Modi’s Claim of His Arrest for Bangladesh Satyagraha Deconstructed

Gouri Sankar Nag

Amazing as it may sound, yet this claim has allowed us to sneak once again into the glorious chapter of the liberation of Bangladesh, lest we may discover such untold stories of a saga that remains buried to date. Hence, in our quest for truth-seeking, it would be unfair to dismiss any possibility. On the contrary, we cannot buy such propagandist logic that the Congress or the Left tried to construct history after their political agenda that suited them. Rather we need to keep in mind that any tendency of generalization is biased, gross, and sort of impelled by domination to subordinate any other versions which perchance could be more authentic and candid. Objectively, truth is always bitter to swallow, be that the underlying motive of the recent farm laws on which the amber of simmering protests has not fully subsided or Modi’s recent claim on the occasion of his visit to Bangladesh at its golden jubilee celebration of attaining freedom that he was put behind the bars for participating in the satyagraha for the cause of the liberation struggle in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Let us now take a nuanced view of Modi’s claim of his arrest for Bangladesh satyagraha deconstructed.

For the critics, it is a political statement, made as a publicity stunt and projection of one’s image that otherwise lacks legitimacy due to the increasing wrath of the public both in India and abroad. It is purposely a statement meant for “damage control” to show off by way of leveraging altruistic and benevolent posture in an atmosphere of anti-Modi hype that practically we are witnessing today in the Indian subcontinent. 

But conversely, it also offers an opportunity to Modi’s political opponents to score when the party is trying its best to spread its tentacles which proves that at home Congress is unable and vulnerable, and other regional forces are unable too, to coalesce to launch a united fight against BJP and the Sangh Parivar. So to the political opponents to BJP, Modi’s statements are the main spearhead of vitriolic diatribe rather than such points that Bangladesh is widely recognized as Vietnam of South Asia in terms of its success stories in business, especially in hosiery and in terms of micro-finance, and various other indicators and yardsticks. So, Congress is also playing crass politics while the situation of the Left intellectuals within Bangladesh is getting attenuated with the rise of bigotry and fundamentalism about which they cannot fight shy of the responsibility why they could not spread their base by inspiring the youths with a progressive egalitarian ideals and vision.

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Secondly, the task of confronting the Pakistani military in the war of liberation and post-independent reconstruction in Bangladesh are two completely different issues. Of the two, the latter should have been a more important focus of the political leadership of Bangladesh and even India, instead of raking up the nationalist sentiment all over again which is a political tactic, should have worked closely with the people of Bangladesh to channelize its nascent democracy and development in a progressive direction. But it is a pity that although prima facia we accept the significance and importance of the events in East Bengal in 1970-71 from the point of freedom and humanity, yet the actual compulsion for India was the consideration that if the liberation struggle continued for a longer period, it would push the Hindus and Muslims alike to cross the border and take refuge in India which India could not afford. 

Besides, it was also apprehended that there could be an outbreak of a famine-like situation in East Bengal not only due  to these violent clashes but because of probable obstruction to the entry passages of food at that time within East Bengal by the military government in Pakistan. In these circumstances, the pressing need was to render relief to those homeless and persecuted masses seeking temporary refuge in India. Hence, it was imperative for the government of India, and the people of India at large to take up active measures to counter the military onslaught of Pakistan. Hence, many temporary camps were set up in West Bengal, Assam, and Tripura to assist the struggling masses of East Pakistan.

India also calculated the successful outcome of the mass revolt in East Bengal would go in favor of India since it would likely foment various revolts for autonomy in West Pakistan, especially in Baluchistan, north-western frontier province, and Sind. All these would deal a heavy blow to Pakistan’s ambitions in South Asia.

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Thirdly, the Left should remember that the liberation struggle in East Pakistan was not an act to overthrow the state in East Bengal through mass insurrection in a communist fashion. Rather it was mainly the use of guerrilla tactics for reducing the capacity of the coercive apparatus of the Pakistani state on the one hand, and to boost up the morale of the patriots engaged in the liberation struggle. So, largely the action involved various techniques of guerrilla action and local community involvement rather than non-violent satyagraha and it does not seem likely that Modi or Sangh Parivar was equipped with such warfighting tactics. Rather some former socialists and even Gandhians like Jayprakash Narayan played  a vital role in the liberation of Bangladesh and in doing so they were not willing to make any difference between violent and non-violent resistance.

Fourthly, in the absence of any organized command, the idea of the activists was to continue the struggle till monsoon so that the military of Pakistan could be dragged to the extreme point of difficulty as monsoon assumes terrific adverse character in Bangladesh. Even, if we put things in a historical perspective, we would see that the struggle in East Bengal did not begin as a planned nationalist movement for liberation from Pakistan. It was a historical conjuncture of events in the late 1960s that lent the popular mobilization in East Bengal sort of anti-imperialist character vis-à-vis the role and hostile attitude of Pakistan. Ideologically it was also a mismatch to Sangh Parivar to take up the cause of the liberation of Bangladesh. It is because the issue was highly emotive and it demanded not only mental solidarity with the cause but even going forward to aid the youths of East Bengal in 1971. So there might be  a chance that Sangh could change its stance also in facing the situation in East Pakistan in 1970-71 to devise a plan for covertly infiltrating its activists in the struggle although, it was possible only if it had such numerical strength and specialized and dedicated wing of volunteers and cadres for rapid and vigorous deployment in early 1970-71 to stretch across such terrains for such revolutionary performance. On the contrary, it was only militarily possible for the Indian state to take up the gauntlet.  

In the conclusion, we have to admit as a caveat that the irony of the situation is that Modi’s claim is a diplomatic stroke to juxtapose his name to Mrs. Gandhi which could have twin purposes of creating a space for the role of the Sangh and simultaneously to give a new twist to the historical canals of the episode by deliberately spinning the story as a well-conceived ploy to project his cult that steals the steam from opponent’s side at a time when such hedging strategy could create a smokescreen to escape popular discontent. 

About the Author


Dr. Gouri Sankar Nag, Professor & Head, Department of Political Science, Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University, Purulia, West Bengal

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