On 7 June 1966, the Bengali segment of Pakistan’s population branched out on a course that would change the course of history in our part of the world. For the first time in the history of Pakistan since its creation in August 1947, Bengalis observed a full and unequivocal general strike throughout East Pakistan in support of the Six-Point Plan earlier put forward by a rising Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. On 5 February 1966, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, general secretary of the East Pakistan Awami League and yet to be universally acclaimed as Bangabandhu, revealed in Lahore a broad-ranging formula for regional autonomy. That formula was the Six Point plan, which in time would lead to a wider movement and eventually an armed struggle for East Pakistan’s emergence as the independent People’s Republic of Bangladesh. The plan put Mujib and a large section of Bengali Awami Leaguers on a collision course with the All-Pakistan Awami League led by Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan. It also aroused the fury of Pakistan’s President Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, who openly threatened to use what he called the language of weapons against the proponents of the Six Points. In Ayub’s view, the plan would lead to Pakistan’s break-up with the secession of its eastern province from the rest of the country. Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who would soon part ways with Ayub Khan, challenged Mujib to a public debate on the Six Points at Dhaka’s Paltan Maidan. Tajuddin Ahmad accepted the challenge on behalf of his leader. In the event, Bhutto did not turn up. The Six Points, which the East Pakistan Awami League formally adopted on 18 March 1966, were the following:
- 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;
- 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 of Pakistan;
- Two separate but freely convertible currencies for the two wings of Pakistan may be introduced or a single currency 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 banks for the two wings of the country;
- 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;
- There shall be two separate accounts for foreign exchange earnings for the two wings;
- A separate paramilitary force shall be set up for East Pakistan.
Between March and early May 1966, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his lieutenants Tajuddin Ahmad, Syed Nazrul Islam, M. Mansoor Ali and Khondokar Moshtaque Ahmed barnstormed the province to drum up support for the Six Points. Governor Abdul Monem Khan, a zealous Ayub loyalist, threatened the Awami League leaders with imprisonment. On 8 May that year, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was detained under the Defence of Pakistan Rules. Most of his colleagues were hauled away 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 for a general strike (hartal) on 7 June 1966 to generate support for the Six Points and call for the release of its detained leaders.
Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury played a highly visible and prominent role as he prepared the demoralized party for the strike. At the same time Mizan Chowdhury and other Awami League MNAs 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 of the hartal. Despite the media censorship, the hartal was observed in totality throughout East Pakistan, a fact borne out 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’ of Awami League supporters on the streets.
Following the hartal, the AL decided, formally on 23-24 July, 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. She launched the second phase at a public meeting on 17 August 1966 in Chittagong. In the same month, she and Syed Nazrul Islam embarked on a tour of the province as part of a campaign to popularize the Six Point programme.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a political commentator and biographer of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Tajuddin Ahmad