Wednesday, 19 January, 2022

India - a Time-tested Friend of Bangladesh

Jayanta Ghosal

In 1971, Bangladesh emerged as an independent state in the world. In 1972, US diplomat Henry Kissinger termed Bangladesh as an ‘international basket case.’ However, history proved him wrong. It is true that initially East Pakistan lagged behind West Pakistan in many ways. Even after formation of an independent sovereign state, there remained massive economic disparity between the two countries that came as a historical burden. But, today, after five decades, per capita GDP of Bangladesh is well above Pakistan. In social indicator too, Bangladesh is ahead of Pakistan. As for example, in terms of life expectancy, school enrolment and gender gap, Bangladesh proved the basket case of the past to be false creating a success story in Asia.

Today is December 6. On this day in 1971, India recognised Bangladesh as an independent sovereign state. On the same day, Bhutan too gave recognition to Bangladesh following the footsteps of India. But, most of the countries took time to recognise Bangladesh as an independent sovereign state. China took a few years for it. Today, after so many years, it can be said that December 6 is a day of disgrace for India for demolishing the Babri Mosque. Just on the other side, for Bangladesh, this day is not only a historic day, but also a memorable one. After 50 years, the day appeared as a milestone in Indo-Bangladesh ties. On December 6, 1971, India involved in a war against Pakistan by overcoming lots of barriers. The war was the master strategy of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She succeeded in that strategy. Today, after so many years, time has come to remember that December 6. This is not only for reminiscing about the past, but also to move forward with a new belief, confidence and commitment.

The author of ‘Indira Gandhi - A Profile in Courage,’ Trevor Drieberg has mentioned in his book about some extraordinary events of 1971. In the book, he mentioned about Henry Kissinger's arrival in New Delhi on December 7, 1971. On arrival, he first met the top advisers of Indira Gandhi. He tried to persuade them time and again that it would not be possible on the part of the US to lend a support to India if it goes to war with Pakistan. India should come out of the war mentality. That means, he would, in no way, support the Indian plan to go to war with Pakistan. At that time, Kissinger did not come to India on a visit. He was on his way to China. Nixon wanted to melt ice with China. Information of that period is historic and memorable. We still remember about his departure for China at the deep of night. At that time, V P Dhar was called the Kissinger of India. Before departure, he insisted Dhar time and again to desist from such act. India gave a hearing to him and gave him proper honour. At the Ashok Hotel, Indira Gandhi’s adviser P N Haksar arranged an extravagant Chinese banquet for him. Trevor did not miss anything.

After Kissinger’s departure, India did what it deemed right. Within a few days of his departure, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko suddenly toured India. At that period, efforts were underway to reach at an understanding between the US and China. Then the Indo-Russian relationship was very pleasant. India was then under the Russian umbrella. Diplomat Chandrashekhar, in his recently released book 'India and the Bangladesh Liberation War: The Definitive Story' has clearly manifested that P N Haksar was among the major advisers of Indira Gandhi and think-tank and one of the leading figures who were instrumental behind waging a war against Pakistan and supporting the cause of the Bangladesh Liberation War. And, others were D P Dhar, Indian Foreign secretary T N Kaul and RAW chief R N Kao. Haksar got the authority from the Prime Minister. Utilising that authority, he was playing a leading role. In December, 1971 he was promoted to the post of principal secretary. D P Dhar and Kao together formed a group. Taking former Indian Army chief Manekshaw with them, they fought against Pakistan taking a terrible risk. Indira Gandhi met the world leaders by visiting different countries to let them know as to why India had recognised Bangladesh as an independent sovereign state. He created a field so that other countries too lend their support to India and stand beside her.

Then India cleverly wanted to keep separate the issues of recognition to Bangladesh as an independent sovereign state and waging war against Pakistan. However, India did not straightaway intend to go to an all-out war with Pakistan. That means, India did not want to start the war which means the first shot that India wanted to avoid. India could realise well that a dangerous incident would occur by giving official recognition to Bangladesh.

The decision of giving the formal recognition was taken on December 4, 1971. Then it was thought that Pakistan would go to a war with India. If Pakistan wages a war against India then it will be able to strongly justify its position for going to war. By giving formal recognition to Bangladesh, India was preparing for the war. Pakistan attacked the Indian western border on December 3. Then Indian legal justification for going to war widened. India showed to entire world that it has no alternative, but to resort to war as it had been attacked first. But, alongside, New Delhi took a strategy. India was supposed to give recognition to Bangladesh on December 4 which was deferred to December 6. In his book, Chandrashekhar stated that it was not a war. India wanted to delink the two issues of declaration of war with Pakistan and ‘act of recognition of Bangladesh.’ Chandrashekhar also wrote about the reaction of Bangladesh that followed Indian declaration. He has mentioned that at that time Asok Roy was in-charge of Indian Liaison office in Calcutta. He informed Bangladesh leaders about Indian recognition. He had sent a report on Bangladesh reaction. The information was supplied to Bangladesh leaders on the morning of December 6. The then Bangladesh Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam and Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad were so much overwhelmed that they could not talk. Asok Roy, in his report, mentioned that the then Bangladesh PM virtually cried. After a long pause, he highly praised the Indian government for its role. And, because of the incident, Indo-Bangladesh ties strengthened for good.

Bangladesh and India came out victorious in the 1971 war. Fifty years passed after the event. Today, after so many years, an important question arises whether the warm Indo-Bangladesh relationship would sustain in the coming days, or it would ethically worsen? Presently, diplomatic dialogues started on various issues. Was it an Indian intention to break Pakistan? Was it the main objective of India to support the Bangladesh Liberation War? But, at that time, it was true that India had taken a risk of going into action. The US, China and Pakistan were reluctant to give recognition to Bangladesh. But, India surprised the world by straightaway going to conflict with them by dramatically recognising Bangladesh.  During initial stage, the Soviet Union too expressed its unwillingness to support the cause of Bangladesh Liberation War. Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, in his book, showed as to how India had persuaded the Soviet Union. Indira Gandhi herself went there to hold elaborate discussions so that it lends support to Bangladesh.

But, once a Bangladeshi diplomat asked me as to why Indira Gandhi had signed the Simla Accord after doing so many things? In his book, Chandrashekhar showed that lots of myths are there on the issues. Today, on December 6, it can be said that India had established itself as a true friend of Bangladesh by lending support to its independence war and giving recognition to it. Today, after so many years, reminiscing about the past events is very essential. In the coming days, we shall have to move forward towards a new horizon of possibility with the message of friendship by overcoming the hurdles. There exist extremists in both the countries. They want to spoil the pleasant relationship. They want to fulfil their mission through conflicts. But, at the moment, the prime ministers of both the countries intend to move forward the Indo-Bangladesh ties by disregarding the extremists. This is our greatest hope.


The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi

Translated by Z A M Khairuzzaman