By Harihar Swarup
Former Commissioner to India, Muazzem Ali and 1971 war hero Colonel Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahil were the first two Bangladeshi citizens honoured with one of India’s civilian awards, the Padma Sri.
Muazzem was honoured posthumously at a function in New Delhi where other awardees named in January too received their awards. India and Bangladesh are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s liberation and the 50th year of diplomatic ties with India as well as centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. The Vijaydivas celebration of December 16 in Dhaka may see a a high level delegation from India.
The celebrations have continued mainly in the virtual mode during the pandemic, though both sides may be looking at physical presence in the coming events. December 16 is being celebrated as maître diwas between the two countries. This year the occasion will be celebrated in the US, UK, Thailand among 18 countries with a significant Bangladeshi and Indian diaspora.
Bangladesh War of Independence, or simply the Liberation War in Bangladesh, was a revolution and armed conflict sparked by the rise of the Bengali nationalist and self-determination movement in what was then East Pakistan during 1971. More than ten million people fled from the eastern Pakistan to India through different borders between the two neighbours and it was a Herculean task for the Indian government led by Indira Gandhi to feed these people. But the centre did a splendid job in taking care of these East Pakistani people.
The liberation struggle resulted in the independence of the Bangladesh. The war began when the Pakistani military junta based in West Pakistan launched Operation Searchlight against the people of East Pakistan on the night of 25 March 1971. It pursued the systematic elimination of nationalist Bengali civilians, students, intelligentsia, religious minorities and armed personnel. The junta annulled the results of the 1970 elections and arrested Prime minister-designate Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The war ended on 16 December 1971 when the military forces of West Pakistan that were in Bangladesh surrendered.
The liberation army was formed by Bengali military, paramilitary and civilians. The East Bengal Regiment and the East Pakistan Rifles played a crucial role in the resistance. Led by General M. A. G. Osmani and eleven sector commanders, the Bangladesh Forces waged a mass guerrilla war against the Pakistani military. They liberated numerous towns and cities in the initial months of the conflict. The Pakistan Army regained momentum in the monsoon. Bengali guerrillas carried out widespread sabotage, including Operation Jackpot against the Pakistan Navy. The nascent Bangladesh Air Force flew sorties against Pakistani military bases. By November, the Bangladesh forces restricted the Pakistani military to its barracks during the night. They secured control of most parts of the countryside.
The Provisional Government of Bangladesh was formed on 17 April 1971 in Mujibnagar and moved to Calcutta as a government in exile. Bengali members of the Pakistani civil, military and diplomatic corps defected to the Bangladeshi provisional government. Thousands of Bengali families were interned in West Pakistan, from where many escaped to Afghanistan. Bengali cultural activists operated the clandestine Free Bengal Radio Station. The plight of millions of war-ravaged Bengali civilians caused worldwide outrage and alarm. India, which was led by Indira Gandhi, provided substantial diplomatic, economic and military support to Bangladeshi nationalists. British, Indian and American musicians organised the world’s first benefit concert in New York City to support the Bangladeshi people. Senator Ted Kennedy in the United States led a congressional campaign for an end to Pakistani military persecution; while U.S. diplomats in East Pakistan strongly dissented with the Nixon administration’s close ties to the Pakistani military dictator Yahya Khan.
India joined the war on 3 December 1971, after Pakistan launched preemptive air strikes on Indian bases in northern part of the country. The subsequent Indo-Pakistani War witnessed engagements on two war fronts. With air supremacy achieved in the eastern theatre and the rapid advance of the Allied Forces of Mukti Bahini and Indian military, Pakistan surrendered in Dacca on 16 December 1971. (IPA Service)