The Politics and Economics of Bangabandhu’s Six Points


102nd birthday of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

Photo: Archive


Photo: Archive

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announcing the Six Points in Lahore in 1966. Photo: Wikimedia


Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announcing the Six Points in Lahore in 1966. Photo: Wikimedia

Our independence did not happen overnight; the path to the struggle for freedom was not easy. Through carefully crafted political strategies and their proper implementation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gradually led the Bengali nation towards the goal of independence. The historic six-point program was one such strategy.

The six-point program has two distinct characteristics. One concerns the political-administrative structure of the state; the other is economic. However, one is complementary to the other: the economic characteristic was the focus, and the political characteristic was the ultimate goal.

Six-point reactions

Bangabandhu presented the six-point program at a multi-party roundtable in Lahore in February 1966. Whatever political motive might have motivated the implementation of the six-point program, Bangabandhu strategically emphasized the economic disparity between East and West. Pakistan, and emphasized the idea of ​​a federation of the two provinces as a solution.

Putting the economic aspect at the forefront was a formidable strategy. It must be realized that the Awami League was still functioning within the political structure of Pakistan. Bangabandhu knew full well that a single misstep at such a time would turn a legitimate grassroots movement into a separatist movement from the ruling class.

That’s exactly what happened. Despite providing a detailed explanation of the importance of the six-point program for East Pakistan’s economy, Pakistan’s ruling class and West Pakistan’s political parties failed to understand the prevailing economic inequalities between the East and West Pakistan; they only saw the six-point program as a separatist program. For example, then-Pakistani President Ayub Khan reacted negatively, declaring the six-point formula a “secessionist maneuver”, and he threatened to resist with a strong hand if necessary. At the convention of his political party, the Pakistan Muslim League, held in Dhaka in March 1966, he warned the people of East Pakistan: “If necessary, the Government of Pakistan will use ‘gun language’ against the elements who speak of the six-point program” (Ahmed, 1991, “Bangladesh: Constitutional Quest for Autonomy 1950-1971,” page 87).

Like Ayub Khan, General Yahya Khan also called the six-point program “nothing more than an unjust plan to divide the country” (Zaheer, 1994, “The Separation of East Pakistan”, page 127). At that time, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the main political party in West Pakistan. Bhutto has always alleged that the six points were dropped due to India’s manipulation. He wrote in a book published during the war of liberation about what he saw as a “…well-planned plot with India which came to light after the 25 [of March 1971]” (Bhutto, 1971, “The Great Tragedy” page 57).

Political Implications of Six Points

The first two points of the six-point program stated that Pakistan should be formed as a federation with a parliamentary system of government. The federal government would deal only with matters of defense and foreign affairs; all other residual matters would be in the hands of the provinces.

The objective of point 1 was to replace the basic democratic system introduced by General Ayub Khan with a directly elected parliamentary system of government. After coming to power in a military coup in 1958, General Ayub Khan introduced an electoral system called ‘Basic Democracy’. Unfortunately, it was neither fundamental nor democratic. The system simply did not follow the key principles of democratic rule. It was a top-down model designed by the military and its leader, and based on a hierarchy of local councils whose work was very closely linked to that of the bureaucracy at the local level.

In his second memoir “The Prison Diaries”, Bangabandhu warned Pakistan’s ruling class against their stance and said:[It] is a demand that is a matter of life and death for East Pakistan. It cannot be forcibly deleted. Trying to remove it would be bad for the country. Our ruling class is going to make the mistake… The moment they realize they are making a mistake, there will be no time. (Rahman, 2018, “The Prison Diaries”, page 141). It took only five years for Bangabandhu’s prophecy to come true.

Referring to the Cabinet mission plan, Bangabandhu pointed out that limiting the responsibilities and powers of the central government does not necessarily make a nation weak. Rather, it offers the opportunity to build effective and strong provinces that form a federation. Bangabandhu reiterated his belief that “…what makes a federation strong is not heaps of subjects under it [the central government]. A federation becomes strong through loyalty and affection… Happy and strong people represented by efficient and strong units [provinces] who make up the federation are the true source of its strength. (Rahman, 2018, “The Prison Diaries”, pages 328-329). By convincing the people of West Pakistan of the need to limit the role of central government, Bangabandhu asserted its antithesis: unity in diversity.

However, the government of Pakistan as well as political parties in West Pakistan saw things differently. They were of the opinion that having two subjects (defense and foreign affairs) would weaken the central government. For them, a weak central government meant a weak Pakistan.

Moving from one economy to two

The second feature of the six-point program concerned economic management, as indicated by points 3, 4, 5 and 6. Briefly, they were: there must be separate but freely convertible currencies for each wing, or a single currency be used, there should be means to prevent the transfer of resources from one wing to another (point 3); tax policy would be devolved to the provinces (point 4); separate accounts would be kept for each province’s foreign exchange earnings (point 5); and each province should be allowed to raise and maintain a militia (point 6).

To assess the essence of the economic characteristics of Six Points, it is necessary to assess the extent of exploitation that East Pakistan has suffered at the hands of West Pakistan-based rulers, and to understand the level of economic disparities that have been generated between East and West. Pakistan between 1947 and 1970.

Between 1950 and 1970, Pakistan was a major recipient of foreign economic aid which contributed immensely to the industrialization and economic growth of the western part of the country. This was mainly due to the disproportionately higher resource allocation to West Pakistan. Between 1950 and 1970, West Pakistan’s share of development expenditure and tax expenditure was 60% higher than that of East Pakistan (Planning Commission, Government of Pakistan, July 1970, Report of the Consultative Group for the Fourth Five-Year Plan ). As a result, growth between the two provinces has been unbalanced, which has contributed to the per capita income gap between them.

Differences in other indices such as per capita consumption of basic necessities, health care, education and housing were even more deplorable. Furthermore, in the 1950s and 1960s, a large net transfer of resources had taken place from East Pakistan to West Pakistan. Even after sufficiently accounting for the undervaluation of foreign exchange against the Pakistani currency, the total transfer from east to west between 1948 and 1969 was estimated at 31 billion rupees, or $2.6 billion ( at the scarcity value of 11.90 rupees to the dollar, instead of the official rate of 4.76 rupees to the dollar) (Khan, 1972, “Bangladesh March Movement: Bengali Struggle for Political Power.” The Indian Journal of Political Science, pp. 33, 3, 291–322). Emphasizing the extent of exploitation, Bangabandhu noted “…although East Pakistan earned most of the foreign exchange after independence, 80% of foreign exchange was spent in West Pakistan” (1970, March 2 2009). morning news).

Since “the growth of inequality in Pakistan was not the unintended or unconscious by-product of Pakistan’s development strategy, Pakistani policymakers actively pursued policies that promoted inequality” (Islam, March 1972 , “Foreign Aid and Economic Development: The Case of Pakistan”, The Economic JournalPg 519), but the resulting economic disparity has not been recognized by either policy makers or civil society in West Pakistan.

Beneath these dominant economic fundamentals, Bangabandhu proposed his six-point program. He understood that the only way to realize the fair share of economic and political power was to limit the responsibilities and power of the central government of Pakistan. Thus, first, his six-point program logically and systematically challenged West Pakistan’s political and economic monopoly. Second, if implemented, East Pakistan’s export earnings would no longer be channeled to fuel West Pakistan’s economic growth. Third, foreign aid would no longer be monopolized. Fourth, East Pakistan would no longer remain a captive market for West Pakistan’s surplus industrial production.

In other words, through the execution of the six-point program, Bangabandhu had sought to transform Pakistan’s “one country, one economy” framework into one based on two economies, and achieve the ultimate political goal of nation building for the Bengali people. With the emergence of the two-economy theory through Bangabandhu’s six-point program, the world has witnessed the potential demise of the two-nation theory.

Dr. Shams Rahman is a Professor in the Department of Supply Chain and Logistics at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.


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