Bangabandhu takes over as Prime Minister
On this day in 1972, two days after his return from incarceration in Pakistan, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman formed a government for independent Bangladesh. Earlier, on the attainment of liberation on 16 December 1971, the responsibility of administering the new country devolved on the provisional government that had taken charge in Mujibnagar on 17 April 1971.
Having waged a successful guerrilla war against Pakistan, the Mujibnagar government, led by Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam and Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad, relocated to Dhaka on 22 December of the year.
A principal goal before it was securing the release of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, imprisoned in (West) Pakistan since March 1971. Bangabandhu's subsequent release by the new Pakistan government of President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his arrival in Bangladesh on 10 January 1972 was a clear signal that the new country was about to take its place in the international community.
And this it would do through embarking on the gigantic task of rehabilitating citizens, especially the ten million Bengalis who had taken refuge during the war in India, and through rebuilding infrastructure shattered during the nine months of Pakistani occupation.
Expectations were high, of which a significant one was the belief that having provided active leadership to the Bengali struggle in the 1960s and early 1970s, prior to the war, Bangabandhu (who had been named President of Bangladesh in April 1971 and continued in that position after his return home from Pakistan), would take charge of the state and guide it to the democratic path it had set for itself. In essence, Bangabandhu's return was a tale of freedom acquiring a fullness of purpose and meaning.
On 12 January 1972, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman stepped down from the presidency, which position was then taken over by Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, former Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University. For his part, Bangabandhu took over as independent Bangladesh's Prime Minister, which of course meant that Tajuddin Ahmad, Prime Minister since April 1971, was relinquishing charge of the government.
In the new government formation, Tajuddin Ahmed became finance minister while Syed Nazrul Islam took over as minister for industries. Abdus Samad Azad replaced Khondokar Moshtaque Ahmed as foreign minister. Moshtaque was given charge of water resources.
Bangabandhu's government was predictably buffeted by challenges on various fronts right from its inception. The damage to the nation's infrastructure had been immense during the War of Liberation. Three million Bengalis had been killed by the occupation Pakistan army and 200,000 Bengali women had been raped by Pakistan's soldiers.
Internationally, even though Bangladesh was swiftly coming by recognition as an independent state from other nations, it found its way into the United Nations blocked by China's veto, which act was meant by Beijing as a sign of solidarity with Pakistan.
Even so, the government achieved some remarkable feats, significant among which was the withdrawal of the Indian army from Bangladesh by mid March 1972. In December of the year, the Constituent Assembly ratified the Constitution on the basis of which the country's first general elections would be held on 7 March 1973. The Awami League would return to power with a huge majority.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Asian Age