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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 19, New Delhi, April 24, 2021

Bangladesh: Looking Back | Sumit Chakravartty

Friday 23 April 2021, by Sumit Chakravartty

In the post-independence history of our sub-continent, 1971 occupies a prominent position. That was the year in which the pernicious two-nation theory which led to the vivisection of our vast landmass in 1947 was given a complete burial with the liberation of East Pakistan (rechristened as Bangladesh) that was situated thousands of kilometres away from its parent territory Pakistan in an artificial arrangement somewhat unique in the world.

Sometime ago this year, one had written in these columns about one’s association with the Bangladesh liberation struggle when one had visited that country once during Pakistani occupation and twice after its independence. Now that our Prime Minister has visited Bangladesh this year one is tempted to write about the importance of 1971 for India and its people.

At the end of 1970, one had migrated to Calcutta from Delhi having decided to work for a Bengali daily published from that city. In the beginning of 1971, I had to rush to Delhi as my father who then edited Mainstream from the Capital had suffered a mild heart-problem. I met him at a heart institute in the Capital undergoing treatment under a well-known heart specialist. What struck me as extremely significant was that in spite of being ill, my father was all praise for the East Pakistani populace striving to shake off the yoke of Pakistani thralldom. Lying in his hospital bed, he was narrating to us the immense value of the Bangladeshi people’s superhuman struggle to end Pakistani tyranny.

My father’s association and close ties with the leaders of the Muslim League in the forties of the last century was quite evident as he was functioning as the personal secretary of the Muslim League General Secretary at that time, Abul Hashem. Every evening he used to go to Mr. Hashem’s residence near the Wellingdon Square and edit the papers that had reached his desk. He also used to write resolutions of the Muslim League at the different conferences of the party. Hence when independence came and East Pakistan emerged, it was quite natural for him to know the political developments and cross-currents in East Pakistan. In fact, he wrote a pamphlet, Blackout in East Pakistan, in the mid-1950s when democracy was sought to be throttled and the results of the elections there that had witnessed a remarkable victory of the progressive forces in the elections in the region were rigged and the outcome was distorted on the plea that ‘Pakistan must be saved’.

Thus, when 1971 dawned it was natural for my father to understand the dynamics of the popular urge for self-determination and the common people’s move for independence from Pakistan. This he explained to me in fluent terms in the hospital and I was enthralled by his analytical acumen of the fast-changing events in that country.

Much before 1971 as early as in 1964, a few days after the death of our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, N.C had written in his Mainstream editorial of May 23rd the following:

“On the approach to Pakistan there seem to be two distinct schools in the Capital. According to one, if Pakistan could be mollified by settling the Kashmir issue, there should be no objection to making major concessions in the interest of long-term amity between the two countries. Rajagopalachari and the Swatantra Right belong to this school.

“The other school firmly believes that the entire basis of Pakistan rests on stirring up hatred against India, and it is this negative foundation of Jinnah’s two-nation edifice which will be a perpetual source of irritation and acrimony for India. While agreeing with the second school insofar as the origin of Pakistan is concerned, the Prime Minister as an epilogue to his eventful life, seems to feel that if by friendly overtures, suspicion could be dispelled even to a small measure inside Pakistan, the game would be worth the candle.

“Behind this move, there is also a groping for what may be called strong support for Indo-Pak goodwill inside Pakistan itself. With the developments in East Pakistan, a section of opinion in this country, particularly among the more enlightened section in West Bengal, has started rethinking on how to undo the bane of the Partition. Some are even urging for a positive policy in anticipation of the likelihood of East Pakistan seceding as an independent state.

“While responsible opinion in New Delhi considers these as slightly premature, there is a definite exploring here for working up a solid body of friendly opinion inside Pakistan. It is this point which Sheikh Abdullah also hinted at his New Delhi utterances when he expressed his anxiety to create a ‘base’ inside Pakistan.”

All this provided a glimpse of the attitude of my father to the momentous events that were to take definite shape in the coming days.

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