As Bangladesh and India celebrate 50 years of Bangladesh’s independence and the golden jubilee of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the Prime Ministers of both the nations are scheduled to address the UN General Assembly this week.
It is worthwhile to remember the role Indian and Bangladeshi diplomats played at the same UN General Assembly 50 years ago to create history.
India hosted an international conference in support of Bangladesh in September 1971 and 24 countries attended this event. They voiced their support for the creation of Bangladesh and also extended support to India as it faced a massive refugee situation as 10 million people fled Bangladesh in face of the atrocities and genocide being perpetrated by the Pakistani army.
Earlier, as the Liberation War broke out in March 1971, India, at the height of the Cold War launched a diplomatic effort to build a case for Bangladesh’s independence though bilateral conversations with leaders of various countries as well as by raising the issue of Pakistan’s atrocities at multilateral platforms such as the United Nations.
50 years ago, on 27 September in 1971 at the UN General Assembly, the Indian delegation led by then External Affair Minister Sardar Swarn Singh apprised the world of the atrocities taking place in what was then still East Pakistan. Speaking at the Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly, Swarn Singh spoke of the reign of terror that prevailed. He also called on Pakistan to release Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who was in Pakistan’s custody.
"The International Red Cross was not allowed to visit the area and all attempts were made, to conceal what was happening in that part of the world. Killing, raping, burning, and looting became widespread,” he said. According to AND Haskar a foreign service officer who was the Political Counsellor at the Permanent Mission in New York, not only did India raise the issue of the crisis in Bangladesh at the UN but also hosted Bangladeshi representatives in New York to further their cause through informal diplomatic meetings. Some of these representatives went on to become important figures in independent Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi toured several capitals around world to garner support for Bangladesh. India’s diplomatic efforts yielded positive results as the United Kingdom, East and West Germany, France, Russia, and Poland expressed sympathy and support to the cause of Bangladesh.
This week 50 years after India called for the release of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from Pakistan’s custody, his daughter Sheikh Hasina will address the UN General Assembly as a democratically elected leader to a large, rapidly rising country with a bright future.