The Pakistani rulers did not want him to be in power. He knew he was on the edge, and the people of East Pakistan on the verge of destruction. He had tried all means, but nothing seemed to work. He knew it was time to protest, for the liberation, independence and rights of the people of East Pakistan.
Disregarding the intimidation and threats of the Pakistani Army's tanks, guns and machine guns hovering over his head, on March 7 1971 Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman addressed the countrymen, which became the first step towards the birth of a new nation – Bangladesh.
Bangabandhu declared in a booming voice: "This time, the struggle is for our liberation, this time the struggle is for our independence", at the then Race Course Maidan, the present day Suhrawardy Udyan. Sheikh Mujib-led Awami League had bagged landslide victory in the National Assembly elections of Pakistan held on 7 December 1970. However, General Yahya Khan, then a military ruler, did not let him form the government and called for a session of the National Assembly on 3rd March 1970. Here begins the conspiracy that led to Bangabadhu's address to the nation, and the nine month war that followed.
March 1, 1971
General Yahya Khan, then president of Pakistan was scheduled to address the nation. As everyone eagerly awaited his address to the nation, an announcement came which said "Till the next announcement, President Yahya Khan has indefinitely suspended the session of the National Assembly. He has commented that the current situation in Pakistan as a deep political crisis". This deeply angered Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In a press conference, he stated that this is no political crisis but the expression of the autocratic attitude of the Pakistani rulers. He added that the Bangalis have rejected this announcement and called for a general strike the next day in Dhaka and on 3rd March across the country. He also asked the Bangalis to wait for his next instructions. Subsequently, the Bangalis for the first time called for their independence with slogans like: "Brave Bangalis Take Up Arms, and Liberate Bangladesh". The Shadhin Bangla Chhatra Shangram Parishad (Independent Bangla Students Struggle Council) was formed.
March 2, 1971
Dhaka saw a strike, processions and curfew. The highlight of the day was the raising of the national flag by Chhatra Shangram Parishad at the university. All processions headed to Dhaka University. Such student gathering were unprecedented in those days. The processions spread from New Market to Public Library via Nilkhet Road. The flag was hoisted at the Bottola (shed of banyan tree). From that day on, use of the word "Pakistan" faded away from the vocabulary of Bangalis. In his press conference in the evening, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman repeatedly uttered the term "Bangladesh". The government-backed goons came out on the streets to resist the general strike of the common people. At least 50 were admitted Dhaka Medical College Hospital with wounds. Of them, Aziz Morshed and Mamoon of Tejgaon Poly Technique College died at the hospital.
Meanwhile, the martial law administrator imposed a curfew from 7:00pm to 7:00am every day, until further announcement. Sheikh Mujib held a press conference and strongly condemned the shootings on the unarmed people. He also announced three half-day nationwide strikes between March 3 and March 6. The next day he announced a rally will be held at Paltan.
March 3, 1971
A mourning was observed in remembrance of those killed the day before. In a meeting organised by the Chhatra League and Sramik League, Bangabandhu appeared as the chief guest, Bangabandhu said, "Whether I am here or not, the liberation struggle of Bangalis should not stop. The blood of Bangalis cannot go in vain. If I am not here, my colleagues will lead. If they are killed, then those who survive will lead. The struggle must go on at any costs. The rights must be established". He also announced that his next instructions would come at the address to the nation on 7 March.
March 4, 1971
It was tumultuous from the mass demonstrations. As the day passed, the one point demand for independence became even stronger. On this day, thousands of people came out on the streets breaking the curfew imposed by the military junta. In Khulna, clashes broke out between Bangalis and non-Bangalis. In Dhaka, the Awami League Parliamentary Group strongly condemned the repression of general strikes and processions. Due to continuous strikes, the country came to a virtual standstill. East Pakistan Women's Council leaders poet Sufia Kamal and Maleka Begum jointly called for a demonstration on 6 March at Baitul Mukarram area. Meanwhile, The name of Radio Pakistan Dhaka was changed to Dhaka Betar Kendra. This event added a new momentum to the movement which facilitated the path towards liberation.
March 6, 1971
General Yahya Khan had a phone conversation with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It was also announced on March 6 that the session of the National Assembly would sit on 25 March at Dhaka. Due to the prevailing situation, the cornered East Pakistan military establishment tried to sporadically send messages to Sheikh Mujib and Awami League that independence not be declared on 7 March. Tanks were put in place keeping the 7 March rally in mind. Military grade weapons were stockpiled. Major Siddiq Sadiq in his book wrote that the GOC of East Pakistan told Bangabandhu clearly: "If anything is said contrary to the unity of Pakistan, it would be met with strong force. Tanks, cannons, machineguns all have been kept ready for wiping out traitors (Bangalis). If need be, Dhaka would be raised to the ground. There will be no one left to rule or be ruled".
March 7, 1971
It was in this difficult and crisis-filled context that Bangabandhu delivered his historic speech at the Racecourse Maydan on March 7. By stipulating four conditions for the Pakistan military establishment, Bangabandhu concluded his thunderous speech by saying: "This time, the struggle is for our liberation, this time the struggle is for our independence".
For readers, here we are publishing the translated version of the historic speech of 7th March 1971:
My dear brothers…..
I have come before you today with a heavy heart.
All of you know how hard we have tried. But it is a matter of sadness that the streets of Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rangpur and Rajshahi are today being spattered with the blood of my brothers, and the cry we hear from the Bengali people is a cry for freedom a cry for survival, a cry for our rights.
You are the ones who brought about an Awami League victory so you could see a constitutional government restored. The hope was that the elected representatives of the people, sitting in the National Assembly, would formulate a constitution that would guarantee people their economic, political and cultural emancipation.
But now, with great sadness in my heart, I look back on the past 23 years of our history and see nothing but a history of the shedding of the blood of the Bengali people. Ours has been a history of continual lamentation, repeated bloodshed and innocent tears.
We gave blood in 1952, we won a mandate in 1954. But we were still not allowed to take up the reins of this country. In 1958, Ayub Khan clamped Martial Law on our people and enslaved us for the next 10 years. In 1966, during the Six-Point Movement of the masses, many were the young men and women whose lives were stilled by government bullets.
After the downfall of Ayub, Mr. Yahya Khan took over with the promise that he would restore constitutional rule, that he would restore democracy and return power to the people.
We agreed. But you all know of the events that took place after that.
I ask you, are we the ones to blame?
As you know, I have been in contract with President Yahya Khan. As leader of the majority party in the National Assembly, I asked him to set February 15 as the day for its opening session. He did not accede to the request I made as leader of the majority party. Instead, he went along with the delay requested by the minority leader Mr. Bhutto and announced that the Assembly would be convened on the 3rd of March.
We accepted that, agreed to join the deliberations. I even went to the extent of saying that we, despite our majority, would still listen to any sound ideas from the minority, even if it were a lone voice. I committed myself to the support of anything to bolster the restoration of a constitutional government.
When Mr. Bhutto came to Dhaka, we met. We talked. He left, signaling that the doors to negotiation were still open. Moulana Noorani and Moulana Mufti were among those West Pakistan parliamentarians who visited Dhaka and talked with me about an agreement on a constitutional framework.
I made it clear that could not agree to any deviation from the Six Points. That right rested with the people. Come, I said, let us sit down and resolve matters.
But Bhutto's retort was that he would not allow himself to become hostage on two fronts. He predicted that if any West Pakistani members of Parliament were to come to Dhaka, the Assembly would be turned into a slaughterhouse. He added that if anyone were to participate in such a session, a countrywide agitation would be launched from Peshawar to Karachi and that every business would be shut down in protest.
I assured him that the Assembly would be convened and despite the dire threats, West Pakistani leaders did come down to Dhaka.
But suddenly, on March I, the session was cancelled.
There was an immediate outcry against this move by the people. I called for a hartal as a peaceful form of protest and the masses took to the streets in response.
And what did we get as a response?
He turned his guns on my helpless people, a people with no arms to defend themselves. These were the same arms that had been purchased with our own money to protect us from external enemies. But it is my own people who are being fired upon today.
In the past, too, each time we, the numerically larger segment of Pakistan's population, tried to assert our rights and control our destiny, they conspired against us and pounced upon us.
I have asked them this before: How can you make your own brothers the target of your bullets?
Now Yahya Khan says that I had agreed to a Round Table Conference on the 10th. Let me point out that is not true.
I had said, Mr. Yahya Khan, you are the President of this country. Come to Dhaka, come and see how our poor Bengali people have been mowed down by your bullets, how the laps of our mothers and sisters have been robbed and left empty and bereft, how my helpless people have been slaughtered. Come, I said, come and see for yourself and then be the judge and decide. That is what I told him.
Earlier, I had told him there would be no Round Table Conference. What Round Table Conference, whose Round Table Conference? You expect me to sit at a Round Table Conference with the very same people who have emptied the laps of my mothers and my sisters?
On the 3rd, at the Paltan, I called for a non-cooperation movement and the shutdown of offices, courts and revenue collection. You gave me full support.
Then suddenly, without consulting me or even informing us, he met with one individual for five hours and then made a speech in which he put all the blame on me, laid all the fault at the door of the Bengali people!
The deadlock was created by Bhutto, yet the Bengalis are the ones facing the bullets! We face their guns, yet it's our fault. We are the ones being bit by their bullets- and it's still our fault!
So, the struggle this time is a struggle for our emancipation, the struggle this time is a struggle for our independence!
Brothers, they have now called the Assembly on March 25, with the streets not yet dry of the blood of my brothers. You have called the Assembly, but you must first agree to meet my demands. Martial Law must be withdrawn; the soldiers must return to their barracks; the murderers of my people must be redressed. And …. Power must be handed over to the elected representatives of the people.
Only then will we consider if we can take part in the National Assembly or not!
Before these demands are met, there can be no question of our participating in this session of the Assembly. That is one right not given to me as part of my mandate from the masses.
As I told them earlier, Mujibur Rahman refuses to walk to the Assembly trading upon the fresh stains of his brothers' blood!
Do you, my brothers, have complete faith in me….?
…. Let me the tell you that the Prime Ministership is not what I seek. What I want is justice, the rights of the people of this land. They tempted me with the Prime Ministership but the failed to buy me over. Nor did they succeed in hanging me on the gallows, for you rescued me with your blood from the so-called conspiracy case.
That day, right here at this racecourse, I had pledged to you that I would pay for this blood debt with my own blood. Do you remember? I am read today to fulfill that promise!
I now declare the closure of all the courts, offices, and educational institutions for an indefinite period of time. No one will report to their offices- that is my instruction to you.
So that the poor are not inconvenienced, rickshaws, trains and other transport will ply normally-except serving any needs of the armed forces. If the army does not respect this, I shall not be responsible for the consequences.
The Secretariat, Supreme Court, High Court, Judge's Courts, and government and semi-government offices shall remain shut. Only banks may open for two hours daily for business transactions. But no money shall be transmitted from East to West Pakistan. The Bengali people must stay calm during these times. Telegraph and telephone communications will be confined within Bangladesh.
The people of this land are facing elimination, so be on guard. If need be, we will bring everything to a total standstill…….
Collect your salaries on time. If the salaries are held up, if a single bullet is fired upon us henceforth, if the murder of my people does not cease, I call upon you to turn every home into a fortress against their onslaught. Use whatever you can put your hands on to confront this enemy. Every road must be blocked.
We will deprive them of food, we will deprive them of water. Even if I am not around to give you the orders, and if my associates are also not to be found, I ask you to continue your movement unabated.
I say to them again, you are my brothers, return now to the barracks where you belong and no one will bear any hostility toward you. Only do not attempt to aim any more bullets at our hearts: It will not do any good!
….. And the seven million people of this land will not be cowed down by you or accept suppression anymore. The Bengali people have learned how to die for a cause and you will not be able to bring them under your yoke of suppression!
To assist the families of the martyred and the injured, the Awami League has set up committees that will do all they can. Please donate whatever you can. Also, employers must give full pay to the workers who participated in the seven days of hartal or were not able to work because of curfews.
To all government employees, I say that my directives must be followed. I had better not see any of you attending your offices. From today, until this land has been freed, no taxes will be paid to the government anymore. As of now, stop. Leave everything to me. I know how to organize a movement.
But be very careful. Keep in mind that the enemy has infiltrated our ranks to engage in the work of provocateurs. Whether Bengali or non-Bengali, Hindu or Muslim, all are our brothers and it is our responsibility to ensure their safety.
I also ask you to stop listening to radio, television and the press if these media do not report news of our movement.
To them, I say, "You are our brothers. I beseech you to not turn this country into a living hell. Will you not have to show your faces and confront your conscience some day?
If we can peacefully settle our differences there is still hope that we can co-exist as brothers. Otherwise, there is no hope. If you choose the other path, we may never come face to face ever again.
For now, I have just one thing to ask of you: Give up any thoughts of enslaving this country under military rule again!"
I ask my people to immediately set up committees under the leadership of the Awami League to carry on our struggle in every neighborhood, village, union and subdivision of this land.
You must prepare yourselves now with what little you have for the struggle ahead.
Since we have given blood, we will give more of it. But, Insha'Allah, we will free the people of this land!
The struggle this time is for our emancipation! The struggle this time is for our independence!
Be ready. We cannot afford to lose our momentum. Keep the movement and the struggle alive because if we fall back they will come down hard upon us.
Be disciplined. No nation's movement can be victorious without discipline.