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Last updated: 18th September 2017

Historical Background

Remnants of civilization in the greater Bengal region date back four thousand years, when the region was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman, and Austro-Asiatic peoples. The exact origin of the word `Bangla’ or `Bengal’ is unknown, though it is believed to be derived from Bang (Sanskrit Vanga), the Dravidian-speaking tribe that settled in the area around the year 1000 BC.

The Kingdom of Gangaridai was founded as early as in the seventh century BC, which later merged with Bihar under the Magadha, Nanda, Mauryan and Sunga Empires. Bengal was later part of the Gupta Empire and Harsha Empire from the third to the sixth centuries AD. Following its collapse, a dynamic Bangalee named Shashanka founded an impressive yet short-lived kingdom. Shashanka is considered the first independent king in the history of Bangladesh. After a period of anarchy, the Buddhist Pala dynasty ruled the region for four hundred years commonly referred to as the `Golden Age of Bengal’. This was followed by a shorter reign of the Hindu Sena dynasty.

Islam was introduced to Bengal in the twelfth century by Arab Muslim merchants and Sufi missionaries, and subsequent Muslim conquests helped spread Islam throughout the region. Bakhtiar Khilji, a Turkic general, defeated Lakshman Sen of the Sena dynasty and conquered large parts of Bengal in the year 1204.

Mujibnagar Monument in Meherpur district, built in commemoration of the formation of provisional government of independent Bangladesh

The region was ruled by dynasties of Sultans and land lord Bhuiyans for the next few hundred years. By the 16th century, the Mughal Empire controlled Bengal, and Dhaka became an important provincial centre of the Mughal administration.

European traders arrived late in the 15th century, and their influence grew until the British East India Company gained control of Bengal following the Battle of Palashi in 1757. The bloody rebellion of 1857, known as the Sepoy Mutiny, resulted in transfer of authority to the Crown, with a British viceroy running the administration in British India.

Between 1905 and 1911, an abortive attempt was made to divide the province of Bengal into two zones, with Dhaka as the capital of the eastern zone. When India was partitioned in 1947 Bengal was partitioned again along religious lines with the western part going to India and the eastern part joining Pakistan as province called East Bengal (later renamed East Pakistan), with its capital in Dhaka. Dissatisfaction with the Centre over economic and cultural issues continued to rise even from the days of partition through the 1950s and 1960s, during which the Awami League emerged as the political voice of the Bangalees under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

A sculpture in commemoration of the great martyrs of the historic language movement of 1952

The 6-points programme launched by Bangabandhu in 1966 crystallised into the demand for autonomy which led to the electoral victory for Awami League in the first ever general election in Pakistan in 1970. Following putting off the summoning of Parliament and consequent decline to hand over power by Pakistani Junta, Bangabandhu made his historic declaration on 7 March, 1971 about the struggle for freedom and the struggle for independence. In the early hours of 26th March 1971, as the Pakistan Army unleashed its genocide across Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman formally declared the independence of Bangladesh and directed everyone to fight till the elimination of the last soldier of the Pakistan Army. Awami League leaders set up a provisional government, which formally took oath at Mujib Nagar in Kushtia district inside Bangladesh on 17 April 1971. The War of Liberation that started with the resistance on 26 March lasted for nine months. The Mukti Bahini (freedom force) was made up of Bangalee regulars and guerrillas. More than 3 million Bangalees were martyred and millions were injured during the war of liberation. The war ended in a decisive victory for Bangladesh when the Pakistan Army surrendered to the joint command of Bangladesh-India forces on 16 December 1971.

When a war ravaged country was going through massive reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts and marching forward as an independent, secular country to fulfill the aspirations of the people, on 15 August 1975, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was brutally murdered along with most of his family members by military adventurists and elements opposed to the guiding ethos of our freedom movement and the tide of history was turned back.

A series of bloody coups and counter-coups in the following three months saw the ascent to power of Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahman, who founded the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and reinstated religion based sectarian politics. General Zia’s rule ended when he was assassinated in 1981 by  elements of the military. Lt. Gen. Hossain Mohammad Ershad assumed power in a bloodless coup in 1982 and ruled until 1990, when he was forced to resign in the face of a popular anti-autocratic movement. Since then, Bangladesh has reverted to a parliamentary democracy.

In the wake of rampant corruption, disorder and uncertainty about the credibility of general election under a caretaker government that conducted itself in a clearly partisan manner, on 11 January 2007, a new caretaker government was appointed to administer the next general election. The new caretaker government held the general election on 29 December 2008 which were acknowledged internationally as free, fair and credible. The grand alliance led by the Awami League won the election with a landslide victory and formed the government on 6 January 2009.

In the wake of successful completion of the term of the Awami League led Government in 2013, a new free and fair election took place on 5 January 2014. The people of the country reiterated their faith in democracy and the politics of development led by Sheikh Hasina. The grand alliance led by the Awami League won a landslide victory in the election and formed the government to continue her progressive politics of development.

The 5 January 2014 election victory of the grand alliance led by the Awami League has been a reiteration of the people’s faith in democracy and a celebration of an inclusive, secular ethos.

National Martyrs’ Memorial at Savar, Dhaka