Dialogue January-March, 2012, Volume 13 No. 3
Liberation war of Bangladesh and Indo-Bangladesh Relations
Abstract : The foundation stone that was laid by during the bloody liberation struggle of Bangladesh to usher in a new relationship between India and Bangladesh, cracked after the gruesome killing of Sheikh Mujib and other prominent leaders of Bangladesh in 1975. During the following years it passed through many ups and downs and ultimately reduced to a formality. During this period many bitter happenings were experienced but a neighbor can not remain unnoticed. There is reason to be hopeful looking at the silver lining that is now appearing as a result of evolution of time in the good bilateral relation.
The turbulent scenario of the liberation struggle and its consequence:
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in his historic speech at the Dhaka Race Course was able to inspire the Bengalis to dream of a free land. When a few hundred policemen and EPR personnel could not stop the mayhem of the Pakistan army unleashed on the people of Bangladesh on March 25, which engulfed almost the whole of Bangladesh. But to my mind only two alternative courses of action were left in the hands of the Bengalis. One, to take up Pakistan flag to avoid death and destruction or to embark on a severe liberation struggle. Most of the Muslim population opted the first alternative, the second option was not only uncertain but complicated too since it was not possible without India’s help. The question was whether it was possible to fight the strong Pakistan army on the assumption of such help particularly if the fight would be a long drawn one. The extent of India’s help was also a big question. All these questions appear before them eluding positive answers. Apart from it the AL leadership never spelt out before the people to fight the Pakistan army with India’s help. Consequently the Bengali people were not psychologically ready for this. Majority of the Muslim population rendered their support to Pakistan even after watching the horrifying massacre of innocent people, rape of women and destruction of properties. The Muslim League, the Jamat and other Islamic parties stood by Pakistan after forming an Islamic Militia against the liberation struggle. On the other hand, the mayhem, looting and rape perpetrated on the Hindu population by the Pakistan army and their cohorts forced the Hindus to have their country and take refuge in India. The Pakistan government also crushed the pride of the East Pakistan people boosting in population ‘we are fifty six percent of the entire Pakistan’ by adopting a policy of driving out the Hindu population. It was not without reason that out of one crore of refugees sheltered in India, 93 lakhs were Hindus1. Gholam Kabir, a research scholar of Bangladesh has observed "In order to crush the nationalist movement the Pakistan army started a campaign of genocide in Bangladesh on 25 March 1971. The Hindu in Particular were targets of the army. In the first few days of the Pakistan army’s operations, their targets were the students’ dormitories, Bengali Police and East Pakistan Rifles Headquarters, and the Hindu populated areas of Dacca. In other cities, too, Hindus become prime targets of the army crackdown. Prominent Hindu politicians, lawyers, doctors, businessmen, and teachers, whenever found were killed by the army. During the entire period of the civil war, they were discriminated against by the Pakistan army. Their houses were burnt, property looted, women raped, and temples destroyed. Under such circumstances, they either had to cross the border and take shelter in India, or else had to flee to the remote villages where there were no army-camps. Later their lives in the villages were also made insecure when the Pakistan army recruited 100000 Razakars, a Bengali collaborator military force."2
A few questions always haunt me. There is no denying that Sheikh Mujib had a long-standing political experience, over and above, while in prison, he came across many experienced and wise communists and other leaders and had the opportunity to discuss politics. In 1970 when Sheikh Mujib became the undisputed leader of East Pakistan through national election and the dialogue with Pakistan to transfer power failed, he delivered that historic speech on march, 7 and tried to give a political direction to the people of East Pakistan and even indicated a declaration of freedom. Whole-hearted response was quite visible among the people. The first question that crops up is—had it any well-devised plan to take on the military might of Pakistan army, had they any idea or thanking about what could be the result of such a declaration of freedom, was there any overt or secret understanding with India, was it possible for the Muslims of Pakistan to think of a liberation straggle taking India’s help in a spirit spontaneity, was there any planning to control the damage and devastation caused by military crackdown, was there any preparation to a long-drawn-out fight, say a kind of guerilla warfare ? Today, after 39 years our experience based on facts and history clearly tells us that neither A.L. leadership as a whole nor Sheikh Mujib had no such preparation or plan. Though it was in the air that Sheikh Mujib had a secret agreement with India, there is no concrete proof about this, nor any document has yet been published in this regard. If there had been an advanced planning to launch an armed struggle to fight the Pakistan military Junta, the liberation struggle would be more disciplined, and the government of India would have taken a measured effort or adopted a detailed planning to raise up a liberation army. But this was not done, on the other hand, the formation of an exile govt. was not at all a smooth process. Constitution of a separate liberation army and Mujib-Bahini created a hiatus within the country and even during the war itself which clearly proves a lack of planning and far-sightedness among the leaders of liberation straggle. But it has proved that Sheikh Mujib had a tacit understanding with the Indian government.
The most striking feature, according to my perception is the apathy of the govt. of India to disclose the documents if any relevant to 1971 war. Forty years have passed, but I feel this should be done and done as a historical necessity. Was the formation of exile government pre-planned or it was just a demand of the situation ?
From before March, 1971, Sri Chittaranjan Sutar was staying in house ‘Sunny Villa’ at Bhawanipur as a representative of Sheikh Mujib and arrangement were made to accommodate A L leaders in case of emergency. Why could not the people who were staying in Sunny Villa know beforehand about the flight of Tajuddin to Delhi to meet Indira Gandhi. It is learnt from others that Sunny Villa was equipped with modern communication system for the purpose of liberation war. May be important officials of the govt. of India were aware that the senior leaders of A.L. might not accept Tajuddin as Prime Minister of exile government, otherwise it was doubtful whether the speech of Tajuddin could be telecast from irregular Siliguri Radio Station before the Mujibnagar government. had taken oath (April, 17). Was it possible without any direction from the upper echelon of the government ? what was the urgency of forming Mujib Bahini. Was it done to launch a long drawn guerilla warfare? why its command was not in any minister’s hand ? In reality there was no control of the Exile government on Mujib Bahini. Was it done to please the aggrieved faction of the leadership staying in Sunny Villa? It was not possible without any approval from the higher authority of government. of India. It is clear, therefore, that there was a division in the liberation war since the beginning.
Can not the government of India clear the doubt and controversy created in this respect ? Many Bangladeshi people still believe that in the surrender ritual of Pakistan army held at Dhaka the presence of liberation army was faintly discernable. My experience is that many political leaders of Bangladesh want to forget this episode. One rarely find this unforgettable surrender ceremony photograph adorning the walls of any minister’s room in Bangladesh? The victory day of December, 16 is being observed for so many years in Bangladesh, but why not a single commander of Indian army who was involved in liberation war is invited on this occasions? Why no gallantry medal was awarded from to any commander of victorious Indian army? The question of erecting any martyr’s column for the thousands of solders who laid down their lives in this war is a far cry. Can this be the reason that the Bangladesh leaders or people do not recognize the contribution of Indian army in this war ? It is a pertinent question why no president or Prime Minister of Bangladesh has ever paid any respect to the Martyr’s column erected at the Fort William for the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in 1971 war ? Then, how do the Bangladesh people look at the Indian army ?
Social reality in Bangladesh:
After the assassination of Sheikh Mujibar Rahman Constitution of Bangladesh has been changed lock-stock and barrel. The ideology and concept of liberation war suffered a thorough change. The Pakistani ideal was established once again. From all these events it is clear that majority Muslim population of Bangladesh have not shun the Pakistan ideology even after passing through a cruel nine-month stint of liberation war, because they were not much influence by Bengali culture, outside their daily religious culture it was all darkness. The liberation war came to their life as a nor-wester which could not make any permanent impression in their mind. The rise of the present terror soaked Islami fundamentalism in Bangladesh has its roots in the above perspective. The seed that was sown during the Pakistan regime has now grown into a gigantic tree. During the Pakistan regime almost all the Awami League leaders were respectful of Bengali culture. The Bengali culture flourished further through a nationalist movement during the fag end of Pakistani regime. Burqa was not at all in vogue among the student community reading in colleges or universities. In the school compound Burqa was totally absent, we had first–hand knowledge of this during studies in colleges and universities. We found in 1972-73 the Namaz hall almost empty during its time. There was hardly any excitement about religion. But today‘s Bangladesh provides a picture of two divergent streams, one is composed of taste and culture based on modernism and the other soaked with medieval superstitions and religious blindness. Its reflection can be seen in schools, madrasas, colleges, universities and even in national life. What will be its consequence? Will the antipathy between Bengali culture and Islamic religious orthodoxy lead to a civil war? Cultural conflict is nothing new in history. It is true the people of Bangladesh could not be turned so much anti-Pakistan as anti-Indian during nine-month long liberation struggle but a pro Pakistan religion-based sentiment could be created, which manifested during the post Mujib era.
A wave of Bengali culture both at the government and non government initiative swept Bangladesh during 1972-75, but its ebbing started after the killing of Bangabandhu. Side by side during the following three decades cultivation of Islamic culture by the fundamentalists patronized by the government started to strike root deep in the Muslim society. This cannot be uprooted at will. Today the state religion Islam is enjoying more importance. ‘Bismillah’ has found place in the Constitution. Though the High Court has annulled the fifth amendment of the Constitution recently by which Bismillah introduced. Many AL leaders and ministers are in favour of retaining Bismillah in the Constitution. It is not possible to analyze in detail in this write up. Vast changes have taken place in the structure of government, education and socio-political scenario of Bangladesh after the assassination of Sheikh Mujib. But one thing is clear, the trend of flourishing Bengali culture during the first four/five years of independence is now fractured. The most important streams are two, one Bengali and the other Islamic, whose followers are almost equal. Then, what way the social change is blowing?
Gradual decrease of Hindus population :
The climate of torture that we witnessed since 1973-74 in the rural areas of Bangladesh resulted in, sometimes silently and sometimes violently, the gradual decrease of Hindu population which is alarming to say the least, though the successive Bangladesh governments never admits this process of ethnic cleansing. But the population census speaks all, which clearly indicates the decline of Hindu population during the last four decades. According to it there has been a massive decline of Hindu population all over the country and the trend is still continuing.
The following table shows the decline of Hindus population and massive increase of Muslim population after the partition in the year of 1947.
Religious Composition and Growth of population in Bangladesh, 1951-2001
Population in ‘000
My question is just one—why could not the flow of refugees to India during the Pakistani regime be stopped even after dismemberment of Pakistan and creation of independent Bangladesh? Is the successive Bangladesh Governments still pursuing the same policy adopted by Pakistan?
The dichotomy of Indo-Bangladesh relation:
The intellectuals of West Bengal are over–carried looking at the observance of Bengali new year and celebration of February, 21, but get scared looking at the exuberance of burka and the threatening outcry of the Islamic fundamentalists. Based on the experience gathered by me by coming in contact during the last three and half decades with the intellectuals, politicians, educationists and other people of West Bengal belonging to different strata of the society, I can attempt to project a picture how their attitude towards Bangladesh has undergone a change. The euphoria they felt immediately after the liberation of Bangladesh vanished after the killing of Sheikh Mujib. An idea began to take shape about the future prospect of Bangladesh liberation war gradually faded. After 24 years of partition the qualitative change in the relation of India vis-à-vis, East Pakistan/East Bengal or Bangladesh that had taken place suffered a sea change gradually. Over and above the continuous turmoil and chaotic situation in Bangladesh forced them to be indifferent to the country. Exchange of ideas between the two countries started shrinking, on the contrary an atmosphere of disbelief grew. Bangladesh was engulfed with an anti-India feeling, nourished and patronized by administrative machineries of the governments. As a result of various atrocities perpetrated on the Hindus a fresh refugee problem cropped up in West Bengal. In addition started Muslim infiltration in West Bengal. Some experts have tried to explain this infiltration as ‘distress infiltration’ or ‘economic infiltration’. To crown it all Bangladesh became a safe haven for the anti Indian terrorists and Bangladeshi Islamic terrorists became involved in subversive activities in Indian territory. All these factors totally disenchanted the people of West Bengal about Bangladesh, just a formal attitude developed. On the other hand, relation between the two Governments was subjected to continuous ups and downs with the change of Government in Bangladesh. This happens more frequently in the developing and poor countries. The foreign policy becomes dependent on a party or even on a person. In spite of a good relation among the few people at the personal level, the sympathy, heartiness and friendship that developed during the war of liberation vanished quite long time ago. So it is different to predict how people to people contact will build a friendly diplomatic relation between the two countries. According to my perception a part of the Bangladesh politicians and administrative machinery perhaps do not want this because they suffer from an inferiority complex.
Recently AL alliance has come to power in Bangladesh. We are hopeful that it will take initiative to establish a better relation, and there are some symptoms too. But I think this will not be an easy task since for a long time a clash of ideology in the internal polities of Bangladesh exists. Until and unless the clash of Bengali nationalist ideas established through the liberation war and the nationalist idea created out of Islamic nationalism which is a legacy of Pakistan does not wither it is almost impossible to establish a long term friendly relation between India and Bangladesh. The key to this friendly relation is the cultivation and conglomeration of moral and ideological concept that grew between the two countries during the liberation war, the economic or trade relation is secondary.
1. Indian People’s response to Bangladesh liberation war in 1971, Bimal Pramanik, Patralekha, P-56, Kolkata, 2010.
2. Paschimbange Ashanisanket, Bimal Pramanik, CRIBR, P-32 & 33, Kolkata, 2008.