OPINION

Golden Jubilee and the War of Liberation-1971

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The Battle was unique in the way that it started before the official commencement of the

India Pakistan war on 03 December 1971 and continued even after the formal surrender by Pakistan Army.

By: Dr. ZAHOOR AHMAD RATHER

The President of India Ram Nath Kovind will likely arrive to Dhaka to attend the golden jubilee celebration of Bangladesh’s Victory Day. The two-day visit comes at the invitation of his Bangladesh counterpart, Abdul Hamid. The President will join Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s birth centenary celebrations. This will be Kovind’s first Dhaka visit on Victory Day celebrations, which will also coincide with the wrapping-up ceremony of Bangladesh’s founder Bangabandhu. Apart from the Victory Day celebrations, the President will also take part in other key engagements. Bangladesh is commemorating Mujib Borsho, the birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and 50 years of the country’s war of liberation. The two countries are also celebrating 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic ties.

A debate of scholars over the role of India in the War of Liberation has not yet been determined. There are clearly two different schools of thought over the issue. One set of intellectuals holds the idea that the Indian role was the manifestation of its humanitarian assistance and friendly gesture towards Bangladesh while the other group of scholars holds a diametrically opposite view and postulates that the Indian policy toward Bangladesh stemmed out of its politico-economic and strategic considerations. Without arguing for or against Indian humanitarian concerns or politico-economic and strategic considerations, Wilcox (1973) pointed out that Pakistan’s defeat by India in 1971 was a replay of the 1965 war and the only exception was that East Pakistan was brought into the battle and taken by the Indian forces. Wilcox gave us a clear-cut impression of the Indian role, but it requires further study to comprehend the Indian actual plans of action.

Causes of Bangladesh crisis

‘Pakistan’s 25th anniversary’ was marked by disintegration of the state. The birth of Bangladesh in 1971 was the product of the break-up of Pakistan. Bangladesh had the bitter experience of about a quarter-century of union with Pakistan. The geographical boundary of Pakistan was illogical – East Pakistan was separated from West Pakistan by one thousand miles of Indian Territory – and linguistic, ethnic and cultural differences between the two wings were compounded by political domination and economic exploitation of the West Pakistani ruling elites, which impregnated Bengali nationalism and ultimately, led to the break-up of Pakistan. The Bengali people were always unlikely partners in the union of Pakistan – a geographical and cultural monstrosity.

During the formative phase of Pakistan, the ruling elites’ attempt to introduce Arabic script and Persian words in the Bengali language was the reflection of West Pakistani’s cultural hegemony. The Pakistan government’s perilous attempt to impose Urdu – a language of only 3.5 percent of the population – as the only national language of the country was first opposed and later resisted during the bloody language movement of the Bengalis in 1952, which sparked the beginning of a nationalist movement. On the one hand, the Bengalis who constituted the majority of Pakistan’s population were denied their democratic rights to govern the country; on the other hand, the ruling elites of the West Pakistani continued to exploit the Bengalis economically. All this political exploitation and economic deprivation ultimately led to the nationalist movement a serious concern.

A violent mass upsurge orchestrated by the Bengalis brought the fall of military dictator General Ayub Khan in 1969.  In the general election of 1970, the Bengalis finally said farewell to the ruling elites of West Pakistan , when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s  political party the Awami league (AL) emerged as the single majority party and Z.A. Bhutto’s (Bhutto) the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) appeared as the second largest party. Notwithstanding, none of them had national character. The election results clearly determined the polarization between East and West Pakistan.

In the aftermath of the landslide victory of the Awami League under the leadership of Mujib, the West Pakistani civil–military elites refused to transfer power to the democratically elected Bengali national leaders who earned the right to represent the cause of the Bengalis and instead, President General Yahya Khan opted for a military solution, responding with bombs and bullets. The Pakistan military followed a systematic campaign of indiscriminate slaughter and the military actions destroyed the last hope of keeping the unity of Pakistan.

The East Pakistan was formally declared as an independent and sovereign state known as Bangladesh on 26 March 1971. Regarding the birth of Bangladesh, Peter Lyon frankly argued that:  The widening political and economic cleavages between East and West Pakistan; the mounting aspirations and frustrations of the East Bengalis; the crushing electoral victory of the Awami-league throughout East Pakistan and the conclusive if less complete electoral victory of Mr. Bhutto’s party in the West Punjab and Sind; the mindless brutality, rape and murder of the Bengalis by the Pakistan army; the rapid – though temporary – exodus of 7–10 million refugees from East Pakistan into India; the activities of the Mukti Bahini; President Yahya Khan’s desperately inept last months of nominal rule; and finally after the creeping involvement, the decisive intervention of Indian forces in to East Pakistan, after air strikes from West Pakistan against Indian targets; all these acted and reacted and combusted together eventually to produce an independent Bangladesh.

      In the aftermath of the military government’s startling brutality and merciless genocide, Indian intervention finally led to the defeat of the Pakistan army and caused the emergence of Bangladesh on 16 December 1971. The Battle was unique in the way that it started before the official commencement of the India Pakistan war on 03 December 1971 and continued even after the formal surrender by Pakistan Army.

When we talk about the nationalist movements in the South Asian countries, were largely based on non-violent, civil disobedience and negotiated settlement, while in the case of Bangladesh, the nationalist movement finally turned into an armed struggle to achieve independence.

 

 Role of India in 1971 War

The role of Indian government in Bangladesh’s War of Liberation is unforgettable fact of history. When East Pakistani people were murdered by the military of West Pakistan, India intervened and sent soldiers to fight against West Pakistani soldiers and supported freedom fighters. When American navy came to help Pakistan, the Soviet Union assured full support to India by sending their navy. On 27 March 1971, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, expressed full support of her government to the East Pakistani struggle for independence. The two countries border (India- East Pakistan) was opened to allow the Bangladeshi refugees in India.

The governments of West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Meghalaya and Tripura established refugee huts along the border side and almost 10 million people both  men and women where lived as refugees. Exiled Bangladeshi army officers and voluntary workers from India immediately started using these camps for the recruitment and training of Mukti Bahini guerrillas. Indian government willingly took the responsibility for taking care of the unfortunate men, women and children for nine months. India also provided training, 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. Prime Minister, Smt. Indira Gandhi erstwhile traveled around the world to gather support for the cause. India not only spent seven thousand crores of rupees for the Bangladeshi War of Liberation; but also sacrificed the lives of 3630 officers and soldiers of her Army. About 9856 officers and soldiers were wounded and almost 213 officers and soldiers are missing till today. The people of India spontaneously took initiatives to give shelter and food to the refugees of East Pakistan.

With the continuous influx of refugees, Indian government appealed to the international community for assistance. The refugee problem was so serious a burden on the central government of India and the Provincial government of West Bengal, that it was impossible to provide minimal necessities for the vast number of refugees without international aid.

Against this backdrop, the Indian government called upon the world community to see the reality of the situation and to press Pakistan for a political settlement.  Initially, India adopted a cautious policy of limited help and also ruled out the possibilities of direct military intervention as the Bangladesh government in exile was preparing for such an action. Still, like the USSR or USA, India apparently appeared to have favored the continuation of a United Pakistan. Indian intervention was limited to propaganda and diplomatic activities mainly in support of the AL leadership. India encountered the Pakistani propaganda that the struggle in East Bengal was Indian engineered and the Pakistan army was engaged in fighting with the ‘Indian infiltrators’. The Indian strategy at this phase was to establish an Awami League government in Dhaka through international pressure and to secure the withdrawal of the Pakistan army. Such a government under the auspices of the western powers was beneficial to India and would reduce Chinese influence in the region.

The Indian government’s two-tier policy explicitly made it clear that India’s real intention behind the active support to the Bangladesh struggle was not only to support the just cause of the Bengalis but also to weaken its rival Pakistan. This was clearly expressed by Director of the Indian Institute of Defense Studies, K. Subrahmanyam, on 31 March 1971 (within six days of the outbreak of the revolt in East Pakistan): ‘What India must realize is the fact that the break up of Pakistan is in our own interest, an opportunity, the like of which will never come again’ (Hindustan Times, 1 April 1971).  A leading political scientist of Bangladesh, Maniruzzaman (1999), further revealed that the Indian government wanted to annex Bangladesh soon after 26 March 1971, but the Indian generals, who had suffered humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chinese in 1962 because of their overreaction, advised caution and asked the Indian government to invade Bangladesh after sufficient preparation.

Indo- Bangladesh Relations

Indo-Bangladesh ties have warmed up in the last decade, entering a new era of cooperation, and

moving beyond historical and cultural relations to become more assimilated in the areas of

defence, trade, energy and connectivity. The Bangladesh government led by Prime Minister

Sheikh Hasina has uprooted anti-India insurgency elements from its borders side, making the

border of the two countries as one of the region’s most peaceful. Both the countries (India-

Bangladesh) have achieved the rare feat of solving their border issues peacefully by ratifying the

historic Land Boundary Agreement in 2015.

Bangladesh today is India’s biggest trading partner in South Asia with exports to Bangladesh in

the financial year 2018-19 (April- March) at $9.21 billion USD and imports from Bangladesh

for the same period stood at $1.04 billion USD. India has offered duty free access to multiple

Bangladeshi products. On the development front, cooperation has deepened, with India

extending three lines of credit to Bangladesh in recent years amounting to $8 billion for the

construction of railways, roads and bridges etc.

Bangladesh accounts for more than 35% of India’s international medical patients and contributes more than 50% of India’s revenue from medical tourism. Despite the remarkable progress, there should be efforts to resolve pending issues concerning sharing of waters, resolving continental shelf issues in the Bay of Bengal, bringing down border incidents to zero, and managing the media. The year 2020 saw the highest number of border shootings by the Border Security Force. These shootings occur as many Bangladeshi people try to illegally migrate into India. The Indian government’s proposal to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) across the whole of India and impetus for the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA), reflects poorly on India-Bangladesh relations.

Presently, Bangladesh is an active partner of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that Indian Government has not signed up to.  Despite its ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’, India has been losing its influence in the region to China.  The countries like Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka, once considered traditional Indian partners, are increasingly tilting towards China due to the Asian giant’s massive trade, defence and infrastructural investments in these countries. China, in lieu of its cheque-book diplomacy, is well-entrenched in South Asia, including Bangladesh, with which it enjoys significant economic and defence relations.

As Bangladesh celebrates its Golden Jubill, India continues to be one of its most important neighbours and strategic partners. To make the recent gains irreversible, both countries need to continue working on the three Cs — cooperation, collaboration, and consolidation.

This author was working as Lecturer, HKM Degree College Bandipora, J&K. ratherzahoor1@gmail.com

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