The day Sheikh Mujib returns

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the London press conference talking to the world media after his release from Pakistani prison (January 08, 1972)
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the London press conference talking to the world media after his release from Pakistani prison (January 08, 1972)

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While handing over the office of the president to Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto on December 19, only three days after his army surrendered to the joint command in Dhaka, Yahya Khan passed on to Bhutto a sealed cover containing a piece of paper. Yahya had to quit as president under public pressure and a sort of mini-coup staged by the chief of army staff Gen. Gul Hasan. Bhutto had no idea what the contents of the cover was about. When he opened the cover and glanced over the paper he became very grave. 'The biggest mistake I made was not to hang Mujib', Yahya said. The paper was the order for hanging Mujib, only the date was not there and it was for the new president of Pakistan to fix. Yahya signed the death warrant following the verdict of the court convicting Mujib of high treason. As wished by Mujib, he was defended by A.K. Brohi, a Sindhi lawyer of high reputation. Famous Irish lawyer Sean McBride was sent from London by Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury to defend Sk. Mujib but he was not allowed to appear in the court. And Yahya was now leaving it for Bhutto to execute the death penalty by hanging Mujib.

Sheikh Mujib was confined in cell no. 73 of the Mianwali jail awaiting execution any day. Unexpectedly on December 26 Sheikh Mujib was quietly transferred to the official residence of the jail governor Habib Khan where he stayed until January 01, 1972 and then in the afternoon he was taken to a bungalow in Shahulla, a village 40 km away from Rawalpindi. In this bungalow after some time at about 9:00 p.m. appeared Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, the new president of Pakistan and the chief martial law administrator. Sheikh Mujib did not know then that the power structure in Pakistan had gone through a drastic change and his adversary Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto had become the most powerful man in Pakistan. A whole week was spent and Bhutto tried his best to convince Mujib to agree to some kind of an arrangement that would not split Pakistan totally but Mujib remained firm and was not willing to make any commitment either written or verbal or even issue any kind of a statement before he was allowed to return to Bangladesh. Finally on January 08, early in the morning a PIA Boeing took him to London. Bhutto was at the airport to see off Mujib as his last effort to save unity of Pakistan.

As the news of Sk. Mujib's release came on the radio around seven in the evening of Dec 08 thousands of bullets were fired from weapons of all kinds aiming at the sky as the city of Dhaka burst into joy. I was with the prime minister in his secretariat office when someone came and gave me the news. Difficult as it was to believe we immediately drove out and as the city air was filled with the clattering of guns we had no doubt that the news we had just received was what we were waiting for. Hectic preparations were made for Bangabandhu's reception. In the morning of January 09, the prime minister made telephone calls to London and was informed that the Indian high commissioner in the UK Mr. Apa Panth had already left for the airport to receive Sheikh Mujib. The prime minister telephoned Mrs. Mujib and gave her the great news. The acting president was at the Bangabhaban and was delighted when the news was passed on to him by the prime minister.

Enthusiastic workers toiled hard throughout the day and night to make preparations for Bangabandhu's reception. Later around noon time the prime minister finally got through the telephone line and spoke to Bangabandhu in his London hotel room. 'You have done a wonderful thing, Tajuddin. I can hardly wait', said Sheikh Mujib. A beaming Tajuddin was speaking so fast that it was difficult for the few of us who were in his office room to follow what he was saying. For Tajuddin the mission was totally fulfilled: liberation of Bangladesh and the release of Sheikh Mujib from Pakistani prison.

Bangladesh ambassador to UK and Europe Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury left London for Dhaka about the same time not knowing that Sheikh Mujib was on his way to London. Justice Chowdhury missed him by a few hours. He reached Dhaka in the afternoon of January 09, 1972.

January 10, was a memorable day in Bangladesh and particularly in Dhaka. From early morning thousands of men, women and children began swarming around the old Dhaka airport to catch a glimpse of their beloved leader. Radio, television and media men, both local and foreign, were running up and down taking photographs of the historic event that was soon going to take place; the return of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The acting president, the prime minister and the cabinet ministers and almost all the top ranking civil and military officers and members of the public gathered in the airport to greet Bangabandhu. Mukti Bahini boys were chanting non-stop full throated slogans 'Joi Bangla, Joi Bangabandhu.'

News was received that Sheikh Mujib's plane, a Comet of the Royal Air Force had just landed in New Delhi where president V.V. Giri and prime minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi and the top Indian leaders had been waiting at the Delhi airport to greet him. Mujib was naturally eager to meet prime minister Indira Gandhi and therefore decided to break the journey in Delhi. (The Comet also needed refuelling for its return trip to London). Three more hours and the Comet would land at the old Dhaka airport. The mammoth crowd was getting impatient to get a glimpse of their leader who was returning from Pakistani jail after confinement and mental torture that few human beings ever endured.

After about three hours a sleek silver bird appeared high up in the sky over Dhaka and the big crowd broke out in thunderous joy. Then it disappeared from view and started descending from the city end. A few more minutes and the Comet landed on the runway kicking up a cloud of dust in which it disappeared again to the northern end of the runway as the engines roared to bring the aircraft to stop. And then slowly the plane taxied back towards the tarmac as the air was filled with full throated slogans of 'Joi Bangla, Joi Bangabandhu'. I will never forget the homecoming of Sk. Mujib.

It was 3 p.m. when the gangway was pushed against the door of the aircraft. A cabin crew member opened the door and in bright sunshine a tall handsome man stepped out. As they saw a beaming Sheikh Mujib the big crowd became overwhelmed with joy forgetting the pains of the past year, and a million of them chanted 'Joi Bangla, Joi Bangabandhu' silencing the 21 gun salute given to him by the artillery regiment to mark the homecoming of their president.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned triumphantly amidst his people, seventy five million Bengalis, and thus began another era. Volumes can be written on what happened during the last two decades but I do not think that I should be the one to try this infinitely difficult task.


Excerpted from the book titled Spring 1971, written by Dr Faruq Aziz Khan. He served as a personal secretary to Tajuddin Ahmad, the Prime Minister of Provisional or Mujibnagar Government of Bangladesh in 1971. 

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