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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2674

Indo-Bangladesh Relations and Coup in August 1975 –Part-II

By Rabindranath Trivedi - for Asian Tribune from Dhaka

Part-II The Coup in Bangladesh in August 1975 and News coverage in World Media

Dhaka, 05 August, ( “Now, we go on to the last week's (August 15,1975) overthrow of President Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh,’ this was a BBC report in August 1975. The report said: Sheikh Mujib was India's friend and owned his position to the fact that Indian Armed Forces helped to create Bangladesh. Also the fact cannot have been lost on Mrs. Indira Gandhi who is now ruling in a highly personal way that would leave her in a state of a coup.

Neville Maxwell of Oxford University made this point to BBC interviewer: Mujib changed the constitution and tailored it to one-party rule, an act which at that time drew congratulations from Mrs. Gandhi.

Mrs. Gandhi followed suit last month. Again a parallel was drawn and Sheikh Mujib returned the congratulations. Now after a brief period, Sheikh Mujib's authoritarian rule has been terminated by the army. I think that this, as it were, underlines in blood the writing on the wall that has been visible since June 1975, reports BBC. Twenty-four hour feature, August 18, 1975

.The BBC report had continued that : Now, I am saying that there is an imminent or even an early danger of the same thing happening to Mrs. Gandhi as happened to Sheikh Mujib. Then what are the implications of the fact that Bangladeshis under its new "Islamic Republic".

Neville Maxwell said, "This is, in fact, an assertive reappearance of the basic conflict in South Asia, between Hindus and Muslims. Sheikh Mujib declared that Bangladesh would be a secular state. In doing so, he opened himself to criticism that he was tool of India and by implication a tool of Hinduism as against Islam. And this was, of course, running very strongly indeed against Sheikh Mujib this year as a part of the general disaffection that led him to establish his abortive dictatorship."

Interviewer: Pakistan has moved very quickly to recognise the new administration. It has been strange, undoubtedly, what has happened in Bangladesh has concerned Pakistanis and the news has repeatedly been articulated by Prime Minister Z A Bhutto that the essential Islamic nature of East Pakistan, Bangladesh would reassert itself in time and that when it did so East Pakistan, presently Bangladesh, would move into a more cordial relationship with Pakistan that the blood and injuries of 1971 would be forgotten and that these two states would once again move into at least a close association. This leaves, in fact, India's Eastern flank vis-à-vis Bangladesh open again.

Neville Maxwell said: "I think, that would undoubtedly be the feeling in Delhi. A feeling of great in case that East Pakistan has in a way been reborn in the new guise of the "Islamic Republic of Bangladesh" and that this has ominous political and strategic potential for India." (BBC,18 August 1975)

Radio Japan, Bengali service, Press Review: on 20 August 1975: The Japanese daily Asahi Shim Hun: "Three main problems facing the new government are serious to take note of these, and the main problem is the cherished political goal of the people of the region. During the last three and a half years, the leader of the newly born nation tried to establish the political philosophy of the nation on the principles of secularism, socialism and democracy. The paper said undoubtedly the people of the region nourish a nationalism of their own, but secularism could not work out properly. The main reason behind it is that 79% of the people are Muslims.

Secondly, a complex international situation faced by the whole world kept the new nation under a constant confusion in her diplomatic trend. The new government seems to have taken a trend towards Pakistan and the United States. Thirdly, the main, rather the most important issue, is the construction of her shattered economy.

Radio Japan said: Another daily analyzed the situation contributing to the downfall and killing of Sheikh Mujib. The worldwide inflation has a severe impact in the economy of the developing nations. This was acute in Bangladesh, which the government, in spite of its promises, could not lessen, in any way. This frustrated the hungry millions to such an extent that the one-party rule made by Sheikh Mujib could not last long and suffered from this setback. The big powers should keep themselves aloof and let Bangladesh move forwards all by herself ….However, this change in one part of the South-East Asian region will undoubtedly have effect on the rest. ( Radio Japan,20 August 1975)

BBC on August 20, 1975 in its Bengali commentary said: “ Pakistan is the country to recognize the new Government of Bangladesh first. Prime Minister Bhutto appealed to the Muslim states and the third world countries to recognize the new government of Bangladesh. Following the death of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Pakistan recognised the new Government of Bangladesh without any delay while Mrs. Indira Gandhi expressed her grief. When Mr Robert Bernard, a journalist of the "School of Oriental African Studies", was asked whether Mrs. Gandhi has lost her control over Bangladesh, he said, "Yes, as India had been closely involved in the liberation movement of Bangladesh and established close relations after its liberation, she now feels that her control over Bangladesh is, to some extent, lost. Again, since Mrs. Gandhi had good relations with Sheikh Mujib, the administration and political situation in Bangladesh are being considered to be in a mess by India following the Sheikh’s death. Mr. Bernard asked Mrs. Gandhi, “Do you think that there are some barriers in the way of promoting good relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh even after Pakistan's quick recognition to the latter? Mrs. Gandhi said, "It does not seem that a federal state comprising Bangladesh and Pakistan are to be established in the near future. Whatever be the new situation in Bangladesh, India will remain dominant in the affairs of Bangladesh. "However, if Pakistan becomes a close friend of Bangladesh, she may cause harm to India and then Bangladesh will become an issue of trouble in the sub-continent. As a result, the subsequent circumstances will not be favourable to India.

Mrs. Gandhi further said, "Of course, had the Government of Bangladesh adopted the Islamic principles, the question of the Hindu minority would have arisen. The Hindu minority might also leave Bangladesh for India creating new economic and political problems for India.” (BBC commentary: Bengali, 1945 hrs. August 20, 1975)

During Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s period in the post-August 1975 era the relations of the two countries were not cordial. Anti-Hindu and anti-India campaign started by the defected forces of liberation war in Bangladesh and a section of the press contributed a major damage in that direction. The illegal crossing of border by the Hindus and others caused strains in relations between Bangladesh and India. When the Janata government in India headed by Prime Minister Morarji Desai came, illegal entry of Bangladeshis and vested property issue were discussed. When Morarji visited Dhaka he discussed the problems with President Ziaur Rahman.

The attack on the Indian High Commissioner, Mr. Samar Sen, on 26 November, 1975 was a result of anti- India and anti- Hindu campaign. Mr. Samar Sen, as India's permanent representative to UN in 1971, dealt with Bangladesh issue with extraordinary diligence, perseverance and commitment. His outstanding contribution came in for fulsome praise not only in India but also among the freedom-loving citizens of Bangladesh. He was, therefore, the logical choice as India's High Commissioner in Dhaka after the premature departure of Mr. Subimal Dutta, first High Commissioner to Bangladesh. It is a matter of great love for Bangladesh that Mr. Samar Sen turned down an offer made by Mrs. Indira Gandhi to send an Indian Air Force plane to evacuate him to Calcutta for treatment saying he had full confidence in the Bangladesh medical services and doctors. When he was offered the post of India's Foreign Secretary, he turned it down on the ground that he could not afford it.

It is a part of history of Bangladesh that on December 3, 1971 when Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Gandhi was addressing a mammoth public meeting in Calcutta Parade ground, the Defence Minister, Mr. Jagjivan Ram, in Patna and the Finance Minister, Mr. Y B Chavan, in Bombay, Pakistan's armed forces launched aggression against India. The overwhelming majority of the elected representative of Bangladesh irrevocably declared themselves in favour of separation from the mother-state of Pakistan and set up a new state of Bangladesh. India has recognized this new state. In a letter addressed to the Secretary-General of the UN, Ambassador Samar Sen with reference to the General Assembly adopted resolution 2793 (XXVI) entitled “Question considered by the Security Council at its 1606th, 1608th meeting, on 4th, 5th, and 6th, and 7th December, 1971.

The UN provided the forum where last-minute efforts were made to preserve Pakistan’s unity. The Security Council discussed a US resolution calling upon India and Pakistan for an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of their armies to their own side of the border. On 5 December 1971, after an eight-hour debate, the Soviet Union’s representative to UN Mr Malikov vetoed the resolution; Britain and France abstained. Two days later, The General Assembly adopted a resolution of similar content by a vote of 104 to 11, with 10 abstentions. Indian representative to the UN Mr Samar Sen turned it down. Then , the Soviet Union vetoed two other resolutions in the Security Council to the effect, one by Belgium, Italy and Japan and the other by Argentina, Belgium and seven other countries.

Meanwhile, situation in East Pakistan worsened. Mitra Bahini and Freedom Fighters headed by General G J Aurora have been occupying more lands and arms from occupied Pakistani forces. General Niazi of eastern command of Pakistan‘s urgent request for help for West Pakistan did not evince any favourable response. Instead,it was authorized to take suitable decisions, as circumstances required.

Z A Bhutto rushed to New York on December 11 and The US representative Mr. Bush, later president of USA, moved an other resolution in the Security Council on 13 December, calling for an immediate cease-fire. The Soviet Union vetoed this resolution as well On 14 December, Poland moved a resolution, which called for the release of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman,and transfer of power to the lawfully elected representatives headed by him, while speaking on the Polish resolution, in an emotional out burst, Bhutto tore up the agenda papers and stormed out of the security council. The same day Soviet Union vetoed another resolution moved by France, the UK and Ireland,demandingan immediate cease-fire. Meanwhile Pakistan army surrendered to avoid’further bloodshed and heavy loss of civilian life’ to the joint forces of India and Bangladesh at 16.28 hours, at Ramna race course on 16 December,1971.

In December 1971, after a lengthy and heated discussion in the Security Council on the question of the tragic events in East Pakistan, which grew into a military conflict between the two biggest states of the region, India and Pakistan, and which has now become an international problem, this question has come before the General Assembly for consideration, said Mr. Jacob Malik, Permanent Representative of the USSR. He further said, "One can see how the voting went in the Security Council.

Unrealistic draft resolutions were submitted that failed to take into account the real state of affairs in East Pakistan and the sub-continent that closed their eyes to the facts. As a consequence, the Soviet Union twice voted against such draft resolutions, and the United Kingdom and France abstained. Thus, three permanent members of the Security Council did not support those draft resolutions. Who did support them?

The United States of America, which had submitted their draft of all -- a draft in accordance with their plans in that region - supported by the delegation of China, This is the picture of the voting. "Ambassador Samar Sen in exercise of his right to reply, said, "I have listened with great attention to the various comments made in this important debate. Without going into a detailed analysis, I think it is fair to say that four trends of thought against India have emerged: One led by the United States of America, one by Portugal, one by China and one by Pakistan."

The Security Council considered the situation in the Indian sub-continent again from December 12 to 21, 1971. The draft resolution tabled by the USA for an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of armed forces was vetoed by the USSR on December 13, 1971.

Meanwhile, the situation in the sub-continent changed with the fall of Dacca and India's unilateral declaration of cease-fire resulting in a better understanding of Bangladesh by India and the unilateral declaration of cease-fire in the Western sector, following the unconditional surrender by Pakistani military occupation forces in Dacca on December 16, 1971, confirmed the repeated assurances given by India that it had no territorial designs on Pakistan. Pakistan's attempt to collect signatures to take the whole issue back to the General Assembly failed as it was able to collect 23 signatures out of 104 countries which had earlier voted for General Assembly Resolution. This was clearly indicative of the understanding of the realities of the situation in Bangladesh by the members of the United Nations. (Bangladesh Documents, Vol-II, pp-514-517).

(Mr. Samar Sen (1914-2003), a doyen among Indian diplomats and a former member of the Indian Civil Service passed away in a London Hospital on February 16,2003. We pray to the Almighty for the salvation of the departed soul and express condolences to the bereaved family. I wrote an article in the Daily Janakantha on September 23, 2003 entitled "Leave here the old, A new game has started here" quoting a line from Tagore's poem.)

Rabindranath Trivedi is a retired civil servant, author and columnist.

- To be Continued –

- Asian Tribune –

Part- I: Coup in Bangladesh Killed Bangabandhu on 15 August 1975

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