7TH December 1970. The next important chapter in the tragedy of East Pakistan was being written. This election can be used as a portrayal of how a completely free and fair election can be held. The atmosphere was terrific. The politicking was intense. The parties were organized. A manifesto by all political parties, even individuals contesting the election were prepared and distributed amongst the constituents. The country from the east to the west was full of colorful banners, posters, flags and whatnot. It felt like a celebration, but no one realized that this day of celebration is going to give birth to a tragedy. The tragedy of East Pakistan. It felt like a comedy, but it was in fact a tragedy. Looking back at the election and how it was conducted raises many questions.
Pakistan hardly had any completely free and fair elections. In fact, conservatively it can be said that till 1970 almost all elections were manipulated with some degree of intensity. The atmosphere before the election was not violent so the reasoning for noninterference is not understandable except the reasoning that it was understood what results in the free and fair election is likely to throw up and that was what was needed. So if the needed outcome can be obtained by non-interference then what is the need for any interference?
What actually happened?
All political parties were asked to submit a manifesto, it was mandatory & it was followed by much gusto even individual candidates came up with a properly written manifesto. Awami League came up with six points. The six points called for a very loose federation, only defense & foreign affairs dealt from the center, separate currencies, separate foreign exchange earned accounts, tax & revenue collection by federating units, separate militias or paramilitary forces and independence in dealing with foreign countries in matters of trade. While this manifesto effectively killed Pakistan in de facto effect but it was allowed to be the manifesto of the Awami League.
The most interesting thing was that some decisions are always taken by federating units and they are given the leeway to do that. It was the language that was the cruncher. At that time the martial law government did have some weight of opinion and they could have negotiated a watered-down manifesto. Awami League was desperate for the election. They had to participate and win the election as it would have given them the legitimate mandate which they lacked at that time. The desperation that Awami League felt could have been exploited & the manifesto changed to make it more like a riding to power manifesto rather than a separatist manifesto.
It is reasonable to assume that the Pakistani government and establishment had well-versed people in political science and they could decipher the manifesto for what is a separatist movement. Awami League had not declared their separatist tendency and the disgruntled East Pakistanis were most definitely very much patriot Pakistanis and would not have supported a separatist movement at that time.
Why did the establishment not negotiate the six points with Awami League?
The election was to be held in 300 constituencies, 162 in East Pakistan and 138 in West Pakistan. Awami League had 170 candidates in the run with 8 contesting from West Pakistan while West Pakistan’s premier political party Pakistan Peoples Party had put up no candidate from East Pakistan. A strange election took place where the most popular party emerging (Awami league) was based in one province, the second most popular party (Pakistan Peoples Party) was limited to just two provinces and the only party coming up with an all province candidate (Jamaat E Islami) ended up with 4 seats.
West Pakistani political parties displayed monumental ignorance & criminal negligence even when realizing that they are confronted with a separatist manifesto, and they should at least make the people understand that. No effort was made by any party to inform the patriotic Bengalis that they are voting in almost a separatist referendum. All political parties remained in their comfort zone and played their power base without any thought spared for Pakistan.
The free and fair election resulted in a complete sweep by the Awami League in the Eastern part of the country (160 seats) and the Pakistan People’s Party (81 seats) winning in the Western wing of the country. The most telling factor was that Awami League and Pakistan People’s Party both did not win any seat in the Western wing and Eastern wing respectively. Power-hungry Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto realizing that his dream of becoming Prime minister of Pakistan can never become true mentioned the fact in the post-election speech that the Awami League has not won a seat from the Western wing and thus has no mandate from that part of the country. The history of that era is a witness to the lack of character & patriotism by our political leaders who always showed selfishness, lack of vision & greediness for power and total lack of any feeling for Pakistan.
The election results though giving a sweep to the Awami League did not give them a 2/3 majority thus they in themselves were not capable of making any constitutional change. The total of 167 seats they had in the National Assembly was 53 % giving them a simple majority. Thus there was not any chance of them declaring Bangladesh or anything like that.
However circumstances, turn of events, the idiocy of our political leadership, lack of understanding of the seriousness of the situation all factors combined together to create a situation where Operation Searchlight became inevitable. Even at this point in time some sense of history, some display of large-heartedness, some semblance of democracy, some patriotism would have saved Pakistan from being dismembered. But was that “ fait accompli” only history can tell.
The author has worked for Unilever for 25 years. He is a professional translator/interpreter of five languages and is also a certified computer trainer. He is currently living in Virginia, USA. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.