Indira won 1971

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In 1948, Pakistan’s Quaid-i-Azam and first Governor-General, Muhammad Ali Jinnah declared that “Urdu, and only Urdu” would be the official federal language of Pakistan.

However, Urdu was historically prevalent only in the north, central, and western regions of the Indian subcontinent; whereas in East Bengal, the native language was Bengali. The people of East Bengal demanded that their language also be given federal status alongside Urdu and English.

Despite constituting 30% of Pakistan’s then total population, the Bengalis were grossly under-represented in the Pakistan military. Officers of Bengali origin in the different wings of the Pakistani armed forces made up just 5% of overall forces by 1965; of these, only very few were in command positions, with the majority in technical or administrative posts.

The only common bond between the two Pakistani wings was their religion, but there were differences even in religious practices.

Bengali Muslims tended to be less conservative and they strongly objected to the Islamist paradigm imposed by the (West) Pakistani state. Cultural and linguistic differences between the two wings outweighed any religious unity.

Although East Pakistan accounted for a majority of the country’s population, political power remained in the hands of West Pakistanis.

After the assassination of Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, in 1951, East Pakistani politician Khawaja Nazimuddin became the Prime Minister, but political power had begun to devolve to the military, acting through the office of the Governor General.

Nazimuddin’s government was dismissed by then Governor General Malik Ghulam Muhammad after just 18 months.  Even the next Prime Minister was an East Pakistani, Sahibzada Mohammad Ali Bogra, whose government also lasted for just 27 months.

In 1956, Pakistan became a Republic and the office of the President replaced the office of the Governor General. Even future “elected” Prime Ministers were frequently sacked by the establishment (the military), acting through the office of the President.

In 1970, the Bangladesh Awami League, the largest East Pakistani political party, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a landslide victory in the national elections. It won 167 of the 169 seats of East Pakistan, and a majority of the 313 seats in unified Pakistan’s National Assembly. This gave Awami League the constitutional right to form the Federal Government.

However, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, refused to allow Mujibur Rahman to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Instead, he proposed the idea of having two Prime Ministers, one for each wing. The proposal elicited outrage in the east wing.

On March 3, 1971, the two leaders met with President General Yahya Khan in Dacca (now Dhaka) to decide the fate of the country. After their discussions yielded no satisfactory results, Mujibur Rahman called for a nationwide strike.

On March 7, 1971, Rahman delivered a speech, which he concluded by saying, “Our struggle is for our freedom. Our struggle is for our independence.” This speech is considered the main event that inspired Bangladesh to fight for its independence.

General Tikka Khan was dispatched to Dacca, to become the Governor of East Bengal, but East-Pakistani judges refused to swear him in. Between March 10 and 13, Pakistan International Airlines cancelled all their international routes to urgently fly “government passengers” to Dacca. These government passengers were almost all Pakistani soldiers in civilian dress.

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