends on that side to allow the people to give their verdict in any way, in the form of referendum or in the form of plebiscite.
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