Without naming India, Begum Zia said some foreign powers were trying to weaken Bangladesh that was making steady economic progress. “We liberated Bangladesh in 1971 when we were about 80 million people. Now we are about 160 to 170 million, and we are united. We don’t need assistance of anyone.” She added, “we want to make it explicitly clear that we prefer to treat all as our friends, but if anyone tries to become our master in the garb of a friend, we will never accept or acknowledge it. “People of Bangladesh will never tolerate any external mastery,” she added.
Begum Zia’s statement reflects the public aspirations in Bangladesh. She raised serious questions about the 22 agreements and MoUs (Memorandum of Understandings) that were signed with India by PM Sheikh Hasina during her recent visit to India. Details of these agreements were not released. Such secrecy may pose serious threat to Bangladesh’s national security. The Bangladeshi constitution bounds the government to place before parliament the treaties it signs with other governments. Sheikh Hasina has signed numerous treaties with India since 2009, but none of those has ever been presented before the Parliament or made public.
Even members of parliament, not to speak of the common folks, do not know what was written in the defense treaty in which Prime Minister Hasina sold Bangladesh to India in the cover of defense cooperation.
Many Bangladeshis believe that India initiated the treaty to meet its “hegemonic interests”. It unilaterally set the treaty’s clauses that were forwarded to Bangladesh as a diplomatic courtesy. India didn’t pay any heed to a few amendments that Bangladesh suggested. Sheikh Hasina apparently signed the treaty to satisfy India. Fearing backlash in Bangladesh, both the governments decided to keep it secret.
Analysts fear that India’s hegemonic designs will push Bangladesh to such a helpless position that will be worse than Bhutan. They fear that India could abuse Bangladeshi military’s training to dampen its psychological motivation. Knowledgeable sources say Prime Minister Hasina signed the defense pact on condition of getting Indian support to return to power in the next election. “Hasina needs to cling to power and India designs to initially subordinate and ultimately grab Bangladesh,” one source opined.
Hasina’s supporters maintain that the military deal will benefit Bangladesh. But critics accuse the deal’s supporters of doing so for “material benefits’. “The betrayers of the ill-fated War of Palassey (of 1757) named Mir Jafar and his son Miron, Yar Latif Khan, Jagat Seth, Mahtab Chand, Swarup Chand, Omichund, Rai Durlabh, Manik Chand, Ghaseti Begum (Meher-un-nisa Begum) etc. and their accomplices, rejoiced the defeat of Nawab Siraj-ud-daulah and congratulated British East India Company that later ruled whole of the subcontinent.”
Bangladeshis still remember how notoriously India dishonored the treaty that it signed with the King Palden Thondup Namgyal (Chogyal) of Sikkim. India on one hand financed Kazi Lhendup Dorjee to launch anti-Chogyal movement and sent its soldiers to protect Cogyal who later disarmed Cogyal’s 400-armed security guards and made him captive in his own palace in 1975. Indian Ambassador to Skkim BS Das wrote: “The famous agreement of 8 May 1973 between Chogyal and Kazi Lhendup Dorji, with India as a guarantor, for maintaining his dynasty and providing justice to all ethnic elements, sealed the Chogyal’s fate.” India first became a guarantor and then a “legal” protector. Delhi did not protect the Chogyal’s dynasty, rather annexed Sikkim forever.
Kazi Lhendup Dorjee, the paid agent of India, who won Indian Padma Vibhushan Award, was honored with red-carpet welcome whenever he visited Delhi. Indian leaders and media praised and flattered Lhendup Dorjee till he helped merge Sikkm to India in 1975. But within five years India abandoned Lhendup Dorjee like a bit of spite. To install an alternative leadership in the newly merged state, RAW orchestrated his defeat in the 1979 election and he was not even allowed to enter Sikkim anymore till his death in West Bengal in 2007. Many natives of Sikkim cursed him as traitor and treacherous. None of his Indian backers, even leader of any party, not to speak of Indira Gandhi, visited him before his death or mourned his death.
India now plans to re-stage the ‘Sikkim Saga’ in Bangladesh, fear many Bangladeshis. Sikkim Saga started in 1970 when RAW informed Indian government that it could work to merge Sikkim with India that it implemented in 1975. But in case of Bangladesh the saga started in 1947 as Indian leaders declared to reunite that part of Bengal to India what joined Pakistan. Many Indians openly declared that India didn’t help Bangladesh in its war of liberation in 1971 to keep it independent. Some Indians even asked Indian government to invade and take over Bangladesh.
Modi and his associates hoped that Bangladesh and Pakistan would merge with India due to so-called cultural and historical affinity. But any bid in that direction could asunder India into pieces itself. “India should not forget that being persecuted, insulted, deprived and tortured by the Hindus our forefathers, voted for making East Bengal a part of a Muslim homeland Pakistan. Since 1947, particularly after 1971, we feel the significance and positive outcomes of being independent,” said one New York-based Bangladeshi nationalist. “Now we are masters of our destiny.”
The nationalist, who requested anonymity, said Bangli is a unique nation in the world, which has a single mother tongue. “We created some world records. We created a Muslim homeland Pakistan in 1947. We shed blood on 21stFebruary1952 to protect our mother tongue that is now observed as International Mother Language Day. We liberated Bangladesh through a bloody nine months long war at the cost of millions of lives. Ten thousand Bangladeshi soldiers are engaged in UN Peacekeeping Mission around the world.”
Thanks to consistent progress on economic and social levels, Bangladesh has done better than India on many counts. Buildings or tinned houses have replaced its rural dwellings. The wooden bridges in the countryside have been replaced with concrete ones. Education, health and civic infrastructure have largely been revamped. The country has shown impressive progress in modernizing its transportation, communication and industrial sectors. Cell phones are being used by people right from the Prime Minister to the garment workers, rickshaw pullers, day laborers, tillers in cities and rural areas.
The country’s booming economy, rising middle class and sustained socio-economic stability makes many Bangladeshis wonder why the country should act as weaker and unequal partner of its larger. “India is a marginally poor country which is abode to 40% of the poorest and illiterate people of the world who defect in open fields or roadside, who are deprived of modern amenities,” the nationalist claimed. “So India has no room to think that the Bangladeshis will follow Sikkim’s path of merging with it”.
Bangladesh’s 92% population is Muslim, which is the insurmountable bar to India to repeat what it did in Sikkim, when Sikkim’s population was below 2.5 million. Bangladeshis are about 180 millions. Over 10 million Bangladeshis are overseas.
India should also take lesson from Kashmir, where despite deploying over 700,000 soldiers, it failed to defeat 10 million Kashmiris who are fighting for their right to self-determination for the last 70 years. “Our population is the greatest deterrent against Indian invasion or occupation. India will not be able to swallow Bangladesh, even if the Bangladeshi Lhendup Dorjiees welcome India,” observed the Jackson Heights, Queens, based nationalist.
Begum Zia has hinted to this reality in her most recent statements. Bangladeshis at home and abroad are inspired by her comments. It is our expectation that despite hundreds of obstructions she would remain true to her words, unite the nation and protect our independence and sovereignty and sustain our achievements and prosperity. She will not buckle under any pressure. The source of her power is Bangladeshi people, not New Delhi.
Baklab Havel, the President of the Czech Republic in his inaugural address in 1990 said: “A government cannot preserve the identity of a nation, but each and every single citizen of a country can.”
What Sheikh Hasina’s government couldn’t do, Bangladeshi people will do that to India refusing to act as a junior partner in bilateral relations just because it is smaller in size. Bangladeshis will live for their country and die for it, but they will not compromise with any power, may it be India or anyone else.
The writer is a journalist and researcher from Bangladesh who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the policy of ViewsWeek.