New Delhi: In Dhaka, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, March 26, called for a unified fight against the ideologies behind “inhuman acts” and revealed that he had been arrested for taking part in protests calling for the liberation of Bangladesh.
Modi spoke at Dhaka’s national parade square to mark the celebrations of the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s Independence and the birth centenary of the father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The Indian prime minister arrived in Bangladesh for a two-day visit – his first overseas trip in 15 months.
According to reports, at least four people were killed in clashes between police and members of an Islamist group protesting against the visit of the Indian PM.
In his speech, Modi mentioned that he wanted to “remind” the younger generation in Bangladesh with “great pride” that joining a protest for Bangladesh was one of his first political experiences.
“I must have been 20 to 22 years old when my colleagues and I did a Satyagraha for the freedom of the people of Bangladesh. I was arrested and had an opportunity to go to jail in support of Bangladesh’s Independence,” he said.
मेरी उम्र 20-22 साल रही होगी जब मैंने और मेरे कई साथियों ने बांग्लादेश के लोगों की आजादी के लिए सत्याग्रह किया था: PM @narendramodi
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) March 26, 2021
This is the first time that the Indian PM has publicly claimed that he had been involved in any political protest in favour of Bangladesh’s liberation and been put behind bars.
In the citation to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the Bangladesh Liberation War honour, it is mentioned that Jana Sangh organised a Gana satyagraha from August 1-11, 1971, and their volunteers held a rally in front of the parliament on August 12, 1971 “to press for demand of Indian government’s expedited support for Bangladesh’s liberation war”. It is not clear if this is the ‘satyagraha’ that Modi participated in, and for which he claimed he was arrested.
The Indian Army had, of course, already begun to provide training, arms and ammunition from April 1971 onwards. Earlier in March, India had opened its borders to the thousands of refugees escaping the Pakistan army’s brutal crackdown.
On December 3, India declared war on Pakistan. Thirteen days later, the Pakistan army surrendered in Dhaka.
The prime minister claimed that the yearning for Bangladesh’s liberation thrived equally in India. “The photos that depicted the disgusting brutalities of Pakistan army were disturbing, and did not allow one to sleep at night”.
He asserted that Bangladesh’s freedom struggle was “supported from every nook and corner of India, from every party, from every section of the society”. “Indira Gandhi ji‘s efforts and her important role are well known,” he added.
Modi said that in both countries, the journey of the next 25 years is crucial. “We have descended from a shared heritage, and we are advancing towards shared development. We have shared goals and shared challenges”.
He asserted that both countries would also have to face similar threats, like terrorism. “The ideology and forces that carried out such inhuman incidents are still active. We must also be careful with them and be organised to fight them”.
The prime minister handed over the Gandhi Peace Prize 2021 to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her younger sister, Sheikh Rehana, as a posthumous award for their father Mujibur Rahman.
In an emotional speech, Hasina recalled that the Indian government and people were “immensely involved” in Bangladesh’s liberation war.
“India sheltered around 10 million who fled from Bangladesh in the face of persecution of Pakistani soldiers, in the face of killing, genocide and rape, they helped our freedom fighters…India gave them shelter food and medication.. They helped our freedom fighters with training arms and ammunition and all types of cooperation,” she said.
She became emotional, reminiscing the aftermath of the assassination of several members of her family in 1975. At that time, Sheikh Hasina and her children escaped the assassination as she was out of the country to visit her husband working in Germany.
“But there was no place for us to return to. At that time, Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia and Indira Gandhi contacted us…they gave us a place to stay in Delhi. And we were there for a long time”.
She praised Modi – whom she had received at the airport upon arrival on Friday – for India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and spoke about increased cooperation with India in various sectors in the last few years.
Hasina also underlined that India, as the largest country in the region, needs to play a pioneering role in building a stable and politically-economically vibrant South Asia.
Protests and a Facebook ‘blackout’
During Modi’s visit, the entire city of Dhaka was under a heavy security blanket, amidst which at least 60 people, including media persons, were injured during a clash between police and protesters who attempted to bring out a rally against Modi from Dhaka’s Baitul Mukarram National Mosque.
According to state news agency UNB, after Friday prayers, demonstrators started chanting slogans against the Indian prime minister’s arrival in Dhaka near the mosque’s south gate, prompting police to fire rubber bullets and charge batons on them.
According to photos and television media reports, a separate crowd wielding sticks and wearing helmets aligned to the ruling Awami League – which tried to stop the protesters – also threw stones at the police.
In the port city of Chattogram, at least four people were killed after members of Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam attacked government structures, including a police station.
According to Dhaka Tribune, witnesses said hundreds of students from the Hathazari Madrasa marched towards the Hathazari police station while chanting slogans against Modi and the Bangladesh government after Friday prayers.
After the police station was vandalised, police tried to disperse protesters by firing tear gas shells, followed by rubber bullets and shotguns.
The New Age newspaper reported, citing a senior official in the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, that the country’s most popular social media platform, Facebook, had been blocked.
“We’re aware that our services have been restricted in Bangladesh. We’re working to understand more and hope to have full access restored as soon as possible,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.