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Mainstream, VOL LI No 46, November 2, 2013

New Stature, New Tasks

Friday 1 November 2013, by Nikhil Chakravartty

It is like the end of a long night for men, women, and children of this country as Bangladesh proclaims her independence from Pakistan’s military junta. The rejoicing is not merely in the feat of arms—though the military defeat of the much-vaunted war machine of Pakistan has brought no little credit to this country’s armed forces, officers and men alike.

What is of abiding value is that this confrontation has demonstrated that democracy in this country has not only come to stay but has strengthened the content of our independence. The spirit of defiance that one could breathe even in the political backwaters of New Delhi as the news of Nixon’s Seventh Fleet steaming up the Bay of Bengal went round, is the measure of the nation’s anti-imperialist consciousness doubly reinforced by recent experience.

What has been uppermost in the minds of many is the contrast provided by this country’s statesmanship in unilaterally offering an immediate ceasefire to Pakistan the moment its forces surrendered in Bangladesh, with the unbalanced ravings of Mr Bhutto on becoming Pakistan’s President, riding on the back of one faction of the same old militry junta. One cannot help noticing how with every round of the ordeal of Bangladesh, the pronouncements of India’s Prime Minister reflected the enriched wisdom of a mature political leadership while with every step in the decline and discredit of the military junta the outbursts of Pakistan’s President betrayed the degeneration of a clique, bereft of democratic support.

All this is not just a passing euphoria, nor is it an irredentist jubilation at the break-up of an unfriendly state next door. What is most conspicuous in the spontaneous feelings of joy at Sonar Bangla achieving her libertion is the sense of triumph that this has been achieved by defeating a military set-up which has been reared over the years by the biggest of imperialist powers and today enjoys the backing of another military power. The fact that this nation can no longer be humiliated into submission by bullying and blackmail is at the very root of the new sense of strength and fulfilment that permeates all segments of public opinion in this country today.

The warmth with which solidarity with Bangladesh is being expressed at the govern-ment as well as the popular level gives the lie to the reactionary communalist propaganda in this country which has tried for decades to spread the anti-Muslim poison. Equally signifi-cant is the repeated declaration by the govern-ment and responsible leaders of democratic opinion that this country harbours no animosity towards Pakistan; the clearest proof of which was provided by the decision not to let the war continue despite the fact that the Indian forces in the west were able to occupy over 4500 square miles of West Pak territory as against less than 200 square miles of Indian territory occupied by the Pak Army in the same sector. It would have been a natural temptation for any military leadership to push ahead and teach the enemy a lesson, particularly when the adversary had been holding out threats to capture Kashmir for over twentyfive years. But a sense of realism coupled with loyalty to democratic norms could be discerned in the fact that it is the leadership of India’s armed forces which has throughout refused to play the hawk in this conflict.

The conspicuous absence of a spirit of jehad on India’s part is in marked contrast to President Bhutto’s intemperate call for revenge and his mulish refusal to recognise that Bangladesh has delinked itself irrevocably from Pakistan. In fact, the process of stabilising the cease-fire line by an armistice to be followed by creating conditions for a durable peace, is obviously hampered by such megalomaniac antics of the head of a state which has not only to lick the wounds of military defeat but to refashion its entire economy with the loss of the very province which was so long fleeced for the benefit of West Pakistan.

The official US position—coupled with Peking’s bellicosity—has been tirelessly trying to help Pakistan by getting whatever concession it could extract even on the question of cease-fire. The fact that it is Pakistan’s President that is now taking up a warlike posture—refusing to learn anything from his predecessor’s fate—does not bother his mentors in Washington and Peking. In essence, the US grouse is against this country for having the impudence to flout its wishes. Mr Nixon’s pettyfogging reply to Smt Gandhi’s letter brings out the contrast in the calibre of leadership at the helm of the two governments.

Herein lies the importance of the present developments over Bangladesh. The very force which could drive out British imperialism from this country has once again emerged with all the glory of resurgence against the US imperialism today. And this is not confined to the question of Bangladesh alone.

The refusal to devalue the rupee in the wake of the devaluation of the dollar is a very important political landmark. Although Sri Subramaniam has not changed his spots and is ready to plead for the devaluation of the rupee with the same vehemence with which he did so in 1965, in the company of Sri Asoka Mehta and Sri L.K. Jha, the fact that his writ has not run this time indicates how far this nation and its government have travelled along the road of self-respect in these five years. Of interest should be Lyndon Johnson’s bouquets to Sri Subramaniam for holding similar ideas, as quoted in the former US President’s memoirs.

Another significant development is the current debate that has been going on the question of US aid. The Nixon embargo on economic aid as a pressure move against this country over the Bangladesh question, has boomeranged. There are, of course, pundits in the Finance Ministry and Planning Commission—once again Sri Subramaniam is in their company—who cannot think of any development programme without a generous dose of US aid. But the growing volume of opinion in the government against getting any more US aid—reflected in the Prime Minister’s talk to the Planning Commission this week—is the reflection of the same spirit of independence which refuses to kowtow to the Almighty Dollar. One has only to recall the day when Sri S.K. Patil congratulated himself ten years ago for having secured from Washington the largest quantum of PL-480 bounty. One more indicator to show how far this nation and its government have travelled along the road to economic independence.

At the same time, New Delhi is not unaware of the magnitude of the tasks to be faced. Bangladesh poses a formidable challenge; it is multidimentional, embracing all manner of very sensitive problems from the role of the Indian Army to the long-range question of development programme, the building of the new state’s administrative infrastructure to the evolution of a mutually beneficial trade policy. In all this, Indian expertise and guidance cannot be with-held since it is asked for by a government which regards New Delhi as its friend in need.

From the Marwari businessmen in Calcutta to the Big Business interests assembled in the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in New Delhi, are all calculating their investment prospects in Bangladesh. It will be necessary for the Government of India to take a firm stand against private sector spoiling national assets in terms of political goodwill in Bangladesh.

In the national sphere, New Delhi has to chalk out concrete measures for the country’s economic development. The mid-term appraisal of the Fourth Plan, due to be released shortly, brings into sharp relief the tasks ahead if the objective of growth with social justice is to be realised. The minimum programme chalked out at Bangalore in 1969—which marked the parting of ways between the Syndicate and the present leadership of the Congress—is yet to be realised.

The excitement of coming elections to the State Assemblies by next March, can no longer be used as an alibi for urgently required concrete steps to put the economy into the right gear.

The experience of Bangladesh has also been a tremendous education in the handling of foreign policy on New Delhi’s part. Here too a sense of realism pervades which is a sign of self-confidence as also of maturity in understanding. The massive vote in the UN General Assembly on the Bangladesh crisis has neither unnerved nor angered this country’s policy planners. It is realised that much more of spade work has to be done to bring home to the Afro-Asian nations about the significance of Bangladesh. It is this realisation that has led the Foreign Minister himself to spend a long period in the UN, and he has taken along with him two of the most distinguished intellectuals in this country from among the Muslim community—no doubt to effectively counteract Pakistan’s propaganda in the Arab countries which do not seem to have registered the fact that Bangladesh has the largest Muslim population in the world, next to Indonesia.

A conspicuous development is the manifestation of Anglo-American contradictions over Bangladesh, which New Delhi is not only aware of but is capable of using in a positive direction.

An important region with potentialities of closer understanding and economic ties for this country is Latin America. It is worth noting that two countries with the most significant developments to their credit in recent times—Cuba and Chile—have demonstrated their positive under-standing with regard to the Bangladesh developments.

Few will deny the strengthening of India’s relations with the socialist world as a result of the Bangladesh crisis. Even the most conservative elements in Parliament have come out with unequivocal appreciation of the Soviet Union’s support for India, and equally widespread is the praise for other members of the socialist world which have stood by India.

Apart from Peking’s aberration, what is intriguing, however, is the stand of Rumania and Yugoslavia; both, it is to be noted, have recently taken up a pro-Peking posture in contrast to their cooling off towards Moscow. Belgrade’s position has no doubt annoyed New Delhi, particularly after Marshal Tito’s recent visit to this country when he expressed his support for India’s stand with regard to Bangladesh. The subseqent Yugoslav explanation that its stand in the UN is largely guided by its own difficulties with regard to Croatia has carried little conviction in New Delhi; rather, the fact that Belgrade is under the double pressure of Washington and Peking explains its strange posture with regard to Bangladesh.

As for Bucharest, there was hardly any illusion in New Delhi about its attitude towards Bangladesh after President Giri’s encounter with the Rumanian President during the Persepolis celebrations in October. The impression has strengthened since then that in its present acrobatics as the go-between for Washington and Peking, Bucharest can hardly be expected to annoy either over any issue affecting Pakistan.

On the whole, there is no feeling of pessimism in New Delhi with regard to its foreign policy, nor is there any isolationist trend, just because many countries in the Afro-Asian world have yet to understand the significance of Bangladesh. Rather, New Delhi has taken this up as a challenge, and there is litle doubt that in the months to come, this inadequacy will be overcome as Bangladesh herself proclaims her will to live and grow in friendship with India.

The sense of pride and glory is invested with a new sense of responsibility as the nation comes to the end of a momentous year which opened with the excitement of a massive election victory for Indira Gandhi, and is about to close with the elation over the liberation of Bangladesh.

December 21 N.C.

(Political Notebook in issue of December 25, 1971)

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