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BENGALI NATIONALISM AND ANTI-AYUB MOVEMENT:

A STUDY OF THE ROLE OF STUDENTS

Article Published in
Pakistan Vision.
Volume 7, No. 2 December 2006
Punjab University, Lahore

Mahboob Hussain
Lecturer
Department of History,
University of the Punjab Lahore

Bengali Nationalism and Anti-Ayub Movement:


A Study of the Role of Students
*Mahboob Hussain
This article is about the role of students in the downfall of Ayub regime. It aims at
the rediscovery of the actual picture of the political happenings during the declining years
of President Ayub Khan. The central idea of the article is that the students were mainly
instrumental in the fall of the regime. They were on the forefront of the movement for the
revival of the democracy in the country and they provided the much needed energy by the
anti-Ayub forces at that time. It will particularly highlight the role of students in East
Pakistan and how it affected the growing Bengali nationalist sentiments there.
The movement against Ayub Khans regime was a unique phenomenon in
Pakistans political history. Ayub Khans economic policies helped the industrial
development of East Pakistan, but the lot of the common man did not improve. Poverty,
ignorance and other similar problems remained unresolved. This led to the alienation of
students and all of the politically relevant strata of Bengali society.

In the 1960s,

economic disparities between East and West Pakistan increased, and the idea that
Pakistan consisted of two economies and two polities arose among East Pakistan
intellectuals, who formed an expansive, influential circle for the interaction of the two
visions of independence. The combination of Bengali cultural nationalism, triggered by
the Language Movement, with a 1960s critique of Pakistan's political economy composed
a virtual "two-nation theory" inside Pakistan. 2 The 1965 war between India and Pakistan
dramatized East Pakistan's military vulnerability compared to West Pakistan. The
Bengalis felt that due to their under-representation in the civil service and in the central
cabinets, they played only a small share in the national political main stream. 3 In order to
address disparities between East and West Pakistan, Awami League president Sheikh
Mujibur Rahman announced a six-point programme in 1966, it was virtually the

blueprint for Bengali right to live4 and demanded that East and West Pakistan form a
federated state.
In 1967, the Agaratala Conspiracy Case was a nerve test of the Ayub Regime in
East Pakistan. Mujib would have been politically dead if the case could be proved, but
instead he earned martyrs status and the trial only reinforced his power and credibility.5
This case played the same role for Bengali nationalism as did Jinnahs publicity
campaign against the Congress rule in the Muslim minority provinces from 1937-1939. 6
Ayub Khan's government responded by implicating Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and 34
others in an alleged conspiracy to make East Pakistan independent through an armed
uprising. As a result of the Agartala Conspiracy Case, Sheikh Mujib spent almost three
years in jail, from May 8, 1966 to January 22, 1969. In this situation Mujib rose as a
popular mass leader.7 During this time, a mass popular movement arose against the
Agartala Conspiracy Case and the Ayub Khan regime. The students were bringing out
huge processions in Dhaka, demanding the release of Mujib and the withdrawal of the
conspiracy case against him.8 In 1968, politicians and students from the left published a
Programme for Independent Republic of Purba Bangla, and raised the slogan, "Establish
Independent Republic of Purba Bangla".9 Jailing the constitutional leadership had opened
up political space for public demands for sovereignty, which added new force to federal
demands.
The month of December 1968 and January 1969 were marked with strikes and a
new popular movement led by student organizations which combined calls for federalism
with passionate assertions of Bengali nationalism. On January 4, 1969 the new
Sarbadaliya Chhatra Sangram Parishad (All Parties Student Resistance Council, or SCSP)
was formed. This Council came together under a common set of demands and an agreed
collective leadership. They announced an 11-point charter for self-government in East
Pakistan, and evoked freedom with such slogans as "Awake, Awake Bengalis, Awake",
"Brave Bengalis, take up arms and make Bangladesh independent", "Your Desh, My
Desh, Bangla Desh, Bangla Desh". Cries of "Joy Bangla" appeared in public instead of
"Pakistan Zindabad" and Jai Hind etc.10

The most crucial, and obviously the most glorious phase of student politics was
the period from 1968 to 1969. Under the political setting of the early 1960s, most of the
political parties got fragmented into various factions and with them the student parties
were also segmented. The sub-division and fragmentation of student organizations made
their public image highly dubious.
Mass Upsurge, started with the student unrest of 1968 against the autocratic rule
of Ayub Khan. That time three leading students organizations, the EPSL (aligned with the
AL) and the East Pakistan Students Union (EPSU) Matia and Menon Group forged a
united front known as the Students Action Committee (SAC) with Tufail Ahmad, the
flamboyant Vice President of the Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU) as
Chairman. As in West Pakistan, every political party had its parallel students
organization. Therefore the EPSU aligned with the NAP, the AL was supported to the
EPSU, the NSF was supported by the PML and JI was aligned with Islami Jamiat Tulba.11
The student organizations started anti-government movement and the movement
soon engulfed the whole of the then East Pakistan. The peasants, artisans, workers joined
the movement. The people had tolerated Ayubian regime for ten years. Political
suppression and alienation of people led to the unpopularity of Ayub regime. In this
situation, students started an organized campaign against the government. The call was
for the parliamentary form of government, direct election, the end of emergency, the
release of political prisoners and the freedom of expression. During the movement, law
and order completely broke down. Government property was damaged and burnt. The
basic Democrats and the Convention Muslim League MNAs and MPAs and Ministres,
who symbolized Ayubs instruments of power and suppression, were attacked. Curfew
was violated, and anti Ayub slogans were raised.12 The lava had been boiling underground
since long and the inferno erupted with an unprecedented force. A force which rocked the
very foundations of the country.13Due to continuous exaction of undue demands, the
labour class of the industrial belts and low and medium income groups soon turned the
movement into a struggle for economic emancipation. The racial repression and the
deprivation of the Bengalis within the framework of Pakistan and, to the contrary, starting
from the Language Movement the feeling of separate identity together with struggle for

autonomy had direct influence on the mass upsurge of 1969. Indeed, this mass upsurge
was the greatest mass awakening ever since the creation of Pakistan. That time the
opposition parties were organizationally weak and divided they enjoyed supreme
authority within the movement.14
The student agitation turned into a vigorous movement when Maulana Abdul
Hamid Khan Bhasani openly preached violence and started a movement ghero and jalao.
He also raised a cry of independence.15 He asked his followers to besiege Governors
House and formulated and declared his future programmes. As a part of joint programmes
the National Awami Party (NAP) of Maulana Bhasani, East Pakistan Workers' Federation
of and East Pakistan Peasants' Association led by Abdul Huq arranged a public meeting
at Paltan Maidan to observe the Repression Resistance Day on 6 December 1968. After
the meeting was over, a huge procession 'gheraoed' the Governor's House. The Maulana
declared a hartal the next day, following the clash between the people and the police. On
the call of the main opposition parties namely two factions of NAP (Bhasani and
Muzaffar), Awami League, People's Party, Nezam-i-Islam, Jama't-i-Islam etc a hartal was
observed throughout East Pakistan on 8 December.16 Repression Resistance Day was very
successfully observed throughout the province on 10 December at the call of Awami
League (pro-six point). On the 14th the gherao programme was declared by the NAP
(Bhasani). Accordingly, the programme was launched with the gherao of the bungalow of
the DC of Pabna on the 29 December 1968.17
On the 4 January 1969, leaders of the East Pakistan Students Union (Menon
Group), East Pakistan Students League, East Pakistan Students' Union (Matia Gr.) 18 and a
section of National Students Federation (they were all the part of SAC) declared their
11-point Programme. The 11 Points included the Six Points of Awami League as declared
by Sh. Mujib ur Rahman, including provincial autonomy, the demands centering round
students' own demands as well as the demands relating to the problems of the workers.
As a matter of fact, the Eleven Point programme was a compromise solution of all the
demands of secular and leftist Parties in East Pakistan. 19 This is also reality that student
leaders took through the Eleven-Point programme was timely and appropriate. 20 The
Eleven Point programme of the students was, by and large, a combination of the demands

of the opposition parties in East Pakistan. On the basis of these points the important
opposition parties could be united on a minimum point of agreement to continue with the
movement against Ayub regime.21
Student leadership developed the idea of making Bangladesh an independent
country on the basis of Bangali nationalism. In its nationalist sense, the term Bangladesh
was coined by the Parishad leadership. They also coined the nationalist slogan, Jai
Bangla and all the associated nationalist slogans and symbols. In such an emotionally
charged atmosphere, one even heard such slogans as Jai Hind, Akhaand Bharat, Bande
Materam raised during the procession and public meetings

22

Meanwhile the demand for

Sheikh Mujib's release and withdrawal of the Agartala Conspiracy Case began to get the
utmost priority. Together with the Dhaka University Central Students' Union (DUCSU)
the student leaders of SAC holding different positions throughout East Bengal played a
very important role in the 1969 mass upsurge. That time administration collapsed
completely and the SAC became the virtual ruler of the province. 23
Immediately after the 11-point programme had been launched on 8 January 1969
eight political parties, including Awami League and NAP (Muzaffar) formed an alliance
known as the Democratic Action Committee (DAC). The DAC brought together the
CML, NI, JUI, AL, NDF, AL (Six Points), and NAP (pro- Moscow). They demanded
Federal form of government, election on the basis of universal adult franchise, immediate
withdrawal of emergency and release of all political detainees including Sheikh Mujibur
Rahman, Khan Abdul Wali Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. 24 They took the decision to
strengthen the movement that was already set in motion by the students, to achieve their
goal. But some rightist parties in the DAC refused to support the 11-point programme of
the SAC.25 In spite of that the movement gradually got momentum and the spirit of 11
points reached every nook and corner of the province. Even a portion of the progovernment student front NSF (a dummy organization was set up by the government, this
organization had nothing to do with the NSF working in the West Pakistan) came forward
with their 22-point programme and began openly to oppose the government. 26 To voice
the protest against government repression the students arranged a meeting at the Dhaka
University and resolved to bring out a procession. In the procession police opened fire

and Asad uz zaman, a leader of the Students Union (Menon), was killed on 17 January,
1969. He was a M.A final year student of the Department of History, Dhaka University.
His death changed the nature of the student-mass movement and SAC totally took over
the movement in East Pakistan and it turned into a mass-upsurge against the Ayub regime
and its repressive measures.27 At Asad's death, the Central Action Committee announced
three days of mourning throughout East Pakistan. Besides, the Committee undertook
programmes of hartal and protest processions during the next four days. SAC call
endorsed by DAC and a complete hartal was observed on January 24 throughout
Pakistan to protest against police atrocities and the killing of the students. At the time of
observance of hartal, firing took place again. The situation went out of the control of
governor Monem Khan. The army had to be called and curfew was imposed. The
repressive measures could not restrain the people in the following days and violence
spread to other cities, with more casualties and more curfews.28
Very soon the movement took the shape of a national upsurge as a consequence of
the killing of a student of the highest seat of learning in the country. The situation of
Dhaka went beyond control of the police when Matiur, a student of class IX, died of
police firing on 24 January and Rustam was stabbed to death as well. A Dhaka magazine
wrote: from strike to brickbatting to barricades, from barricades to a general uprising
that is the development which happened since the peaceful beginning of the Demands
Day on January 17. The successive phases of this development followed one another
rather quickly and with amazing spontaneity .29 The anti Ayub movement reached a new
pitch of violence, first in the East Pakistan and then in sympathy in the West Pakistan as
well. In the agitation and clashes with the public, more then one hundred people were
killed in the Eastern wing alone.30
According to a data report the following months, casualties escalated: December
1968, 11 death and 1530 arrests; January 1969, 57 deaths, 4710 arrests, and 1424
injured in street clashes; February 1969, 57 deaths, 100 arrests, and 412 injured;
March 1969, 90 deaths, 356 arrests, and 490 injured.31

Indiscriminate firing of the army and the EPR( East Pakistan Rifles) caused death
to a woman while sucking her baby. The incidence caused widespread repercussions in
the socio-political arena. Sergeant Zahrul Huq, an under-trial prisoner in the Agartala
Conspiracy Case, died of bullet injury in the Dhaka Cantonment on 15 February 1969. 32
His funeral procession triggered off a riot in which two houses of ministers and the state
Guest House where the Chief Judge of the Agartala Tribunal, Justice S.A Rahman, was
staying were set on fire. Justice Rahman fortunately escaped, but the army was called out
again and a curfew was imposed in response. SAC called for a strike. 33 The death of Zahr
ul Huq immediate effect on East Pakistan mass. According to Tariq Ali:
Whatever are the facts about his death, the killing of Zahoor had explosive
effects on the people of Dacca. Students clashed with police and Maulana
Bhashani called a funeral meeting on Sunday, Feb. 16, 1969. It was at this
meeting that the eighty-six years old peasant leader ended his oration.
With the call Bangla jage agan jaloo. No sooner had Maulana said these
words that smoke was seen rising from the center of the city. It was a pure
coincidence, but the dramatic effect heightened the already tensed
atmosphere, in the city people showed their capacity to retaliate.
Headquarter of Convention Muslim League was bunt, house of the
ministers and supporters of Ayub Khan were also burnt to ashes and the
administration finaly resorted to curfew which too could not pacify the
passions and was defined by the students, labourers and peasants.34
On 18 February 1969 Dr Mohammad Shamsuzzoha, Proctor of the Rajshahi
University, while trying to restrain students leaving the campus, which they had been
forbidden to do by the government, was bayoneted by soldiers and died beside the gates
of the university. He was a person of considerable academic distinction and very popular
and his death was a great blow to hopes of restoring civic calm. The news spread like
wild fire throughout the country. Thousands of people thronged the Dhaka streets and
highways ignoring curfew. 35

The twenty-first February of 1969 imbued the people with a new spirit of
opposing dictatorship. This year a large number of people came out on the occasion of
the Shaheed Day. Since 21 February 1952, the day has been observed every year to
commemorate the martyrs of the Language Movement. 36 In a seminar arranged at the
Teacher Student Center (TSC) and presided over by Professor Abdul Hye, it was resolved
that the movement for language-based nationality would continue. Amidst strong popular
demand Ayub Khan had to give way and declare that he would not contest the next
Presidential Election. The same day Sheikh Mujib and the others accused in the Agartala
Conspiracy Case and 34 political detainees including Moni Sing, Nagen Sarkar and Rabi
Neogi were released.37Earlier the students were bringing out huge processions in Dhaka,
demanding the release of Mujib and the withdrawal of the conspiracy case against him 38
In this struggle for democracy and endeavour to get rid of tyranny the toiling
masses of the rural areas did not stop at merely chanting slogans against oppressive
government but also raised their voice against the oppressing class or its representatives
such as the corruption and arrogance of the bureaucracy, the concentration of national
wealth in the twenty-one families. The situation took such a dimension that in many cases
peasants, with the assistance of students or at least hoping that they would get their
support, killed cattle lifters, burnt them or set their houses on fire, crippled the thieves
and robbers and sometimes even killed them. 39 In several places the students with the
assistance of peasants put on trial the local tax-collectors, the subordinate police and their
officers, circle officers and moved them around market places garlanding them with
shoes. Students exacted from them the amount they had taken as bribes, sometimes they
were fined.40 Students forced chairmen and members of union councils to resign,
removed brothels and wiped out liqueur shops. In the urban areas, corrupt officials were
bodily manhandled, their record books ransacked and sometimes even set on fire. Lowincome groups and mid-level employees chanted for their long cherished but unfulfilled
demands and joined the processions in the highways. Thousands of workers used the
gherao movement as the fruitful means of achieving their demands.41
In East Pakistan, the situation had worsened after the Round Table Conference.
The Students Action Committee had dominated the anti-Ayub movement from the

beginning. Early in March 1969, SACs demanded for the resignation of forty thousand
Basic Democrats, followed by Bhashanis call for the forcible take-over of mills and
factories, and his threat to burn the polling booths if election were held, created anarchic
condition.42 Now even the moderates were forced to make radical statements to save
themselves, for instance, in March 1969, one East Pakistani Con Muslim Leagues MNA
requested permission from Ayub Khan for making a statement to the effect that there
should be two states of East Pakistan and West Pakistan on the basis of the Lahore
Resolution of 1940. He wanted to do this in order to save himself and his property.43
The whole East Pakistan was now in a turmoil that the regular law enforcing
agencies could not control without the cooperation of all the major political parties and
students. Ayub Khan made a last effort to restore peace by appointing new governors in
both East and West Pakistan. Yusuf Haroon replaced General Musa, and Dr. N.M Huda
took over charge from Menem Khan.44 But the situation still out of control, in this
situation the regime decided that the army was the only organ capable of restoring peace,
when Ayub Khan finally realized that his initiatives had failed to arrest the deteriorating
political situation, he handed over the rein of government to General Yahya Khan.

Notes and References:


1. http/www.albd.org/aldoc/50years_12htm see also, Rounaq Jahan, Pakistan,
Failure in National Integration (New York:Columbia University Press,
1972),pp.85-86.
2. Ibid.
3. Safdar Mahmood, Pakistan Divided (Lahore: Jang Publishers, 1993),36.
4. Abdul Wadud Bhuiyan, Emergence of Bangladesh and Role of Awami League
(Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1982), p.100.
5. Lawrence Ziring, The Ayub Khan Era (Syracuse, University press, 1971),
p.91.
6. G.W Choudhury, The Last Days of United Pakistan (London: 1974), p.26.
7. Siddeque Salik, Witness to Surrender (Karachi: Oxford University Press,
1979), p.5.
8.

Altaf Gauhar, Ayub Khan Pakistans First Military Ruler, (Lahore: Sange-Meel Publications, 1993).p.435.

9. http://banglapedia.search.com.bd/HT/R_0007.htm
10.

Muhammad Abbas Ali, The Salvation of East Pakistan (Sialkot: 1971),


p.29.

11.

Bhuiyan, Emergence of Bangladesh, p.111.

12.

Mahmood, Pakistan Divided, p.48.

13.

Muhammad Abbas Ali,p.27.

14.

Abdul Wadud Bhuiyan, p.111.

15.

Safdar Mahmood, Pakistan Divided, p.48.

16.

The Pakistan Observer , Dhaka ,December 9, 1968.

17.

Ibid.

18.

The EPSU was divided into Menon (Pro-Chinese) and Motia (ProMoscow) factions in December 1968.

19.

20.

Anwar Dil, Bengali Language Movement (Lahore: Ferozsons, 2000) p.215.

Rafique Afzal, Political Parties in Pakistan 1958-1969 vol.ii,


(Islamabad:National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research,2000),
p.278

21.

See the pamphlet, Launch United Movement on the basis of 11 point


programme distributed by SAC.

22.

Mohammad Abbas Ali, p.37.

23.

Abdul Wadud Bhuiyan, p.118.

24.

Rafique Afzal, p.280

25.

http//www.banglapedia.search.com.bd.

26.

Ibid.

27.

The Pakistan Observer, 21 January 1969. Also see, Rafique Afzal,


Political Parties in Pakistan, vol-ii,p.281

28.

Ibid., p.282

29.

Holiday, January 28, 1969.

30.

UN official estimate given by the newspapers.

31.

Tariq Ali, Can Pakistan Survive? (London:Penguin Books,


1983),p.81.Also see Hasan Zaheer, The Separation of East Pakistan
(Dhaka: University Press,1994),p.101.

32.

Herbert Feldman, From Crisis to Crisis: Pakistan 1962-1969, (Karachi:


Oxford University Press, 2001) p.269.

33.

Dawn, Karachi February 18,1969.

34.

Tariq Ali, Pakistan: Military Rule or Peoples power (New York: Morrow
and Compony, 1970), pp.206-7.

35.

M.Rafique Afzal, p.286. Also se Herbert Feldman, From Crisis to Crisis


p.269.

36.

UNESCO adopting a resolution on 17 November 1999 proclaiming 21


February as International Mother Language Day.

37.

Herbert Feldman, From Crisis to Crisis p.280.

38.

Altaf Gauhar, Ayub Khan: Pakistans First Military Ruler, (Lahore: Sange-Meel Publishers, 1993), p.435.

39.

www.benglapedia. Search.com.bd.

40.

Ibid.

41.

M.Rafique Afzal, p.294.

42.

Ibid.p.295.

43.

S.M. Zafar, Through the Crisis (Lahore: Book Centre 1970), p.176.

44.

M.Rafique Afzal, p.297.