Vijay Divas : A Quick Look-Back at the Indo-Bangla Relations
'You surrender or We wipe you out' was the message given by Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw to Pakistan on 13th December 1971…and those were no hollow words. Two days later on 15 Dec, forty sorties of MiG-21s and Hunters were flown to target the enemy troops hiding in the Dhaka University campus, with no collateral damage that brought Niazi shivering to his knees to surrender. This made the 26th March proclamation of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman of an independent Bangladesh, a reality. A new nation was born.
Causes and Events Leading To 1971 War
• Mass genocide & rape by Pak Army of their own people in East Pakistan duly abated by Jamat-e-Islami & ‘Rajakars’ private army.
• Cultural & economic suppression of East Pakistan and denial of their political will.
• Awami League launched non-cooperation and civil disobedience after Pak denial to form govt in December 1970 general election.
• 25 March 71 - Pak Army launched ‘Operation Searchlight’ to quell the autonomy movement, atrocities against Bengalis.
• 7-10 Millions of refugees from East Pakistan took shelter in India
• Mukti Bahini stepped up guerilla warfare against Pak Army.
• PAF carried out pre-emptive air strikes on five Indian airfields on 03 December 1971 starting a full scale war
The path of Bangladesh birth had been painful. There were several factors in the creation of the ultimate independence movement. However, Pakistan’s refusal to let the majority govt of Sheikh Mujib’s Awami Party form govt following their electoral victory was the spontaneous precursor. The Awami party six-point election manifesto that made then win 160 of the 162 seats in their Dec 1970 general election, was perceived as ‘threatening’ to the rulers in West Pakistan. Hence, they did not allow Sheikh Mujib to form the govt. Instead, he was jailed on 25 March 71 and deported to West Pakistan jail. However, his words to his followers to declare independence was aired at mid-night (25/26 March 71) throughout East-Pakistan via an E.P.R. transmitters. That led to the beginning of a full-fledged Bengali independence struggle. Paki Army in one night killed 7000 students of Dhaka University in cold blood. Bangladeshi ‘Rajakars’ private army ‘Shanti Bahini’ ushered in extreme atrocities on the general populace and also provided the lists of Bengali movement activists to the Pakis who in turn, massacred the men and abducted their young women and girls. ‘Op Searchlight’ traced out the political activists in remote areas and killed 30,000 of them in a week. Activists of Jamat-e-Islamitoo joined in the mayhem committing atrocities with due support from Paki Army. Numerous Hindu were massacred, temples destroyed. It was the darkest period in the history of the Bangladesh, befitting within the definition of a ‘Genocide’ by Pakistan. An anticipated 3-4 lakh women were abducted by the Army, used for their entertainment and Sex-slavery. About 30-40 lakh people escaped to the adjoining Indian states to save their lives and honours. However, the freedom fighters did not give-up. Their struggle continued. They formed a military group called ‘Mukti-Vahini’ trained by the Indian Forces that started guerrilla like attacks on the Pak Army inflicting heavy casualties.
Indian Army had to assist ‘Mukti-Vahini’ in their effort to liberate their country. Indian Army actively joined them around 20 Nov 71 at Atgram, 22 Nov at Hilli at some lower scale. However, the full-fledged war started on 03 Dec 71 when Pakistan attacked India on its western front by several air attacks. India responded furiously on both fronts. On Eastern front, a 3-pronged war led to quick decimation of Pakistani will that included the ‘Para-drop’ of its troops at Tangail on 11 Dec. Besides inflicting heavy casualty on Pakistan and capturing of >15000 Sq Km territory on western front, on 13 Dec Gen Manekshaw warned East Pakistan to surrender. Obeying the command, General A K Niazi, GOC of East Pakistan was made to sign the ‘Instrument of Surrender’ on 16 December 1971 in Dhaka, to pave the way for the independent Bangladesh. This day is celebrated at “Vijoy Diwas” in Bangladesh.
Having achieved the independence, Bangladesh leadership in the coming years was somehow unable to meet the aspiration of the people. Political stability as well as social development eluded. Some of the warlords of ‘Mukti-Vahini guerrilla fighters’ refuged to lay down their arms. Sheikh Mujib too enforced a single party rule that made many a minds unhappy. He was assassinated along with his family in 1975 in a lower-level military coup and Bangladesh again plunged in to darkness and chaos. The period from 1975 till 1990 saw military coups, dictatorial regimes and the Presidential forms of Governance. During this period Bangladesh shun its secularism and donned the garb of radical Islam. The nation started Islamic rule during Ziaur Rahman’s period, driving out numerous religious minorities. The erstwhile radical & Jihadi components of Jamat was integrated in the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) that Zia formed. He too was assassinated by Army in 1981. This brought another Army General Md Ershad to power. The parliamentary system was brought back after the resignation of Md Ershad by Begum Khalida Zia of BNP. During these periods the Bangladesh govt alienated itself from India by virtue of their Islamic fundamentalism. It was only after the present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (daughter of Sheikh Mujib) assumed power in 2009, that Bangladesh has become stable politically. After she assumed office various civil movements mandated her to punish the perpetrators of ‘genocide’ who primarily belonged to the Jamat-e-Islami. Many of them were killed and tried out in the court of law for their crimes. However, after the Islamic Caliphate call of Al-Baghdadi in 2014, the radical & jihadi groups have started re-organising themselves. By now, there are at least half a dozen of Jihadi outfits in Bangladesh who are funded by other Islamic nations. Their presence cannot be ignored. Should the next general election in Bangladesh elect the BNP to power, Indian concerns of a radical Islamic State on its eastern border too, may become an uncomfortable reality.
A look-back on Indo-Bangla relations.
India and Bangladesh have gone through a mixed experience in bilateral relations. The initial 4 yrs of relations under Sheikh Mujib were exemplary. Later the internal problems of the leadership started reflecting externally, basically to divert own public attention. In the decade to come, numerous bilateral issues emerged. There have been see-saw moments in the bilateral Indo-Bangla relations that took substantial time and effort. The half-hearted approaches of the leaderships in Bangladesh and West Bengal had significant impact on the outcome in non-resolution of the issues. It was only after Modi Govt came to power that a new chapter started. However, even now in 2021, many sensitive issues remain between to two nations as mentioned below.
- Security challenges of illegal migrants, ingress of Jihadi elements in India,
- International border and resolution of >200 conclaves of retro-nationals.
- Facilitating Connectivity to Bangladesh, transit goods to NE States.
- Increasing Chinese presence on eastern border.
- Contentious issues: Balance of trade; Sharing of river water.
Security. India continues having problems of the influx of the illegal migrants from Bangladesh, whether their persecuted minorities or those seeking better livelihood in India. As a result, the unofficial figure of such migrants are estimated to be around 3-4 Cr…and counting… although decreased after the border fencing. After the NRC Assam, there are plans to carry on a Pan-India NRC which is so crucial to its security. No nation can close eyes from the existence of illegal migrants on their territories. India must leverage its present warm relationship with Bangladesh in taking them back…to the extent possible. Rohingyas on Indian soil who have mostly sneaked in through Bangladesh, poses altogether a different problem.
Indo-Bangla international border on the land itself is over 4000 km long, mostly porous, since 73 yrs of partition. Of it, West Bengal has 2,217 km, Tripura has 856km, Meghalaya 443km, Assam 262km and Mizoram 180km. It is highly deplorable that the successive Congress, UPA as well as other govts remained indifferent to the continued illegal ingress of the Bangladeshis through this purpose border in to our land. The religiously persecuted minorities of Bangladesh had reasons to flee to save their lives and honour from the Jihadi attacks, with or without the connivance of Bangladesh govt. However, the Muslims came essentially for better livelihood and/or to grab land from the tribals and natives in the border areas. We must not forget the deliberate effort of the radical east Pakistanis who earlier tried to forcibly occupy Assam to claim it Muslim dominant area and secede to Pakistan. With such deliberate influx, Assam and West Bengal’s religious demography has changed drastically by now. The illegal migrants have traditionally been serving as a vote-bank to the Congress party championing the cause of pseudo-secularism…the Muslims. Their political bosses make available to them the fake identity cards and ration cards…a fact that made lot many of them to register in the NRC Assam. However, it is believed that a lot many of them are vulnerable to exploitation by the Pak-ISI as well as Islamic radicals and the Naxals/Maoists within, so as to pose a substantial security risk. It is also praiseworthy that Bangladesh is not becoming hurdle in the Indian efforts of raising barbed-wire fencing.
Bilateral agreements signed on 05 Oct 2019
- MoU for providing a Coastal Surveillance Radar System in Bangladesh.
- SOP on use of Chattagong and Mongla Ports for Movement of Indian goods.
- MoU on using 1.82 cusec of drinking water from Feni River for Sabroom, Tripura
- Implementation of the Lines of Credit (LoCs) committed by India to Bangladesh.
- Import of bulk LPG from Bangladesh.
- MoU between University of Hyderabad and University of Dhaka
- Renewal of Cultural Exchange Programme
- MoU on Co-operation in Youth Affairs
Having resolved the problems of over 200 enclaves needing a logical alignment, Modi Hasina govts have done well to resolve it amicably. Both govts must be complimented to have resolved the decades old thorny issue with the signing of the agreement on 06 Jun 2015 in Dhaka. It will be useful in creating peace at the border.
Connectivity to Bangladesh, transit of goods to NE States. In the recent years, Modi govt has reached out to Bangladesh with series of agreements on connectivity. The roads, re-starting of rail, starting the river link and also in the maritime route. Road links have undergone massive improvement. In addition to the four operational rail links between both countries namely Petropole (India)-Benapole (Bangladesh); Gede (India)-Darshana (Bangladesh); Singhabad (India)-Rohanpur (Bangladesh) and Radhikapur (India)-Birol (Bangladesh)…a 10.5 km fifth link was started between Haldibari (India) and Chilahati (Bangladesh) on 17 Dec 20. These are excellent development in the last 6 yrs of Modi govt. The rail link further connects N-E States transiting through Bangladesh. The bigger picture is to ensure that a rail (passenger or goods) can link Silchar with Kolkata and Katihar through Bangladesh. Similarly, the cargo from Chittagong port could be carried to N-E States. It is a win-win for all BIMSTEC nations.
The Chinese Factor. Emergence of China as large economy block is altering many of the older equations. Chinese willingness to invest heavily in the smaller nations much beyond their repaying capability, is something that is being perceived as economic terrorism by India. Pakistan and Nepal have already become debt-ridden under China. Bangladesh has been slightly careful but surely the Chinese influence are increasing. China is the largest investor in Bangladesh. A total of $24.45 billion bilateral assistance had been given for infrastructure projects and $13.6 billion in joint ventures. In addition, $20 billion in loan agreements has also been committed. China is known to influence political groups in various countries. In Nepal they have helped Communist party with 10s of millions worth of dollars for electoral purpose which is nothing but bribe. Hence, in the coming years, Bangladesh too will be lured in. India will have many reasons to be warry of the Dragon for their disruptive activities against us. It will be a challenge for Indian security agencies.
Trade-deficit. Bangladesh has been facing the problems of the trade-deficit and that cannot be alleviated till their products are competitive with Indian goods. Of late, their readymade garments have caught international attention and even India is helping them out. Recently bulk procurement of LPG for supply to the N-E states have started.
Sharing Electrical Power. Bangladesh has always been an electrical power-starved country. They earlier drew 600 MW from the Indian grid, with another 500 MW added through the Bheramara-Bahrampur inter-connection. The two countries agreed on a power evacuation scheme between Assam and Bihar, from which Bangladesh can draw 1000 MW power supply through tapping points at Parbotipur. Discussions also begun for additional supply of 340 MW from NTPC stations. These gesture by India has really been helpful for Bangladesh for its increased industrial power consumption requirements.
Water Sharing. The Ganga & Tista river water sharing agreements have been a thorny issue. While West Bengal govt is extremely reluctant in any sharing of Tista water, both nations will conduct a Feasibility Study of the proposed Ganges-Padma Barrage Project in Bangladesh for optimum utilization of the water received from India as per Ganges Water Sharing Treaty 1996. The Treaty guaranteed that for a total incoming flow of 75,000 cusecs in Ganga at Farakka, India could divert 40,000 cusecs from the Barrage, leaving 35,000 cusecs for Bangladesh. However, with the inflow diminished even below 60K cusec and the viability of the Farakka canal endangered with lower flow, India is unable to meet its obligation. On the other hand, Bangladesh keeps quoting of higher flow requirement for the Gorai Hump and Sundari mangrove which is just not possible to meet. The party politics within Bangladesh keep accusing each other while in opposition. It has become a political ball-game. This surely calls for a realistic review of the 1996 treaty. While ways and means of implementing the old agreements are on at higher level, newer accords were signed to share more resources of another six rivers namely Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti Dharla, Dudhkumar and Feni. This is a win-win for both nations for the present. However, difficult days are in offing when Brahmaputra water supply too will start hurting with the newly constructed Chinese Dam. As long as the inter-governmental relations are friendly, these adversities may be shrugged off but with change of government, the narratives may change for a worse.
Amidst the see-saw movements in Indo-Bangla relations, the Vijay-Diwas remains a major milestone in the history. In the initial years of independence, Bangladesh did show their obligation to India. It is worth remembering that large numbers of Indian troops had laid-down their lives in the liberation of Bangladesh. However, hawks in religious politics within Bangladesh have started taking a divergent approach. Radical Islamic powers of the country have started seeking allegiance with Jihadist forces in Pakistan and BNP shows full intent to harbour such forces. The present govt has been able to keep the jihadist elements at bay in the Indo-Bangla relations. However, in democracies, strange things do happen with change of governments. The recent unease among the radicals are showing their anti-India and anti-Hindu intents. Anytime the other political party BNP comes to the power, the bilateral relations are surely going to take a nose-dive course. There are very little options for the two govts but to make the relations as firm as possible. They have done a lot in the recent years but the tempo needs to be kept on. We jointly share our prides in the Vijay-Diwas but the radicals in Bangladesh do not feel it that way. It is a mixed feeling altogether for the citizen in the two nations.