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11 January 2009

On this day in history: East Pakistan renamed Bangladesh, 1972

As a result of their victory over the French during the Seven Years War, the British East India Company gained control of Bengal in 1757, and installed their own local governor, or Nawab. The British consolidated their control of the region after defeating the former Nawab and his Mughal allies at the Battle of Buxar in 1764. The East India Company governed Bengal until 1858 when control was transferred to the Crown, which ruled until 1947 when the British government granted independence to their imperial possessions on the sub-continent.

The British partitioned these possessions into two states, India and Pakistan, with the Bengal region divided between the two. Pakistan's land in Bengal, which was predominantly Muslim, was initially known as East Bengal, and then later as East Pakistan. Over 1000 miles separated the two parts of Pakistan as did differences in ethnicity, language and culture.

The frictions caused by these difference became evident after the first elections of the East Bengal Provincial Assembly in 1954. The ruling party of Pakistan, the Muslim League, won only nine seats whereas the United Front won 215 out of a possible 237. The United Front was an alliance of a number of political parties who shared the common goal of greater autonomy for East Pakistan.

The national government responded by dismissing the Provincial Assembly and installing a governor for a year, during which time the United Front failed to live up to its name: it divided into two factions. One of these factions, the secularist Awami League, won all the East Pakistan seats in the National Assembly during the 1970-71 elections putting them in position to possibly form a national government. The political negotiations between the Awami League and Pakistan Peoples Party, which had won a majority of the seats in West Pakistan broke down.

Faced with a political impasse and the break up of the nation, President Yahya Kahn indefinitely suspended the National Assembly resulting in massive civil disobedience in East Pakistan. Kahn responded to the revolt by sending in the Pakistan army to arrest the leader of the Awami League, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, which precipitated a declaration of independence of Bangladesh by senior Bengali officers. The army's ruthless suppression of the political agitation not only cost the lives of three million people in the eastern province, but also resulted in a civil war that eventually drew in India.

The combined forces of Bangladesh and India defeated the Pakistan army which surrendered in December 1971 paving the way for the establishment of a new state. On 11th January 1972, East Pakistan formally renamed itself Bangladesh with Sheikh Mujib Mujibur Rahman as head of state. A new constitution came into force in December of that year and the first elections were held the following March.


Ray Gratzner said...

Well I wonder how much war had its roots in the making of new frontiers by the british colonialists.
Divide and conquer is a principle that seems to me applied by the british and has lead to many wars and bloddshed since....

tashabud said...

I see I have to come back to your site another time when I can spend more time reading because I find your posts very interesting and informational.

Thanks for dropping me an Entrecard. I'm going to link you to my Tasha's Take blog


Stepterix said...

Ray: I think that the partition of India definitely had many repercussions including the independence of Bangladesh and the associated Indo-Pakistan war. Nevertheless, I don't think that the blame for this can only be placed on the British administrators as many Indians and Pakistanis supported partition due to religious differences. Furthermore, I don't think that we could characterise this as divide and conquer since British partition involved the ending of colonial rule rather than the maintenance of it.

Saying all that, you comment reminds me of a quote from the BBC sitcom Yes Minister in which the Whitehall mandarin Sir Humphrey says: "It was a good idea to partition countries like India and Cyprus and Palestine and Ireland as a part of their independence. It keeps them busy fighting each other so we don't' have to have a policy about them."

Tasha: I am glad you like the site. I will look over your blog soon.