The distant neighbour
By Udyan Namboodiri
Bangladesh: The next Afghanistan? by Hiranmay Karlekar; Sage Publications; 311 pages; Rs 320.00
The author belongs to a generation of intellectuals who were organically involved in the birth of Bangladesh. Hiranmay Karlekar, who grew up in the Bengal of the 1940s and 1950s, saw from very close the politico-socio-economic disasters caused by the Partition and its tragic ramifications on the Bengali psyche. As a young journalist for The Statesman, he had covered the genocide of three million innocent East Pakistanis in 1971. Back then, he had used his pen to rouse the consciousness of the civilized world to the horrific repression carried out by Yahya Khan which resulted in over 10 million people fleeing across the border into India. Later that year, he literally rode atop an Indian Army tank into liberated Bangladesh. The creation of an independent, secular and democratic Bangladesh under Mujibur Rehman instilled in his mind the confidence that India could co-exist with a liberal nation to its East and gradually give her South Asian vision some shape.
But, much like the United States, which abandoned Afghanistan to its fate after helping its people boot out the Soviets in 1988, India, a generation earlier, simply forgot about Bangladesh. We simply overlooked the necessity of building specialised capacities to follow developments in that country as it degenerated into chaos. When Mujibur Rehman and his family (with the exception of daughters Hasina and Rehana who were abroad at the time) were brutally murdered, it transpired that Indian intelligence had not forewarned Smt Indira Gandhi about the impending fate of her closest ally. Subsequently, Bangladesh vindicated Henry Kissinger'sfamous warning that it would turn into an ?international basket case?. Under the military regimes of Zia-ur-Rehman (the husband of the present Prime Minister who was assassinated) and Hussien Mohammad Ershad, the chaos was exacerbated by the leeway given to Islamic fundamentalists. The same Jamaat-e-Islami, which had acted as an auxiliary force of Yahya Khan by promoting murder squads like the Razakars, the Al-Badr and Al-Shams, was rehabilitated as the military junta courted their support to legitimise their stay in power. The original culprit in this regard, was, however, Sheikh Mujib himself. For, it was he who had publicly pardoned them by passing a general amnesty in November 1973 freeing all those convicted or under trial under the Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunals) Order, 1972. That terrible lack of foresight on the Bangabandhu'spart resulted in downright anti-national elements entering the mainstream of the new nation'spolity.
The Islamisation of Bangladesh began with Zia-ur-Rehman and predated the more famous Hudood Ordinance issued by his counterpart in Islamabad, Zia-ul-Huq, which brought about an 180-degree turn in jurisprudence principles in Pakistan. The antenna of the Indian security establishment, which was always active with regard to Pakistan, paid little attention to the more disturbing trend in the East. The tragic consequence, victims of this apathy were the country's31 per cent Hindu minority, which had been beguiled by the Indira-Mujib pact of 1972 to return to the land of their ancestors against the promise that they would have equal share in the new nation'sdestiny. Zia-ur-Rehman'ssuccessor, Ershad, went further down the road of Hindu persecution. In 1983, he banned the established practice of painting of Hindu alpana in reverence to the martyrs of 1971 at the monument dedicated to the liberation war. In June 1988, he enacted the Constitution of the country to make Islam the state religion of Bangladesh.
If that was the signal which the revivified Jamaat needed to resume ethnic cleansing, it was also the point where the Bangladesh of Karlekar'sgeneration, wrapped in dreams and packaged with nostalgia, started crossing swords with the one held by my own?vitriolic and downright abrasive. In December 1988, as a young reporter with The Statesman, I broke a story on thousands of Hindus were being ejected from rural Khulna, Barisal, Jessore and Khustia and forced to live like beggars on the suburban platforms of Kolkata. The peripatetic lot had been rendered refugees for the second time in a generation. Within a couple of years, a migration of far greater significance was witnessed?that of Muslim Bangladeshis forced by poverty and joblessness to seek better pastures in India. Instead of heeding to warnings from nationalistic quarters, the Congress-Communist dominated strategic thinkers enthusiastically encouraged this infiltration. In Assam and West Bengal, the voters? lists were padded with Bangladeshi infiltrators and they went on to form the rock-solid base of the ?secular? vote bank.
The major part of the book is devoted to the grisly details of the third phase of Bangladesh'sIslamisation, the one that began on October 1, 2001 with the dubious victory of Begum Khaleda Zia. Her electoral allies, the Jamaat and Islami Oikyo Jot (IOJ). I was present in Dhaka at the time and my dispatch, which was carried in The Hindustan Times under the headline ?Khaleda'svictory spells headache for India? was at first scoffed at by the secular establishment. In every sense Karlekar'sbook vindicates that position. Even before the election, The Hindu'sHaroon Habib had filed a report based on an investigation carried out by Dhaka'sDaily Star which said that tens of millions of taka were being channeled into the country to fund fanatics and politically motivated clerics whose dream was to turn Bangladesh into a theocratic state. Islamic NGOs were already spending taka 150 crore on theological education by that time. Karlekar now quotes the result of an investigation carried out by an economics teacher of Dhaka University, Abul Barkat, which reveals that organisations run by fundamentalist Islamists make an annual profit of Tk 12 billion.
In short, Karlekar has sounded the loudest possible wake-up call for the New Delhi security establishment. The problem, as former Punjab director general of police, K.P.S. Gill, pointed out at the release ceremony for the book, is that ?no strategic thinker ever reads any book?. Once again, one hears the familiar expressions of self-flagellation from pseudo-secularist quarters about India's?lapses? which may have caused Bangladesh'simpoverishment?accompanied by mumbo-jumbo over allowing more imports and promoting ?people-to-people ties?. A repeat of the fallacy that prompted us to walk into General Musharraf's?peace process? trap seems inevitable. History, when it repeats, is tragic at first. Twice over, it becomes a farce.
(The author is senior editor, The Pioneer.)