In 1947, Bengal Presidency was divided into ‘West Bengal’ and ‘East Bengal’, mainly on the basis of religion. The former became a part of India and the latter of Pakistan as ‘East Pakistan’. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the then Governor-General of Pakistan, declared ‘Urdu’ as the official language of Pakistan, which was not liked by the people of East Pakistan. They started a language movement and on February 20, 1952, the West Pakistan Government imposed ‘Section 144’, restricting gatherings and rallies. On February 21, 1952, Bengali students gathered and police open fired on them. [This is celebrated as Martyr’s Day in Bangladesh]
In 1966, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman led a ‘Six Point Movement’ and demanded greater autonomy for East Pakistan and with this, the East Pakistan independence movement gained momentum. In the elections of 1970, Awami League won all the seats in East Pakistan and secured a majority in the proposed constituent assembly for the whole of Pakistan, but the government dominated by West Pakistani leadership refused to convene the assembly.
On March 26, 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman declared independence of Bangladesh and was arrested by the West Pakistani Army. Following the Pakistani Army’s crackdown, Awami League leaders crossed over to India for safety. On April 10, 1971, the ‘People’s Republic of Bangladesh Government’ (provisional govt) was formed in exile with Mujibur Rehman as (first elected) President and Tajjudin Ahmad as the (first elected) Prime Minister.
Bangladesh achieved victory in the liberation war on December 16, 1971, fought by the Allied Command of Bangladesh Mukhti Bahini and Indian Forces. In 1972, Mujibur Rehman was released from Pakistani jail. A new constitution was formed. The four basic principles of Awami League – Nationalism, Socialism, Secularism and Democracy – were adopted as the state policy. A parliamentary form of government was adopted.
In 1973, the first parliamentary elections were held under the 1972 constitution in which Awami League won and Muji-bur-Rehman assumed the office of PM.
But the new government had certain challenges, such as no experience in governance and administration, too much reliance on experienced civil servants and political factions, rampant unemployment among the masses, large-scale corruption, and then the famine of 1974. All this resulted in an economic downturn and, to overcome this, the parliamentary government was transformed into a presidential government. But this failed to address the issues which only worsened further.
In August 1975, Mujibur Rehman was assassinated along with most of his family members. Only his two daughters – Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana – were saved as they were out of the country. A new government under Khondaker Mushtaq Ahmad was formed.
Khaled Mosharraf launched his own coup but was immediately killed by another ‘counter’ military coup by Colonel Abdul Taher. A short revolution was led by Major General Zia-ur-Rehman and later he became the president. He promised economic reforms and fair elections. In June 1978, Zia-ur-Rehman won the presidential elections. He removed restrictions on political parties and founded BNP (Bangladesh National Party). In the parliamentary elections of 1979, more than 30 parties contested and BNP came out as a winner.
In 1981, Zia-ur-Rehman was assassinated and vice-president Abdus Sattar was sworn in as acting President (as per the Constitution).
In 1982, Lt. General Hussain Mohammad Ershad took over his government by a military coup and declared martial law. In 1986, HM Ershad found his own ‘Jatiya Party’ and won the elections (which are believed to be manipulated). HM Ershad resigned in 1990 because of the ‘Mass Uprising of Bangladesh’ in which there were general strikes, increased students’ campus protests, public rallies and general disintegration of law and order.
Elections were held in February 1991, in which Khaleda Zia, wife of Zia-ur-Rehman, formed the government. In the next general elections of 1996, Sheikh Hasina (Awami League) formed the government. In the elections of 2001, Khaleda Zia again came to power.
From 2006 to 2008, there was political instability and the administration was under ‘caretaker government’. In 2008, the caretaker government finally held elections in which Sheikh Hasina (Awami League) won a landslide victory. In 2011, Hasina abolished the caretaker system and adopted secularism.
In both the elections of 2014 and 2018, Awami League maintained its power. Presently, the Prime Ministerial post is held by Sheikh Hasina and that of President by Abdul Hamid.
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