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Indira of `71 to Bangladesh

Indira of `71 to Bangladesh

- Khaled Mahmood

During liberation war the then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi was the closest friend of Bangladesh. She not only supported Bangladesh in those bad days, she even looked after the freedom fighters and refugees by giving shelter to them. She played the most significant role as the only foreign statesman in making the liberation struggle successful by providing money, arms and training. Side by side by going against the then powerful countries in the world politics like U.S.A. and China she highlighted the picture of persecution and torture of Pakistan occupation forces in Bangladesh and the problem of refugees to the world community. She went into squally visits to Europe and America for formation of world opinion in favor of Bangladesh. At the same time it was a rare event in the world history of leaving the army of a joint force so quickly after liberation as it happened in case of Bangladesh. In reality in the then East Pakistan after the arrest of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the black night of 25th March at the hands of Pakistan forces, the countries of the world were unaware of it. Indira Gandhi became anxious with the situation. After about a week on the 4th April 1971 the second top Awami League leader Tajuddin Ahmed met Indira Gandhi at her official residence along with the then B.S.F chief Rustumjee. Tajuddin requested help from Indira for the freedom struggle of Bangladesh. Indira Gandhi told Tajuddin that to get help and support the formation of a government was necessary. Tajuddin Ahmed readily said that he would form a government. In this meeting Indira Gandhi was informed that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had been arrested by the Pakistan army. Till then Pakistan forces kept the news of arrest concealed. After 6 days of the meeting, on April 10 he declared the formation of a provisional government of Bangladesh. Syed Nazrul Islam was made the temporary President in the absence of President Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Tajuddin Ahmed became the Prime Minister. Afterwards on 17th April this government took formal oath at Baidyanathtala in Kushtia district. After the mass killing in Bangladesh in the black night of 25th March and the declaration of independence on the 26th March, the Lokshava (Indian Parliament) and Rajyashava (Upper House) in a resolution called upon the Pakistan forces to immediately stop genocide and torture in Bangladesh. Subsequently different political parties of India demanded for the recognition of Bangladesh. But Indira Gandhi then was sagaciously in favor of a go-slow policy and diplomatic tactics. But on April 13th Indira told the world leaders that with happenings in East Pakistan, India would not remain silent. On 30th April Indira Gandhi gave the responsibility of making assistance to the liberation war of Bangladesh to the Indian Army. On 9th May they were given the task of providing training to the desirous Bangladeshi youths to join the liberation war. Side by side training for liberation army, Indira Gandhi sanctioned a transmitter for the Independent Bangla Radio Station. In the 17th May Indira went to west Bengal. The highest number of refugees took shelter in west Bengal. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi assured the West Bengal state government that in refugee affairs the centre had stayed and would stay with them in future. In the middle of the year 1971, World Peace Conference was held in Budapest, Hungary.


The Indian representatives reiterated their full assistance to the Bangladesh affairs. In a message to the Conference Indira Gandhi said, it was difficult for India to remain indifferent to the events in East Bengal and by now 20 lacs of refugees took shelter in India. Pakistan must be compelled to take back these refugees honorably.

The then US Foreign Minister Henry Kissinger expressed inability in matters of release of Bangabandhu and extension of military help. But Indira Gandhi told him, “India has no other option other than extending help to the Bangladeshi freedom fighters.”

Although the relation between the US and China continued in a manner cold for long, it once again returned to warm state by the visit of Henry Kissinger to China through the strong Pakistani negotiation. This event made Indira Gandhi concerned. But on the suggestion of her farsighted political advisor D. P. Dhar, India signed a friendship protocol for 20 years with another super power USSR. The first and main term of this protocol was that if any of the two signing countries was attacked by a third country each of them would come forward for the help of the other. As a consequence of this protocol the political scenario of the sub- continent changed. After the contract Indira Gandhi called the Chiefs of three armed forces to her office. Mrs. Gandhi when wanted to know the conditions of the freedom fighters General Maneksha replied that it was not possible to last long in the fight having a training of 17 days and old arms against a modern well equipped Army. On hearing this Indira Gandhi ordered to provide the freedom fighters without delay all sorts of arms, rations and other related help in a double quantity. The indomitable boys of liberation war jumped upon the occupation forces with the modern arms and ammunitions with a new zeal which changed the picture of war fronts. Side by side with the guerilla attack on different Pakistani army watch posts, the freedom fighters started frontal skirmishes. Seeing the use of modern arms enhancement and pressure by freedom fighters in East Pakistan and noticing the increase of Indian arms in their hands the Pakistani forces became bewildered. Throughout the months of October-November the liberation forces with the help of Indian forces started defeating the Pakistani forces at various battle fields. Confused Pakistan declared all out war against India on 3rd December as a last resort. At that time Indira Gandhi was giving a public speech in Calcutta. While returning from Calcutta to Delhi she sounded war-drum of a counter war against Pakistan right from the aircraft in the sky. On that day Indira Gandhi in a speech to the cabinet meeting said, “At this moment, mentioning about the grave danger of our county and the people I tell you that few hours back Pakistan has declared total war against us. The Pakistani forces suddenly waged strikes on our air bases at Amritsar, Pathan Court, Sreenagar, Abantipur, Utarlet and Agra. The war that was going on in Bangladesh has now turned against India.” Immediately after that the combined forces of India and Bangladesh participated into the war against Pakistan and Pakistan forces were facing defeats in the war fronts. To expedite the victory of war, on the 6th   December the Indira Gandhi government of India gave formal recognition to Bangladesh. On that day Indira Gandhi said in her speech in the Lokshava (Lower house), “Under the present circumstances India has decided to recognize Bangladesh. We believe that more countries would recognize gradually.” The same day she informed Tajuddin Ahmed, the then Prime Minister of Bangladesh about the recognition through a letter. Afterwards on 16th December General Niazi, commander of the Pakistan occupation forces surrendered unconditionally with his associate organizations to the Eastern Command of the Bangladesh-India joint forces at the historical Race Course Maidan (field), Dhaka. India also came forward with the reconstruction programs of the war-ravaged Bangladesh and stayed by the side of the then government of Bangladesh. Afterwards, after he got release on the 9th January 1972, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman  had a meeting with Indira Gandhi on his way to Bangladesh via India. Bangabandhu thanked Indira and side by side requested her to withdraw Indian army quickly. Giving value to his call Indian army was withdrawn from Bangladesh on the 17th March of the same year, the birthday of Bangabandhu. Giving assistance to a country in war of a country for freedom the exodus of a country’s army is the first and the last in history.