Why did India help in 1971?

By Shah Mohammed Saifuddin, Bangladesh

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Apr 13, 2011
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Saturday October 13 2007 11:30:54 AM BDT

Unlike our other neighbours India has a special place in our history because of its help in our liberation war. When the Pakistani military was murdering hundreds of thousands of unarmed people and raping the women of the then East Pakistan, India came forward with its helping hand and contributed to arming and training the mukti bahini. Almost 10 million people took shelter in India, especially in the states adjacent to East Pakistan border. Nobody in Bangladesh questions the fact that we got help from India but many question the nature of the help. Was it selfless help or India had a strategic interest in helping Bangladesh?

With a view to find out the truth we have to analyze what India gained from our freedom struggle and its attitude toward Bangladesh after our liberation war. Let us examine the entire thing from strategic, economic, and political point of views.

Strategic point of view

India's peculiar geographic position constituted a major threat to its national security. Due to the geographic location of then East Pakistan, the seven sisters were completely isolated from the mainland. A small corridor, popularly known as chicken neck, was the only passage that could be used for traffic movement. Militarily, India was pretty vulnerable especially due to Chinese presence along the border. The war that was fought between India and China taught India the lesson that faster troops mobility is the only way to win a war. So, India needed transit facility through East Pakistan to transport troops and logistics faster to defend its vulnerable North Eastern states. Besides that, Pakistan was playing a vital role in instigating the insurgents in Assam and elsewhere to break up the entire region. The Indian military strategists were out of options and didn't know how the North Eastern region would be saved. The Hawkish politicians in India came to the conclusion that breaking up Pakistan is the only way to save the militarily insecure North Eastern region. By doing so,

⺠They could weaken Pakistan and reduce the threat level.

⺠Recapture the Pakistani portion of Kashmir

⺠Create a new state that would be militarily and economically weak and provide the much needed transit for troops and logistics transportation

⺠Project India as a regional superpower and warn all elements inimical to India's security that India had the power to defend itself.

Economic point of view

India also had an economic objective to dismember Pakistan. India was a country with huge population and needed additional resources to uplift its economy. The economic cooperation with Pakistan was all but encouraging. Besides that, the water resources of the Himalayas were needed for India for irrigation and power generation. Due to Pakistan's strong military, India was unable to use the resources unilaterally. Despite being a third world nation, Pakistan was a huge economic market that was able to absorb millions of dollars worth of Indian commodities. But the hostility between the two nations retarded the possibility of a robust economic cooperation between the two nations.

Indian policymakers thought that if they could break Pakistan and create a new and weaker Bangladesh then they would be able to gain unrestricted access to its economic market. India knew that as a new nation, Bangladesh would need cheap industrial products to revive its economy. So, there was a tremendous potential for economic cooperation between the two nations. India also wanted to get transit through Bangladesh to transport raw materials for its North Eastern states. The economically backward North Eastern region needed more investment and various products to energize its economy. So, the Indians thought Bangladesh would be much more beneficial for Indian economy than East Pakistan. The economic calculation was very accurate because India managed to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cheap products to Bangladesh both legally and illegally. They destroyed the thriving jute industry of Bangladesh to build their own right after our independence.

India flooded the local Bangladeshi market with its products and offered millions of dollars more as loans to buy Indian commodities. We were reduced to a trading nation and almost destroyed the very basis of our own industry. India encouraged smuggling along the Indo-Bangla border so the government of Bangladesh had to close the border to stop the rampant smuggling to save the local traders. India never wanted an economically prosperous Bangladesh rather it wanted to use us as a market for its own products and in the process make us dependent on them.

If we look at the present situation, the lopsided trade relation between the two nations speaks volume of the Indian intention to help us in 1971. Bangladesh is an open market economy and allows duty free access for Indian products to our market. But India follows a restricted policy when it comes to importing Bangladeshi products and imposed numerous tariffs and para-tariffs on the Bangladeshi goods. The yawning trade imbalance is a testament to the fact that India never wanted an economically self-sufficient Bangladesh.

Political point of view

Former Indian foreign secretary Mr. Dixit said, "We helped in the liberation of Bangladesh in mutual interest, it was not a favour,"

His statement is clear evidence that India did not help Bangladesh on humanitarian ground. India had a long-term strategic plan to dismember Pakistan for its own gain. India had cultivated deep political relation with the disgruntled elements within the erstwhile East Pakistan. [1] As per a senior RAW intelligence officer, Bangladesh was the result of a 10 year long promotion of dissatisfaction against the rulers of Pakistan.

This goes to prove that helping Bangladesh was not an instantaneous decision of India rather it was a carefully designed strategic plan that was executed in pinpoint precision.

One of the top bosses of RAW, K. Sankaran Nair, was responsible for training the erstwhile East Pakistani officers in guerrilla warfare. He also established excellent relation with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The relation was maintained via a RAW operative Mr. Banerjee. RAW even funded the 1970s election, in which Sheikh Mujib emerged as the winner [2].

But after the liberation, things did not go the way India had planned. Mujib was assassinated and Awami League was ousted from the power. General Ziaur Rahman came to power and adopted an anti India foreign and defense policy to drag Bangladesh out of Indian sphere of influence. He established good economic and political relation with America and China. He also repaired relations with the Middle Eastern countries and created a huge opportunity for the Bangladeshi workers in the Arab nations. Money started to pour in and the economy got better. He amended the constitution to give it an Islamic flavour in a country where 90% people were Muslims. The Indian policymakers observed the political development in Bangladesh and clearly understood that things were getting worse as far as Indian interest was concerned.

In the meantime, General Ziaur Rahman took various measures to upgrade the military. A close defense relation was established between Bangladesh and China. This irked the military establishment of India. They considered it a hostile act and found it hard to digest. The disgruntled elements in Delhi decided to create a rebel group in Chittagong hill tracts to keep Bangladesh under pressure and drain as much resources of this newly born poor country as possible. Shanti bahini played havock with the lives and properties of the people in CHT. General Zia quickly decided to populate CHT with Bengalees to maintain the territorial integrity of Bangladesh. In the meantime, India forcefully occupied South Talpatty disregarding Bangladesh's request for a joint survey to determine the ownership of the Island. [3] General Zia was assassinated in 1981 and many observers believe that RAW had a hand in the incident.

General Ershad came to power in 1982 and more or less followed the same foreign policy as General Zia. But Ershad knew he should not annoy India beyond a certain limit so a tendency to keep India in good humour was obvious in his India policy. During his tenure, he agreed to abolish the guarantee clause from the water sharing treaty signed by General Zia. It went against our national interest because after abolishment of the guarantee clause, India reduced the water supply even further and that affected our agriculture and ecology. But the fact of the matter is even General Ershad couldn't take a fully pro-Indian stance due to public pressure. He had to continue the military modernization and amended the constitution to declare Islam as the state religion. This drew ire from the top leaders of India. Ershad didn't even try to take any initiative to give transit to India fearing wide spread protest across the country.

Actually, the Indian leaders knew that the only party that was able to meet the Indian strategic demands was Awami League. They never stopped keeping relations with Awami League and provided all sorts of logistis support to Sheikh Hasina. According to some well-informed observers, India provided Tk. 300 crore to Awami League to win the 1996 election(Weekly Shugondha, 26th April, 1996). India's clandestine support for a particular party is a testament to the fact that India had a strategic reason to help Bangladesh in 1971.

If India's help was altruistic in nature, India would have tried to win the hearts and minds of the people of Bangladesh but they never felt the need to do that and continued with their policy to clandestinely help bring Awami League to power. Even today, India leaves no stone unturned to malign Bangladesh. The Indian foreign ministry spends millions of dollars to hire foreign journalists to make fictitious reports to portray Bangladesh as Taliban sympathizer. Fortunately, Bangladesh took quick action to hang a few mis-guided Mullahs who were creating some disturbances. Bangladesh even signed various treaties to help the international community to combat terrorism.

More can be written to prove that India's help in 1971 was not an altruistic one rather it was for gaining strategic advantages. India has an ambitious vision of becoming a world power but how can they achieve their goal if they cannot convince their neighbours that their intentions are benign? Using force to subjugate the weaker neighbours is not the way to go to establish a relation based on mutual trust and respect.



1.RAW: Top-Secret Failures, p: 5
2.Ibid. , p: 8
3.Limits of Diplomacy: Bangladesh, Partha. S. Ghosh

Shah Mohammed Saifuddin ( Maruf)
Founder of Bangladesh Strategic & Development Fourm
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Keywords: Why did India help in 1971, Shah Mohammed Saifuddin, Bangladesh, Independence, Bangladesh, War, Politics, Economic point of view,

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