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Political booms in India in 1971

Indira Gandhi (1917-1984) Photo: Collected


Indira Gandhi (1917-1984) Photo: Collected

As a teenage student living in Delhi in 1971, I had a limited idea of ​​Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. But on March 7 of that year, as my father, then a teacher at Delhi University, listened to Bangabandhu’s speech on his old Murphy radio, me, standing next to him in the room, I I was electrified by Bangabandhu’s voice and his inspiring words. an entire nation to join the liberation war. It was a voice like no other politician I have ever heard.

Looking back, I feel like his words never felt like they were carefully chosen, but were part of a layman’s language that came out of the bottom of his heart and his conviction about the future of his country. Growing up, that voice and those words stuck with me, and to be precise, continued to haunt me. They do it even after half a century.

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I got a glimpse of the fallout from the Liberation War in Bangladesh when I went to Calcutta during the annual summer vacation in 1971, when I saw clubs, political parties, government agencies and NGOs undertake relief work for Bangladeshi refugees in the border areas. It was the image of a highly united India using its meager resources to help the unfortunate inhabitants of another country that left a lasting impression on me. In other words, it was an India-wide approach.

So, on December 16, 2021, it was rather disappointing to see obvious rough edges on this united India as politics played out on the issue. I wondered how far we had traveled since the heady days of 1971. Not that political differences did not exist then, but the political dividing lines in India today are unprecedented.

As the party approached and during the preparations for the Vijay Divas celebration, Congress leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and AK Antony, complained that Indira Gandhi was never honored for its stellar role in 1971 on official Indian government programs marking the day. Sonia said that Indira Gandhi would have wanted the party to celebrate Vijay Divas “not in a spirit of bragging or in a spirit of self-glorification, but in a spirit of reflection and determination”. His search of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not to be missed.

At the event, Antony said that then opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee hailed Indira Gandhi after the 1971 war victory as “Durga”, and many other leaders of the opposition called her “Shakti”. “But,” he quickly added, “as India marked the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Bangladesh… in the past year… the current government… I didn’t hear words of praise, appreciation (for) the role played by Indira Gandhi, I’m sorry for that.

In 2020, Sonia set up a committee, chaired by Antony, to plan and coordinate the party’s activities to commemorate the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. Many consider the Congress marking this year’s Vijay Divas to be part of its strategy to undermine the nationalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by reminding the country that it was Indira Gandhi who played a key role in the break-up of Pakistan. . The combined voice of Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka against any mention of Indira’s role in official programs is considered by political analysts to have been made with the upcoming parliamentary elections in mind in five states, particularly in the Uttar Pradesh, which is so crucial for the BJP. . Since this year is the jubilee year of the 1971 war, the events relating to it have gained more visibility than those organized on previous anniversaries. Interestingly, Rahul made the remarks during a public rally in Dehradun on December 16 that practically kicked off Congress’ campaign for the upcoming assembly ballot in northern Uttarakhand state.

The official function closest to recognizing the role of the then Indian government was on December 16, when Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, according to a Defense Ministry press release, explained how “the Historic 1971 victory was achieved through the bravery, bravery and professionalism of commanders and troops and was (the) result of meticulous planning, dynamic leadership and innovation at many levels. ” It is hoped that “several echelons” will include the political leadership of the time.

Indira’s role in the Bangladesh Liberation War should not be juxtaposed with another party’s national security plan. Neither should a party feel insecure about its own national security strategy because of the 1971 victory.

The 1971 war that led to the rise of Bangladesh is a landmark in post-war history, and it should unite rather than divide India. The new generation must be made aware of this, and any discussion of this war is inseparable from Indira Gandhi’s role. There is broad agreement in the political arena in India that the 1971 war was a rejection of the notion of a nation based on religion and promoted inclusive nationalism rising above politics. The 1971 victory was shaped by a combination of political, military, diplomatic and people-to-people aspects in India, and it should stay that way.

Pallab Bhattacharya is a special correspondent for the Daily Star. He writes from New Delhi, India.