Early Life

Sheikh Mujib was born in Tungipara, a village in Gopalganj District in Bengal in British India, to Sheikh Lutfur Rahman. His father was a court clerk of Gopalganj civil court. He was born into a Muslim, native Bengali family as the third child in a family of four daughters and two sons.

In 1929, Sheikh Mujib entered into class three at Gopalganj Public School. Mujib withdrew from school in 1934 to undergo eye surgery, and returned to school only after four years, owing to the severity of the surgery and slow recovery.

Sheikh Mujib was 13 years old when he got married to his paternal cousin Sheikh Fazilatunnesa who was only 3 and just lost her parents. It was 9 years later, in 1942, when Sheikh Mujib was 22 years old and Begum Fazilatunnesa was 12 years old that the marriage consummated.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

Together they had two daughters—Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana—and three sons—Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Jamal, and Sheikh Rasel.

Later, he passed his Matriculation from Gopalganj Missionary School in 1942, Intermediate of Arts from Islamia College (now Maulana Azad College) in 1944 and BA from the same college in 1947.

Political Activities

After the partition of India, he got admission into the University of Dhaka to study law. He could not complete it due to his expulsion from the University in early 1949 on the charge of inciting an agitation against the University authority.

Sheikh Mujib became politically active when he joined the All India Muslim Students Federation in 1940. He obtained his BA degree in 1947. Mujib was one of the Muslim politicians working under Suhrawardy during the communal violence in Calcutta, in 1946.

After the Partition of India, Mujib chose to stay in the newly created Pakistan. On his return to what became known as East Pakistan, he enrolled in the University of Dhaka to study law and founded the East Pakistan Muslim Students’ League.

He became one of the most prominent student political leaders in the province. During these years, Mujib developed an affinity for socialism as the solution to mass poverty, unemployment, and poor living conditions.

Protest against Rule of Pakistan

Following the declaration of Muhammad Ali Jinnah on the 21 March 1948, that the people of East Bengal would have to adopt Urdu as the state language, protests broke out among the population.

Mujib immediately decided to start a movement against this former planned decision of the Muslim League. Sheikh Mujib immediately announced nationwide student strike on March 17, 1948.

On 19 March, he organized a movement aimed at securing the rights of the fourth class employees of Dhaka University. Police again arrested him on 11 September 1948.

On 21 January 1949, Police released Sheikh Mujib from prison. Out of jail, he again became involved in the demand for the demand of the fourth class employees, for which university fined him.

Formation of Awami Muslim League

Mujib left the Muslim League to join the Awami Muslim League, the predecessor of the Awami League. He was elected joint secretary of its East Bengal unit in 1949.

While Suhrawardy worked to build a larger coalition of East Bengali and socialist parties, Mujib focused on expanding the grass-roots organization.

In 1953, party member elected him as party’s general secretary. People of East Pakistan elected him to the East Bengal Legislative Assembly on a United Front coalition ticket in 1954.

He Served briefly as the minister for agriculture during A. K. Fazlul Huq’s government. Police briefly arrested Mujib for organizing a protest of the central government’s decision to dismiss the United Front ministry.

In 1956, Mujib entered a second coalition government as minister of industries, commerce, labour, anti-corruption and village aid. He resigned in 1957 to work full-time for the party organization.

In 1958 General Ayub Khan suspended the constitution and imposed martial law. Mujib was arrested for organizing resistance and imprisoned till 1961.

After his release from prison, Mujib started organizing an underground political body called the Free Bangla Revolutionary Council, comprising student leaders, to oppose the regime of Ayub Khan.

They worked for increased political power for Bengalis and the independence of East Pakistan. He was briefly arrested again in 1962 for organizing protests.

Leader of Awami League

Following Suhrawardy’s death in 1963, Mujib came to head the Awami League, which became one of the largest political parties in Pakistan.

Working with other political parties, he supported opposition candidate Fatima Jinnah against Ayub Khan in the 1964 election. Mujib was arrested two weeks before the election, charged with sedition and jailed for a year.

In these years, there was rising discontent in East Pakistan over the atrocities committed by the Pakistani Armed Forces against Bengalis.

In 1966, Sheikh Mujib proclaimed a 6-point plan titled Our Charter of Survival at a national conference of opposition political parties at Lahore, in which he demanded self-government and considerable political, economic and defense autonomy for East Pakistan in a Pakistani federation with a weak central government

Sheikh Mujib obtained the broad support of Bengalis, including the Hindu and other religious communities in East Pakistan. However, people in West Pakistan considered his demands as radical and interpreted as thinly veiled separatism.

Agartala Conspiracy Case

Pakistan ruling elite accused Mujib and 34 Bengali military officers of colluding with Indian government agents in a scheme to divide Pakistan and threaten its unity, order and national security. 

Soon the outcry and unrest over Mujib’s arrest destabilized East Pakistan amidst large protests and strikes. The government caved to the mounting pressure, dropped the charges on February 22, 1969. The government unconditionally released Mujib the following day.

He returned to East Pakistan as a public hero. He was given a mass reception on February 23, at Racecourse ground and conferred with the title Bangabandhu, meaning Friend of the Bengal.

The West Pakistani politicians and the military began to see him as a separatist leader. Mujib was able to galvanize support throughout East Pakistan. East Pakistan was home to a majority of the national population. Thus making him one of the most powerful political figures in the Indian subcontinent.

Pakistan National Assembly Election of 1970

In the Pakistani general elections held on 7 December 1970, the Awami League under Mujib’s leadership won a massive majority. He won all but two of East Pakistan’s quota of seats in the new National Assembly, thus forming a clear majority.

Soon President Yahya Khan invited Sheikh Mujib to form the next government and demanded inclusion of the PPP. Soon Pakistani military and the Islamic political parties opposed Mujib’s becoming Pakistan’s prime minister.

Following political deadlock, Yahya Khan delayed the convening of the assembly. It was on 7 March 1971 that Mujib called for independence. He asked the people to launch a major campaign of civil disobedience and organized armed resistance at a mass gathering of people in Dhaka.

Soon Yahya Khan declared martial law, banned the Awami League. He ordered the army to arrest Mujib and other Bengali leaders and activists. The army launched Operation Searchlight to curb the political and civil unrest. They fought the  nationalist militias trained in India.

Speaking on radio even as the army began its crackdown, Sheikh Mujib asked his fellows to create resistance against Pakistani Army of occupation by a telegraph at midnight on 26 March 1971.

1971 War and Formation of Bangladesh

Following Indian Pakistan war in December 1971, the Pakistani army surrendered to the joint force of Bengali Mukti Bahini and Indian Army. The League leadership created a government in Dhaka.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto assume the presidency after Yahya Khan’s resignation. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto responded to international pressure and released Mujib on 8 January 1972. Mujib briefly assumed the provisional presidency and later took office as the prime minister.

 

Although overtly committed to secularism, Mujib soon began moving closer to political Islam through state policies as well as personal conduct.

He revived the Islamic Academy and banned the production and sale of alcohol. He also banned the practice of gambling, which had been one of the major demands of Islamic groups.

Soon Mujib nationalized hundreds of industries and companies as well as abandoned land and capital. He initiated land reform aimed at helping millions of poor farmers.

The people proclaimed the constitution in 1973 and held elections, which resulted in Mujib and his party gaining power with an absolute majority. He further outlined state programs to expand primary education, sanitation, food, healthcare, water and electric supply across the country.

Sheikh Mujib Government

Later at the height of Mujib’s power he faced left wing insurgency. Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal’s armed wing Gonobahini fought against the government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. They wanted to establish a Marxist government.

The government responded by forming an elite para-military force Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini on 8 February 1972, initially formed to curb the insurgency and maintain law and order.

The force began a campaign of brutal human rights abuses against the general populace. The militia became involved in numerous charges of human rights abuse including political killings, forced disappearances and rape. The force had sworn an oath of loyalty to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The 1974 famine had personally shocked Mujib. This profoundly affected his views on governance, while political unrest gave rise to increasing violence. About 70,000 people died during the famine.

In response, he began increasing his powers. In 1974, Mujib declared a state of emergency. Mujib assumed the presidency and was given extraordinary powers.

Death of Sheikh Mujib

On 15 August 1975, a group of junior army officers invaded the presidential residence with tanks and killed Mujib, his family and personal staff. Only his daughters Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, who were visiting West Germany, escaped.

Mujib’s death plunged the nation into many years of political turmoil. The other military leader soon overthrown the coup leaders and a series of counter-coups and political assassinations paralyzed the country. Army chief Ziaur Rahman largely restored order after a coup in 1977.

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