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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 37 New Delhi September 1, 2018

Indo-Bangla Relations and Sheikh Mujib’s Assassination

Sunday 2 September 2018, by Ashok Parthasarathi

The father of the Bangladesh nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was assassinated with his entire family (except his two daughters who were not in the Bangladesh capital at that time) in Dacca on August 15, 1975. The following article is being published in that connection.

When the “Bangladesh War” ended on December 16, 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder President of the Awami League party of Pakistan, was in Pakistan where he was detained since the military crackdown in Dacca in March that year. With the new nation of Bangladesh coming into being now a reality, Mujib left for London enroute Dhaka. On the way he stopped over in Delhi to confer with Mrs Indira Gandhi and her colleagues. As was to be expected, he received a rousing welcome from both the government and people of India. First of all, he thanked Mrs Gandhi very warmly for the enormous support she and her government, as well as our military in particular, had rendered. He then discussed with Indiraji the people he had in mind for his first Cabinet. P. N. Haksar and R.N. Kao had given her such detailed accounts of the main political persona-lities in the Awami League party that Indiraji was able to give her useful advice. Kao gave Mujib a detailed picture of the political and security situation in Bangladesh/East Pakistan as also the economic situation. Kao also gave Mujib a list of persons whom his organisation (RAW) (which had 50 agents in Bangladesh) had identified and kept under surveillance as persons working for the Pakistani intelligence, the Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, and/or working for Western governments (such as the CIA of the USA and MI 6 of the UK).

Mrs Gandhi then emphasised to Mujib the paramount importance for himself and his entire (large) family to be protected 365x24 hrs as there was a major plan being worked out by all these three intelligence agencies to assassinate them. Kao had put together a team of half-a-dozen officers and 100 men drawn from his superb commando force, the Special Frontier Force (SFF), to guard him and his family on a 365x24 hrs basis. She urged Mujib to accept such a protection force and cooperate with them in all respects. For such protection neither Mujib nor his government needed to pay anything to the Government of India. Mrs Gandhi then informed Mujib that Kao’s organisation (RAW) would soon be setting up a “Hotline” with maximum security features between her house and Office on the one hand and Mujib’s Office and home likewise in Dacca. This “Hotline “would enable the two them to be in constant touch. Indiraji urged Mujib to feel free to use the line at any time he wanted.

Mrs Gandhi’s final point was to advise Mujib to take up, as one of his priority tasks, the making of an assessment of the quantum of funds his government would need to undertake the huge relief, rehabilitation and abode re-construction of the people of Bangladesh and send it to her (Indiraji) at the earliest, so that India could send men and material at its (India’s) cost to help Bangladesh in that effort. Mujib, on his part, thanked Indiraji profusely (he called her “my real sister”) and then left for Dacca on January 5, 1972.

The first thing Mujib did on reaching Dacca was to address a huge gathering of his fellow countrymen and women. He spoke about the acute pain with which, sitting in Pakistan, he had watched the brutalities inflicted on his people by the Pakistani Army. He told his people that the first thing his government would do was to file a comprehensive chargesheet against the Pakistani forces for their “crime against humanity” in the erstwhile East Pakistan before the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva and get stringent punishment meted out to them. The huge crowed roared in approval. Mujib then went on to say that concurrently he and his Cabinet would draw up in 30 days a comprehensive programme of relief activities to be undertaken and, if needed, resettlement of those of his people who had been affected by the War. He also informed the huge gathering that the credit for liberating East Pakistan and creating Bangladesh against stiff opposition from all the Western countries, and particularly the USA, should go to Mrs Indira Gandhi. Mujib went on to say that he had discussed the matter of relief and rehabilitation with Mrs Gandhi during his brief stop-over in Delhi and was overwhelmed with gratitude when Indiraji had committed to provide as much money as India could afford for such relief and rehabilitation. The entire gathering stood up and clapped for nearly five minutes.

Three days later, Mujib and his first Cabinet was sworn in. Predictably there were in it many stalwarts who had fought the Pakistani “invaders”. But there were also some noted Bangladeshi scholars.

One of them prepared a national “Bailout Plan” for consideration by the Government of India and the International Money Fund (IMF). The plan envisaged the provision by India of INR 15,000 crores and a standby loan of US $ 1.25 billion as far as the IMF was concerned. After consideration by the Cabinet, chaired by Mujib, two decisions were taken for concurrent action:

(i) Mujib should send the Indian Aid component directly to PM Indira Gandhi for immediate action;

And (ii) the IMF component should be sent to the Managing Director of the IMF for similar urgent action.

When she received Mujib’s letter and the enclosed Bailout Plan proposal, Indiraji immediately called a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs to consider the plan and see what maximum help India could provide. The Cabinet Committee considered a paper jointly prepared by the Finance Ministry and Planning Commission. After detailed analysis the paper recommended immediate provision by the GOI to the Bangladesh Government of only Rs 6000 crores. Therefore Indiraji exploded: “Can you, financial experts and technicians, only think about cold numbers? Have you, in making your so-called ‘recommendation’, considered the brutal fact that there has been and continues to be a human tragedy of gargantuan dimensions, according to major UN agencies like the UNICEF, FAO, WHO and High Commissioner for Refugees. I put to my colleagues that we, the government of the largest nation in South Asia with the highest GDP, approve the request of our close but totally war-ravaged neighbour for emergency assis-tance of Rs 16,000 crores of which amount 50 per cent must be a grant while the remaining 50 per cent is provided as a very low interest (two per cent) loan carrying a 10-year moratorium and a 50-year payback period. The entire grant component should be released immediately against a Soverign Guarrantee.” The Finance Minister, then C. Subramanian, and the Finance Secretary, S. Venkataraman, scoured like rabbits to release that amount immediately. When her short letter to Mujib of the decisions taken by the CCEA on his request was read out to the Bangladesh leader a day later, Mujib was so overjoyed that he immediately rang up Indiraji and conveyed his profound thanks. As for the IMF component, the Governor on the Board of Governors of the Fund dealing with India was also the Governor for Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. So he, who had been sent a copy of the request proposal from Bangladesh, took up the matter of US $ 1.25 billion standby credit directly with the IMF head, that is, the Managing Director, for immediate approval noting that Bangladesh was a Least Developed Country like Nepal and Bhutan and that the country was in dire economic straits and so their request should be immediately acceded to. Nepal and Bhutan sent similar letters. Under all this pressure, the Managing Director called an immediate meeting of the Fund’s Board of Directors and approved Bangladesh’s request.

With these large inflows of money in the form of local resources from India and free Foreign Exchange from the IMF and wise and corruption-free use of these finances, Bangladesh limped back to normalcy slowly by the end of 1973. In two years the economy of Bangladesh had improved tremendously on all fronts. Most notable was the establishment and growth in the Private Sector strongly supported by the stake in the Handloom and Garment industries with a strong export orientation and combining both high profitability and maximum job creation. We from India set up hydro- and thermal power plants in Bangladesh along with very soft loans. A large team of Public Health administrators from India was sent to the Bangladesh Government to draw up and implement, first of all, a massive India-supplied Vaccine Mission to tackle the long prevalent attacks of Typhoid, Cholera, Malaria and Tuberculosis. This Indian initiative was supple-mented and complemented by a large WHO programme. All in all by mid-1974, things were looking up in a large number of sectors of the economy and society.

Tragically, disaster struck on the political and security fronts in mid-1975. Mujib came to Delhi alone. He met Indiraji and complained bitterly about the tight security which he had to follow. He said his family, in particular, was deeply resentful of—indeed annoyed at—the fact that they could not freely meet their friends and relatives, go to movies and concerts un-escorted (they were escorted by people who were clearly Guards) etc. So, Mujib wanted a substantial relaxation of the security policies and practices which Kao had put in place. Kao, who was of course present at the meeting of the two leaders, reiterated that the threat to the very lives of Mujib and his family continued to be as real and as serious as when Mujib started as the PM in 1972, Indiraji, however, could understand and appreciate Mujib’s situation. So some relaxation was agreed upon. Meanwhile the “Bangladeshi SFF” had been recruited, trained and inducted in fair numbers by the RAW.

Kao, however, as one of the greatest security specialists on the planet, was deeply worried. His worries, unfortunately, came to be true when on August 15, 1975, there was a massive raid on Mujib’s residence by 30 heavily armed men—later identified as an “Annihilation Squad” of the Pakistani ISI. Despite retaliation and protection measures taken by both Kao’s and the Bangladeshi SFF, Mujib and his entire 12-member family were killed. Two of his daughters, Hasina and Rehana, manged to survive because they were not in Bangladesh at that time. The investigation into how the attack was planned and mounted clearly established that if the relaxation in protection measures and procedures had not been made, Mujib and his family would not have been killed.

Prof Ashok Parthasarathi is a former Science and Technology Adviser to late PM Indira Gandhi.

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