History: from Bengal to the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Bengal is the region located in the river delta of Ganges and Brahmaputra. The area has experienced a
changeful history up to the foundation of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Documentary records
about Bengal can be traced back to the 4th century.
The ruling dynasties were the Buddhist Palas (750 to 1160) and the Hindu Senas (1095 to 1205). Pala,
the Buddhist capital, was located in the north-western part of present-day Bangladesh. Bikrampur, the
capital of the Senas, was located further to the south, a few kilometers from Dhaka.
From the year 1204 on, the country was conquered by Muslim chieftains. Between 1342 and 1576, the
country was independent from India’s capital Delhi. Afterwards, through the responsibility of the
generals of the Mughal emperor Akbar, Bengal became a province of the Indian Empire and Dhaka
became its capital. In 1707, the Mughal empire disintegrated and Bengal became independent again.
From 1757 to 1947, the British governed Bengal. Before 1911, Calcutta was the capital of British-
India. In 1905, the British rulers divided Bengal into the Hindu western part and the Muslim eastern
part. After massive protests of the population, the British were forced to reunite the country in 1912.
During the great Bengal famine in 1943/1944, roughly 3.5 million people died.
In 1947, India became independent. The subcontinent was divided into India and Pakistan. Pakistan
consisted of two provinces: East Pakistan (today’s Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (today’s Pakistan).
In 1970, the Awami League of East Pakistan won an absoulute majority in the first free parliamentary
elections. The government of West Pakistan clamped down on the Bengal people and started severe
oppressions. Roughly 10 million people fled to neighboring India. During a bloody war of liberation,
the Bengals, with Indian support, defeated the Pakistani military. On December 16, 1971, Bangladesh
became independent, the People’s Republic was proclaimed.
In 1975, the first Bengal president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was murdered and the political system
existing at the time was overthrown. This was the beginning of a military dictatorship. A massive
public protest in 1990 forced the ruling general Hussein Md. Ershad to resign.
Between 1991 and 1996, Bangladesh returned to parliamentary democracy. After new elections and
the success of her party, Khaleda Zia, the chairwoman of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP),
became Prime Minister.
Between 1996 and 2001, several new elections were held following domestic political protests against
the victorious BNP. The Awami League became the strongest political force and its president, Sheikh
Hasina, became Prime Minister.
After the parliamentary elections in 2001, the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami participated in the government
of the country.
A military-supported interim government was superseded in 2008 by the newly elected government
led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Over the past 40 years, Bangladesh has made considerable social and economic achievements. The
country has revolted against military dictatorships and returned to democratic structures again and
again. Deficits undoubtedly continue existing. However, the statement made in 1974 by the USamerican
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, that Bangladesh is a hopeless case, can certainly no
longer be adhered to.