by R Chowdhury 9 September 2021
“To subjugate another is to subjugate yourself.”
For the past thirteen years, Bangladesh has been suffering from two acute syndromes: Indian hegemony and fascism under its protege Sheikh Hasina. Let’s take a look.
Indian Eye on Bangladesh
From day one of the partition of British India on religious divide in 1947, India continued to cast an evil eye on the eastern half of Pakistan. That also meant breaking or weakening its archenemy Pakistan. J N Dixit, a former secretary of the Indian External Affairs Ministry, admitted the fact in his book Liberation and beyond: Indo-Bangladesh relations (Konark Publishers, New Delhi, 1999). India needed its eastern bordering territory for communication with its troublesome northeastern region.
The only land passage was through a difficult and sluggish 14-mile Chicken Neck, north of East Pakistan (today’s Bangladesh). The Chanakyas looked for opportunities to overcome that difficulty. They found Awami League a willing ally. They exploited the party’s weakness for Hindu India and West Bengal’s Hinduanized culture, as well as a dislike of the powerful military. AL chief Sheikh Mujibur Rahman soon found himself playing the fiddle with New Delhi, perhaps more to score points against the generals in Islamabad. Bengalis of East Pakistan had genuine grievances against the Pakistani overlords. Seizing these opportunities, India continued to add fuel to their anti-Pakistan sentiments. Ironically, the Islamabad leaders, while aware of Indian design, did little to counter it or meet the aspirations of the people of its eastern wing.
Following the 1970 elections, the haughty junta declined to honor the popular verdict that favored the Awami League, and committed a foolish but wholesale genocide in East Pakistan. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India took it as an “opportunity of a lifetime” and played her cards accordingly, both locally and internationally. The idiotic Pakistani junta succumbed to her design. After nine months of bloody war, Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered in December 1971. Sardonically, victory was claimed by the Indian forces, which joined the open conflict only two weeks earlier. The Mukti Bahini, the Bengali freedom fighters, which fought and shed blood for nine months, were kept at bay. The Awamis danced to the tune of New Delhi at the cost of its own freedom fighters.
Sheikh Mujib, who had earlier declined to declare the independence of Bangladesh and refused to join the liberation war, returned from self-exile and claimed the ownership of independent Bangladesh. To learn more, please see:
“When the bourgeoisie sees that power is slipping out of its hands, it brings up fascism to hold onto their privileges.”—Buenaventura Durruti (Spanish revolutionary)
People of the country had seen and experienced Mujib’s three and a half years of rule that was fraught with extreme repression and wholesale elimination of political dissidents. His administrative corruption perished 1.5 million people, directly and indirectly, from hunger in 1974. To augment his sagging hold on the failed state, he formed the one-party dictatorship under Bangladesh Krishok Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL). Mujib paid for his misdeeds with his life.
After the fall of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, India lost control of Bangladesh. Additionally, President Ziaur Rahman’s independent foreign policy stance, away from Indian hegemony, was a total anathema to New Delhi’s liking. The popular president was assassinated in 1981. Then Army Chief General Hussain Muhammad Ershad and a few other young army officers were reported to have been recruited for the job by the RAW, Indian External Intelligence Agency. Sheikh Hasina, Mujib’s daughter, was also in the loop, according to her one-time close associate Matiur Rahman Rentu. Hasina was under extensive brain-washing sessions with the RAW during her self-exile in India for 6 years. Zia allowed Hasina to return to Bangladesh but got killed within two weeks of her arrival. During his 9-year rule, cunning Ershad maintained a balance between his loyalty to New Delhi and popular aspirations at home. After his ouster in 1990, the subsequent BNP governments tried to follow the ideals of Ziaur Rahman.
But India did not remain quiet. It kept finding ways to regain its hold on its eastern neighbor. Taking advantage of a few missteps by the BNP’s second run in office in 2001-2006, it found a willing candidate, army chief General Moeen U Ahmed, to betray his benefactor, Begum Khaleda Zia, wife of the late president. The US and a few other Western interest groups joined the conspiracy, which resulted in what is commonly known as the “One-Eleven Betrayal” on January 11, 2007. India was back in the “Command Post” and continued to maneuver the events in Bangladesh to fulfil its agenda through its installed surrogates and paid agents. Bangladesh has virtually lost its sovereignty and the people continue to groan under the heavy repressive hands of Indian protege Sheik Hasina. On the footstep of her father’s dictum of “ownership over independence,” she runs and stays in power through fascist practices. Meanwhile, New Delhi, the benefactor, extracts out of its surrogate all the benefits, many of which go against Bangladesh’s interests. That includes India’s Apple of Eye, the “Corridor through Bangladesh” to reach its Seven Sisters in the northeast, compromising the Bangladesh’s own security concerns. And the Awamis continue to dance, as if it is an honor and blessing to be under the thumb of the hegemon neighbor.
In corruption, Sheikh Hasina’s Bangladesh is a champion, according to the German based Transparency International. Nearly one billion US Dollars were siphoned out of the National Bank in 2016. Top political figures and Indian hands are suspected in this heist. In the name of “development,” money worth billions of US Dollars is being pilferage. According to Washington based Global Financial Integrity (GFI), an average of US $7.53 billion is laundered out of the country every year. On the other hand, thousands of Bangladeshis venture to escape the regime’s self-serving “role model of development” only to land in foreign camps or perish in high seas.
In human rights, local and international watch groups are abuzz with facts and figures of violations. The Odhikar, a local Rights Watch Agency and others report that between 2009 and 2020, the Hasina regime committed 2,537 extrajudicial killings. Of them, over 2000 people were murdered through crossfire; 152 people tortured to death; 27 beaten to death; and 352 people shot to death. A total of 603 people faced enforced disappearance; 1,211 faced public lynching; 780 died in jails; and 2,451 journalists faced torture– of them 15 got killed. For criticizing the elites of the current regime, the government arrested 199 people under the draconian Digital Security Act 2018. The record of political violence, like many other areas, during 2009-2020, surpassed all previous records: 2,221 got killed and 127,257 became severely injured. In the same period, a total of 9,593 became victims of rape, of them, 5,978 were children, and 756 faced gang-rape and got brutally killed. There were 506 border killings as well.
The latest in the series of international outcry against Bangladesh’s serious rights violations is a US Congressional briefing on August 31, 2021, when speakers highlighted the human rights violations and enforced disappearances in the country. https://humanrightscommission.house.gov/events/hearings/enforced-disappearance-bangladesh
Please see a muted version (in view of the draconian DSA) published by the New Age of Dhaka.
One may read the harrowing tale of Shahidul Alam about his abduction during the briefing. http://southasiajournal.net/shahidul-alam-tells-the-tom-lantos-human-rights-commission-about-the-governments-responsibility-for-enforced-disappearances-in-bangladesh/
Also, see the following report in the Aequitas Review on the issue:
In addition, hundreds of thousands of members belonging to the opposition parties are languishing in jails with no or flimsy or fabricated charges.
Writer is a former freedom fighter of Bangladesh, author of a few books and a regular commentator on contemporary issue of Bangladesh, in the media and in various forums.