Vijay Divas : 50 yrs and Beyond: Indo-Bangla relations
The present leadership of Bangladesh is trying to look back as to how painful and demeaning were those days of the Pakistani atrocities amounting to genocide when Bengali people were not looked at as human beings by Pakistani leadership and their Army. There were all sorts of inhuman treatment meted out to them. Torture, killings, rapes and abuses were far worse than those in British India before partition. Fifty years of independence meant a lot more to them than freedom from the British. However, the passage of these 50 yrs or beyond, has not been smooth. There have been several attempts of treachery in which the father of the nation and the first family was massacred. There are various interest groups within the nation some of whom are aligned to the perpetrators in Pakistan. However, the government in the last decade or so, has brought out the nation to some form of identity from the dark past. The GDP has grown. Unemployment has reduced. The jihadists have been somewhat kept in check. Considerable development of infrastructure is taking place. Foreign policy is effectively finding its own objectives. How long will all these continue, is anyone’s guess. The radicals and Jihadists have been showing their might off and on. The day Awami League of Sheikh Hasina is voted out, BNP and its radical allies (incl numerous Jihadi groups) are going to make mayhem. The discrimination and abuses of religious minorities continue unabated in Bangladesh. Their %population have continuously been declining (~23% in 1947 to ~17% in 1971 during their liberation from Pak, to ~7-8% by now). The recent demonstration of strength by the opposition is an indication of events turning for the worse.
India extended all courteous acts in the celebrations of their 50 yrs of independence whether it was the participation of the Armed Forces in the difficult times of Corona; or by sending the shipment of Covid19 vaccines; sending relief materials and stores for the Rohingya migrants from Myanmar; or the President of India himself participating in their 50 yrs of celebrations.
The path of Bangladesh's birth had been painful. There were several factors in the creation of the ultimate independence movement. However, Pakistan’s refusal to let the majority govt of Sheikh Mujib’s Awami Party form govt following their electoral victory was the spontaneous precursor. The Awami party six-point election manifesto that made then win 160 of the 162 seats in their Dec 1970 general election, was perceived as ‘threatening’ to the rulers in West Pakistan. Hence, they did not allow Sheikh Mujib to form the govt. Instead, he was jailed on 25 March 71 and deported to West Pakistan jail. However, his words to his followers to declare independence was aired at mid-night (25/26 March 71) throughout East-Pakistan via an E.P.R. transmitters. That led to the beginning of a full-fledged Bengali independence struggle. Paki Army in one night killed 7000 students of Dhaka University in cold blood. Bangladeshi ‘Rajakars’ private army ‘Shanti Bahini’ ushered in extreme atrocities on the general populace and also provided the lists of Bengali movement activists to the Pakis who in turn, massacred the men and abducted their young women and girls. ‘Op Searchlight’ traced out the political activists in remote areas and killed 30,000 of them in a week. Activists of Jamat-e-Islami too joined in the mayhem committing atrocities with due support from Paki Army. Numerous Hindus were massacred and temples destroyed. It was the darkest period in the history of Bangladesh, befitting within the definition of a ‘Genocide’ by Pakistan. An anticipated 3-4 lakh women were abducted by the Army, used for their entertainment and Sex-slavery. About 30-40 lakh people escaped to the adjoining Indian states to save their lives and honours. However, the freedom fighters did not give-up. Their struggle continued. They formed a military group called ‘Mukti-Vahini’ trained by the Indian Forces that started guerrilla like attacks on the Pak Army inflicting heavy casualties.
Indian Army had to assist ‘Mukti-Vahini’ in their effort to liberate their country. Indian Army actively joined them around 20 Nov 71 at Atgram, 22 Nov at Hilli at some lower scale. However, the full-fledged war started on 03 Dec 71 when Pakistan attacked India on its western front by several air attacks. India responded furiously on both fronts. On Eastern front, a 3-pronged war led to quick decimation of Pakistani will that included the ‘Para-drop’ of its troops at Tangail on 11 Dec. Besides inflicting heavy casualties on Pakistan and capturing of >15000 Sq Km of territory on the western front, on 13 Dec Gen Manekshaw warned East Pakistan to surrender. Obeying the command, General A K Niazi, GOC of East Pakistan was made to sign the ‘Instrument of Surrender’ on 16 December 1971 in Dhaka, to pave the way for independent Bangladesh. This day is celebrated as “Vijoy Diwas” in Bangladesh.
Having achieved independence, Bangladeshi leadership in the coming years was somehow unable to meet the aspiration of the people. Political stability as well as social development eluded. Some of the warlords of ‘Mukti-Vahini guerrilla fighters’ refuged to lay down their arms. Sheikh Mujib too enforced a single party rule that made many minds unhappy. He was assassinated along with his family in 1975 in a lower-level military coup and Bangladesh again plunged into darkness and chaos. The period from 1975 till 1990 saw military coups, dictatorial regimes and Presidential forms of Governance. During this period Bangladesh shun its secularism and donned the garb of radical Islam. The nation started Islamic rule during Ziaur Rahman’s period, driving out numerous religious minorities. The erstwhile radical & Jihadi components of Jamat was integrated into 20-party alliance of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) that Zia formed. He too was assassinated by Army in 1981. This brought another Army General Md Ershad to power. The parliamentary system was brought back after the resignation of Md Ershad by Begum Khalida Zia of BNP. During these periods the Bangladesh govt alienated itself from India by virtue of their Islamic fundamentalism. It was only after the present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (daughter of Sheikh Mujib), the leader of 14-party alliance of Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) assumed power in 2009, that Bangladesh has become stable politically to prevail upon some of its radical groups. After she assumed office various civil movements mandated her to punish the perpetrators of ‘genocide’ who primarily belonged to the Jamat-e-Islami. Many of them were killed and tried out in the court of law for their crimes. However, after the Islamic Caliphate call of Al-Baghdadi in 2014, the radical & jihadi groups have started re-organising themselves. By now, there are dozens of Jihadi outfits in Bangladesh who are funded mostly by other Islamic nations. Their presence cannot be ignored. Should the next general election in Bangladesh elect the BNP to power, Indian concerns of a radical Islamic State on its eastern border too, may become an uncomfortable reality.
A look-back on Indo-Bangla relations.
India and Bangladesh have gone through a mixed experience in bilateral relations. The initial 4 yrs of relations under Sheikh Mujib were exemplary. Later the internal problems of the leadership started reflecting externally, basically to divert own public attention. In the decade to come, numerous bilateral issues emerged. There have been see-saw moments in the bilateral Indo-Bangla relations that took substantial time and effort. The half-hearted approaches of the leaderships in Bangladesh and West Bengal had significant impact on the outcome in non-resolution of the issues. It was only after Modi Govt came to power that a new chapter started. However, even now in 2021, many sensitive issues remain between to two nations as mentioned below.
- Security challenges of illegal migrants, ingress of Bangla Jihadi elements in India,
- International border and resolution of >200 conclaves of retro-nationals.
- Facilitating Connectivity to Bangladesh, transit goods to NE States.
- Increasing Chinese presence on eastern border.
- Contentious issues: Balance of trade; Sharing of river water.
Security Issues and its impact in India. India continues having problems of the influx of the illegal migrants from Bangladesh, whether persecuted Hindu minorities or those seeking better livelihood in India. As a result, the unofficial figure of such migrants are estimated to be around 4-5 Cr…and counting… although decreased after the border fencing. The illegal Bangladeshi migrants are helped by the local Indian Muslims and also the appeasement politicians (esp Congress and TMC) seeking their votes. They are helped to forge fake citizenship document. That is the reason why NRC Assam failed to reveal the real numbers of the illegal migrants. There are plans to carry on a Pan-India NRC which is so crucial for its security. No nation can close their eyes from the existence of illegal migrants on their territories. India must leverage its present warm relationship with Bangladesh in taking them back…to the extent possible. Rohingyas on Indian soil who have mostly sneaked in through Bangladesh, poses altogether a different problem. In addition, there are scores of radical Islamic & Jihadi groups, both indigenous and those of having international affiliations, inimical to own religious minorities as well as to India as well, sneaking in to India for their nefarious activities. Some of the prominent groups are mentioned in the text box below. They are posing far greater security threat than those infiltrating for better livelihood.
Religious persecution and threats to the Hindus living in Bangladesh have resonance in India too esp after the BJP led NDA govt has assumed power. Any such atrocities on Hindu inhabitant and their women no longer go unnoticed. In recent years, the attacks on Hindu families after Paris Jihadi attacks and very recently, killing and dishonoring of Hindu women in Bangladesh following almost every year of Durga Puja and some other festivals tell us the Human Rights situation and religious persecution of Hindu in that nation that even UN Human Rights watchdogs have closed their eyes.
Indo-Bangla international border on the land itself is over 4000 km long, mostly porous, since 73 yrs of partition. Of it, West Bengal has 2,217 km, Tripura has 856km, Meghalaya 443km, Assam 262km and Mizoram 180km. It is highly deplorable that the successive Congress, UPA as well as other govts remained indifferent to the continued illegal ingress of the Bangladeshis through this porous border into our land. The religiously persecuted minorities of Bangladesh had reasons to flee to save their lives and honour from the Jihadi attacks, with or without the connivance of the Bangladesh govt. However, the Muslims came essentially for better livelihood and/or to grab land from the tribals and natives in the border areas. We must not forget the deliberate effort of the radical east Pakistanis who earlier tried to forcibly occupy Assam to claim its Muslim dominant area and secede to Pakistan. With such a deliberate influx, Assam and West Bengal’s religious demography has changed drastically by now. The illegal migrants have traditionally been serving as a vote-bank to the Congress party championing the cause of pseudo-secularism…the Muslims. Their political bosses make available to them fake identity cards and ration cards…a fact that made lot many of them to register in the NRC Assam. However, it is believed that a lot many of them are vulnerable to exploitation by the Pak-ISI as well as Islamic radicals and the Naxals/Maoists within, so as to pose a substantial security risk. It is also praiseworthy that Bangladesh is not becoming hurdle in the Indian efforts of raising barbed-wire fencing.
Having resolved the problems of over 200 enclaves needing a logical alignment, Modi Hasina govts have done well to resolve it amicably. Both govts must be complimented to have resolved the decades-old thorny issue with the signing of the agreement on 06 Jun 2015 in Dhaka. It will be useful in creating peace at the border. A better cooperation through understanding continues as several MoUs were signed in 2019 too during the visit of the Bangladeshi Prime Minister to New Delhi.
Connectivity to Bangladesh, transit of goods to NE States. In the recent years, Modi govt has reached out to Bangladesh with series of agreements on connectivity. The roads, re-starting of rail, starting of the river link and also in the maritime route. Road links have undergone massive improvement. In addition to the four operational rail links between both countries namely Petropole (India)-Benapole (Bangladesh); Gede (India)-Darshana (Bangladesh); Singhabad (India)-Rohanpur (Bangladesh) and Radhikapur (India)-Birol (Bangladesh)…a 10.5 km fifth link was started between Haldibari (India) and Chilahati (Bangladesh) on 17 Dec 20. These are excellent development in the last 6 yrs of Modi govt. The rail link further connects N-E States transiting through Bangladesh. The bigger picture is to ensure that a rail (passenger or goods) can link Silchar with Kolkata and Katihar through Bangladesh. Similarly, the cargo from Chittagong port could be carried to N-E States. It is a win-win for all BIMSTEC nations.
The Chinese Factor. The emergence of China as a large economic block is altering many of the older equations. Chinese willingness to invest heavily and offer their so-called ‘soft loans’ in the smaller nations much beyond their repaying capability, is something that is being perceived as economic terrorism by world. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal besides many other nations in African continent have already become debt-ridden under China. Bangladesh has been slightly careful but surely the Chinese influence are increasing. China is the largest investor in Bangladesh. A total of $24.45 billion bilateral assistance had been given for infrastructure projects and $13.6 billion in joint ventures. In addition, $20 billion in loan agreements has also been committed. China is known to influence political groups in various countries. In Nepal they have helped Communist party with 10s of millions worth of dollars for electoral purpose which is nothing but bribe. Hence, in the coming years, Bangladesh too will be lured in. India will have many reasons to be warry of the Dragon for their disruptive activities against us. It will be a challenge for Indian security agencies.
Trade-deficit. Bangladesh has been facing the problems of the trade-deficit and that cannot be alleviated till their products are competitive with Indian goods. Of late, their readymade garments have caught international attention and even India is helping them out. Recently bulk procurement of LPG for supply to the N-E states has started.
Sharing Electrical Power. Bangladesh has always been an electrical power-starved country. They earlier drew 600 MW from the Indian grid, with another 500 MW added through the Bheramara-Bahrampur inter-connection. The two countries agreed on a power evacuation scheme between Assam and Bihar, from which Bangladesh can draw 1000 MW power supply through tapping points at Parbotipur. Discussions have also begun for an additional supply of 340 MW from NTPC stations. These gesture by India has really been helpful for Bangladesh for its increased industrial power consumption requirements.
Water Sharing. The Ganga & Tista river water sharing agreements have been a thorny issue. While West Bengal govt is extremely reluctant in any sharing of Tista water, both nations will conduct a Feasibility Study of the proposed Ganges-Padma Barrage Project in Bangladesh for optimum utilization of the water received from India as per Ganges Water Sharing Treaty 1996. The Treaty guaranteed that for a total incoming flow of 75,000 cusecs in Ganga at Farakka, India could divert 40,000 cusecs from the Barrage, leaving 35,000 cusecs for Bangladesh. However, with the inflow diminished even below 60K cusec and the viability of the Farakka canal endangered with lower flow, India is unable to meet its obligation. On the other hand, Bangladesh keeps quoting of higher flow requirement for the Gorai Hump and Sundari mangrove which is just not possible to meet. The party politics within Bangladesh keep accusing each other while in opposition. It has become a political ball-game. This surely calls for a realistic review of the 1996 treaty. While ways and means of implementing the old agreements are on at a higher level, newer accords were signed to share more resources of another six rivers namely Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti Dharla, Dudhkumar and Feni. This is a win-win for both nations for the present. However, difficult days are in the offing when Brahmaputra water supply too will start hurting with the newly constructed Chinese Dam. As long as the inter-governmental relations are friendly, these adversities may be shrugged off but with change of government, the narratives may change for a worse.
Conclusion. Amidst the see-saw fluctuations in Indo-Bangla relations over decades, the Vijay-Diwas remains a major milestone in history. In the initial years of independence, Bangladesh did show their obligations to India (for the numerous Indian soldiers having laid down their lives in their liberation war) but relations soured after internal destabilization following the assassination of Sheikh Mujib and his family. Indo-Bangla issues of international border, security, trade, river water sharing, road-rail-sea connectivity and so on…that could have been resolved amicably, worsened in the 1980s and 90s. Bangladeshi Radical Islamic groups both indigenous and having links abroad, got their foothold. The present govt has been able to keep the jihadist at bay to some extent and improve relations with India. Anytime a radical political party (like the BNP) comes to the power, the bilateral relations may nose-dive. They have done well in recent years but the tempo needs to be maintained. India jointly shares pride in the Vijay-Diwas but the radicals in Bangladesh do not feel it that way. The unpredictable Indo-Bangla relation may be in for another turbulent period if the Jihadists prevail there.