Time is like a galloping horse. Half a century ago, on a wintry day of January 10, 1972, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had returned to Bangladesh. It is not desirable that a nation will forget its past. The government of Pakistan released Bangabandhu on 8 January 1972 under international pressure. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto even met Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on that day. Bangabandhu was sent to London even though he had intended to go to Dhaka. On the following day on January 9 British Prime Minister Edward Heath met Bangabandhu. And then when Bangabandhu was returning to Dhaka from London he made a brief stopover in Delhi. The then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and President V.V. Giri welcomed Bangabandhu at the airport. Then he arrived in Dhaka on January 10. The day of his release from Pakistan prison is still a memorable day. It marks the end of a prolonged movement and beginning of a new journey.
Bangabandhu was given a warm reception in Delhi, but the reception he received on his arrival in Dhaka is unforgettable. Landing on the airport, he went straight to Race Course Maidan and delivered a speech with tearful eyes in front of hundreds of thousands of people.On Indian government’s invitation Bangabandhu went to Delhi on 6 February. The warm reception that he received there holds significance even today in determining the future of India-Bangladesh relations. During the same time Dhaka University authorities have withdrawn the expulsion order that it issued to Bangabandhu on 6 February 1949. Then he visited Soviet Union on 28 February. The allied Indian forces left Bangladesh on 12 March. Since then a lot has happened in the perspective of India and Bangladesh.
Now after half a century later, in this Mujib year, we are trying to shape the present with a renewed look to the past. This relations is not merely of diplomatic understanding, this is a bond of blood. India has many neighbouring countries and its policy is to set and maintain good ties with the neighbours. But India treats Bangladesh differently from other neighbouring countries. This is because of 1971.
The necessity of recognising Bangladesh as an independent country had also been discussed in the Indian parliament and a decision was adopted in this regard. No doubt, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi played an undeniable role at that time. Late Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s role is also well-known.
Now after so many years when we are dealing with coronavirus pandemic, some vested quarters are also spreading rumours about distribution of Covid-19 vaccine and hatching conspiracies in various ways. Against this backdrop, Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka dispelled all concerns by unequivocally announcing that the decision to give this vaccine to Bangladesh has been taken much earlier. India will not backtrack from that decision. And India did not impose any sort of restriction on giving this vaccine to Bangladesh.
India will definitely think of its own interest. But it does not mean that India will not be able to handover the vaccine to Bangladesh. There is no doubt that India gives priority to Bangladesh over other countries. Such understanding, cordiality and friendship are firmly-established. There is an English proverb 'The test of the pudding is in the eating'. Our past cordial ties with Bangladesh have now been established well. Proper distribution of vaccine is a major test now for Indo-Bangladesh relationship. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is giving priority and importance to this matter. He is very much conscious about it. It is unfortunate that a vested quarter is playing politics over Covid-19 vaccine. Despite the nasty politics, India is extending all kinds of assistance to Bangladesh.
So, what did the Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram Doraiswami over vaccine distribution? No barrier or ban has been imposed on bringing the vaccine to Bangladesh. He has stated that in this matter the administration of Narendra Modi would give priority to the people of the neighbouring countries like that of Indian people. He was replying to the queries of journalists after holding a meeting with the Land Minister of Bangladesh Saifuzzaman Chowdhury. As per Indian sources, it has been learnt that the Government of Bangladesh had already signed an agreement to buy three crore doses of Oxford vaccine produced by the Serum Institute. The Drug Administration of Bangladesh has also given due approval to import of vaccine and its usage on an urgent basis. As per information of Beximco Pharmaceuticals Limited, the exclusive Bangladeshi distributor of the vaccine produced by the Serum Institute, the first shipment of 50 lakh doses of vaccine is likely to be done within a month of approval of Covishield, the controlling organisation of Bangladesh. But, various international news agencies, quoting the Chief Executive of the Serum Institute, Adar Poonawalla, informed that emphasis would be given on meeting the local demand of India during first two months before the start of vaccine export. It has raised a concern about timely availability of vaccine in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Nepal.However, Bangladesh Health Minister Zahid Maleque, Health Services Division Secretary Md Abdul Mannan, Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen and Beximco Pharmaceuticals Managing Director Nazmul Hasan tried to calm down everyone by holding repeated press conferences. Vikram Doraiswami informed that more than one Indian organisation has started production of vaccine. It has been permitted for using their vaccines on an urgent basis. On behalf of the Indian government, no ban has been imposed on their export. He said the rest depends on how much they can produce the vaccine. None can control it. Generally, it depends on its production. Any company can export it depending on its production capacity. According to Doraiswami, what is important is that their top leadership had given an assurance to them in this regard. The companies too gave commitments that they would supply the vaccine to the Indian government. Let them start their production and distribution systems.
The name of Bangabandhu’s autobiography is ‘The Unfinished Memoirs’. It is the responsibility of the present generation to complete the unfinished task. His life was a life of relentless struggle. At one place of his autobiography, he wrote that while staying in prison he was very shocked when he came to know that Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Huq had issued a statement through his supporters just after a few days of his house arrest. Admitting fault, he expressed sorrow. ‘Because of his statement, my head bowed down.’ He said: “All of our heads bowed down. Those who were staying in jails, it is distressful to write about their mental state. Reading newspapers we became astonished. As he turned old, it is quite natural to become mentally weak. What was the role of those who remained outside the prison? The entire population lent their support to us. Thousands of workers had been imprisoned. I discussed the matter with other prisoners and decided that it is not possible for them to do politics with the Krishak-Shramik Party. The prominent leaders of the Krishak-Shramik Party who were ousted from the Muslim League in 1953 were engaged in secret discussion with Mohammad Ali to get back the ministries. If needed they would sever ties with the Awami League.”
Reminiscing his days in prison, he thought that ‘this sort of compromise would do more harm to their movement.’ During his lifetime, Bangabandhu turned down ministership although he got many chances; rather he involved himself in organising the party.
So, he gave priority to movement. Later, he put priority on reconstruction of the country. After so many years, it is an urgency to remember it for not only the people of Bangladesh but also for the people of India.
We do not forget that Bangabandhu was sentenced to death in September 1971 in a secret trial in Faisalabad jail by the Pakistani junta fifty years ago. But they failed to execute the verdict due to the pressure of world leaders and freedom-loving people of different countries who started insisting on Pakistan for the security of Bangabandhu. The government of newly-independent Bangladesh demanded the unconditional release of their supreme leader on 27 December 1971, while India, Soviet Union and several International organisations urged Pakistan to release Sheikh Mujib, the President of Independent Bangladesh and the founder of the nation.
At present, some quarters have been trying to make Bangladesh weaker by destroying its historic ties with India. But they have to be defeated for the sake of maintaining the strong relationship that exists between the countries. The deadly Capitol Hill riot has jerked the democracy in one of the largest democratic nations and shocked people all over the world. Under such a situation, moving forward in a realistic way to keep democratic, lovable and friendly relations between Bangladesh and India firm should be the main priority.
The writer is a senior journalist of India.
Translated by Z A M Khairuzzaman.