• Tuesday, Feb 07, 2023
  • Last Update : 10:24 am

OP-ED: An ally for Bangladesh

  • Published at 07:36 pm May 3rd, 2021
freedom fighters-1971-war
File Photo of freedom fighters in 1971 Courtesy of Anwar Hossain Foundation

How Indira Gandhi’s principal secretary PN Haksar had aided the liberation effort in 1971

The genocidal campaign “Operation Searchlight” raged in occupied Bangladesh. The marauding Pakistan Army began to feel the pinch in their boots when they battled the Mukti Bahini resistance in several regions bordering India.

On the other hand, the beleaguered Awami League leaders who took sanctuary in India spent restless nights planning the pros and cons of diplomatic protocols to announce the “government-in-exile” in Kolkata and its strategies to augment the military role of the Mukti Bahini in the Liberation War.

A career bureaucrat and diplomat, Parmeshwar Narayan Haksar -- principal secretary to Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi -- had already gotten the ball rolling on Bangladesh on March 2, 1971.

Prof Amartya Sen (who won Nobel Prize 27 years later) phoned PN Haksar and introduced his two friends Prof Rehman Sobhan and Anisur Rahman, who were sheltered in his house. Veteran economist and academician Prof Rehman Sobhan and Dr Anisur Rahman were the first people who had escaped from Dhaka to meet Haksar in Delhi.

On the evening of April 2, Sobhan and Rahman were taken to Haksar’s residence. 

Haksar was fully briefed by the duo regarding the dream of independent Bangladesh. The logical approach to the Bangladesh struggle helped Haksar debrief Indira Gandhi.

In fact, from that evening, India’s secret role in the Bangladesh Liberation War began its journey. Haksar played a pivotal role throughout 1971, orchestrating and managing India’s response to the crisis in Bangladesh.

Sobhan himself has written that Haksar’s reactions suggested that the encounter he had with them “was [Haksar’s] first such exposure to these events of the genocidal crackdown on the Awami League, the nationalists, and the Hindus by the Pakistani army and the launch of Operation Searchlight.”

Haksar was also introduced to Tajuddin Ahmad, general secretary of Awami League, and Barrister Amirul Islam when they called on Indira Gandhi. 

On principle, the Indian prime minister agreed with the Bangladesh government-in-exile, to provide shelter for the millions of refugees who had poured into India, and also to provide military help to the Mukti Bahini.

A fortnight later, on April 17, Sobhan wrote that Tajuddin Ahmad was sworn in as the prime minister of an independent Bangladesh “at a mango grove near Kushtia…which is now known as Mujibnagar.” Tajuddin, this time as the prime minister of the exiled government, again had parleys with Indira on the night of May 6.

Haksar had urged Indira to be firm and say that India’s response to what was happening in Bangladesh should not become a subject of public debate as “such a debate would defeat the purpose of giving such comfort as we can to democratic forces in Pakistan as a whole.”

Delhi planned that the main characteristics of the war would be guerrilla tactics, with the objective of continuously keeping the Pakistan army off their balance and gradually bleeding them.

Finally, the Pakistan military surrendered in Dhaka on December 16, 1971 after a humiliating defeat in the eastern ear theatre.

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at [email protected]; Twitter @saleemsamad.

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