When and where did you meet Tajuddin Ahmad for the first time in 1971?
Tajuddin Ahmad and Barrister Amir-ul Islam reached Jhineidah at 11:00am on 27 March. They were introduced to me as Mohammad Ali and Shawkat Ali. I too, introduced myself as Abdul Ali. These pseudonyms were needed to maintain secrecy.
What was your conversation with Tajuddin about and did he give you any responsibility?
They told me about their plan to go to India. The resistance war in Jhenaidah had already begun on the night of 25 March. The local revolutionary committee accepted me as the chief organiser. As a result, MNA Aziz had deep faith in me. He too, told me to take necessary preparation. Around 1:00pm, I passed the news on to my childhood friend and then SDO, Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury.
Right after 25 March, Tawfiq contacted the Border Security Force (BSF) of India and the administration of Nadia district. He immediately informed them that two VVIP leaders of Awami League would cross the border. I left for Chuadanga with Tajuddin Ahmed and Amir-ul Islam by a Jeep. It was 5:00 in the afternoon by the time we reached the wartime headquarters of Major Abu Osman Chowdhury at the Chuadanga Circuit House. Meanwhile, Tawfiq also reached Chuadanga from Meherpur. Tajuddin and Amir-ul Islam were sitting the car and Major Abu Osman had a brief conversation with them through the window. Within a few minutes Tawfiq’s car started to move and we followed. We reached the Changkhali border by the evening. Captain Mahapatra of Changkhali BOP received Tajuddin and Amir-ul Islam as VVIPs.
When did you get the news of Tajuddin forming the government in India?
We had besieged the Pakistan army in the cantonment at the Jashore front when the government was formed. We were counting the days at the time in hope of getting a huge cache of arms and ammunition from India. By the mid-April, we got the news that the newly formed government would take oath in Chuadanga. However, the plan was canceled as Pakistani fighter jets invaded Chuadanga and Jhineidah on 15 April upon getting the news. We retreated and took up position in India.
The acting president of Bangladesh and members of the cabinet took oath on the free territory of Mujibnagar. How did you get involved in this?
In the morning of 17 April, I came to know from Tawfiq that a ceremony had been arranged at Baidyanathtala. The leaders would come and the Bangladesh government formed in exile would be sworn in there.
Tawfiq and I drove from an Indian border outpost (BOP) and reached Baidynathtala near the Bhaberpara border around 10.30am. There were armed freedom fighters with both of us. This border outpost was about 17-18 miles east of Meherpur. Some members of East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) were stationed there to secure the Bangladeshi territory. The outpost consisted of a tin-shed on a paved basement surrounded by brick walls. The flag of independent Bangladesh was tied to the flag-stand in front. Some Indian commandos were scattered around the mango orchard.
All of sudden a number of black cars drove up, blaring their horns. People from all walks of life including, journalists, Awami League leaders, students, farmers and workers had flocked to the mango orchard to witness the historic moment. The stage was located in a small enclave on the Bangladesh-India border.
What was your responsibility in the programme?
Tawfiq was busy welcoming the guests. In between a gap, he said previously he told Major Abu Osman to come along with his soldiers to present the guard of honour. Since they had not reached yet, after thinking a bit, he offered me the duty. I said no problem. I would present the guard of honour with my soldiers. I called my fellow soldiers and some members of Ansar and lined them up to prepare for the salutation.
Everybody climbed the stage in front of us to be sworn in. Bangbandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was pronounced as the president and Syed Nazrul as the vice-president of Bangladesh. In absence of Bangbandhu, Syed Nazrul would serve as the acting president, Tajuddin Ahmad as the prime minister, Mansur Ali as the finance minister, Kamaruzzaman as home and relief minister and Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad as the foreign minister. MNA Prof Yusuf Ali administered the swearing.
And then it was the time to present the guard of honour. Everyone, except Syed Nazrul Islam, came down from the stage. Colonel Osmani, in a khaki uniform, was standing beside the acting president on the stage. I commanded the soldiers, “Attention!” The next command was “shoulder arms”. And then in a loud voice, with all my force within, I commanded again, “present arms!” The soldiers raised their rifles six inches in front of their chests and barrels towards the sky, saluted in a military style and stood upright, yet absolutely still. My right hand rose to the right of my head in salute. A group of youth started to sing the national anthem.
*This interview appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu