The 40th Anniversary of the 1971 India-Pakistan War on December 16 brings back the memory of the moment when 93,000 Pakistan armed forces personnel surrendered to Indian Army in Dhaka. The declaration of new liberated Bangladesh was observed in New Delhi by the Defence Minister and the three Services Chiefs, who laid wreaths at Amar Jawan Jyoti under the arch of India Gate, which is a memorial made by the British to honour the memory of Indian Army soldiers killed in World War I. In Kolkata, Dhaka and many other military stations in India and Bangladesh, Vijay Divas was celebrated befittingly at larger scales, with tributes paid at many other memorials.
One of the major events of the yearlong celebrations of the 40th anniversary of Bangladesh’s Liberation war was Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s first ever visit to, her nation’s neighbouring Indian state, Tripura, on January 11-12, 2012. Accompanied by her sister, Sheikh Rehana was received at Agartala Airport by Minister of Human Resources and Development Kapil Sibal and Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar. Vice- President of India Hamid Ansari came to present to Sheikh Hasina the honorary Doctorate of Literature conferred by Tripura Central University on its ninth convocation at Agartala on January 12. Switching to Bengali during her address she emotionally said, “I express my deep gratitude to the people of Tripura who gave us food, shelter and clothing and care when the people of our country were subject of inhuman and barbaric torture in the hands of Pakistan Army and migrated to this land… I was amazed when I came to know that before this university was set up, this place was a training camp of the Bangladesh liberation soldiers.”
Two of the 17 Indian armed forces veterans of that historic war, invited by Bangladesh shared their memories and experiences of their recent visit with us. Col SS Chowdhry, SM said, “The six days trip was exhilarating, nostalgic, with very warm hospitality and touching gratitude. The President, the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister, State Minister, Ministry of Liberation War and the three Services Chiefs took turns to host the delegation. Plenty of visits to various battle locations, meeting old Mukti Bahini Joddhas and many delightful cultural programmes made the six days seem too short. Over all, it was a great once in a lifetime experience.”
Maj Gen Ian Cardozo, VrC, of 4/5 Gorkha Rifles, who having blown up his leg in a minefield, amputated it himself with a khukhri since there was no medical aid shared, “The Government of Bangladesh and its armed forces went out of their way to treat us as their honoured guests. They have a lot of love and regard for the Indian Government and its people. Indira Gandhi is held in great respect and reverence for her courage and the manner in which she led India during those troubled times. And also the way she came to the rescue of a beleaguered neighbour.”
Cardozo was asked to address various gatherings and he said that 40 years ago India and the people of what is now Bangladesh and their fearless Mukti Bahini shared a common destiny, for them it was to free their beloved country from the stranglehold of West Pakistan and for India it was to help a friend to achieve that aim. During the war many sacrifices were made by Indian soldiers and Mukti Bahini, and it was on the altar of these sacrifices that freedom was won in a brief period of thirteen days, just as well before the US or China could interfere and before the UN could enforce a ceasefire. Great battles were fought by the Indian soldiers and the Mukti Bahini walked shoulder to shoulder with the Indian Navy and Air Force. The Mukti Bahini were a great force as was evident by the damage done at Chittagong and Khulna ports by Indian Naval commandoes and the Mukti Bahini frogmen.
The Gorkha Rifles soldiers visited two National War Memorials and were told that there were many more in the districts where major battles were fought. This is in stark contrast to India where we are yet to have a National War memorial for soldiers who died in all the wars since Independence. Dhaka also has a War Museum which was visited by them. It has well documented accounts of the war of liberation but mostly of their own Mukti Bahini. Wherever they went they were told by strangers that without India’s help the liberation would never have happened so quickly and the sacrifice by the Indian armed forces was greatly appreciated.
A reception was hosted by the President of Bangladesh and this was an occasion where the Prime Minister was able to personally thank the Indian soldiers for all that they did. Headquarters, Eastern Command, Kolkata hosted three serving Bangladesh Army officers, 22 Mukti Joddhas (Mukti Bahini veterans) and Indian armed forces veterans, including Bangladesh Parliament’s Deputy Speaker Shaukat Ali, former Eastern Command chief of staff Lt Gen (retd) JFR Jacob, former Indian Army chief and Member of Parliament, Gen (retd) Shankar Roychowdhury. Solemn tributes were paid at Vijay Smarak to those martyred in the war. An all-faith prayer meeting was organised at the venue where two helicopters showered rose petals on the martyrs’ column. Race to Dhaka, a pictorial book depicting the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war was also released.
“Our defeat in the Chinese war had downed the morale not only of the forces but also of the whole country. But this victory enabled India to stand firmly and confidently on her feet. Since then we are totally confident,” Gen Roychowdhury said. Shaukat Ali praised India for its efforts and said his country will always remain grateful for the gesture. “India stood beside us for humanity. We shall always remember this gesture. I would give 100 per cent credit to India for the liberation of Bangladesh. We gained Independence but India fought for it.
Can this contribution be belittled?” he asked. “We are grateful to India since 1971 and we will continue to be so. The Indian army stood beside us and together we marched to victory and independence,” said Ashrafdaula, a Mukti Joddha who lost one of his legs in the war. A five-day cultural fest held at the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission at Kolkata saw renowned cultural artistes from both sides of the border regaled audiences. Apart from the classic Bengali folk music to rock music, the guests also savoured delicious Bangladeshi cuisine.
“Podda Illish”, the famous fish from the Padma river, which has always been acclaimed as far tastier than its Hoogly counterpart. Earlier in May 2011, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA, New Delhi) and Bangladesh Heritage Foundation (Dhaka) held a three-day dialogue in Tripura, where the first Bangladesh government in exile was formed and the first Bangladesh Radio office being set up there.
The Bangladeshi delegation expressed their gratitude about the sacrifice that India and Indian soldiers made to ensure independence of Bangladesh and also reminisced the importance of Tripura in that historic event. The delegation visited the Bharat-Bangladesh Maitree Udyan park, Chottakhola, Belonia, a border town 130 km from Agartala and one of the base camps of the Mukti Bahini, from where they launched the war against Pakistani troops in Noakhali, Feni and parts of Comilla districts. A museum showcasing the arms and ammunition used in the war, photographs, literature and newspapers from that period has been planned.
— Col Anil Bhat (retd), an independent defence and security analyst, is Editor, Word Sword Features