Many years ago, journalist Miguel Littin paid a secret visit to Chile to expose the barbarous atrocities of Augusto Pinochet. He made a documentary on the predicaments and pathos of the Chilean hoi polloi. This documentary helped to highlight Pinochet's oppression before the eyes of the world. Littin's adventure was shaped into a novel by the legendary author Gabriel Garcia Marquez – "Clandestine in Chile".
Likewise, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman paid a visit to Agartala, the capital of the Northeast Indian state of Tripura way back in 1963. His purpose was to seek India's support to end the regime of autocracy unleashed by the then West Pakistani ruling elite.
The plan to materialise this secret visit was chalked out on the midnight of 25 Dec, 1962, on Christmas day. The venue was Chakrabarty Villa in old Dhaka. Sashanka S Banerjee was serving in his capacity as a political officer in the Indian Diplomatic Mission of East Pakistan. The Daily Ittefaq, a nationalist Bengali newspaper of those days was located next door.
Banerjee stepped inside his residence in Chakrabarty Villa after taking part in a traditional Christmas party thrown by a friend. As soon as he entered, there was a knock on the door. He was flabbergasted. Was someone following him? Who could be knocking at the door at such an ungodly hour? Earlier, he was cautioned about his personal security. Nevertheless, Banerjee opened the door and surprisingly found a boy standing. The lad must have been not more than fourteen years of age. "As-salaam walaikum," the boy greeted. "Walaikum salaam," Banerjee responded. The boy asked Banerjee if it could be convenient for him to call on The Daily Ittefaq office at such an unearthly hour. The Editor Manik Mia wanted to have an audience with him. The boy also said there was another gentleman with the Editor. Thereafter, he departed from Banerjee's residence. The diplomat, despite being puzzled and petrified by the invitation, accepted to walk into the unknown whatsoever.
A few moments later, Sashanka Banerjee reached the Daily Ittefaq office. The Editor Manik Mia, alias Tofazzal Hussain, got up from his chair and received the diplomat with utmost warmth and urbanity. Then he turned towards the gentleman next to him. Manik Mia introduced him to the Indian diplomat.
The diplomat was taken aback. The gentleman looked extremely familiar to him. He saw him in the newspapers. He also saw the man addressing a gathering at Paltan Maidan. The man's formidable oratory struck a chord with the listeners. He was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
In his book "India, Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh Liberation & Pakistan: A Political Treatise," former diplomat Sashanka S Banerjee described Mujib through a quote by journalist Cyril Dunn, "Mujib was handsome and possessed a great personality."
Mujib instantly shook hands with the Indian diplomat vigorously. The latter reciprocated and expressed his pleasure over his first meeting with Mujib. The diplomat asked him if it was a historic handshake. "Why not?" was Mujib's reply.
The conclave lasted about two hours. As the meeting was reaching a conclusion, Mujib wished to show something. The diplomat nodded.
Mujib gave him a letter which he wanted to be forwarded to the prime minister of India through a diplomatic bag. Banerjee told him that the letter would be seen by two other officers in the Indian diplomatic mission in Dhaka. Copies of the letter would be forwarded to India's Foreign Secretary and the Director of Intelligence Bureau, New Delhi.
The letter was a bombshell. Addressed personally by name to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, it was drafted to reveal Mujib's intention of heralding the beginning of a liberation struggle. According to Mujib's own admission, the missive was drafted after a consultation with Manik Mia.
The letter also emphasised that it would mean breaking away from the repressive military dictatorship of Rawalpindi. Consequently, a sovereign independent homeland of the Bengali-speaking people of East Pakistan would be created.
Mujib also expressed his desire of shifting his base from Dhaka to London. The reason cited was political atmosphere was not congenial in Pakistan at that point of time. Precisely, it prevented open political activities of any kind.
The larger plan was Manik Mia would remain behind in Dhaka and continue his regular columns with the Daily Ittefaq demanding autonomy for East Pakistan.
Mujib would set up a Provisional Government of a Sovereign Democratic Republic of Bangladesh in exile in London at the earliest by 1 Feb, 1963 or latest by 1 March, 1963. By this means, he would declare independence.
Ultimately, Mujib appealed for India's abiding and unequivocal moral, political, diplomatic, logistical and material support to the cause of the liberation struggle.
Subsequently, the explosive letter was submitted to the head of Indian diplomatic mission and the station chief of intelligence. Two meetings were held in utmost secrecy. The Head of Mission, Intelligence Chief, Mujibur Rahman, Manik Mia and Sashanka Banerjee were present during those meetings. The purpose of these meetings was to get a better understanding of what the Bangladeshi leaders expected from India.
Thereafter, the letter was dispatched to the Indian PM's office.
However, there was no response and Mujib was getting impatient.
He felt it was getting futile dealing with the bureaucrats in Dhaka. And thus, an idea cropped up in his mind. This idea would alter the history of this subcontinent. It was to visit Agartala, the bordering capital of Tripura.
According to "Agartala Sharajantra Mamla: Phire Dekha" by historian Haribhusan Pal, Mujib reached Agartala through Khowai sub-division in West Tripura. It was 1963. He called on Tripura Chief Minister Sachindra Lal Singha. Nevertheless, Sachin Singha sheltered Mujib in his sister's home at Arundhatinagar. It was midnight. The following morning, Mujib opened up about his plans to Sachin Singha. He also disclosed what transpired between him and the Indian Diplomatic Mission in Dhaka.
Sachin Singha soon left for Delhi and had an audience with Nehru.
Nehru's response to Mujib's appeal should be through the Tripura CM, hereby, placed.
He was not in a mood to wage a war after suffering an ignominious defeat at the hands of China the previous year. He felt Mujib should wait for the opportune moment. Meanwhile, the Indian PM decided to extend a long-term strategic support to the cause of liberation. He felt that apart from Bengali nationalism Mujib was committed to the ideals of secularism in the manner of Kemal Ataturk of Turkey.
Nehru conveyed to Mujib that he should not be in a hurry for liberation. Heading for London would be redundant as Mujib must be available all the time where he was needed the most – the top of his citadel.
Mujib was also advised to strengthen his mass base on a countrywide basis and he should slog in that direction. That would uphold his democratic credentials.
He was told that as and when millions of people would assemble to hear him in public rallies, the world would acknowledge him as a true mass leader of a democratic freedom movement.
Mujib was also advised to fund the party machinery through door-to-door collections of small amounts of donations. Mass awareness was most essential and party leaders at various levels should hold public rallies up and down the country.
Mujib complied with the advice and soon he began achieving success. Few years after the secret Agartala visit, he became endeared to the masses as 'Bangabandhu' for his sheer patriotism, courage, dedication and industry.
Mujib's meeting with Sachin Singha was confessed by Sashanka S Banerjee as well.
As soon as Sachin Singha returned to Agartala, he arranged a shelter for Mujib at the old building of Agartala Central Jail. There Mujib spent a night. The following day, at the beginning of dawn, he was pushed back to East Pakistan via Sonamura sub-division of Tripura. The sub-division is adjacent to Comilla.
Mujib might not have set up a provisional government in London. But Nehru's advice helped him to choose the right track and this resulted in a provisional government in Mujibnagar many years later.
Shilajit Kar Bhowmik (The writer is a former journalist with The Telegraph, Calcutta)