The road to recognition for Bangladesh as an independent nation
Just a day after he was released from Pakistani prison, among the first few phone calls to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was one of course from Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on January 8, 1972 from a hotel in London.
Indira told him that she had changed her mind, and after discussion with British Prime Minister Edward Heath, a special flight was arranged to bring Sheikh Mujib to India with a stopover at Delhi on his return to newly independent Bangladesh.
Indira feared that an Indian civil or military aircraft could be intervened by enemies during over-flight over hostile territories and feared the plane could be shot down. Heath agreed with Indira’s concern about Mujib’s safety and security.
While meeting with British Prime Minister Edward Heath at 10 Downing Street, he told Mujib that the UK would give diplomatic recognition to a newly born Bangladesh only after Indian troops were withdrawn by March 31, 1972. However, Britain recognized Bangladesh on February 4.
Boarding a British Air Force aircraft, Sheikh Mujib was accompanied by an Indian diplomat Sashanka Shekhar Banerjee, stationed in London, who was selected by Indira.
Sashanka had secretly met Mujib along with Tofazzal Hossain Manik Miah, editor of Dainik Ittefaq, a couple of times in Dhaka, while he was second secretary of the Indian High Commission (1962-66).
The day was December 25, 1962. On a Christmas holiday, Sheikh Mujib appealed to India for her support to the cause of Bangladesh’s independence struggle.
Sashanka in his book India, Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh Liberation & Pakistan claims to have received a letter in December 1962 from Sheikh Mujibur Rahman addressed to Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asking for Indian assistance in bringing about East Pakistan’s independence from Pakistan.
Again, the Bangla-speaking diplomat was contacted when he was posted as First Secretary in London (1969-72) over the telephone from Delhi by Bangabandhu’s two trusted emissaries Nuruddin Ahmed, then treasurer of Awami League, and former bureaucrat Ruhul Quddus (co-accused in infamous Agartala Conspiracy Case) in mid-March of 1971. Initially, he refused to speak on the phone, until Ruhul Quddus mentioned the codename “Parashmoni” (given by Mujib).
Bangabandhu through his emissaries in a secret mission to India, conveyed to the Indian prime minister that genocide and killing of mass people was looming in Bangladesh.
To resist the military blitz of the marauding Pakistan Army, would the Indian government come forward in aid of the people of Bangladesh by providing them with military hardware and training?
In a rare episode of history on March 15, 1971, Indira Gandhi sends Mujib a secret message which reads: “We wish doctors will take care of your health and that of your Awami League family of East Pakistan.” It was well understood by Mujib what Indira wanted to say.
They were also requested to convey to Mujib that India would extend financial and logistical support for helping organize the Bangladesh government in exile in Kolkata.
During the long battle for independence, the Indian Army would also join the war alongside the Mukti Bahini, the Indian officials told the emissaries on behalf of Indira Gandhi.
While on board the British aircraft heading to Delhi, Mujib requested Sashanka to send a cable to Indira before he reached Delhi. He conveyed the wishes of Edward Heath to Indira regarding the withdrawal of Indian troops.
Bangabandhu wanted to discuss the troop’s withdrawal issue with Indira during their official talks in Delhi.
The independence hero was given a tumultuous welcome at Delhi, the Indian President VV Giri and Indira Gandhi were present at the airport.
After the official parley, a joint communiqué stated that the two countries had agreed to shorten the deadline of the troop’s pullout from June 30 to March 31. This was the first diplomatic success by Mujib.
When Mujib was preparing to return to Dhaka, Indira asked the Indian Army Chief Sam Manekshaw to finalize logistics for a troop pullout from Bangladesh.
Mujib’s request to shift the prisoner of war (POW) of surrendered Pakistan armed forces to India was also agreed.
To express gratitude to the people of West Bengal in India for providing shelter to ten million war refugees and offering hospitality to the Bangladesh exile government, Mujib paid a visit to Kolkata on February 6.
After a public meeting in Kolkata, Mujib officially invited Indira for a state visit to Bangladesh. She accepted the invitation, but on condition that the date would be after a total troop pullout. The first head of government who visited Bangladesh was Indian PM Indira Gandhi, who arrived in Dhaka on March 17.
The troop pullout issue was in the back of Mujib’s mind. He was anxious to send a message to the world leaders that Bangladesh was an independent country, and not how some Muslim countries described the country, as “occupied by India.”
When Indira visited Bangladesh, the young country was recognized by Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and most European countries including the UK, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, and France. ?
Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA), and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad. Reach him at [email protected]