MARCH 6, 1971: Tension builds up as March 7 rally nears
12:00 AM, March 06, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:43 AM, March 06, 2018

MARCH 6, 1971: Tension builds up as March 7 rally nears

With people of East Pakistan roaring for the declaration of independence, the suspense of what was to come on the March 7 rally grew. And with it, grew the angst and violence of the Pakistan government.

Conditions were fast slipping out of the government's control in East Pakistan with the movement going forward.

On the 5th day of the movement, March 6, 1971, peaceful strike was still being observed in Dhaka. But around 11:00am, 321 prisoners broke out of the central jail to escape. Seven of them were shot dead and 30 injured.

In the afternoon, President Yahya, who was clearly worried at the possibility of Mujib's declaring independence for Bangladesh the next day, announced on radio that the National Assembly would meet on March 25, 1971.

Peoples Party Chairman ZA Bhutto, in Rawalpindi, welcomed the proposal of the new date by President Yahya.

The announcement, however, was not as innocuous -- there was something sinister about it.

In the broadcast, Yahya, almost as a threat, said that as long as Pakistan military was under his command and as long as he was the president, he would ensure the solidarity of Pakistan unchallenged.

Not a single word to ease the fury of the Bangalees was uttered, nor did he make the slightest effort for a resolution. Instead, he criticised Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the Awami League and blamed the dire situation of the country on them.

This further agitated the Bangalees.

Muslim League Leader Air Marshal Malik Nur Khan, on the other hand, insisted on Sheikh Mujib's rule. In an interview in Lahore, he said that it was the legal right of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to be able to rule the country. He recommended that all barriers to the handover of power be overcome immediately. He also expressed sorrow over the accusation made by Yahya on Bangabandhu, in regard to the deteriorating condition of the country.

Soon after the radio announcement of the new date for the National Assembly, people in Narayanganj and Dhaka broke out in spontaneous processions.

Meanwhile, after the retirement of Yaqub Khan two days ago, Yahya had appointed General Tikka Khan, known as the notorious “Butcher of Baluchistan”, to take over as governor of East Pakistan. He arrived in Dhaka the day before, and was ready to take the oath on this day, when Chief Justice B.A. Siddiky refused to swear him in, once again proving that things were running on Bangabandhu's orders.

That very evening, Bangabandhu was at an emergency meeting of his party's working committee, to mull over the president's new date for the National Assembly meeting. They also had a major decision to make -- whether or not the declaration of independence would be made the next day.

The pressure was tremendous, and kept mounting.

Not only were there the powerful student groups insisting on the announcement, but with them were crowds of citizens -- East Pakistan citizens wanting to be known forever as Bangalees.

The meeting for such intense and vital decisions ended up taking the whole night. But the AL was still unclear about what was to take place the next day, until; Bangabandhu made the decision himself -- to speak out publicly about this issue the next day, March 7, 1971, on the Race Course ground.

The greatest speech in Bangladeshi history was about to be made.

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