Bangladesh Revisited 45 years on – A resurgent nation India can be proud to have partnered to create
In December 197I I was a 25-year old captain of the Indian Army acting as the second-in-command of a squadron of tanks fighting a war in the then East Pakistan which was to be transformed into a new nation called Bangladesh at the end of fighting that lasted 13 days and saw nearly a hundred thousand Pakistani troops surrender to the allied force of Indian Army and the Bengali Freedom Fighters. 45 years on I was one of the 30 veterans of the war being felicitated by the Government of Bangladesh at Dhaka from 14th to 19th December this year. It would indeed be a nostalgic moment; none of us had any doubt about; but what we weren’t quite prepared for was the emotional high the occasion took us to. This was no ordinary third-world country. The ragtag militia of Bengali youth who had set out to take on the might of the Pakistani military with no arms or training but raw courage to sustain them, and whom we had struggled to train and organize into a cohesive force, had since evolved into a splendid army absolutely capable of defending its nation’s sovereignty; so have their navy which had sailed into troubled waters with just two gunboats in 1971 owning a 60-vessel fleet today and their air force that took to the skies and action with just one helicopter with a composite fleet of copters, transports and fighters now. I couldn’t believe that watching another country’s troops march past could moisten my eyes until I watched the Bangladesh Armed Forces march past elegantly, smartly attired and in a show of superb drill, on their Victory Day Parade.
And their nation’s leader, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, turned out to be a study in inspiring leadership and humility. As she mingled with us veterans as if she had all the time in the world, even having tea with us and making a point that she had a word with each one of us and our spouses, she stole our hearts. Addressing the gathering, as she recounted her traumatic past when barely four years after independence her father and the Father of the Nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated along with his entire family – except Hasina and her one sister who was away from the country – she paused as if at a loss of words. There was pin drop silence in the hall till she could resume. It was as if the entire audience was one with her in her moment of grief. I have seldom witnessed such a genuine and dignified gesture of personal feelings by a public figure. This soft spoken lady, with tremendous courage and resilience, had turned the fortunes of her country from the brink of disaster, by steering it away from the stranglehold of pro-Pakistani fundamentalist elements that had hijacked the country and kept it depraved for two long decades after the 1975 coup. Today Bangladesh is forging ahead in almost every human development indicator, be it child mortality or women’s emancipation, even besting us in many areas. There couldn’t have been a better demonstration of it than the number of smart young ladies we could find among their armed forces officers.
Fighting the war 45 years ago, we only knew we were doing our duty, contributing to a noble cause; but we had never imagined that one day it will lead to a country and its people blazing such magnificent trails. Hats off, Bangladesh; We salute you!