There are, in the annals of history, certain defining moments in the evolution of nations. In Bangladesh’s case, such a moment came on February 5, 1966, when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, general secretary of the East Pakistan Awami League, revealed in Lahore a broad-ranging formula for regional autonomy. That formula was of course the Six Point plan, which in time would lead to a wider movement and eventually an armed struggle for East Pakistan’s emergence as the independent People’s Republic of Bangladesh. The plan put Mujib and a large section of Bengali Awami Leaguers on a confrontation course with the All-Pakistan Awami League led by Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan. It also drew the fury of President Mohammad Ayub Khan, who openly threatened to use what he called the language of weapons against the proponents of the Six Points. The plan, as Ayub and his regime saw it, was aimed at causing Pakistan’s break-up and the exit of its eastern province from the rest of the country.
The Six Points, which the East Pakistan Awami League formally adopted on 18 March 1966, were the following:
1. Pakistan will be a federation in the true sense on the basis of the Lahore Resolution of March 1940, with the form of government being parliamentary in nature and elected through universal adult franchise;
2. The federal government shall deal with only two subjects, namely, foreign affairs and defence, with all other subjects to be handled by the federating units;
3. Two separate but freely convertible currencies for the two wings of Pakistan may be introduced or a single currency be used, with guarantees that there will be no flight of capital from East to West Pakistan, the guarantees being in the form of a separate reserve bank for East Pakistan;
4. Powers of taxation and revenue collection shall vest in the federating units, with the federal government to be provided with its share of taxes through levies of a certain percentage from all state taxes;
5. There shall be two separate accounts for foreign exchange earnings for the two wings;
6. A separate paramilitary force shall be set up for East Pakistan.
Between March and early May, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his lieutenants Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam, M. Mansoor Ali and Khondokar Moshtaque Ahmed crisscrossed the province drumming up support for the Six Points. By way of countering the groundswell of support for the plan, Governor Abdul Monem Khan, a fawning Ayub loyalist, threatened the Awami League leaders with imprisonment. On May 8 that year, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was detained under the Defence of Pakistan Rules. Most of his colleagues were carted off to prison as well, leaving the party in the hands of its acting president Syed Nazrul Islam and acting general secretary Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury, who at the time was a member of the Pakistan national assembly. An embattled Awami League called a general strike (hartal) on June 7, 1966 in the province to generate support for the Six Points and call for the release of its detained leaders.
Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury played a highly visible and prominent role as he prepared the demoralized party for the strike. At the same time he and other Awami League MNAs, among whom was Professor Yusuf Ali, raised the issue of government repression in the national assembly, thereby giving the Six Points a countrywide dimension. The government, for its part, compelled newspapers in both East and West Pakistan to refrain from publishing any news of the hartal. Despite the media censorship, the hartal was observed in totality throughout East Pakistan, a fact reinforced by the deaths of a number of individuals through police firing. The following day, June 8, newspapers carried only the government version of the previous day’s happenings. And the version was to portray the ‘violence’ of Awami League supporters on the streets.
Following the hartal, the AL decided, formally on July 23-24, to launch the second phase of the movement in August. It was at this point that Amena Begum, secretary of the women’s branch of the Awami League, came in. She launched the second phase at a public meeting on August 17, 1966 in Chittagong. In the same month, she and Syed Nazrul Islam embarked on a tour of the province as part of a campaign to popularize the Six Point programme.