Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Rahman, Mujibur (1922–1975)

Founding member and leader of the Awami League, first prime minister (1972–1975), and president (1975) of Bangladesh. Born on 22 March 1922 in Faridpur, India (now Bangladesh), to a middle-class Bengali family, Mujibur Rahman graduated with a degree in political science from Islamia College, Calcutta, in 1947. He then studied at Dhaka University's School of Law but was expelled in 1948 for his support of a university workers' strike. He was an ardent supporter of Bengali nationalism and sought to preserve his people's language and culture, particularly after Indian and Pakistani independence in 1948.

In March 1948 Rahman was arrested for leading a demonstration against Pakistani Governor-General Mohamed Ali Jinnah's attempt to impose Urdu on the Bengali-speaking people of East Pakistan. In June 1949, while still imprisoned, Rahman helped organize the Awami League, a political party dedicated to Bengali nationalism. He was elected several times to the Pakistani national parliament and twice (1954 and 1955) served as a minister in the East Pakistani government. He served as president of the Awami League during 1963–1975.

Arrested and imprisoned many times by the Pakistani government of Muhammad Ayub Khan, Rahman nevertheless fully supported Pakistan in its wars with India. In 1966 he presented his Six-Point Program for building strong relations between East and West Pakistan while establishing greater autonomy for East Pakistan, which would have its own tax system and currency and would also raise its own militia. Ayub Khan had Rahman arrested for destabilizing activity, and tensions between East and West Pakistan increased.

In the December 1970 Pakistani elections, Rahman's Awami League won 160 of the 165 seats allocated to East Pakistan. However, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People's Party, and Rahman were unable to compromise to form a coalition government. Pakistani President Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan then attempted to crush political opposition in East Pakistan with military force. The conflict and resulting refugees produced a new war between Pakistan and India in late 1971.

In January 1972, Rahman became the prime minister of the new state of Bangladesh. In early 1975 he became president of Bangladesh under a new constitution and worked successfully toward reconciliation with Pakistan. On 15 August 1975, however, the Bangladeshi military staged a coup that overthrew the government and resulted in the assassination in Dhaka of Rahman and most of his family.

Andrew J. Waskey


Further Reading
Choudhury, Abdul Gaffar. Sheikh Mujib: A Commemorative Anthology. London: Radical Asia Books, 1977.; Kamal, Kazi Ahmed. Sheik Mujibur Rahman: Man and Politician. Dhaka, Bangladesh: Kazi Giasuddin Ahmed, 1970.; Sakhawatullah, Kazi M. Redemption of the Baffled Hero: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Dhaka: Gonoprokashani, 2002.
 

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