The ‘Second Revolution’ in Bangladesh and after

M.L. Sondhi

Nav Hind Times, Assam Tribune,The Tribune, February 12, 1975

A.B.P., February 13, 1975

The close interrelationship between India and Bangladesh in domestic and foreign policies has been the direct result of common involvement against external forces which challenged the tangible experience, sympathy and purposive attention of the masses in both countries. The political mandate of the Indian Government from its own people was not one of provoking cross-national violence in relation to the Bangladesh problem but one of consolidating peace and security in the context of mass participation by the people of Pakistan’s East Bengal colony.

The plausibility of the “Second Revolution” of Sheikh Mujib can be judged in terms of three facets of public reaction in India: the grave misgivings over enhanced risks of embroiling India in political intrigues and overt or covert counter-insurgency actions in Bangladesh the low public esteem in which a one-party system is regarded as placing obstacles in the way of a people struggling to build a new society; and the appraisal of events in Dacca as a low water-mark in regional sub-continental relations, which will help Islamabad regain a “democratic” respectability and justify its accusations against New Delhi’s “manipulative” power status in South Asia.

Sheikh Mujib’s action in calling himself a President who is “deemed elected” suggests a pre-emptive strategy to ensure that the professional role of the Armed Forces is not diverted to secure an adverse shift in the distribution of political power. The right of dissent symbolized by the 7 independent and opposition members of Parliament did not come in the way of Sheikh Mujib consolidating his power, but the “Second revolution” evidently wants to avoid the possibility of internal war by removing the possibilities of political groups which may crystallize a consensus for an alternative regime.

The immense and gigantic tasks facing the Bangladesh Government have not so far been tackled by tapping the sources of dynamism that could express the creative energy which was evident at the time of liberation of Bangladesh. Bangladesh has been heading for dependence on the two super powers, the Soviet Union and the United States and both these powers have a tendency to excuse arbitrary actions and excesses in the indigenous political processes if the ruling authority generally acts in conformity with the interests of the “stability” of the super power dominated “international system”.

The paradox of this development is that while India has been strongly urging Bangladesh to stand on its own feet, New Delhi itself has been recommending the induction of the influential Soviet presence as the inevitable triumph of the New Delhi-Moscow political axis. But one may fairly ask whether a more critical attitude towards Russian operations on the part of New Delhi would not have reinforced self-conscious groups in Bangladesh who would have steered clear of personal rivalries and ideological tensions. The open soviet support to the Communist Party of Bangladesh and to the NAP of Muzzafar Ahmad may have given comfort to those who advocate convergence between the CPI and the Congress Party in India, but has only landed Sheikh Mujib in a thorny thicket after he decided to form his Progressive Alliance in September 1973.

There can be no doubt that the arguments and beliefs of Sheikh Mujib in introducing personal rule in Bangladesh will go to undermine the faith which sustained the Simla processes, whose basic direction was determined by the optimism that “parliamentary rule” was gathering momentum in the three sister countries of the subcontinent. Many people in India will feel that the time has come to focus attention on the likelihood that the return of authoritarian features on the Pakistan landscape even leading to rising expectations of a new military regime in Pakistan. The disquieting impact of such developments will only create divisive, antagonistic and negative dynamisms in place of the moderate and middle of the road political style of the Simla summit.

Political observers in both official and non-official New Delhi circles have quickly recognized the unwishdom of the Sheikh’s spectacular devaluation of Parliament and his denial of legitimate form of political action to the political parties. One can summarise the transformation of Indian thinking (whenever it is frankly expressed) having come full circle: from high enthusiasm about the moral qualities of Sheikh Mujib and his commitment to democracy, pluralism and freedom, to total despair about both grassroots democratization in Bangladesh and the Sheikh’s obsession with authoritarian use of power.

Contingency planning in India will inevitably have to take the cue from this drastic change of attitude. India has bitter memories of the exodus of 10 million Bangladeshis. No matter where the political vicissitudes of Bangladesh may take Sheikh Mujib, no responsible government in New Delhi an allow the vital security interests of India jeopardized by a repression which leads to another exodus. New Delhi will adopt a policy of “wait and see” but it is to be expected that it will prepare itself for the uncertain consequences of the unleashing of the Rakshi Bahini or the even costlier involvement of the military forces in Bangladesh if popular frustrations breed widespread insurrection.

A new sub-continental role for India avoid “bandwagon” tendencies and in particular, should not pursue policy courses which conjure up the spectra of possible Indian help to Sheikh Mujib in a long attritional struggle with his own domestic opponents.


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