Sheikh Hasina’s significant visit to India

New Delhi : Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent four-day state visit to India, her first after seven years, was an eventful milestone in the India-Bangladesh relationship.

This high-profile visit is expected to further boost to bilateral ties between India and Bangladesh as the two nations signed 22 pacts, including one on civilian nuclear cooperation and a defence agreement which includes a USD 4.5 billion (around Rs. 3,200 crore) line of credit to buy Indian military hardware. train and bus services, between West Bengal and Bangladesh were also launched during the visit.

Apart from the various events, including Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Ajmer Sharif and her meeting with industrialists, what went quite under-reported was the very moving Sommanona ceremony to honour Indian soldiers martyred in 1971, held befittingly at Manekshaw Center, Delhi Cantonment.

With the two Prime Ministers seated on the dais flanked by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley and two of Bangladesh’s Ministers, Manekshaw Centre’s auditorium was full with a group of Bangladesh’s Bir Mukti Joddhas (brave liberation soldiers) of the Mukti Bahini, Indian Army, Navy Air Force veterans of the 1971, two former Indian Army Chiefs, Generals V.N. Sharma and Deepak Kapur, the three service chiefs, diplomats, senior officials and serving Indian armed forces officers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his address at Manekshaw Centre by praising Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s efforts. When he referred the Bangabandhu’s family being rescued from imprisonment in 1971, he pointed to Major Ashok Tara, who had conducted the rescue and was sitting in the audience with his wife. Referring to Bangabandhu’s murder on 25 August 1975, PM Modi said “16 of her family were murdered, but Sheikh Hasina stood still like a rock.’ Those were moments when Sheikh Hasina was visibly moved. She and her sister escaped the bloodbath as they were in West Germany. That was an indeed trying time for her. Completely broken owing to the senseless killing of her parents and siblings, and with a hostile government in Bangladesh, she was provided asylum in New Delhi from 1975 to 1981.

Holding forth on the progress made by Bangladesh in its post-liberation decades, PM Modi had the entire audience stunned when he rattled off many facts and figures extempore. “There is one thought in South Asia which breeds, inspires and encourages terrorism. The thought whose priority is not humanity, but extremism and terrorism…Without being selfish, the two countries worked for the betterment of entire region, it’s sad that there is a third mentality which exists.. It’s my clear mandate that my neighbouring country Bangladesh should also develop along with India.. As a friend, India will offer whatever required to Bangladesh. I have same dream for Bangladesh as I have for India, Jai Hind! Jai Bangla,” said PM Modi.

In a moving ceremony, PM Hasina honoured the following next of kin of six posthumous gallantry awardees of Indian Armed Forces martyred during the 1971 War of Bangladesh’s Liberation: Mrs Vilambini, the widow of Lance Param Vir Chakra recipient Naik Albert Ekka, who was in a wheelchair, Mrs. Santosh, sister of Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) recipient Major Anup Singh Gehlot, Mrs. Gurdev Kaur, widow of Subedar Malkiat Singh, Mrs. Sugam Singh, widow of MVC recipient Havildar Sugam Singh, Mrs Kavita Das, sister-in-law of MVC recipient Lt Samir Das, an Indian Navy clearance diver, who fought alongside the Mukti Bahini, Mrs. Arundhati Samanta, widow of Vir Chakra (VrC) recipient Squadron Leader A.B. Samanta and Mr. Vishwa Nath Chakravarty, brother of VrC recipient Lance Naik Mohini Ranjan Chakravarty of the Border Security Force.

“I pay tribute to some special Indian friends, the martyrs and their families…This time the struggle was for our freedom..The history of Bangladesh has been written by the blood of Indian martyrs,” said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Interacting with this writer, Colonel Sajjad Ali Zahir, Bir Protik, who accompanied PM Hasina and conducted the honouring ceremony recalled, “I was posted in Pakistan Army’s 14th Para Brigade in Sialkot, when news came of unspeakable atrocities by Pakistan Army back home. After trying hard, I finally managed to escape into India and was brought by the Indian military to a secret camp in Sylhet district, where I became the trainer for the Mukti Bahini.”

Meanwhile Pakistan Army passed a death sentence against him for ‘deserting his post’. “We began our guerrilla operation from September 1971 and quickly raised an artillery battery to cause maximum damage to the Pakistani forces as they had to be stopped from committing human rights violations..

At one point, we found a government office which had been turned into a sex-labour camp with kidnapped women locked up on the first floor. I am still haunted by the memory of a girl who wrote her name, Ratna, in blood on the wall of a labour camp before dying”.

The third India-Pakistan war during December 1971 was historically significant as it liberated erstwhile Bengali East Pakistan from decades of oppression by the ruling military government of West Pakistan culminating in horrific genocide by Pakistan army and created the new nation, Bangladesh. On 25 March 1971, the liberation war was launched by the Mukti Bahini, as Pakistani soldiers aided by local collaborators, had reportedly killed an estimated 3 million people, raped 200,000 women and forced millions of people to flee to India.

Eventually, when Pakistan sparked off the war on December 3, 1971, it took only 13 days for India Army to encircle East Pakistan. On December 16, 1971, Pakistan’s eastern army commander signed the instrument of surrender at Dhaka, as 93,000 Pakistan armed forces personnel surrendered to Indian Army all over what got declared as the newly born nation of Bangladesh.

The year 2011 was marked by extended celebrations in Bangladesh, for one of which it invited 17 Indian veterans of that war, in December 2011.

Simultaneously Headquaters, Eastern Command, Kolkata hosted three serving Bangladesh Army officers, 22 Mukti Joddhas (Mukti Bahini veterans) and Indian armed forces veterans, including. Bangladesh Parliament’s Deputy Speaker Shaukat Ali, former Eastern Command chief of staff Lt. Gen. (retired) J.F.R. Jacob, former Indian Army chief and Member of Parliament, Gen. (retired) Shankar Roychowdhury.

Prime Minister Hasina’s first ever visit to, Tripura, on 11-12 January 2012, which she referred to as a pilgrimage, marked a high point in the extended celebrations of the 40th anniversary of Bangladesh’s Liberation war.

Accompanied by her sister, Sheikh Rehana and an over 100-strong delegation, including some more ministers, businessmen and intellectuals, she came on an invitation by Tripura Central University for being conferred with the degree of Doctor of Literature, by for her “great contribution to the protection of multicultural democracy and peace”.

“As we touched down at Agartala airport last evening, a flush of emotions overwhelmed me as I recalled the tremendous sacrifices during our glorious struggle for independence,” said Prime Minister Hasina, in a voice choked with emotion, after receiving the degree of from Vice President of India Hamid Ansari at Agartala on 12 January 2012.

Fondly recalling the help Tripura had extended during 1971 Liberation War spearheaded by her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, she further said, switching to Bengali, “I express my deep gratitude to the people of Tripura who gave us food, shelter and clothing and care when the people of our country were subject of inhuman and barbaric torture in the hands of Pakistani Army and migrated to this land.I was further amazed when I came to know that before this university was set up, this place was a training camp of the Bangladesh liberation soldiers”.

Awami League’s current tenure is the best time for India to resolve all pending issues with Bangladesh and develop its connectivity to India’s North Eastern states, which will go a long way to boost trade and development of that region.

The views expressed in the above article are that of Colonel (retired) Anil Bhat (ANI)