India’s defence minister Manohar Parrikar, while threatening Pakistan on Sunday in the midst of military tensions between the two countries, has made a very objectionable comment about Bangladesh, particularly its armed struggle for national independence against the occupation forces of Pakistan in 1971. The minister claimed, as reported by the Times of India on Sunday and reproduced by New Age on Monday, that ‘Lord Rama won Lanka and gave it to Vibhishana. We did the same in the Bangladesh operation.’ Evidently, the Indian minister has referred to a mythical Ramayana episode in which Indian Rama’s force attacked Lanka, the kingdom of his adversary Rakshasa, for the latter had kidnapped the former’s wife, Sita. Rama’s forces eventually defeated Rakshasa’s ones, rescued Sita and handed the kingdom over to Vibhishana, Rakshasa’s younger brother whom Rama found a littler better than his elder. The political message of the statement is clear: India attacked Pakistan in 1971, fought and defeated Pakistan forces and then handed over the liberated Bangladesh to its people. This is an absolutely ahistorical narrative about Bangladesh’s war of independence, which is extremely insulting to the country’s innumerable freedom fighters, martyred and alive, who made invaluable sacrifice for the country’s independence. Bangladesh must protest against such an insulting propaganda about the history of Bangladesh’s independence.
The fact of history remains, a series of struggle by the people of East Bengal since 1948 for its political, cultural and economic autonomy eventually culminated in the East’s war of liberation against the neo-colonialist rulers of West Pakistan in 1971. The people of East Bengal won the war and established Bangladesh at the cost of enormous sufferings and sacrifice. In the process, there is no denying, Indian political and military establishment, and, above all, its people, provided multidimensional assistance to the Bangladesh revolution. India’s strategic interest to dismember Pakistan, after all, coincided with Bangladesh’s aspiration for independence. For India, and many other countries, it was realpolitik to support the Bangladesh cause, out of which the people have definitely been benefited.
Indian troops had joined Bangladesh’s freedom fighters on December 3, 1971, which had definitely expedited the victory over the enemy forces of Pakistan, but the Indian physical involvement in the war field, despite the sacrifice of lives of about 1,500 Indian troops on the soil of Bangladesh, was in no way the decisive factor behind Bangladesh victory. AK Khandaker, deputy chief of staff of the Armed Forces of Bangladesh in 1971, says that ‘physical strength of the Pakistan forces had been exhausted, and psychological morale reached down the lowest ebb, before the commencement of the war [with India] on December 3.’ Khaled Mosharraf, a reputed sector commander of the liberation war, said in a post-independence interview that ‘the Indian army just walked in when we, the Mukti Bahini, had already finished the job’. In rather a conservative analysis, the commander-in-chief of the Mukti Bahini, AG Osmani, said in a post-independence interview that ‘if the Indian forces had not come into the war directly, the Mukti Bahini itself would have liberated the country within six [more] months’.
Evidently, it was the sacrifice of the people of Bangladesh in a long series of political struggle for more than two decades and martyrdom as well as sufferings of many millions of Bangladeshis during the nine months of liberation war that created Bangladesh. It was not at all a gift of the Indian political establishment to the people of Bangladesh as the Indian defence minister has suggested through the Ramayana myth. Bangladesh’s government of the day, which claims to be championing the spirit of the liberation war, therefore, has an obligation to publicly protest against Indian efforts to belittle the glorious role that the people of Bangladesh, particularly the freedom fighters, have played to achieve the cherished independence.