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1.1. A Belated Bust-up:
In May 1973, Abdul Gaffar Choudhury, a well known newspaper columnist and close associate of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, said: ‘We are now saying three million Bengali’s have been martyred. Without any survey we are telling three million Bengali’s have died.’  After openly raising doubts about the alleged figure, Choudhury left Bangladesh for good for Britain.
It took another twenty years for the question to be raised again. Participating in a debate in the National Assembly of Bangladesh on 15 June 1993, Col. Akbar Hussain, a decorated ‘Mukti Juddha’ and a Cabinet Minister under both General Ziaur Rahman and Mrs Khaleda Zia, returned to the question. Making a pointed attack on the Awami League for its 'propensity to falsify history', he said that the Awami League had created the myth of 'three million killed', whereas in reality it was closer to a tenth of that figure. On the following day Shudhangshu Shekar Haldar, a Hindu member of Awami League, challenged Col. Hussain to substantiate his assertion with ‘recorded proof’. Responding to the challenge, the Minister told the National Assembly that after the creation of Bangladesh an announcement was made to pay Tk. 2,000 to every family that suffered loss of life where upon only three hundred thousand families had claimed such compensation. Had there been three million individuals dead, their families would have claimed for compensation. Poignantly, Haldar could not, and did not, challenge the figure of those actually claimed compensation. Nor could he give any satisfactory explanation for the missing two million seven hundred thousand. Instead, he began inquiring as to what could have prompted the Minister to question' a well-known fact'.
The tactic was "a clear one: if you cannot 'kill' the message, 'kill' the messenger. Having done that however, he requested the presiding Deputy Speaker to expunge Col. Hussain's remarks from the proceedings of the Assembly. At this point Abdus Samad Azad, standing in for the Awami League leader, stood up and spoke in support of his party colleague's demand for the effacement of the remarks. His argument was: 'So far no one, including General Ziaur Rahman, has challenged the figure of three million. We had it from our leader Sheikh Mujib and it must stand as correct'. 
1.2. Mujib’s Part in the Myth Making:
Indeed, it was Mujib's stamp of approval which gave the oft quoted number both its life and respectability. On 10 January 1972, the very day of his return to Bangladesh from prison in West Pakistan, he publicly announced:
..... "Three million people have been killed. I believe that there is no parallel in the history of the world of such a colossal loss of lives for the struggle for freedom." 
He repeated the same charge before the world in a television interview given to the British broadcaster David Frost. In the same interview, which was recorded at his private residence in Dhaka and was broadcasted from New York on 18 January 1972, he also made the astounding claim that the very house in which the interview was taking place had been destroyed by the Pakistani Army!  A day earlier the Time Magazine quoted Mujib saying,
‘if Hitler could have been alive today he would be ashamed’ 
During the following weeks and months, his insistence on the three million figure grew and it became his all-purpose 'opening song'. Let me give an example.
"The vice-secretary asked me to sit in the corridor crowded with at least 50 persons. He then walked into the office and informed Mujib of my presence. I heard a terrible growl and the poor man reappeared shaken, asking me to wait. I waited. One hour, two hours, three hours, four hours, then at eight o'clock I was still there in that damned corridor. At 8-30 a miracle occurred: Mujib was ready to receive me. I was asked to enter. I entered into a large room with a sofa and two armchairs. Mujib was sprawled all over the sofa and two fat ministers were seated in the armchairs with their bellies in the air. No one rose. No one made a greeting and no one responded to mine. There was a very long silence until Mujib gestured to me to sit down. I sat on a small corner of the sofa and opened up the tape recorder preparing the first question. But, I didn't have time for that. Mujib started to shout: 'Hurry up, quick, understand?' 'I have no time to waste, is that clear?' 'The Pakistanis have killed three million people, is that clear? Yes, three, three, three.' (How he arrived at that figure, I'll never understand. The Indians speaking of the victims have never gone over the one million figure). I said: 'Mr Prime Minister...' Mujib started to shout again: ‘They killed my women in front of their husbands and children, the husbands in front of their sons and wives, the sons in front of their fathers and mothers, the nephews before their grandfathers and grandmothers, the grandfathers and grandmothers in front of their nephews, cousins in front of cousins, aunts in front of uncles, brother-in-law in front of sister-in-law .. . ‘Mr Prime Minister, I would like .. .’ ‘Listen to her, she would like! She would like. You have no right to want anything, understand? Is that clear?"
This is the account of the well-known Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci's interview with Mujib. 
Yet, only on 8 January 1972 in London, on his way back to Bangladesh, the same Mujib had claimed that 'one million people had been killed in Bangladesh.'  One might wonder who updated the figure for Mujib? Was it done between his journey from London to Dhaka, via New Delhi or immediately after his arrival in Dhaka? It has been claimed by one of the 'involved' Indian organisers of the 'Freedom Movement' that 'By and by he [Mujib] came to know more details and later in Dacca he put the figure at 3.5 million' . Since Mujib focussed on three million, rather than on his long time benefactor's averred three and a half million, one might think he was still hesitant to paddle out everything his 'involved' benefactors were handing him out. But, where did he get this figure form?
1.3. The Myth Makers at Work:
However inventive Mujib was with facts and however insistent he became with the fiction of 'three million killed' and 'three hundred thousand raped', as we shall see he himself did not fabricate it. He simply parroted in public, what was given to him in private. In fact, the figure which he was eventually handed out, went through several updates at the hands of a number of involved quarters.
1.4. The Swadhin Bangla Betar:
Up to 10 December 1971, Mujib’s own Awami League colleagues, few of whom ever ventured out to face the Pakistan Army and most of whom had reportedly spent their Indian sojourn in enjoyment with their friends and families  had been circulating an estimated casualty figure of three hundred thousand, through the 'Swadhin Bangla Betar'.  Even years later his party Vice President, Zahirul Qayyum, would implicitly contest the myth of three million by pointing to this estimate broadcasted by the official organ of the Bangladesh Government in exile.[II]
1.5. Indian Authorities:
Yet, on 7 January 1972 the Press Trust of India, quoting Sheikh Abdul Aziz, the newly appointed Communication Minister of Bangladesh , reported from Calcutta a casualty figure of over one million. However, the news communicated by the Indian national news agency stressed that the casualty toll was a provisional one and disclosed that the Government of Bangladesh was going to collect statistics in order to obtain the actual figure. Apparently, to give some credibility to the Minister's newly updated estimate, he was quoted as saying that in his own village the Pakistan Army had killed 107 persons.  There was no explanation as to how the estimated death toll rose by three-fold in a matter of three weeks, during most of which the ‘culprit’ Pakistan Army had been under Indian custody.
To be fair to the Minister, this figure of one million killed was floating around from the beginning of the insurgency. One Asad Choudhury wrote a poem, called 'Report 1971' at the start of the insurgency. In it he told his readers that the Pakistani Army had, by then, massacred one million Bengalis and have raped forty thousand women.  Likewise, on 24 June 1972 the ‘Swadhin Bangla Betar’ broadcasted a speech, supposedly written by Maulana Bhashani, which, inter alia, claimed that 'after sacrificing one million invaluable lives, the struggling masses of independent Bengal would not accept any thing else. Their only road is either full independence or death.'  But, one might still want to know, why the Minister suddenly found this preferable over the 'Swadhin Bangla Betar's' hitherto ‘official’ figure of three hundred thousand?
In this connection, it is to be noted that the Indian authorities, including India's military establishment, have consistently maintained that so far as they were concerned the casualty figure stood at one million. What is more interesting, M.R.Akhtar Mukul, who as the head of the' Swadhin Bangla Betar' and the presenter of its best known programme 'Charampatra' (Dire Letter) had been regularly disseminating out the three hundred thousand figure up to 10 December 1971, in his book of recollection ‘Ami Bijoy Dekhechi’ (I Have Seen Victory) he piously authenticated the one million casualty toll without ever mentioning his old vaunted death toll.  Those who are familiar with Mukul' s professed willingness to lie for facilitating Indian cover-ups  would not be surprised at his volte face. Nor would they doubt that like Mukul, Sheikh Abdul Aziz was also made to endorse the figure deemed appropriate for the occasion by the Indian authorities.
In his reminiscence Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw simply presented the figure as a ‘well-known fact’ and expressed utter incredulity at the figure of three million with which Mujib's name became inextricably linked.  Likewise, in a mass produced video interview Lt Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora said that 'all of us knew' that the Pakistan Army had brutally killed 'about a million people'; yet Sheikh Mujib who 'was more an agitator and less an administrator' decided to 'make it more brutish' by saying that the Pakistan Army had killed three million Bengalis. He pointed out that Mujib's figure was 'absolutely impossible', because the Pakistan Army had 'simultaneously fought within the country and at the borders'.  Earlier, Maj.Gen.D.K.Palit, who also had a hand in 'the birth of Bangladesh engineered by the Indian Army', gave the same one million figure as if it was an indubitable fact which required no supporting proof.  Despite Palit's stance, one should heed the significance of the fact that neither Manekshaw nor Aurora have vouched for the authenticity of the Indian figure beyond that it was a 'well-known fact' or some how 'known to us'.
The 'absolutely impossible' figure of three million to which Mujib publicly tied up his own name was not absolutely his own invention. The 'credit' for its fabrication was due to one Ehtesham Haider Choudhury, editor of the Dhaka daily Purbadesh and his Russian friend, the Pravda representative in Dhaka.
1.6. The Purbadesh/Pravda/ENA:
In a signed editorial under the heading of 'Hang the Yahya Junta' on the 22 December 1971 issue of the Purbadesh, Choudhury claimed that the 'enemy occupation forces have savagely killed about three million innocent people and more than two hundred intellectuals'.  Curiously enough, only on the previous day the same daily printed an eight column red coloured banner heading, asking: 'How many people of Bengal have been killed?' In it Ershad Majumdar, the paper's senior reporter, categorically said that 'every where people are asking: How many people of Bangladesh have been killed? How many 'lakhs' (unit of hundred thousand)? 10,20,30,40 or 50 lakhs? No one seems to have the answer. But the people are not likely to leave the question unanswered. Answer we must have.' 
Within days the Pravda printed a news claiming that over three million people have been killed by the Pakistan Army. The Soviet daily carried the news without mentioning the Purbadesh editorial. The report was credited to its Special Correspondent. ENA, the Bangladesh news agency, lifted the Pravda news and reproduced it in all major Dhaka dailies under the beading: 'Pak Army Killed Over 30 Lakh People'. Now it read
"The Communist Party Newspaper Pravda has reported that over 30 lakh persons were killed throughout Bangladesh by the Pakistani occupation forces during the last nine months, reports ENA.
Quoting its Special Correspondent stationed in Dacca, the paper said that the Pakistani military forces immediately before their surrender to Mukti Bahinis and the Allied Forces had killed about 800 intellectuals in the capital city of Bangladesh alone.
The change from 'less than three million' of the Purbadesh editor into 'over three million' is to be marked. The effortless four-fold increase in the number of intellectuals allegedly killed is also to be noticed. We may also keep in mind Jyoti Sen Gupta's false claim regarding Mujib's announcement that 3.5 million people have been killed.
1.7. How Mujib Took to Parroting the Last Figure:
It was reported that on his arrival in Dhaka on 10 January 1972 the lobby behind the fabrication of the ‘absolutely impossible’ figure promptly briefed the returning Bangladesh leader with the added 'fact' of three hundred thousand women raped, who in turn immediately went on parroting it.  Thus, the self-serving fiction of ‘three million killed’ and ‘three hundred thousand women raped’ was created.
Notes and References
1. Abdul Gaffar Choudhury, Shahosh Kare Kichu Shaythay Katha Bala Proyjan, (With Courage a Few Truth Have to be Said), The Dainik Janapad, Dhaka, 20 May 1973
2. Cf. The Proceedings of the National Assembly of Bangladesh, 15 and 16 June, 1993.
3. Ramendu Majumdar, Bangladesh My Bangladesh': Selected Speeches and Statements, Muktadhara. 74 Farashganj, Dhaka - 1, 1972: 140
4. Cf. M.R.Akhtar Mukul, Ami Vijoy Dekhechi (I Have Seen Victory), Sagar Publications, GPO Box 3057, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1391 BS (1984): 245.
5. Time Magazine, NewYork, 17 January 1972.
6. Oriana Fallaci, An Interview with Mujibur Rahman, L' Europeo, Rome, 24 February, 1972. [cf.' Text in Appendix - I]
7. Jyoti Sen Gupta, History of Freedom Movement in Bangladesh, 1947-73: Some Involvement, Naya Prokash, 206 Bidhan Sarani, Calcutta - 6, 1974: 445
8. Jyoti Sen Gupta, ibid .: 445
9. Abdul Gaffar Choudhury, op cit.
10. Yahya Mirza, Interview with Mr.Abdul Muhaimin, The Tarokalok, 1 March, 1990; and Jauhuri, Tirish Lakher Telesmat (The Riddle of Thirty Lakh), Asha Prokashani, 435 Elephant Road, Dhaka - 1217, 1994: 48.
11. Jauhuri, ibid: 48-49
12. Four new ministers were added to the five-men Government which in existence in Calcutta since April, 1971. The new appointments were made on 29 December 1971
13. Jauhuri, op cit: 63-64
14. M.R.Akhtar Mukul, op cit: 95
15. ibid: 95
16. ibid: 376
17. Manzurul Karim , Betorkito Mujib (The Controversial Mujib)
19. Lt.Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, Reminiscences of Bangladesh War (video interview), Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, 1994.
20. Maj.Gen. Palit, The Lightning Campaign: The Indo-Pakistan War 1971, Compton Press, Salisbury, 1972: 24
21. The Purbadesh, Dhaka, 22 December 1971.
22. The Purbadesh, Dhaka, 21 December 1971
23. The Bangladesh Observer, Dhaka, 5 January, 1972.