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Can India find a Way to Bangladesh’s Heart?

In 1971, the most common words on the lips of a common Indian was “Joi Bangla”, victory to Bangladesh.  The India-Bangladesh honeymoon lasted till August 15, 1975, the day Sk. Mujibur Rahman was assassinated along with his family who were in Bangladesh, by a group of young army officers.  Behind this assassination was a huge conspiracy, which went far beyond Bangladesh.  That is another story, but from that one night India-Bangladesh relations went into a tail spin.  Efforts are on to retrieve what should be natural relations.

How different are Indians and Bangladeshis?  No more different than people from Indian regions and states from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Mumbai to north-east India.  In fact, Indian states bordering Bangladesh have closer similarities with Bangladesh in language, culture, history and food habits than they have with many other Indian states.

Should religion divide Bangladesh and India?  If that were so, then East Pakistan would not have broken away from West Pakistan to liberate itself.  Language, culture, tradition, blood and history proved much stronger than religion.  India has around 18 per cent Muslims and Bangladesh has around 14 per cent Hindus.

Historically, in the region of greater India that is Bangladesh there was hardly any religious conflict to talk about between the two communities.  Each participated in the celebration of the other’s religious festivities.  And one cannot forget the Muslim Marfatis and the Hindu Bauls who  sang to one god who has no name and rued that temples, mosques and churches artificially divided humans.   It  would  be wise for today’s  politicians  like Begum Khaleda Zia  to heed the advice of these roving philosophers of yester years if they really want peace and development.

The visceral hate-India mindset of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) and its allied religious groups is understandable.  After all, they were committed to Pakistan and remain so.  They collaborated with the Pakistani occupation army in 1971, killing and raping hundreds  and thousands of Bangladeshis.  In the early part of this  decade the JEI leaders appeared to have been confident to form the government in Dhaka on their own  by 2012.  They also spoke of making Bangladesh a confederate of Pakistan.

But fate had another design for them and India had nothing to do with the design.  The Bangladeshi justice system will take its course as recent development suggests.  Being God fearing, the JEI leaders should have remembered that the wheels of justice grind slowly, but grind extremely well.  The perpetrators of the Holocaust are being hunted down even today.

But what is Begum  Khaleda Zia’s enduring problem with India?  Her late husband President Zia-ur-Rehman was a liberation war hero and fought along with Indian soldiers.  But why did he turn against India so viciously?  He even banned “Rabindra Sangeet, songs written by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. But he stopped short of changing the Tagore Song “Amar Shonar Bangla” which Bangladesh adopted as its national anthem after liberation.  Today, Tagore is more alive in Bangladesh than even in India, clearly underlining how strong culture can be as a cohesive bond surmounting religious barriers.

The assassination of Sk. Mujibur Rahman, the conspiracies and the  ascendancy and rule of Zia-ur-Rahman ,  the founding of the Bangladesh Nationalist  Party  (BNP) by him and rebirth of the JEI by Zia have been recorded and written by Bangladeshi writers.  Hence, there is no need to go into them here.

Astute leaders always read the past carefully, deeply study  the domestic, regional and global changes, and then form policies that are good for the nation.  But Begum Khaleda seems to be misreading everything and picking a fight with India for  no reason most of the times.  Of course, neighbours have differences.  But there are civilized ways of dealing with them.

Begum Khaleda Zia is the indisputable leader of her party, and can steer the BNP in any direction that she likes.  But she has always suggested by her behaviour and policy a deep emotional link with Pakistan.  Having inducted millionaire businessman like Salauddin Qader Choudhury, a Pakistani collaborator during 1971, as her advisor and close collaboration with the JEI, her views may have been even more clouded.  No wonder she sees an India ghost even under her bed, attacks India sometimes even more than the Pakistani leaders do, and holds India as the number one enemy of Bangladesh.

Very recently (July 13) Khaleda Zia told a party rally “we got independence of the country by sacrifice of blood.  We will never let you (the Awami League led government) give a corridor to India through our land”.  Then she went on to say she and her party will oppose a proposed Indian power plant in Bangladesh and a special Export Processing Zone (EPZ).  Of course, the BNP and JEI and their media mouthpieces have been opposing anything Indian, and see any cooperation with India as a security and sovereignty threat to Bangladesh.

It might have been a political speech for domestic followers.  But it has very serious implications.  One, Khaleda Zia continues in her anti-India indoctrination.  More important, she forgot to mention that there were a few thousand Indians who  gave their blood for Bangladesh’s independence, and India hosted ten million Bangladeshi refugees at that time to meet the cost, Indians especially Indian government servants had to pay from their salaries for years.  Not a single Indian opposed or regretted this decision of the Indian government.

If Begum Zia charges India as the biggest threat to Bangladesh, it would also be pertinent to recall what the BNP-JEI four party alliance government did to subvert India during their governance from 2001-2006.  To start with in 2004 Murshed Khan, foreign minister during the BNP-JEI government, famously stated “if India surrounds Bangladesh, Bangladesh also surrounds India”.  Actually, Mr, Khan’s statement was already in action.

Under Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Indian insurgents like the ULFA, NSCN(I/M) and others were openly given a  free run by Bangladesh to import arms for militancy in Assam, Nagaland and other parts of north-east India.  ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Barua lived openly in Dhaka with his family.

The climax was the accidental interdiction of ten truck loads of arms at the Chittagong Urea Fertilizer Jetty on the night of May 01, 2004.  It was a consignment for ULFA to start a bloody massacre in Assam.

As interrogation reports with the Bangladesh courts reveal, those involved in this incident include Tareque Rehman, Begum Khaleda’s elder son and senior joint general secretary of the BNP, JEI Amir Matiur Rehman Nizami another leading collaborator in 1971, Minister of state for Home Lutffozzaman Babar, National Security Intelligence (NSI) Chief Maj Gen. (Rtd) Rezzakul Haider Choudhury, and a host of other intelligence officers,  bureaucrats and BNP and JEI leaders.

This enterprise was planned at the behest of  and collaboration with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan based Indian fugitive and international terrorist Dawood Ibrahim and a Dubai based Pakistani company ARY, which also acted as a conduit to Al Qaida.  In Bangladesh, Tareque Rehman was the main controller.  The then ISI chief and Dawood Ibrahim also visited Dhaka for planning the undeclared war against India.  Tareque and Rezzakul Haider also met Dawood Ibrahim in a hotel in Dubai in 2004.  All the Bangladeshi citizens involved are under trial now.

It is difficult to believe Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was oblivious of this conspiracy.  It is also difficult to imagine that she was unaware of three attempts on the life of Awami League President Sk. Hasina, the last of which was on August 21, 2004 in Dhaka which almost took her life and left her seriously injured.  To top it all, an attempt was made to pin the blame on India, while Tareque Rehman and Babar have been indicted for the attack, employing Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HUJI) commander Mufti Hannan to execute the assassination.  BNP’s links with several terrorist organizations is no longer a secret.

Sk. Hasina was and continues to be a co-enemy number one along with India!

She is Sk. Mujibur Rahman’s daughter and anathema to Pakistan. She is a secularist, and wants good relations with India. To Begum Khaleda and the JEI, Sk. Hasina stands as a wall against their designs.

This is utter madness. Begum Zia seems to be caught in a deep hallucination of intrigues, demons and a world of evil doers, that have hijacked her rationality.

Begum Khaleda Zia must remember that all these can be put behind. If she does that, she will not find India wanting. Political fights are natural in a democracy. She must look at India for education. Political parties fight bitterly among themselves on domestic issues, but they do not hold another nation responsible for their internal problems. Pakistan is held responsible for terrorism because these are hard facts, but if Pakistan opens up trade and commercial exchanges, truly gives India MFN status, no political party will grudge that.

India has to deal with the party in power, and the government in Bangladesh is led by the Awami League with Sk. Hasina as the Prime Minister. India is naturally emphatic about Sk. Hasina. She delivered on her first promise-eradication of terrorism, something which the BNP-JEI combination espoused. Over the last decade or a little more India has gone way ahead in its economic development and position among the community of nations. India does not wish ill for Bangladesh or any of its neighbours, because an ill member of the South Asian community can hurt all the members. South Asia can rise together. But if Begum Zia still thinks she can pull India down, she is sorely misinformed. Despite her, India will go ahead, and so will Bangladesh, hopefully.

On many counts, however, India cannot be left off the hook. If the Bangladeshi diplomats in India feel that the Indian bureaucracy is like a heavy, immovable stone, they are not far from the truth. In this huge democracy, different Ministries move at their own pace and according to their own priorities.

Foreign Policy is least on their minds, let alone strategic policy. Many of them do not have any understanding on special relationships, where exceptions have to be made over general rules and policies. How else was the promised supply of food grains to Bangladesh delayed for so long, and why was no action taken to rebuild a village in Bangladesh destroyed by the Sidr cyclone? It is time that these and many other issues are expedited on an emergency basis. The time left for India to set foundations for a firm India-Bangladesh relations that benefits the people of Bangladesh is not too long. India will be appreciated when the people of Bangladesh really feel that India is there for them.

Last words for Begum Khaleda Zia. The world has changed. Pakistan is living on doles and cannot help her. Of course, the ISI has enough resources as always to tickle the fantasies of those who want to spit in India’s eyes. That will take them into a deeper hole.

Relations between India and China have changed a lot. There is a $60 billion trade between the two countries which is likely to increase to $100 billion, despite many differences. China no longer sees India in the locus of 1962, so forget China launching a war with India at BNP’s behest. Begum Zia must stop living in a make belief world, come out of the rabbit’s hole in Alice in Wonderland,    and  take  hold  of  reality.   As  the  leader  of  the  opposition in Bangladesh, she can seek for a meeting with Ms. Sonia Gandhi, President of the ruling Congress Party in India, when she visits Dhaka on July 25 on a purely non-political agenda. There she can detail her problems with India, while keeping in perspective that New Delhi’s relationship with Sk. Hasina’s government is firm.

(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst based in New Delhi.Email:

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