Indians, Bangladeshis know the same events of 1971 differently. We need a common official history


Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s four-day visit to India starting today is not just any trip by a head of government to his neighboring country. And that’s because India and Bangladesh have a unique relationship.

In 1971, during the Bangladesh Liberation War, soldiers from both countries shed blood jointly, in some cases sharing the same enemy artillery shell or a burst of automatic weapons. Sometimes it was difficult to separate the mutilated/suffocated bodies of Indian and Bangladeshi soldiers from each other. The sapling of friendship was planted on March 26, 1971 by “Bangabandhu” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and irrigated with the blood of soldiers from both countries until December 16 this year.

A friendship was born

Fifty-one years ago, the sense of the border had disappeared for 75 million Bangladeshis when the Indians opened the doors to them. India was then a poor country, but had a heart bigger than the Himalayas. The Indian Army did not believe that Mukti Bhaini (or Bangladesh Forces) belonged to another country, nor did they consider the 1971 fight to belong to another nation. They trained together and the hundred officers became the backbone of the valiant Bangladeshi forces. (I, RP Singh, was part of the team that taught Bangladeshi cadets the art of war. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s younger brother, Captain Shaheed Sheikh Kamal, was one of my trainees. These cadets became friends of India for life.)

On November 15, 1971, the Mukti Bahini had pulverized the defenses of the Pakistani army. Pakistani soldiers did not venture out of the cantonments as the countryside was entirely controlled by Mukti Bahini. On November 21, the governments of India and Bangladesh (Mujibnagar) formed a joint command under the command of Lieutenant General JS Aurora, thus making the two armies “Mitro Bahini”. Mitro Bahini liberated Bangladesh in just 12 days. This was possible thanks to the substantive work carried out by Mukti Bahini and the collaboration of the two forces.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are ready to fulfill the dreams of liberation war veterans like us on either side of the Radcliffe line who have fought to develop everlasting relationships. Much has been achieved jointly, especially since 2014 when Modi assumed the post of Indian Prime Minister. The land demarcation agreement was implementedand Bangladesh, according to a former head of the National Security Guard, has enormously assistance India controls and manages “all the problems we had in the North East”.

The two prime ministers laid a solid foundation with a seamless transit facility between India and Bangladesh through rail, road, river transport, pipelines and power transmission lines. This was vital for the progress of Bangladesh as well as the northeastern states of India, as their economies are geographically and historically linked.

Also read: Bangladesh’s freedom was not limited to the Indian army. Public diplomacy played a huge role

Still work to do

Still, there are major and minor irritants. The two leaders are expected to take immediate action to harness millions of cusecs of water from 54 rivers flowing through Bangladesh into the Bay of Bengal, wreaking havoc with floods in the two countries every year. Both countries are to construct mini-dams along the foothills of the Himalayas and the Mizo hills. The water and electricity saved in this way will meet the needs of millions of people on both sides of the international border. The occasional killings at the border, illegal crossings of IB still remain an obstacle in the friendly relations between India and Bangladesh. There is a need to identify key areas where the two countries can cooperate for “Making in India and Bangladesh”.

Biometric identification of all citizens of both countries must be done quickly to eliminate illegal smuggling of the IB. The Border Security Force (BSF) must keep its human face and if an illegal intrusion takes place, it must be tracked down with state-of-the-art technology – identified, apprehended and expelled. Border areas must be developed together quickly. The joint border crime mechanism still needs to be perfected. Politicians and the media should be warned not to use offensive language against each other on thorny issues that occasionally arise between the two neighbors.

One lakh Mukti Bahini cadres have been trained in India at seven camps under ‘Op Jackpot’, including Murti camp in Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal, where officers from the first and WWII, including Captain Shaheed Sheikh Kamal, were cadets. Sadly, no one in India knows about Murti Camp’s role in the liberation war while it is a household name in Bangladesh. Of the 61 officers of the First War Course, three were killed in action during the war and Captain Kamal on August 15, 1975. In Bangladesh, several books written in Bengali and English find mentions of this monument. The last, The Murti Boys, was released on July 3, 2022, which we attended virtually. A proper memorial to Murti needs to be built.

Age is taking its toll on liberation fighters on either side of the international border. Almost all of us are in the 70s and 80s. Soon there will only be memories of Muktijoddhas. Once they are gone, valuable information will be lost forever. Therefore, the correct historical events must be put in black and white and brought to every household in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan through books, TV serials and movies. On our side, we have written many books and articles in newspapers and periodicals in India and Bangladesh. Unfortunately, Indians and Bangladeshis have different stories/versions about the same 1971 event/incident. Both countries should have a common official history.

We are happy that the future of posterity for which we gave our yesterday is bright under the wonderful leaders of both countries. We wish both Prime Ministers well and good luck for their future endeavours.

Brig (Retired) RP Singh, VSM, Indian Army, tweets @rpsingh2008.

Lt Colonel (Retd) Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir (Bir Prateek and Padma Shree), Bangladesh Army.

Views are personal.


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