Today, Bangladesh is celebrating the golden jubilee year of its independence. It is a story soaked in blood and full of emotional trauma. Fifty years ago, the brave and courageous people of Bangladesh decided to give themselves a new future.

More than 10 million refugees had poured into Assam and West Bengal fleeing from persecution and genocide unleashed by the Pakistan army on the Bengali Muslims in what was then called East Pakistan. India stood by their side in solidarity to assist them in diverse ways.


Indira Gandhi was fresh from her electoral victory in March of 1971. Once she got news of the brutal crackdown in East Pakistan, she understood its geopolitical implications and started working to fortify India from its repercussions.

This led to the signing of treaty of peace and friendship with the Soviet Union. She stood up with extraordinary fortitude to the insensitivity and crude bullying of Richard Nixon, the then president of the United States. Yet, she did not give in making India proud at the end.

Pakistan had attacked at least 11 Indian airbases. On December 3, 1971, India joined a war that redrew the map of the world. It was not a war of choice but a war of necessity. It extended humanitarian support by providing a home to nearly 10 million refugees. It mobilized international backing. It raised its voice in regional and global forums. The stability of the continent was at stake, but the international concern was missing.

Ultimately, the Indian army under Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was asked to intervene by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. They mounted a hugely successful military operation. The discipline, dedication, courage and sacrifices of the Indian armed forces must be saluted.

It was this extraordinary convergence of a well-planned and flawlessly executed political, diplomatic and military strategy that gave 1971 a unique place in the history of the subcontinent. It was indeed a massive collective effort.

A combined offensive of the three services was launched to liberate East Pakistan from the tyranny of West Pakistan. India gave arms training to the cadres of Mukti Bahini.

At last count, 93,000 POWs were taken and Bangladesh was born on December 16, 1971. One of the shortest wars in history, lasting 14 days, it led to the birth of a new nation. This was indeed a fine victory for India, but it should not be celebrated in a spirit of boastfulness or self-glorification but in the spirit of profound reflection.

It has been 50 years to this day since Bangladesh became an independent nation. The last 50 years have not been easy for Bangladesh. The country was born out of war. It was suppressed under military rule, but none of it could diminish the flame of democracy. It has had its share of downfalls, but every time it suffered one, it sprang back more strongly.

There were military coups galore, but Bangladesh survived as a democracy. In 1975, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the father of the nation for Bangladesh, was assassinated in a military coup.

His daughters Sheikh Hasina and Rehana and their families were provided asylum in India. In 1991, military rule ended and democracy returned once again. It was during this asylum in India that Sheikh Hasina was elected as the leader of Awami League. Today, she is the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

Her leadership has been hailed by international media featuring her in Forbes as well as Time magazine. She has been instrumental in turning Bangladesh from being a basket case to becoming an economic miracle. The evolution of Bangladesh is brilliant and the turnaround is fascinating and inspiring for many emerging economies of the world.

The country has developed significantly in the face of significant challenges. Recently, the UN graduated Bangladesh from the class of least developed countries to the category of developing countries. It is appropriate that Bangladesh’s achievements are being recognized as it celebrates the golden jubilee of its liberation.

Bangladesh and India have enormous reserve of goodwill for each other. India and Bangladesh share an organic relationship. They have a more than 4,000 km long border, the longest land boundary that India shares with any of its neighbours.

The two countries also share 54 rivers. It was Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore who composed the national anthem for both the countries. Bangladesh is India’s largest trade partner in South Asia with trade ballooning up to more than 10 billion dollars.

This relationship is set to become more rewarding for each other as time passes. Dhaka was also one of the largest beneficiary of vaccine diplomacy by the Modi government receiving up to 9 million doses of Covishield vaccine. 

This relationship is slowly emerging as a textbook example in maintaining neighbourly relationships. In 2020, when India celebrated 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi, Bangladesh issued a stamp in his honor.

There are quite a few outstanding issues and differences as well. Teesta water-sharing agreement is a bone of contention between the two sides as well the issue of illegal immigrants. Defining the maritime border is another problematic area between the two nations. There are differing views on Chinese investments.

Notwithstanding these differences, the growing camaraderie between the two countries in the recent years is unprecedented. Bangladesh was the first country that Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited after travel restrictions imposed due to the pandemic were lifted.

As a testimony to this friendship, President Ram Nath Kovind is in Dhaka to participate in the Victory Day celebration conducted there on the occasion of Bangladesh completing 50 years as an independent nation. Today, we congratulate the people of Bangladesh. India shares a very warm relationship with it and as Tagore put it, “The depth of friendship does not depend on the length of acquaintance.”


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