INDIA AND THE LIBERATION WAR OF 1971
Post Independence Consolidation > Wars & Emergency > Bangladesh Liberation war
- March 2021 marks 50 years of the Bangladesh Liberation War, where Bangladesh, with the support of India, got Independence from Pakistan.
THE LIBERATION WAR OF 1971
The Bangladesh Liberation War, also known as the Bangladesh War of Independence, was a revolution and armed conflict sparked by the rise of the Bengali nationalist and self-determination movement in what was then East Pakistan.
- East Pakistan was the largest province of West Pakistan. But despite this, it had much less political power than West Pakistan. The imposition of Urdu language and the poor efforts of government in managing the Bhola Cyclone further enraged the people of East Pakistan.
- In December 1970, general elections were held in Pakistan. Awami League, led by Mujibur Rahman, won a stunning victory winning 160 out of 162 seats in East Pakistan. Awami League won a similar landslide victory in the Provincial Assembly elections also.
- As a result, Awami League emerged as the single majority party in the Pakistan National Assembly. On the other side, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party won 88 seats and emerged as the second largest Parliamentary party.
- On March 25, 1971 the Pak army launched a brutal crackdown in Dhaka, codenamed Operation Searchlight. The attack focused particularly on students, the Bengali police and paramilitary forces. It led to a fullscale war.
- On March 26, 1971, before being arrested by the Pakistan military, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, declared independence of East Pakistan and asked his people to continue the fight for Bangladesh.
- On 27 March 1971, the Prime Minister of India Mrs. Indira Gandhi, expressed full support of her government to the Bangladeshi struggle for independence.
- The Bangladesh-India border was opened to allow the Bangladeshi refugees safe shelter in India.
- Indira Gandhi tried to gain American support and sympathy for the Bengalis, but with no success. Eventually, on August 9, 1971, India signed a treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation with Soviet Union. Supported by the Soviet Union, Indira Gandhi travelled across the world to mobilize support for the beleaguered people of Bangladesh.
- India joined the war on 3 December 1971, after Pakistan launched preemptive air strikes on North India.
EVENTS OF THE WAR:
- The Indo-Pakistani War witnessed engagements on two war fronts. Three Indian corps were involved in the liberation of East Pakistan, who were supported by the Mukti Bahini.
- Indian forces and Mukti Bahini quickly overran the country, as Pakistani forces were unable to effectively counter the Indian attack.
- When American navy came to help Pakistan, the Soviet Union assured full support to India by sending their navy.
- The Indian Air Force achieved near-total air supremacy by the end of the first week. Sea Hawks from the carrier INS Vikrant also struck Chittagong, Barisal and Cox's Bazar, destroying the eastern wing of the Pakistan Navy and effectively blockading the East Pakistan ports.
- With air supremacy and rapid advances of the Allied Forces of Bangladesh and India, Pakistan surrendered in Dacca on 16 December 1971.
- On 16 December 1971, Pakistani General Niazi signed the Instrument of Surrender to Indian commander General Aurora. Today, December 16th is recognized as the Victory Day in Bangladesh, while March 26 is recognized as the Independence Day.
- India played a key part in Bangladesh achieving recognition from other countries of the world.
- To ensure a smooth transition, in 1972 the Simla Agreement was signed between India and Pakistan. The treaty ensured that Pakistan recognised the independence of Bangladesh in exchange for the return of the Pakistani prisoners of war.
- India celebrates Vijay Diwas to mark the decisive victory over Pakistan in 1971.
Key features of Simla Agreement:
- India and Pakistan resolved to end conflicts and confrontations and work to promote a friendly and harmonious relationship to establish durable peace in the subcontinent.
- Both India and Pakistan agreed that the relations between the two will be governed by the principles of the United Nations charter.
- The two countries resolved to solve their differences by peaceful means, through bilateral means or other means mutually agreed upon by them.
- Both India and Pakistan agreed to respect the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir without any prejudice to the recognized position of either side. They also agreed that neither will seek to alter it unilaterally, irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations.
- The two nations also agreed to refrain from the use of threat or force in violation of this Line.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE WAR:
- Reshaped South Asia: The war changed the geopolitical landscape of South Asia, with the emergence of Bangladesh as the seventh-most populous country in the world. It also led to the rise of India as the dominant country in South Asia.
- Reduced the threat of a two-front war: Since Independence, India has always been precautious about the possibility of a war against Pakistan on two fronts: East and West. This has dissipated with separation of Bangladesh.
- Strengthened India’s role as a regional power: India willingly took the responsibility for taking care of the refugees and provided support to the freedom fighters. India lost over 3600 men and seven thousand crores of rupees for the liberation war of Bangladesh.
- Success of Indian diplomacy: Led by Indira Gandhi, India’s diplomatic offensive efforts were successful in getting US allies like the United Kingdom and France to block pro-Pakistan directives in the UN. Such involvements enhanced India’s global reputation.
- Restored Indian pride: The victory restored the morale and pride India lost during the 1962 Indo-China war. The victory gave India the confidence to push ahead with its nuclear programmes despite global opposition.
- Ideological victory for India: The creation of Bangladesh invalidated Jinnah’s two nation theory. The course of the war highlighted the strength of Indian secularism, as Indians irrespective of their religion or caste, supported Bangladesh’s cause. Also, India’s non-interference in internal affairs of Bangladesh after the war reassured India’s policy respecting self-determination and the people’s will.
- Victory over Pakistan on other issues: Through the Simla agreement, India and Pakistan agreed to solve Kashmir issue bilaterally without any intervention of third party and to respect LOC. This has greatly helped India, especially when the special provisions of Jammu and Kashmir were abrogated.
CRITICISM OF INDIA’S ACTIONS:
- Unrest in North East India: The influx of refugees from Bangladesh to North East India was the root cause of the Assam agitations and signing of Assam accords of 1985. The after effects of the accord continue to impact the politics of North East even today.
- Resource crunch: On the economic front, the country was spending heavily. But being a closed economy, India was not in a position to continue spending resources.
- Stateless people: In Assam, the final list of the National Register for Citizens was issued, with March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date. Close to 2 million people, those who could not prove that they or family members resided in the state prior to March 1971, have been excluded from the register, which can render them stateless.
- Deviation from Non alignment: Due to complex regional alliances, the war was a major episode in Cold War tensions. Due to the war, India drifted away from the non-aligned position and became closer to the USSR.
Q. India’s interventions in the Bangladesh liberation war achieved its strategic objectives while maintaining its humanitarian nature. Elaborate?