New Delhi, Delhi, India
Dec 19, 2017, 05.56 AM
Few events in history have had such a telling effect on the history and trajectory of South Asian politics the way Bangladesh Liberation War has. Strategically and ideologically, it fundamentally redefined the calculations of the regional political players.
There are many tales that can be told about this dramatic historic event. For instance, the events running up to the war, the way the actual war was fought, its consequence for Indo-Pak relations or the trajectory of Indo-Bangladesh relations. However, the basic fulcrum for all these aspects remains the Bangladesh Liberation war which can only be understood properly in the larger context of South Asian history and politics. Even after decades, the War continues to shape South Asian diplomacy.
Pakistan viewed the event (and still does) as a betrayal of the idea of two-nation theory which, historically, acted as the foundation of the nation-state. Pakistan continues to see Bangladesh as a product of Indian intrigue and conspiracy against Pakistan.
Bangladesh, on the other hand, sees this event as a story of liberation from Pakistani atrocities with the central rallying point being an ethnic Bengali identity.
For India, it was a significant chapter in its relations with Pakistan and how it was heavily and decisively able to prevail upon it.
With the creation of Bangladesh, the balance of power in the subcontinent, compared to Pakistan, was tilted heavily in India’s favour.
In India, this war was also seen as a clear mandate in favour of India’s secular ideals in South Asia as opposed to Pakistan’s idea of being a state based on Islamic ideals. For India, the Bangladeshi liberation movement showed that religion was not an adequate criterion for forging a national identity. Since independence, this was an ideological score that India subconsciously had been looking to settle.
Even though these regional reasons formed an important aspect of the Bangladesh Liberation War, there was a strong current of international politics too that heavily shaped the events of the subcontinent. Srinath Raghavan shows in his book, '1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh' that the birth of a new South Asian country in 1971 was part choice and part chance. He attributed such international influence to the process of decolonisation, Cold War politics and the beginnings of globalisation as a phenomenon. As is the case, generally, with all important historical events, the Bangladesh Liberation War had its roots in a multitude of causes.
The Liberation War left a profound impact on Kashmir.
The Simla Agreement, signed after the war, was crucial in defining the politics of the region for a long time, primarily in terms of the Line of Control in Kashmir and the conflict in the Siachen Glacier.
Pakistan which felt humiliated at such a crushing defeat significantly changed its strategy with respect to India. It now abandoned the strategy of direct warfare and, instead, started instigating and supporting the insurgency in India, most notably in Punjab and Kashmir.
Even though the issue in Punjab had been resolved, the issue of Kashmir still festers. Indian relation with Bangladesh has also been marred by political complications. After the initial euphoria had died down the complicated reality started to rear its head.
It was evident that even though Bengali ethnic identity had been the rallying point of the nationalist movement in Bangladesh, the complications of religious identity as a binding force had not left either the public discourse or the Bangladeshi political scene. Strategically speaking, an unstable and indifferent Bangladesh could be a fertile ground for other external powers to influence Bangladesh, a situation which is not palatable to New Delhi.
The collective memory of a nation effects politics in very subtle ways that are not always tangible enough for a rigorous academic study, however, its importance cannot be completely undermined either. 1971 holds that power on the collective conscious of South Asia. Whether directly or indirectly, the Bangladesh Liberation War set into motion a chain of events which have had massive implications for South Asian politics, the natural centre for which is India.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL).
Sanchi Rai is a Doctoral Candidate at the Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her primary research interest is the origins of Indian foreign policy.