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Ongoing saga of ingratitude - The Indian Express

Kuldip Nayar ()
23 December 1996

Title : Ongoing saga of ingratitude
Author : Kuldip Nayar
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : December 23, 1996

Nations, like individuals, do not like to recall gratitude. It is
embarrassing. It makes them feel indebted. Bangladesh is no different, It is
reluctant to remember the help of Indian armed forces to the Mukti Bhahini.
But the general impression is that Bangladesh would have become independent,
with or without India's help. It was only the question of time. General
Usmani, heading the Mukti Bhahini, said in his farewell message to the Indian
contingent, when it withdrew, that Bangladesh was thankful to it for
hastening their independence by six months. That is still the thinking.

I was in Dhaka on December 16 to find out how far the Indian forces were
remembered for their assistance. That day, 25 years ago, Lt.-Gen. A. A. K.
Niazi, commander of Pakistan forces in the east had surrendered to Maj.-Gen.
J. P. R. Jacob, chief of the Indian eastern command and the Mukti Bhahini.
There were celebrations galore and the rallies continued till late night. But
all the credit was given to the Mukti Bhahini. In the long, winding speeches
India did not figure. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made a passing reference
to New Delhi's assistance once. Nearly 20 distinguished people from several
parts of the world, including India were the government's guests. But among
them was neither Lt.Gen. J. S. Aurora nor Jacob, the heroes of Bangladesh
war. I believe New Delhi was very particular that India should take the
credit for defeating Pakistan and Dhaka for liberating Bangladesh.

The sensitivity of Bangladeshis is understandable. They have been cast in a
different mould by the rulers who succeeded Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. But now
that the freedom fighters have come back to power, they should have the
courage to give the Indian forces their due.

In a sense, India needs no credit. It went to the help of Bangladeshis
because they were being liquidated through brute force. But if Bangladesh is
going to live in the fear of fundamentalists it will be jeopardising its
liberty. The country has to assert itself. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has
at least undone one wrong: on December 16 she laid the foundation stone of an
Independence Monument. The monument will be at the same place where 91,498
Pakistani soldiers surrendered in 1971. In her speech, she acknowledged the
contribution of the Indian Army. But she praised America, the UK and Russia
in the same breath. I do not really know of any national of the three
countries giving his life for Bangladesh.

However, as many as 1,476 Indian officers and jawans lost their lives and
4,201 were wounded. At several spots on the Bangladesh soil, their blood
mingled with that of the Mukti Bhahini. It was a saga of bravery by both.
How do the Americans the British and the Russians come into the picture? And
why should there be an effort to belittle India's help?

I recall the words the Sheikh used when I interviewed him in Dhaka in early
1972. He said: "A Bengali does not forget even those who give him only a
glass of water. Here your soldiers laid down their lives for my people. How
can we ever forget your sacrifice? You fed 10 million refugees for more than
10 months. Even now you are giving us food and other assistance. I can
assure you that my people are not ungrateful."

Why the Sheikh did not build any monument to honour the services of Indian
armed forces was explained by some Bangladeshi intellectuals thus: since he
was not part of the 10-month-long liberation movement because of his
detention in a Pakistani jail, he did not want to glorify the struggle lest
it should dwarf his importance. His estrangement with Tajuddin, his finance
minister, who was a key to the liberation struggle, was reportedly for the
same reason. Tajuddin's remark to me was telling: "I wish I could die now
because relations between India and Bangladesh are so good today that I do
not want to see them deteriorate."

My reading is that the incipient anti-India feeling, a few weeks after the
creation of Bangladesh, stopped the Sheikh from honouring India and its armed
forces. There were several exaggerated notions which evoked anti-India
feeling. Civil servants in Dhaka, suddenly conscious that they were now
employees of a small and yet not prosperous country, indulged in anti-India
talk. "Your country is too big," they often said. "Whether your neighbours
like it or not, they have to be subservient to you." Many of the officials
would nostalgically recall the days they had spent as members of the Pakistan
civil service and inquire if I had, during my visit to Pakistan, met such and
such officers who had been their colleagues.

The average man was troubled by scarcities and high prices (an after-effect
of any war). He believed the propaganda that his difficulties were because
"everything was going to India." I was told again and again that rice in
Bangladesh was costly because it was being bartered for luxury goods smuggled
from West Bengal.

A few Bangladesh leaders, like Maulana Bhashani, exploited the people's
hardships for their political ends. They said things were bad because "our
neighbours are making the best of our miseries". Their target was Mujib but
since he was too tall for them, they picked on India and maligned it in the
hope that some of the mud would stick on him as well.

The return of Hindu refugees also created anti-India feeling. After ousting
Hindus following the military crackdown on March 25, 1971, Pakistanis had
distributed the evacuee land and shops among Muslims. They now resented the
government's order on the restoration of property to its original owners.
Some pro-Pakistani elements - and they appeared to be quite active-hinted
that even the refugees of 1947 were returning.

Following the return of Hasina, the atmosphere has changed. It is the return
of spirit of liberation days when India and Bangladesh marched hand in hand.
Still there is hesitation. The ruling Awami League should realise that those
whom it defeated at the polls are not in tune with new times. The more they
are placated, the more they will expect and demand. The Ganga water treaty
has helped to allay some suspicions. But India will have to tread the path
carefully because it has a long way to go.

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