Monday, 6 February, 2023

Long Live Maitri Diwas – Bangladesh-India Friendship Day

A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman

Long Live Maitri Diwas – Bangladesh-India Friendship Day
A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman

Fourth December 1971. Acting President of Bangladesh Syed Nazrul Islam and Prime Minister Mr. Tajuddin Ahmed wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi requesting recognition of Bangladesh. At the same time, Pakistan's close ally, the United States, placed a ceasefire resolution on behalf of Pakistan in the United Nations Security Council. Our Liberation War has reached such a stage that maybe within a few days the flag of the red sun amidst the green will be fluttering in the sky of Bangladesh. In that situation, our friend, the Soviet Union, came forward to resist the conspiracy of the United States. Soviet Union exercised its veto in the Security Council. Pakistan's nefarious intention was no longer served.

The US chose another way to cover up this failure. On behalf of Pakistan, once again the US placed a similar proposal in the UN General Assembly. In the voting, 104 votes were in favour of the proposal and only 11 votes were casted against. Since no state is bound to comply with the decision of the General Assembly, it could not be implemented as the leaders of Bangladesh straightly rejected that decision. At that time, we had only one goal, only one way ahead - to free the country from the occupation of the Pakistani forces as soon as possible. In fact, that US backed Pakistani conspiracy intensified against our ongoing war for freedom. Every day, Pakistani forces started fleeing from their places of engagements in Bangladesh in the dark of night. In other words, despite the initiatives of America, Pakistan did not get any opportunity for negotiation to declare a ceasefire.

In view of the ongoing Liberation War in Bangladesh and the overall world situation, Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi made a statement in the Lok Sabha (parliament) of India at 10:30 am on 6 December announcing her government's decision to recognise Bangladesh. The decision of the Government of India was unanimously welcomed in the Lok Sabha. On the same day, Mrs. Gandhi informed the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Mr. Tajuddin Ahmed through a letter about the recognition of Bangladesh by India. This formal recognition of Bangladesh as an independent and sovereign state, though Bangladesh was not completely freed from Pakistani occupation, made it much easier for India to directly support and cooperate with Bangladesh's freedom struggle.

Within ten days of this, Bangladesh was freed from occupation through the surrender of the Pakistani forces on 16 December. During that time, the members of the Indian forces fought shoulder to shoulder with the freedom fighters of Bangladesh. Like our martyred freedom fighters, more than 18 thousand Indian soldiers sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Bangladesh. The blood, sacrifice and strength of unity of the people of the two countries freed Bangladesh from Pakistani occupation and established it as an independent country. That sacrifice of Indian soldiers undoubtedly expedited the cause of our independence. But we have nothing to give in return for the way the people of India stood by the Bangalees who were forced to leave Bangladesh and take refuge there, except love and friendship. The contribution of the Government of India, especially the Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi will always be remembered in our hearts. The Bengali nation can never forget their contribution.

In fact, the roots of India-Bangladesh friendship can be traced back to the day the Bangalees took shelter on Indian soil after being massacred by the Pakistani army, in March 1971. Truly speaking, that was the time when the people of India and their government accepted the reality of an independent Bangladesh. Since then, for long nine months of our sufferings, the government and the people of India stood beside the Bangalees. The bond of friendship of Bangladesh with India had originated from those difficult days of our liberation and freedom struggle. This bond had united not only the two countries but also the two peoples. This relationship was based on mutual trust, understanding and respect. It is an eternal relationship built on the mixed blood of the brave martyrs of the two countries. That’s why, during his visit to Kolkata in February 1972, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announced that Indo-Bangladesh friendship would remain intact forever. No power in the world would be able to split that.

The foundation of that friendship established on blood later made the relationship between the two countries much stronger, deeper and wider. Good neighbourly and friendly relations continued to reach a new height. However, after the brutal killing of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, the relationship between the two countries became strained. The forces that are against the spirit of the Liberation War became the possessor of the state-power. Even the governments of Bangladesh of those days, driven by the Pakistani mentality, indulged in various anti-India propaganda. One can verify the fact from the position of bilateral relations between the two countries existed during that period.

However, Bangladesh Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina, formed the government in 1996 and started to return to the previous state of relations between India and Bangladesh. But, when the BNP came to power in 2001, Bangladesh's relationship with India once again went to the wrong side. However, after Sheikh Hasina formed the government for the second time in 2009, the relationship between the two countries returned to the mainstream. Since then Bangladesh and India have been cooperating with each other through mutual understanding for the benefit of both, progressing towards the determined development and their relationship is getting stronger and stronger every day. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the leaders of India are working non-stop with sincerity to make the relations stronger, welfare-oriented and intensive for the greater interests of the two countries.

We know that during the visit of Indian Prime Minister to Bangladesh in March last year on the occasion of the celebration of fifty years of independence of Bangladesh and the birth centenary of Bangabandhu, the Prime Ministers of the two countries took a landmark decision to celebrate Maitri Diwas or Friendship Day on 6 December every year. The two Prime Ministers must be thanked for their thoughts and initiative to officially announce 6 December as the day of friendship that had started between the people of the two countries during our liberation war. Sixth December is no longer a day of recognition of Bangladesh by India, its scope has spread to the official recognition of the long-standing love and friendship cherished by the two peoples, by declaring that day as 'Maitri Diwas or Friendship Day'. Long live Maitri Diwas! And the most joyous thing is that last year the day was celebrated for the first time in Dhaka and Delhi, and at the same time the missions of Bangladesh and India jointly celebrated this day in 18 countries of the world.

On 6 December, while celebrating the Maitri Diwas, let us pledge again in the spirit of 1971 that we, the people of Bangladesh and India will fight together against any outside threat, protect the sovereignty of the two countries and solve all problems mutually in the spirit of friendship and move forward together. The world will be surprised to see this friendship between our two countries. For the welfare of both and the expectation of a bright future, let the fresh air of friendship developed in the spirit of the Liberation War flow over the sky of the two countries. May the trust and confidence existing between the two neighbouring peoples always remain alive in strengthening peace and prosperity! May Bangladesh-India Maitri Diwas live forever!


The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary