Events That Changed Destiny of Nation: III by Jaipal Singh SignUp
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Events That Changed Destiny of Nation: III
by Dr. Jaipal Singh Bookmark and Share

Emergence of Bangladesh in 1971

Continued from “Annexation of Tibet by China in 1950”

16 December 1971 was a landmark defining day in the modern history of the Indian sub-continent when Pakistan Army lost its other half (East Pakistan) to the combined forces of the Indian Army and Bengadesh Mukti Bahini Sena (Liberation Force). After the 1962 debacle in Sino-Indian War and a not so convincing victory in 1965 Indo-Pak War, the Indian Army indeed had a glorious moment when operating over the difficult riverine terrains, they forced a large Pakistani Army to its knees in just about 12 days, took over 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war in a public surrender in Dhaka and liberated Bangladesh ushering in joy and celebrations to the long tormented Bengali people. This was yet another milestone event that had major impact on the geo-political situation of India in the following years.

It may be unfair if the names of real war heroes of the Indian Army are not revealed here. The Indo-Pak War 1971 was ferociously fought on both Western and Eastern Fronts in December; it ended in just 13 days with India declaring a unilateral ceasefire after achieving its war objectives. It was planned and executed under the Indian Army Chief, General Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw ( Field Marshall, 03 April 1914 to 27 June 2008; more popularly known as Sam Manekshaw), the Western Army Commander Lieutenant General KP Candeth, and the Eastern Army Commander Lieutenant General JS Aurora. Indian Navy and Air Force too were fully engaged in War with the Indian battle ships and fighter aircrafts completely dominating and demolishing Pakistani sea and air defences in the Bay of Bengal and East Pakistani air space, respectively.

This victory over Pakistan and the liberation of Bangladesh was particularly significant because of the obtaining geo-political situation in the region. The world was clearly divided in two blocks with the dominant Western Block led by the US and UK actively supporting Pakistan which was an active member of the SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) and CENTO (Central Treaty Organization). Western countries were so biased and favourably disposed towards Pakistan that when the Pakistan army started barbaric attacks and genocide of the hapless and innocent civilians in the East Pakistan, it didn’t receive the desired global sympathy or even recognition of the crisis. When the refugee crisis started with Bangladeshis crossing border across the Indian states of West Bengal and Assam to escape persecution, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees even denied acknowledging that there was indeed a crisis in the region.

Pakistan: General Elections of 1970

After independence on 14 August 1947, the first General elections in Pakistan were held after 23 years on 7 December 1970 for its 300 parliamentary constituencies of the National Assembly, a unicameral Parliament of Pakistan. While the Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the only significant party in the East Pakistan, the West Pakistan had Zulfikar Ali Bhutto led Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) as the dominant party, Muslim League (Q), Jammat-e-Islami and several other conservative Islamic parties in four provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Both national and provincial assembly elections were held simultaneously.

Riding on the popularity wave of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Awami League had a landslide victory by winning an absolute majority of 160 seats in the National Assembly and 298 out of 310 seats in the East Pakistan (East Bengal). Bhutto led PPP won only 81 seats in the National Assembly, but won in Punjab state assembly and emerged as the single largest party in Sindh province. In the obtaining political environment, all influential leaders were from West Pakistan from the PPP and other Islamic parties and they detested the idea of the federal government being led by an East Pakistan majority. Bhutto was vehemently opposed to this concept and his party was hell-bent to deny Sheikh Mujib led Awami League their constitutional right in the power. On the other hand, leadership in East Pakistan already fed up with the years of discriminatory treatment from West Pakistan were weary of missing the opportunities of economic growth, investment and social development, if they fail to achieve their legitimate claim for the government formation.

Actually, both Pakistani President Yahya Khan and Bhutto were politically on the same page and did not want a party from the East Pakistan to form the national government. However, having received an absolute majority for the national assembly in the General Elections, the Awami League had the constitutional right to form the national government. Bhutto and his party had emerged as the strongest leader and the most influential party in the West Pakistan after elections. Besides his own ambitions, Bhutto was totally against Awami League under Sheikh Mujib forming the national government. He apparently had even floated the idea of having two prime ministers in the West and East Pakistan, respectively. Because of this uncertainty and stalemate, the assembly session of elected representatives was not held causing great frustration, resentment and unrest in the East Pakistan which soon escalated to the demand and declaration of an independent Bangladesh.

Matrimony of Opposite Cultures

Genesis of this inglorious situation goes back to the pre-partition days. While arguing for the need of a separate Muslim state in his presidential address of Muslim League annual session at Allahabad in 1930, the poet, philosopher and politician, Mohammed Iqbal had suggested a consolidated north west Indian Muslim state as the probable homeland of the Indian Muslims. Interestingly, neither Iqbal nor Chaudhuri Rahamat Ali, who coined the word Pakistan, had East Bengal in mind while talking of a Muslim state. However, denying any role of the culture, language and ethnicity as bonding factors, Iqbal had professed the religion as the only denominator (bonding factor) among the Muslims all over the world.

Later Jinnah and Muslim League consolidated on the two nation theory stressing the need for a separate homeland for the Indian Muslims. After a long struggle and protracted political negotiations, finally freedom was granted by the British with a proviso that two separate Dominions shall be created for the Hindus and Muslims of India. The geography of India and Pakistan was decided by Sir Cyril Radcliffe by carving out Muslim majority areas in the North-West and Bengal. Thus Pakistan was created in two parts – West Pakistan and East Pakistan (East Bengal) on the premise that the uniformity of religion would overcome all other impediments including the diversity of culture among the Muslims of the two geographical units over 2000 km apart.

A permanent home for Muslims was an obstinate demand of the Muslim League and their leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah, it eventually fructified alright but the two geographical units of Dominion of Pakistan in the West and East were culturally, linguistically and ethnically with India in between. Although initially the population of the East Pakistan was more compared to the sparsely populated West Pakistan, the political power always remained concentrated in West Pakistan. The only common denominator between the two parts was Islam – the religion of the majority community; otherwise they were very different linguistically, culturally and linguistically – clearly in an incongruous matrimony.

While the administration of the two discontinuous territories separated by over 2000 km was a challenge in itself, the grievances about the economic and political exploitation of Bengalis started surfacing very soon after the independence. While Governor General Jinnah was still alive, the Pakistan government declared in 1948 that “Urdu, and only Urdu” would be federal/national language of Pakistan. Even in United British India, Urdu was traditionally prevalent only in north, central and western regions, while the rich Bengali language was written and spoken in the eastern region. Such move instantly put more than a-half population at disadvantage and Bengalis in East Pakistan interpreted as an attempt to supress their culture and development. Consequently, the Language Movement started in the East Pakistan in 1948, climaxed in 1952 with the killings of many Bengali civilians and students, and finally Bengali was restored along with Urdu in 1956 as national languages.

With its fertile land, rich natural resources and large population, East Pakistan contributed significantly to the Pakistan economy but it continued to receive much less share for its development compared to the west counterpart in the Federal Budget year after year. Similarly, Bengalis remained under-represented in the Pakistan military and civil service. In different wings of the Pakistani armed forces, Bengali officers remained just around five per cent that too mostly in the technical and administrative positions. The perception accorded for this discrimination by the West Pakistanis, particularly the Punjabis, was that Bengalis were ‘martially’ not inclined and suitable for the military role.

The common bond for bringing two distantly apart lands together with diverse culture, language, social customs and traditions was their religion but, as a matter of fact, there were differences in religious practices too. Despite occasional disputes and clashes, the average Bengali Muslim was less conservative in religious avidity and acceptance of their minority Hindu brethren. As against this, while ruling elites in the West Pakistan remained liberal and reasonably fair but the majority was too conservative and often discriminated against the minority Hindus, Sikhs and even different sects of the same religion. For instance, the Shias, Mujahirs, Sindhis and Baloch were often looked down by the dominant Sunni Punjabis. Although East Pakistan had more population than the combined population of West Pakistan’s four provinces, the country’s political power remained concentrated in the hands of West Pakistanis.

Contrary to Iqbal’s theory of the religion being the sole determinant of the Muslim unity, in Jinnah’s Pakistan, the cultural and linguistic differences between the two wings of Pakistan proved stronger and deciding factors than the religious oneness. The Bengalis remained proud of their language and cultural heritage while the West Pakistani politicians, elites and ulema found it unpalatable and unacceptable. In a paradox, while a large section of Bengalis, including their leaders, proud of their language and culture were largely secular, another section of conservative Islamists in East Pakistan always sided with the establishment in the West Pakistan.

There was yet another development in 1970 which further widened rift and escalated tension between the West and East Pakistan. In one of the deadliest tropical disasters, the Bhola cyclone hit the East Pakistan coastline on 12 November 1970 causing major damages to the property and life killing about three lakh people. The political establishment in the West Pakistan failed to appreciate the scale and magnitude of disaster and handled relief operations with gross neglect, callous attitude and utter indifference. The relief operations were further impeded during the political uncertainty that followed after the General Elections, this served as the last nail in the coffin as the consequent sufferings of the Bengali people further catalysed their resentment and alienation.

After three months of uncertainty and stalemate following the General Elections in early December 1970, while delicate and tricky negotiations were still on with Bhutto’s PPP about the power sharing, Sheikh delivered a speech on 7 March 1971 at the Racecourse Ground in Dhaka calling for the immediate lifting of the martial law, fixing responsibility for the loss of human lives, withdrawal of Pakistani army to their barracks and immediate transfer of power to the elected representatives of people. He even gave a call to people of the East Pakistan to resist unlawful actions of the Pakistani government with the tag-line, "Our struggle is for our freedom. Our struggle is for our independence."

It is widely understood that this speech hardened the approach and resolve of the federal government under the President and Martial Law Adminstrator, Yahya Khan, who dispatched General Tikka Khan to handle situation in East Pakistan giving free hand to Pakistani military for restoring the Pakistani government's authority and supremacy. The Pakistani Army unleashed savage and violent crackdown on 25 Match 1971 to supress the pro-Awami League police and civil population; in response, Sheikh Mujib proclaimed independence in a radio message to people and was arrested late night same day; and that was the beginning of the formal civil war.

Operation Searchlight

The Pakistan Army headed by General Tikka Khan started operation to crush the popular uprisings in the East Pakistan on 25 March under the codename ‘Operation Searchlight’. The main purpose of the operation was to take control of all the major cities and eliminate entire opposition, political or military, within the shortest time. Before the start of the crackdown of Army, all foreign nationals, particularly journalists, were identified and deported from East Pakistan in the name of their safety and security. The main phase of the operation continued till about the mid-May.

Mass atrocities on civilians were committed by the Pakistan Army. Although the violence and systematic persecution was initially focused on Dhaka, but gradually it escalated to all parts of East Pakistan. Bengalis in general and Hindus in particular were targeted by the Army and militant outfits raised by them. The only Hindu residential hall – Jagannath Hall – in the Dhaka University was completely destroyed and the military allegedly killed between six to seven hundred residents in one day. As per various accounts of the international media and reference books/articles, approximately 35,000 people were killed in Dhaka alone while two to three million were killed all over the East Pakistan. Later Asia Times quoted President Yahya Khan having said "Kill three million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands".

American political scientist Rudolph Rummel estimated total deaths at 1.5 million. The atrocities committed during the operation have been referred to as an act of genocide by international media and researchers. Even the telegrams sent by the US Consulate Office staff in Dhaka to the US government repeatedly talked about ‘genocide’ and ‘selective genocide’. According to war accounts, the Bengali members of the Pakistani armed forces were disarmed and killed, intelligentsia and students were systematically liquidated and able-bodied Bengali males were selectively picked up and gunned down. Several mass graves of such killings were unearthed post-war.

Ironically, the magnitude of the military excesses and atrocities was first revealed to the Western countries by a Pakistani journalist, Anthony Mascarenhas who was initially engaged by the Pakistani military establishment to write favourable reports about their action. Mascarenhas instead fled to the United Kingdom and published an article in The Sunday Times on 13 June 1971 about the gruesome killings in the East Pakistan. Later, the BBC lauded his report saying it helped to change the world opinion about Pakistan and facilitated India to play a decisive role.

Pre-dominantly Hindu areas and Hindus were particularly targeted and suffered during the operation. Their houses were burnt, property looted, and women abducted and raped systematically in Dhaka and elsewhere. When a strong resistance started building up against army persecution, a fatwa issued in Pakistan declared that Bengali freedom fighter were ‘Hindus’ and their women could be taken as ‘war booty’. The Time magazine reported in August 1971 that the Hindus accounted for about three-fourths of the refugees and a majority of the dead, had borne the brunt of the Pakistani military hatred.

According to reports, the members of the Pakistani military and supporting Islamist militias from Jamaat-e-Islami and other groups were involved in rape and abduction between two to four lakhs Bangladeshi women and girls in a systematic campaign of genocidal rape. Reportedly, the Pakistan Army also detained numerous Bengali women as sex-slaves inside the Dhaka Cantonment having captured them from the Dhaka University and private homes. In fact, this act was used to terrorise both the Bengali Muslims and Hindus in the East Pakistan that, reportedly caused thousands of unwanted pregnancies, abortions, war babies, infanticides and suicides. Such heinous crimes and atrocities came to an end only after the fall of Dhaka and surrender of Pakistan Army before the joint command of the Indian Army and Bangladesh Mukti Bahini.

As stated, Sheikh Mujib was arrested by the Pakistani Army at the night of 25-26 March 1971 itself. The other leaders of Awami League too were arrested and the party banned by General Yahya Khan. The initial resistance to the Army action was spontaneous and disorganised. Over the next few weeks, a large number of Bengali soldiers defected from the Pakistani Army and joined the Mukti Bahini. This bolstered their training and weaponry (Indian role cannot be denied) and gradually the Mukti Bahini fighters started giving tough fight and resistance to the Pakistan army.

While Sheikh Mujib was in prison in an undisclosed location in West Pakistan, a provisional government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh was formed in Meherpur in the Bangladesh bordering India. The place was later renamed as Mujib Nagar. The continuing civil war led to a continued flood of refugees in the Indian bordering states of West Bengal and Assam. In a few months, the estimated figure of refugees swelled to about ten million. Faced with a mammoth humanitarian task and economic burden to sustain relief operations, while the international community still showing apathy and indifference largely under the influence of the US and UK, India had no option but to act alone to give moral and material support the Mukti Bahini and Bengalis. Provoked by the pre-emptive air strike by Pakistan on its air bases in Punjab and Kashmir, India finally decided to send her troops in the East Pakistan to salvage the situation.

Trigger and War Hostilities

As already explained, the precursor events of the war were Pakistani General Elections in December 1970, a landslide victory of East Pakistan based Awami League, denial of opportunity to Sheikh Mujib to form the federal government and consequent resentment and popular uprisings of the people in East Pakistan. As such East Wing of Pakistan was struggling with a long history of socio-cultural, economic and political exploitation, and discrimination at the hands of West Pakistan based rulers, this denial of the transfer of power to the democratically elected party forced the Awami League led by Sheikh resorting to agitation and protest, and formal declaration of independence when the Pakistan Army chose a violent crackdown on the nationalist Bengalis.

India was already reeling under the tremendous pressure politically and economically to support such a large number of refugees and prevent human rights violations occurring right under her nose. The trigger point for the declaration of war came when Pakistan, frustrated with its failing strategy and reverses in the East Pakistan, launched pre-emptive air strikes on about a dozen Indian airbases on 3rd December, 1971. Pakistan’s strategy was to destroy the bulk of the Indian fleet of aircrafts on ground itself but her plan was foiled by already alert and ready Indian Air Force anticipating such possible move. Consequently, India declared war on Pakistan and the Indian Air Force proceeded with the immediate retaliatory air strikes on the Pakistani airbases inflicting heavy losses. The scope of air strikes was expanded by the following day and continued thereafter both in the western and eastern wings. Within days, the Indian Air Force established complete control of the air space over the East Pakistan. Indian Navy too swung into swift action and after overcoming some initial resistance was able to contain and inflict heavy losses to Pakistan Navy in the Arabian Sea besides controlling all sea routes in the Bay of Bengal. The major Pakistani port city Karachi was cordoned off thus denying Pakistanis any access to the sea route.

Commencement of hostilities on the west front had made India formally joining the war of independence in the East Pakistan. Air space was completely dominated by the Indian Air Force, access to the sea routes was closed by the Navy and the joint forces of the Indian Army and Mukti Bahini proved too strong to the already demoralised Pakistan Army. The war lasted for only thirteen days with major cities in the East Pakistan falling to joint command in succession on the consecutive days. Finally, Dhaka fell on the 16th December leading to the liberation of Bangladesh and Pakistani Armed Forces Commander Lieutenant General AAK Niazi signing the Instrument of Surrender before Indian Eastern Command Army Commander, Lieutenant General, JS Aurora. Approximately 93,000 Pakistani regulars including some para-military personnel and civilians were taken as Prisoners of War (POWs) by the Indian army.

On the Western front too, the Indian Armed Forces conducted massive air, sea and land assaults. While Pakistan once again focused attack mainly in the Jammu & Kashmir region, India fought with a limited objective of not allowing Pakistan any gain on the Indian soil in retaliation of what was happening in the Eastern theatre. India was better prepared this time and they captured about 14,000 Sq Km of Pakistan territory in Sindh, Punjab and Kashmir regions by the end of war. On the other hand, Pakistan army owing to their obsession with Kashmir was able to capitalise on about 40 sq km of the Indian Territory in the Chumb sector.

International Response: Overtures of Super Powers

In May 1971, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had written to the American President, Richard Nixon about the Pakistan Army excesses on civilians and carnage in the East Pakistan as also millions of refugees crossing the border and putting India under the tremendous political and economic burden for the humanitarian cause. Earlier too, the efforts of the Indian ambassador with the US National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger had not yield any favourable response. Instead, both the American President and Secretary of State had reportedly chosen to blame India for creating war hysteria. They even threatened to cut off the economic aid and other sanctions.

The United States was favourably disposed towards Pakistan mainly for two reasons. Firstly, Pakistan was a member of the American led military pacts, SEATO and CENTO that carried certain obligations towards the member countries; secondly, in a bipolar world US feared that an Indian dominance and victory over Pakistan would strengthen and expand the Soviet influence in the region as they considered India as a pro-Soviet nation despite its non-aligned past. Such was the bias and reservations that they even chose to ignore the humanitarian cause in the East Pakistan, citing it as Pakistan’s internal matter. The only other powerful and influential Western country, the United Kingdom, willy-nilly chose to toe the US line. As these countries had vast influence over the United Nations, it too remained largely ineffective.

Under Kissinger’s guidance, President Richard Nixon and his government actively supported Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. It is no more a secret now that the US Consul General in the then East Pakistan, Archer K. Blood and his staff in a telegram sent to the US government gave the true picture of the Pakistani Army excesses and genocide. In another telegram, more famously known as ‘Blood Telegram’ the word ‘selective genocide’ was repeated to describe the events in East Pakistan as also making clear that with its continued support to the Pakistan, the US government had only evinced its moral bankruptcy. Needless to mention, this dissent contrary to the known US policy of Nixon and Kissinger in the Indian sub-continent ended Archer Blood’s tenure as Consul General in East Pakistan. Henry Kissinger’s bias and contempt for India and its leadership came out with his famous ‘bitch’ and ‘bastard’ (private) remarks for which latter he had to regret of course.

The crisis in the East Pakistan also brought the US and China closer for the common cause and it is understood the former sought the latter’s assistance and intervention to rescue Pakistan from the ignominious situation. Kissinger himself visited Beijing during the second week of July, 1971 to fathom Chinese sentiments and possibly to encourage them to open a front on the northern border in the event of India invading Pakistan. The common belief is that the Chinese though did not divulge with their specific motive or move in the event of the escalation of hostilities but the Chinese premier did inform Kissinger that Pakistan is their key ally and they couldn’t sit idle in the event of, to which Kissinger was specific that the US too is with Pakistan.

With the Operation Searchlight launched by Pakistani Army in East Pakistan, the mass exodus of Bangladeshi refugees across the border began. Thus confronted with a major humanitarian catastrophe of managing overcrowded and underfunded refugee camps, the Indian government under Indira Gandhi was caught in one of the most difficult geo-political crisis of twentieth century. On the other hand, Pakistan, responsible for this catastrophic crisis and headed by a military dictator, was well placed with her military pacts and tacit support of the US and China in the event of a war. The US was not ready to listen; the Chinese appeared baffling and tricky as always; the Indian government under the dynamic leadership of India Gandhi decided to enter in a strategic relationship with the USSR for which the latter too was equally willing. Accordingly, the Indo–Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation was sealed between India and the Soviet Union on 9 August 1971 that specified and assured mutual strategic cooperation.

This treaty was particularly significant in the context of hovering war clouds in the East Pakistan and increasing Sino-American ties, and consequent geo-political pressure on India. The Article IX of the Treaty provided the following stipulation that assured Soviet intervention and assistance in the event of any hostilities from the US, China or any other third country in a war in the sub-continent:

Each High Contracting Party undertakes to abstain from providing any assistance to any third country that engages in armed conflict with the other Party. In the event of either being subjected to an attack or a threat thereof, the High Contracting Parties shall immediately enter into mutual consultations in order to remove such threat and to take appropriate effective measures to ensure peace and the security of their countries.”

Simultaneously, the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi traveled many Western capitals to explain the volatile situation in the East Pakistan and India’s plight on refugee crisis, with a view to gain support and sympathy for the civilians of East Pakistan. In the first week of November 1971, she even met Richard Nixon in Washington but the latter didn’t give any favourable assurance or support and instead warned her on any possible war in the sub-continent. In a rapidly deteriorating situation, before India could take a decision on ‘war option’ in the East Pakistan, Pakistan pulled the trigger by raiding several Indian airfields in Kashmir and Punjab on 3rd December 1971, and in response India retaliated with massive strikes by all the three wings of the Armed Forces i.e. Army, Navy and Air Force. Thus the war between two neighbours officially began.

Credible information is available now to suggest that based on its top intelligence agency’s inputs, the American President had asked his NSA, Kissinger to tell Chinese to move some troops towards the northern frontier or at least pose some such threat to make Indians weary. They thought that such a move will stop or at least slow down the Indian Army’s advancement in the West and East Pakistan. It is widely believed that such an impression of Chinese activity was already communicated to Pakistan to boost their morale. But Beijing perhaps fearing Soviet intervention didn’t pay attention to the American card other than verbal bickering on the subject.

As the war hostilities increased between India and Pakistan, the first sign of US intervention came when the US Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), George Bush (later became American President too) moved a resolution in the UN Security Council calling for the cease-fire and withdrawal of armed forces by both the warring nations – under apprehension that India might win the war with Indian Prime Minister proceeding with firm determination to save Bengalis from further persecution. The Soviet Union vetoed the resolution, in fact twice, thus allowing India leeway to fight the cause till the achievement of objectives; Nixon and Kissinger are believed to have put a lot of pressure on Soviets too but they didn’t relent.

The US dispatched a strong naval fleet under the American Aircraft Carrier “Enterprise”, stationed in the Asia-Pacific region, in the Indian Ocean in threatening gestures in solidarity with Pakistan. The UK battle group under the Aircraft Carrier “Eagle” was also reported to have come in the vicinity of the territorial waters of India. But the Soviets were keenly watching these developments and they positioned their battle ships in operational readiness mode to watch the US and UK moves. Besides, to supplement and support the existing Soviet presence in the Bay of Bengal, two groups of Soviet cruisers, destroyers and nuclear submarines were sent from Vladivostok in the first and second week of December. These developments deterred the Western powers to undertake any misadventure in the Indian Ocean; the British Navy soon retreated to the south of Madagascar and US Enterprise did not carry out any hostile move. The soviet battle groups trailed the US task force in the Indian Ocean till it was withdrawn in early January 1972.

Very well knowing of the implications of the Indo-Russian treaty and perhaps also realising fallacy of the cause, the Americans returned without implementing their threat. It is understood that the Soviets had also warned China that if they opened a front against India, they will receive a befitting response from their country. While these geo-political overtures were taking place, India moved swiftly to isolate the Pakistan Army by closing air and sea routes in East Pakistan, and the Indian ground forces kept moving ahead capturing major towns one by one. Finally, the demoralised antagonists surrendered in a record time of just 13 days, paving way for the liberation of Bangladesh.

Revisiting Legacy of Forefathers

Almost every Indian must have heard or sung “Saare Jahan Se Achchha, Hindostan Hamara; Hum Bulbulen Hain Iski, Ye Gulistan Hamara...” (Our Hindustan is the best in world; we are its nightingales, and it is our Rose Garden). Indian Muslims having religious inhibitions or issues with the National Anthem or National Song opt for it as a substitute patriotic song to express their feelings for the nation. Another stanza of the same song is on communal harmony "Majhab Nahi Sikhata, Aapas Main Bair Rakhna; Hindi Hain Hum, Watan Hai Hindostan Hamara." (Religion doesn't reach us enmity; we are Hindustani and Hindustan is out homeland). The song has remained very popular in India till date but only few people know how its composer poet Muhammad Iqbal had radicalised and his world view changed from 'Hindustan' to 'global Islam' during his life time.

A strong proponent of the political and spiritual revival of Islam world over, and more specifically in India, in his presidential address to the Muslim League on 29 December 1930, Iqbal had propagated the idea of the creation of a " separate state carved out of the north-western India as homeland for the Indian Muslims". His philosophical exposition was well captured by barrister-turned-politician Muhammad Ali Jinnah that, instead of language, culture or ethnicity, the religion (Islam) was the chief denominator defining the nationality of Indian Muslims. Therefore, Indian Muslims and Hindus were two distinct nations, irrespective of their language and other ethnic commonalities. This ideology with two-nation theory ultimately precipitated into partition of the united India into two dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947.

Despite claiming proportionate land for the proportionate population by the forefathers followed by an unprecedented carnage and blood-bath on both sides of the border, Pakistan could not attract and accommodate more than a few millions Muslims of the erstwhile India. Bengali Muslims in East Pakistan were constantly discriminated and those migrated from India (Mujahirs) are still being discriminated. As is evident from the foregoing account, the two geographical units of Pakistan could not live peacefully together despite common religion. Refusing role of the language and ethnicity as bonding factors, the poet and philosopher Iqbal had professed the religion as the only significant denominator among Muslims that really mattered; but the same religion could not keep West and East Pakistan together even for 25 years.

One may find several instances in the history where iconic leaders in the garb of protecting the interests of people actually divided and harmed them by manipulating their emotions and sentiments. The author leaves it to the people and their progenies to make their own judgement if, while becoming an instrument of the partition of the united India in the name of religion, they were actually working for the future peace and prosperity in the sub-continent or actually playing in the hands of leaders driven by the personal ambitions and lust for power. Today, population-wise India may have Muslims even more than Pakistan so also civil liberties and democratic rights for them. One wonders if they achieve anything beyond religion, because more than religion, an individual and community needs a reasonable level of peace, progress and prosperity too.

Those who had pursued two nation theory and envisioned Pakistan as the homeland and safe destination for the peace and prosperity of Indian Muslims are not around to live else they would have deeply regretted, if not ashamed, to realise how a nation born out of religious bigotry and hatred has been mishandled by successive authoritarian regimes through systematic persecution of religious minorities and mujahirs, human rights violations, sponsoring terrorism and proliferating weapons of mass destruction – a situation wherein as per international protocol, a state can be easily categorized ‘A Rogue Nation’.

Epilogue

While the hostilities between India and Pakistan were on during the Bangladesh Liberation War with consequent geo-political and diplomatic challenges, the recently concluded Indo–Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation proved to be a visionary and timely strategic move of Indira Gandhi. Consequently, India didn’t succumb to any third party intervention with assured Soviet help. The firm and visionary steps taken by the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the entire crisis also vindicated the point that personal idealism and moral righteousness have no place when it is the question of the overall national interests and welfare of people (Bengalis in this case). The blunder committed by Jawaharlal Nehru during the annexation of Tibet by China was not repeated by his worthy daughter as the Indian Prime Minister during the Bangladesh crisis.

India and Bangladesh have a shared border of 4,096 km (2,546 mi) which is even more than that individually shared with two hostile neighbours China and Pakistan. Such a long and porous border between the two countries have always posed the issue of poachers and illegal immigrants but a rather friendly and favourably disposed Bangladesh has much less security concerns, and thus lesser a burden on the Indian economy and military establishment. The combined economy and manpower strength of Pakistan would have been definitely a greater threat, although after losing the East Wing, it has become more paranoid on Kashmir issue, formally endorsed itself as an Islamic Republic and actively supporting and sponsoring terrorism on the Indian soil.

Continued to “Proclamation of Emergency in 1975”

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01-Jul-2018
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