By Ram Puniyani
Bangladesh has completed 50 years of its liberation from the grip of West Pakistan, now Pakistan. It organized a grand program in which among others India’s Prime minister Narendra Modi was also invited. Modi claimed in his speech there that he had participated in the Satyagraha for Bangladesh’s freedom and was jailed for that. Many have pounced on him, as per them this is being yet another of false claims for which Modi is very adept.
What was the truth? In the 1970s there were general elections in Pakistan (East-West, were together at that time). In the elections, Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League party emerged as the majority party winning 161 seats. The close second was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party with 80 seats. Bhutto colluded with the army and wanted to be Prime minister, depriving Mujibur Rahman’s rightful claim to be the PM. There were massive protests in East Pakistan and martial law was declared. East Pakistan as such was restless in undivided Pakistan. The power was primarily in the hands of the elite from Punjab and Sind. East Pakistan was being drained economically and oppressed politically.
And on top of this, Pakistan wanted to impose Urdu as the national language. It was not the major language there. The protests which followed in East Pakistan were massive and the Pakistan army came down with full force unleashing atrocities against the local population. Murder of intellectuals, suppression of protests, and rapes were horrific. It led to the exodus of a section of the population to Indian territory.
Awami League decided to secede from Pakistan, set up Mukti Bahini, and planned for an Independent country. Pakistan was heavily backed up by America and supported by China. In due course, Mujibur Rahman was arrested and flown to Rawalpindi jail (24-25 March 1971). The independent Government of Bangla Desh was proclaimed on 27th March on Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra from Kalurghat Radio Station in Chittagong by Major Zia ur Rahman. This radio station later shifted from within East Pakistan to Kolkata. From March 25th ‘Operation Searchlight’ was started by the Pakistani army, which was open violence against the local population. Indian army informally started giving training to Mukti Bahini from March and formally they tied up in May for joint operation later.
At this point, Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the previous avatar of BJP, stepped up the demand to immediately support Bangladesh militarily and for recognizing it as an independent country. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, calculated the risks of recognizing Bangla Desh immediately or initiating army action. If Bangla Desh was recognized or military action initiated at that point of time Mujibur Rahman could have been charged with sedition and executed and America would have intervened in United Nations, as Pakistan was a Sovereign member of the UN.
The pressure on India was rising due to refugees coming into India. Indian army’s chief General (Later Field Marshal) Manekshaw stated that the army needs some preparation before it can take on the task. Indira Gandhi realized the need for support of global powers to neutralize the US support to Pakistan. She undertook intense travels the world over. One major result of this was the Indo-USSR treaty of friendship in which the USSR committed to help India in matters of military conflicts.
Jan Sangh was against this treaty and saw this as an attempt to rob off the future Independence of Bangla Desh. It launched an agitation (Recognize ‘Bangla Desh’ Satyagraha) from August 1 to August 11 to oppose the ‘Indo USSR’ treaty and to force the Government to initiate military action immediately. In a rally on 12th August in front of Parliament, Atal Bihari Vajpayee stated that Indo-USSR friendship is a conspiracy against Bangla Desh, it will deny recognition to the new state. It is this satyagraha that Modi seems to be claiming to have participated in. Whether the satyagrahis were arrested and sent to Tihar jail is a matter of doubt. In one Gujarati book by Modi (Sangharsh Ma Gujarat, in Gujarati) the blurb mentions that he has had participated in Satygrah and was jailed. The book is primarily dealing with Gujarat during the emergency of 1975 in India. There is no mention of 1971 Satyagraha or being jailed for that. Barring that there is no evidence of being sent to jail for 1971 satyagraha, except the self claim of course.
Indian army started its operation on 3rd December and within weeks accomplished the surrender of Pakistan’s army of nearly 85000 officers and soldiers. It gave instant recognition to Bangla Desh, which became free. It was Mrs. Gandhi’s far-sighted planning due to which India could ward of the presence of the 7th Fleet of America which was located in the Bay of Bengal. It was her meticulous planning which gave the army space and time to do the neat operation and liberate Bangla Desh.
The first thing which Bangla Desh liberation proves is the ‘Two Nation Theory’, that religion can be the base of the nation-state. This was the ideology of Muslim and Hindu majoritarian political streams in India. Savarkar the progenitor of Hindu nationalism articulated this first but it was equal and parallel on both sides. It was this ideology that formed the base of the British policy of ‘divide and rule’ and helped them achieve their goal of partitioning the country.
After the formation of Bangle Desh, while Awami League has tried to tread the secular path, the communal forces are very much there and we have seen the killings of bloggers, attacks on temples, and atrocities on Hindus in that country. Even during Modi’s visits, there were protests against his visit in which nearly 10 people died. The protestors had two grounds. The communal groups protested for Modi’s anti-Muslim minority policies in India. One recalls the huge uproar against India and Hindus when the Babri mosque was demolished. Anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions give provocation to majoritarian forces in both countries. The other protests against Modi were from the left-leaning democratic elements who oppose the sectarian policies of Modi and his party, which sees Bangladeshis as termites, sees them as infiltrators.
One recalls that Bangla Desh protested when the CAA was passed. In this bill also Bangla Deshis are prime target. It’s another matter that the claims of sectarian forces that over five million Bangla Deshis have infiltrated was proved to be a hoax as of the nearly 19.5 lakh people in Assam without documents, nearly 12 Lakhs were Hindus!
Both India and Bangla Desh have communal and secular forces in the political arena. To some extent, India was trying to tread the path of secularism, with some compromises, and could achieve its development in the first five-six decades of the Indian republic. Now with Ram Temple, Cow-Beef-Love jihad dominating the social scene the social and economic downhill course is there for all to see, with the highest unemployment along with indices of freedom and happiness falling.
Despite the presence of sectarian elements in Bangla Desh, it seems the comparatively younger nation is charting some path towards a better economic and social situation. The communal issues though there are not dominating the political scene as in India during the last few decades. Their happiness index, the health indices, and other parameters are showing an upward swing, a lesson for us to learn.