Dialogue  October-December, 2008 , Volume 10 No. 2

Role of Indian People in Liberation War of Bangladesh


Salam Azad*



The Liberation War of Bangladesh is the most memorable event in her brief history as it brought about her independence. Father of the Nation Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was its undisputed leader and Shahid Tajuddin Ahmed was the person who piloted it brilliantly. To win this freedom, three million people had to shed their blood and three lakh women had to sacrifice their lives. The freedom fighters of our country deserve the eternal gratitude and respect of each and every citizen of Bangladesh. We must not also forget that the Government and the people of India stood solidly by us. The way they extended their help is unique in the history of the world.

      Except for a few of Razakars, Al Badars, Al Sams or those involved in the conspiracy against the freedom movement, 75 million men and women participated directly or indirectly in the liberation war. Almost 10 million men and women who were forced to leave their motherland to save themselves entered various states of India like West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where they lived as refugees. India willingly took the responsibility and cared for these unfortunate men, women and children for nine months. India also provided training and arms and ammunitions for the freedom fighters. Not only for the freedom of Bangladesh, but also for the release of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from the prison of Pakistan, the then Prime Minister of India Smt. Indira Gandhi traveled around the world to gather support for the cause. India not only spent seven thousand crores of rupees for the liberation war of Bangladesh  but also sacrificed the lives of 3630 officers and Jawans of her Army.  About  9856 officers and Jawans were  wounded and more than 213 officers and Jawans are missing till today. The blood of these Indian soldiers are mixed with the soil of Independent Bangladesh.

     Eleven army men from a village in Haryana, died in the liberation war of Bangladesh. In the year 2004, I went to visit that village for my fieldwork and spent a few hours with the families of the martyrs. One of the children of the dead veterans was of the age of Bangladesh. He was not born when his father went to the war. Within few days after his birth, his father died at the hands of Pakistani army. This young man of thirty five years expressed his eagerness to visit the place where his father died and I also encouraged him. He enquired if there was any monument in Bangladesh where his father had died. He also expressed hope to visit the particular place to show respect and honour his father whom he never saw. In a postcard his father had written that after coming back from the war, they would celebrate his birthday. But he never returned and the birthday was never celebrated. His mother has preserved the last letter of his father with great care.

     To commemorate the sacrifice of the Indian officers and Jawans who lost their lives in the 1971 war, a monument ‘Amar Jawan’ has been constructed with the rifle and helmet of a soldier who died in Jessore, Bangladesh, just below the India Gate in New Delhi. A similar monument exist in front of the Cantonment at Shillong. Unfortunately till today Bangladesh has not recognized the sacrifices of the Indian soldiers. There is not even a single brick laid in Bangladesh to commemorate the sacrifices made by these soldiers. It is, therefore, a sign of and ungratefulness on the part of 140 million people of Bangladesh. So, I hope that in the near future Bangladesh will take appropriate steps to acknowledge the contribution of Indians, especially those of the brave soldiers.

     The contribution of Indian government and the citizens of India is a vital part of the history of the Independence war of Bangladesh. Without mentioning the contribution of India, the history of Bangladesh is incomplete.

     During the liberation war for nine months, Mujibnagar government officially or unofficially at various times and at various levels, continuously tried to earn recognition. Simultaneously to get international help and support, they extended diplomatic initiative and thus contacted the United Nations, Europe, America and other powerful nations to mobilise public opinions in their favor. On 30th August, 1971 through the opening of Bangladesh Mission in New Delhi, the Bangladesh government earned a remarkable success in recognition process. Although in the meantime on 18th April, in Kolkata, the first Bangladesh Mission began its ceremonial journey. After that the 2nd and 3rd Missions started working in USA and Britain. From Indian government it was said that the Mission would not have any Diplomatic Status.

     However, the ‘Bangladesh Recognition’ became an integral part of India’s internal politics. It is not because the Congress party or Indian Government was against the recognition issue. However, according to them, they would recognize Bangladesh at an ‘appropriate time’ because the ‘recognition’ issue was linked with international politics and international law. The subject of recognition was complementary to the birth of a nation. There are various ways of forming a new nation e.g., through International Conference or Agreement, two or more nations’ willingness can create a new nation. After Second World War, many nations were formed in this manner. Other than these, through separatism or a revolution, a new nation can be formed. Since various reactions can give birth to a new nation there can be a difference of opinion among the law makers of a nation regarding recognition, type of recognition and procedure of recognition.

     During the middle of liberation war, the liberation force could establish many ‘free administrative zones’ within Bangladesh around the country’s border areas. Secondly, at the beginning of liberation war, Mujibnagar government was formed and later under this government, many administrative zones were established. The consisted of Mujibnagar Government government officials, foreign diplomatic missions, own radio station and the liberation army. Other than these, the support of the common people of Bangladesh and of all the political parties were with them. In this respect, we can say that in between the liberation war, Bangladesh attained the requisite attributes for recognition in a wartime emergency.  

      The leadership of liberation war under Mujibnagar government, from legal side can’t be termed as non-resident government as Mujibnagar government took ceremonial oath at Baidyanathtala at Meherpur, though practically this government’s procedures got directed from Kolkata.

      Bangladesh attained all the conditions to be recognized in accordance with the International law de jure. However, in order to get recognition, it had to wait till 6th December, 1971.  Although the recognition issue was legal, but overall it was a political decision. Politics is also associated with Trade and Commerce, Security, Self-dependency, National Interest etc. The demand for recognition of Bangladesh turned into a national issue within Indian politics since the end of March to December for nine long months.

     In Delhi, a three day International Conference on Bangladesh took place where 150 delegates representing 24 countries participated. On 20th September, on behalf of the conference, an appeal was made to all the governments of the world to recognize Bangladesh as an independent nation and to stop helping West Pakistan with any kind of military aid. In a resolution of the conference it was said that, international community should recognise the Bangladesh people’s political struggle as a National Struggle for Freedom. Mujibnagar government from the beginning was active due to India’s recognition. The Indian government along with private organizations at various levels was formally or informally associated with the policy making body of Mujibnagar government and various initiatives to influence the public opinion in favor of Bangladesh. 

     Meanwhile, besides two letters dated Oct. 15 and November 23, from the “Bangladesh govt., rallies and meetings of the political parties continued to increase the pressure of public opinion on the Indian government for recognition. On the other side by recognizing Bangladesh, India government never wanted to acknowledge her deep relation with Bangladesh to the international community, though from the beginning India tried to provide Bangladesh problem an international face.

      On 6th December, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi said in the Lok Sabha: “Pakistan had declared war against India. There is no importance of peaceful solution. Bangladesh people are engaged in their struggle for existence and India is fighting against aggression. They are, like us, fighting against a common enemy. I am pleased to inform the Houses that in the existing situation and due to repeated request of Bangladesh government, we have carefully decided to grant recognition to People’s Republic of Bangladesh.”  

     The recognition issue was an important for the liberation war of Bangladesh. In 1971, during the nine months of liberation war, Mujibnagar government appealed for Bangladesh recognition to all the countries of the world including neighboring country of India. But they did not get any response. At first, the responsibility of recognition came on the shoulder of India. The Indian political parties, various professional organizations, cultural organizations and the common man of India wanted that India should recognize first. The ruling Congress Party was also in favor of recognizing Bangladesh as a nation but it had to take place at an appropriate time. The existing practical situation forced India to be very cautious regarding the recognition issue. Indian government was vigilant on regional and international politics as well as on international law and its effects. Though Bangladesh was declared independent on 25th March, yet India recognized Bangladesh ceremoniously on 6th December. The Indian government was not willing to give premature recognition to Bangladesh. Because according to international law, premature recognition could be considered as interference.

       When a nation is divided a new nation or government is established, as it happened in case of Bangladesh. Most of the western countries and countries supporting Pakistan  framed their policy on the then West Germany's ‘Holstein Phenomena’. According to that law, any nation at any time could not maintain diplomatic relations with West Germany and East Germany simultaneously. East Germany's recognition meant the end of diplomatic relations with West Germany. In such situation and without the help of friendly nations, India did not want to bring down the level of national interest and safety. Even after the 16th December ceremonial surrender of Pakistan, for Bangladesh it was a tough diplomatic effort to earn the nation’s recognition because Zulfikar Ali Bhutto clearly stated that if any nation recognised Bangladesh, then Pakistan would discontinue all diplomatic relations with that country or nation. For recognizing Bangladesh, Pakistan really discontinued diplomatic relation with a few countries. 

   In the light of International law and the series of incidents in Bangladesh during liberation war, it can be said that before 6th December Bangladesh received implied recognition. First in Kolkata and later in Delhi, Bangladesh Mission officially directed work schedules which can be accepted as Indian Government’s de facto recognition. Other than this after the Indo-Soviet friendship treaty, the East European countries took a positive attitude towards Bangladesh issue. The participation of Abddus Samad Azad in Budapest International Seminar as Mujibnagar government’s representative, Bangladesh had recognition in East Europe.

      The Prime Minister, Smt. Indira Gandhi, made the following statement in Indian Parliament announcing the decision of the Government of India to grant recognition to the Government of Gana Praja Tantri Bbangladesh which in essence highlighted the struggle and travails of the Bangla nation:

    “The valiant struggle of the people of Bangladesh in the face of tremendous odds has opened a new chapter of heroism in the history of freedom movements. Earlier, they had recorded a great democratic victory in their elections and even the President of Pakistan had conceded the right of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. We shall never know what intervened to transform this benevolent mood and realistic approach, if it really was that, to deception and the posture of open hatred. 

    We are told that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his party, the Awami League, had planned a non-violent movement of resistance to the Government of West Pakistan. But they were caught unaware and overtaken by brutal military assault. They had no alternatives but to declare independence. The East Pakistan Rifles and East Bengal Regiment became the Mukti Fauj and later the Mukti Bahini, which was joined by thousands of young East Bengalis determined to sacrifice their lives for freedom and the right to fashion their future. The unity, determination and courage with which the entire population of Bangladesh is fighting, have been recorded by the world press. 

     These events on our door-step and the resulting flood of refugees onto our territory could not but have far-reaching repercussions on our country. It was natural that our sympathy should be with the people of Bangladesh in their just struggle, but we did not act precipitately in the matter of recognition. Our decisions were not guided merely by emotion but by assessment of prevailing and future realities. 

      With the unanimous revolt of the entire people of Bangladesh and then success of their struggle, it has become increasingly apparent that the so- called mother State of Pakistan is totally incapable of bringing the people of Bangladesh back under control. As for the legitimacy of the Government of Bangladesh the whole world is now aware that it reflects the will of the overwhelming majority of the people, which not many Governments can claim to represent. In Jefferson’s famous words to Governor Morris, the Government of Bangladesh is supported by the ‘will of the nation, substantially expressed’. Applying this criterion, the military regime in Pakistan, to whom some States are so anxious to buttress, is hardly a representative of its people, even in West Pakistan. 

      Now that Pakistan is waging war against India, the normal hesitation on our part not to do anything which could come in the way of a

peaceful solution, or which might be construed as intervention, has lost significance. The people of Bangladesh battling for their very existence and the people of India fighting to defeat aggression now find themselves partisans in the same cause. 

       I am glad to inform the House that in the light of the existing situation

and representatives, I respond to the repeated requests of the Government of Bangladesh that the Government of India, after the most careful consideration, decided to grant recognition to the Gana Praji Tantri Bangladesh. 

    It is our hope that with the passage of time, more nations would grant recognition and that the Gana Praji Tantri Bangladesh would soon form a part of the family of nations. 

      Our thoughts at this moment is the Father of this new State- Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. I am sure that this House would wish me to convey to their Excellencies, the acting President of Bangladesh and the Prime Minister and to their colleagues, our greetings and warm felicitations. 

   I am placing on the Table of the House, the copies of the communications which we have received from the Government of Bangladesh. Hon’ble members would be glad to know that the Government of Bangladesh have proclaimed their basic principles of State policy to be democracy, socialism, secularism, and the establishment of an egalitarian society in which there would be no discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex or creed. In regard to foreign relations, the Bangladesh Government has expressed their determination to follow a policy of non-alignment, peaceful co-existence and opposition to colonialism, racialism and imperialism in all its manifestations. These are the ideals to which India also is dedicated. 

       The Bangladesh Government has reiterated their anxiety to organize the expeditious return of their citizens who have found temporary refuge in our country, and to restore their lands and belongings to them. We shall naturally help in every way in these arrangements. 

       I am confident that in the future, the Government and the people of Bangladesh and India, who share common ideals and sacrifices, will force a relationship based on the principles of mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference in internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit. Thus by working together for freedom and democracy, we shall set an example of good neighborliness which alone can ensure peace, stability and progress in this region. Our good wishes to Bangladesh.”



Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati