Six-Point Charter: The Foundation Stone of Bangladesh

The former Pakistani government made every effort to suppress the demand for self-determination raised by the 75 million people at that time, as laid down in the Magna Carta of Bangabandhu.

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Mass upsurge of 1969, land slide victory of Bangladesh Awami League, historic 7 March speech of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman deeply influenced and inspired Bangalee members employed in Pakistan Air Force.[ Photo: Bangladesh Post]

An event that marks a unique or significant historical change of course or one on which important developments depend, the six-point demand is a milestone in the history of Bangladesh.

The movement, led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, took place in the-then East Pakistan and called for greater autonomy for the region. The movement aimed to address the six demands put forward by a coalition of Bengali nationalist political parties in 1966, with the goal of ending the exploitation of East Pakistan by the rulers of West Pakistan. It is considered a turning point on the road to Bangladesh’s independence.

After the partition of India, the new state of Pakistan was formed. The majority of its population resided in East Pakistan (later Bangladesh), and exports from East Pakistan, such as jute, constituted a significant portion of Pakistan’s export income. However, East Pakistanis did not feel they had a proportional share of political power and economic benefits within Pakistan.

Facing continuous regional discrimination, East Pakistan found itself in a critical situation. Consequently, economists, intellectuals, and politicians from East Pakistan started raising questions about this discrimination, giving rise to the historic six-point movement.

The six historical points are as follows:

The Constitution should provide for a true federation of Pakistan based on the Lahore Resolution, with a parliamentary form of government where the legislature is directly elected through universal adult franchise.

The federal government should only handle two subjects: defense and foreign affairs. All other residual subjects should be vested in the federating states.

Two separate, freely convertible currencies for the two wings of Pakistan should be introduced. If this is not feasible, there should be one currency for the entire country, but effective constitutional provisions must be introduced to prevent capital flight from East Pakistan to West Pakistan. Additionally, a separate banking reserve should be established, and separate fiscal and monetary policies should be adopted for East Pakistan.

The power of taxation and revenue collection should be vested in the federating units, with no such power for the federal center. The federation should receive a share of the state taxes to cover its expenditures.

Two separate accounts should be maintained for the foreign exchange earnings of the two wings. The foreign exchange requirements of the federal government should be met equally by the two wings or according to a fixed ratio. Indigenous products should move freely between the two wings, and the constitution should empower the units to establish trade links with foreign countries.

East Pakistan should have a separate military or paramilitary force, and the Navy headquarters should be located in East Pakistan.

The proposal was rejected by politicians from West Pakistan and non-Awami League politicians from East Pakistan. It was also rejected by the President of All Pakistan Awami League, Nawabzada Nasarullah Khan, as well as the National Awami Party, Jamaat-i-Islami, and Nizam-i-Islam. However, the movement garnered strong support from the population of the-then East Pakistan.

The Beginning of the Six-Point Demands

Mujib, who would later become Bangabandhu, was placed in detention under the Defense of Pakistan Rules on May 8, 1966. The reason for his detention was not hard to understand: Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, President of Pakistan, made it clear that those advocating for the Six Points would be dealt with using force.

Ayub Khan was not the only one who saw the Six Points as a threat to Pakistan’s unity. His soon-to-be foreign minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, challenged Mujib to a public debate on the Six Points in Dhaka’s Paltan Maidan. Tajuddin Ahmed, Bangladesh’s first Prime Minister, accepted the challenge on Mujib’s behalf. However, Bhutto did not show up for the debate.

The leaders of opposition parties from West Pakistan held a national convention in Lahore on February 6, 1966, to assess the post-Tashkent political trend. Bangabandhu and the top leaders of Awami League arrived in Lahore on February 4, and the following day, he presented the Six-point charter of demands to the subject committee as the demands of the people of East Pakistan. He exerted pressure to include his proposal in the conference’s agenda. However, the subject committee rejected Bangabandhu’s proposal.

The newspapers in West Pakistan published reports on the Six-point Program, projecting Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as a separatist. Consequently, Sheikh Mujib withdrew from the conference. On February 21, 1966, the Six-point Program, along with a proposal for a movement to realize the demands, was presented at a meeting of the Awami League’s working committee and was unanimously carried out.

Why the Six-Point Program is called the “Charter of Freedom for the Bengali Nation”?
From 1947 to 1971, a historic period for East Pakistan, numerous painful events took place in this region—some to forget and some to remember and learn from. The six-point movement was one such event to remember.

The points were clear, easy to understand, and, most importantly, they truly reflected the sentiments of the Bengalis. It was the first time a Bengali demanded economic and political rights and national security. However, the response from West Pakistan was painful and humiliating, confirming the belief that East Pakistan was treated as a colony by West Pakistan.

June 7, 1966, is a red-letter day in the history of the freedom movement of the people of Bangladesh. On this historic day, the resilient people of the country made a firm and solemn vow to achieve self-determination under the able and dynamic leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Hence, this day holds great political significance. It was on this day that blood was shed by our people as they demanded self-rule through the famous Charter of Six-point Demands, which ultimately became the Magna Carta of all movements originating from Bangladesh. Therefore, the importance and significance of this historic day cannot be overstated.

If we trace the history of our freedom struggle, which began a long time ago, we will observe that Bangabandhu, as part of his long-term plan to lead his people gradually and systematically to the path of emancipation, presented his historic Six-point Program to the nation at a national conference of leaders from all political parties in Lahore on February 16, 1966. This program disrupted the schemes of exploitation planned by the ruling clique in Islamabad and caused a violent storm in the political arena of the-then Pakistan.

The former Pakistani government made every effort to suppress the demand for self-determination raised by the 75 million people at that time, as laid down in the Magna Carta of Bangabandhu. As a result of the Six-point Program, Bangabandhu and his followers were imprisoned on May 8, 1966. The arrest of Bangabandhu and his followers was vehemently condemned by the people, and protests in the form of meetings, rallies, and processions resonated throughout Bangladesh, shaking the distant capital in Rawalpindi.

On May 20, the Awami League Working Committee decided to organize a protest meeting on June 7, 1966, condemning the repression and demanding the release of Bangabandhu and other leaders. Thus, the strike on June 7 was observed. The day began with factories closed, transportation halted, and business houses shut down. People expressed their indignation against the oppressors and their resolute support for the leadership of Bangabandhu by coming out on the streets, closing their establishments, offices, and shops. Dhaka became a city of processions and slogans, with workers and students peacefully taking to the streets. However, the ruling clique could not tolerate the chanting of slogans by people who had made a sacred vow to realize their right to self-determination. They responded with violence, killing scores of people, including Monu Mia in Dhaka and Narayanganj. The people of Bangladesh continued to raise their slogans for independence, shedding their blood in the process.

But the story did not end there; the melody lingered on. Every glory has a price to pay, and the Bengalis paid a high price for their freedom. However, the great Liberation War brought the nation together. It was a moment of truth for the Bengalis as they united to fight the Pakistani aggressors. In the eyes of the Pakistani forces, they were no longer just “little brown people”; instead, they fought back and achieved victory.

“Father of the Nation” is an honorific bestowed upon individuals who are considered instrumental in the establishment of a country or nation. They play a significant role in liberating their nation from colonial or other occupations. Some notable examples include George Washington for the United States, Peter I for Russia, Sun Yat-sen for China, Sir Henry Parkes for Australia, Miguel Hidalgo for Mexico, Sam Nujoma for Namibia, William the Silent for the Netherlands, Einar Gerhardsen for Norway, Julius Nyerere for Tanzania, Jomo Kenyatta for Kenya, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes for Cuba, Mustafa Kemal for Turkey, Sukarno for Indonesia, Tunku Abdul Rahman for Malaysia, Mahatma Gandhi for India, Don Stephen Senanayake for Sri Lanka, and Mohammad Ali Jinnah for Pakistan. Similarly, Bangabandhu Mujib is recognized as the Father of the Bangladesh nation.

Finally, on December 16, 1971, Bangladesh was born after a bloody war with Pakistan’s oppressive military regime.

Bangabandhu was a remarkable statesman and the undisputed Father of independent Bangladesh.

Anwar A. Khan

Anwar A. Khan is an independent political analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs

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