This year on 26th March, The Republic of Bangladesh will be celebrating their Golden Jubilee of freedom. Interestingly this year also marks the centenary celebrations of “Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujubir Rahman“, who stood firm against the ruthless dictatorship of West Pakistan. He had the vision to carve out an independent nation that we know today as Bangladesh, keeping alive the core principles of democracy, freedom of the Bengali people at its heart.
The language difference that led to the biggest genocide since WWII
It is a well-known fact that the Indian Subcontinent was divided based on the flawed two-nation theory. Soon after the partition, Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) was subjected to premeditated and calculated suppression and subjugation by the West Pakistani military-industrial alliance, which led to the bloodiest, most horrific conflicts and the biggest genocide in history of the Subcontinent. The first blow came from the first Pakistani president himself. On his maiden voyage, Muhamad Ali Jinnah announced that “Urdu and only Urdu would be the state language of Pakistan“. His statement was so divisive that even the closest associates of Jinnah in Bangladesh felt Ice daggers pierced their hearts. The utter disregard of the sentiments and aspirations of more than half of the population (majority share of Pakistan’s human collective capital) started non-violence protests across the country.
Dhaka University students and civilians protested on the streets in one of the most violent and gruesome demonstrations in love and appreciation of their mother language. They paid the penultimate price on 21st February 1952 when heavy-handed law enforcement personals opened fire on peaceful protesters, mostly students, in cold blood. Since then, even the United Nations has acknowledged 21st February as International Mother Language Day in recognition of the martyrs who struggled for the Bengali language, which they undertook to ensure that the Bengali identity was not lost from the face of East Pakistan.
There was an attitude of gross bias, bigotry, and intolerance for East Pakistan residents compared to their Western compatriots. The latter enjoyed the lion share of the resources, revenues and riches (especially the Jute dollar cash crop revenues). With the West Pakistani predominantly Punjabi military establishment taking an iron grip on the entire country saw the repeated erosion of Democratic forces and the emergence of Military might (One Unit creation), East Pakistan’s population felt even more annihilated and vanquished.
As luck would have had it in November 1970, the worst possible Cyclone “Bhola” in recorded history struck East Pakistan’s shores wiping out almost half a million souls at landfall. Utter ignorance and gross lack of activation of state and international resources to aid and rescue the aftermath of such a natural calamity further cemented the deep divide between the East and the West.
In 1970, possibly only free and fair General elections of Pakistan saw the Awami League under the leadership of the charismatic Sheikh Mujubir Rahman won an overwhelming absolute majority of 160 seats out of the 300 members National assembly and poised to form the next government of Pakistan. However, a deep-rooted conspiracy obstructed the flow of democracy and changed the direction of history in the Indian Subcontinent forever.
A vicious military crackdown on innocent civilians named Operation Searchlight was officially launched on 26th March 1971. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, men, women and children were mercilessly butchered and ravaged throughout East Pakistan. It is estimated as high as 10 million refugees fled across the borders into neighbouring India to seek refuge from absolutism and the reign of terror. The Bengali people leader, Sheikh Mujubir Rahman, was arrested on the night of Operation Searchlight and was rumoured to have his grave dug out and faced imminent liquidation by the West Pakistani establishment. He stood sturdy and intrepid even when death was imminent. On his side stood shoulder to shoulder the iron lady of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi, who vouched that she will do whatever is necessary in order to ensure that the people of Bangladesh get what they have struggled so dearly for and would never give up her resolve to free the Sheikh Saheb so that he returns to his people as their true leader.
The resistance forces were active long before India entered the war. However, as soon as Operation Searchlight became officially operational, regular civilians, doctors, engineers personals from armed forces started to join, and 26th March became the starting day of the Bangladesh liberation war. Mukti Bahini leaders approached India for help. Under Mrs Gandhi’s leadership, the Indian intelligence agencies like R&AW and special forces started giving training and weapons to Mukti Bahini members. With new weapons in their hand and freedom in their heart, Mukti’s started destroying Pakistani defences one after another like a hot knife through the butter. On 3rd December, India officially entered the war when the West Pakistani airforce attacked Indian airbases across Western and Northern India. Thirteen days later, on 16th December, under the combined forces of Mukti Bahini (Bengali Liberation forces) and Indian Armed Forces, the West Pakistani military establishment capitulated. It was probably the most significant surrender of the Military and civilian officials, numbering as high as 90 thousand after World War II. The Mukti’s reminds us of the famous French Resistance who were experts in sabotage and ambush.
Fifty-years of friendship
This year marks the commemoration of the 50 years Bangladesh Liberation War. The blood and sacrifice of thousands stand testimony to both neighbours’ vigour, and conviction has similar enshrined principles of democracy and pluralism as their founding factor. In 2015 the leadership of both Bangladesh and India under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed and Prime Minister Narendra Modi further strengthened the bilateral cooperation by signing the historic Land Boundary Agreement and the exchange of enclaves, an example done by none no other countries in the world. It was probably the only instance in which geographical boundaries were recalibrated to suit both countries’ best interests by deploying a peaceful and amicable solution, bullet free in nature.
As the world faces the planetary peril of a global pandemic of Covid19 ravaging havoc, the solution of a vaccine to cure this disease is on the horizon. India is playing a leading role in providing the vaccine to the entire world community. India and Bangladesh’s bilateral friendship scaled new heights when Bangladesh was given the first distribution of Covid 19 vaccines by India highest in the neighbourhood of South East Asia. New cross border international connectivity projects (Maitri Setu) connecting India, Bangladesh, and beyond are being developed at a rapid pace to improve trade and commerce and people to people contact, which is the roots of this relationship based on harmony and concord.
The foundation of this alliance is based on trust and cooperation will be celebrated on 26th March 2021 when Bangladesh will celebrate her 50th Independence Day alongside will be present the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, standing side by side with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as both countries stood in 1971 exactly half a century ago. The significance of this bond is paramount and will only augment when the two mature democracies of SE Asia complement each other in the path to prosperity and success in conjunction.