As Bangladesh recalls its violent birth, Modi’s satyagraha claim sounds jarring

With farmers on a Satyagraha, Rahul Gandhi talking of launching a fresh Satyagraha and in wake of anniversary of ‘salt Satyagraha’, the PM might have felt the urge to conjure a Satyagraha of his own

Photo Courtesy: Social Media
Photo Courtesy: Social Media
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Sujata Anandan

My aunt's son had simply disappeared over the borders from Jalpaiguri to East Pakistan in April 1971. He was barely out of his teens and with the turmoil in that country since March that year his family was blown out of its mind believing they would never see him again. He returned home sometime in 1972 after the Bangladesh war and we learnt he had joined the Mukti Fauj (later the Mukti Bahini) and fought against Pakistanis for the liberation of Bangladesh.

He was the only Bengali Hindu in the Mukti Bahini and is still very well remembered in that country for his blood-curdling exploits, many of which could have got him killed any time. He miraculously survived them all and the tales of horror he has recounted over the years from those months still make one's hair stand on end.

There were many Indians, mostly Bihari and Bengali Muslims, fighting each other on either side of the divide, some wanting the liberation of East Pakistan, the others wishing for status quo. My aunt's son rescued several brutalised women out of the conflict zones in that nation in the agonised throes of its birth and he is still well remembered by many people in Bangladesh from those times.

But recently as he was preparing to go to Bangladesh, which on its 50th anniversary prepared to honour its freedom fighters (of which he is clearly one), he received an anonymous letter saying he was not welcome in that country anymore. He does not know who sent that letter or who might be upset by his role in the war half a century ago – he has lived a good, successful life since then and really did not want to jeopardise his family for something that happened in another country so long ago. But there are still people in Bangladesh who have neither forgotten nor forgiven the defeat of Pakistan and he would rather not invite any trouble at this late stage in life. He will not write his memoirs for that very reason, he prefers the anonymity of his existence, though many Banglsdeshis constantly seek him out for help and advice on various issues.

I asked him, apart from fighting with knives and guns, if he had also participated in the satyagraha for the liberation of Bangladesh and he simply laughed in my face. There was no satyagraha against Pakistan, unlike Mahatma Gandhi's movement against the British in India, he told me. Pakistani soldiers simply barged into your homes if they even so much as suspected your sympathies were with the Mukti Bahini, he said. They picked up the women, cut off their breasts and private parts with ordinary razors after raping them; the women died bleeding. The men they simply shot. There was no question of arrests and being left alive in jail, he said.

So, I wondered which side of the border Narendra Modi was doing his satyagraha for the liberation of East Pakistan and where he was lodged in jail during the Bangladesh war. For it was a very bloody and violent liberation and there was absolutely no element of peace or non-violence in the fight for Bangladesh. I can never be on the same page as Modi but I had hoped that he would at least not make me cringe among my friends from abroad every time he opens his mouth. If he wanted to draw a connection to the liberation of Bangladesh, he could have at least studied the events that led up to the formation of the new country and claimed to have fought in the Mukti Bahini. With so many Indians fighting the Pakistan Army, it would have been more plausible.

What would people who threatened my aunt's son recently have made of the Prime Minister’s claim? If after fifty years those who are hunting down Indians who fought for Bangladesh can locate an anonymous citizen doing his best to disappear into the woodwork, they certainly would know about a certain Narendra Modi who ended up as the Prime Minister of India –his satyagraha and a jail term.

Any Indian fighting for the liberation of Bangladesh had the full force of the nation behind them, for Mrs Indira Gandhi was preparing for a full-blooded war for the purpose and why should she have arrested anyone calling for the liberation of East Pakistan? But with farmers on satyagraha, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi talking of launching another satyagraha in India, yet another anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's salt satyagraha going past and people in the nation generally a peaceful, non-violent sort of satyagrahis, satyagraha is on top of everyone's mind and I think Modi might be suddenly feeling bereft of a similar history for and wishing to participate in a satyagraha for himself.

There are many other ways he can do that. He is the prime minister of India after all, with more powers than the insidious RSS can hope to appropriate to itself. He could sit in a satyagraha outside Reshim Bagh, the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, and demand they instantly cease this attempt to divide India into bits and pieces. He is the boss after all, so he could easily plonk himself down outside North Block and demand Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman rescue India from her tanking economy and pull the GDP from minus eight percent to pre-2014 levels. He could also set up camp outside the Chinese embassy and demand they withdraw from Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh and return all captured Indian territory to India.

I have complete sympathy for Modi and the manner in which he is surrounded by self-serving individuals and organisations who smother him with degrees in entire political science and do not allow him to achieve greater heights for himself and the nation. Those incompetent individuals and insidious organisations deserve a satyagraha of their own against themselves. And who better than Modi to launch such a satyagraha?

Modi will do a great service to India and go down in history as the greatest satyagrahi of all times if he succeeds in rescuing India from the darkness we find ourselves in today. Far from a satyagraha for Bangladesh, we need one for ourselves today!

(The writer is a commentator and columnist based in Mumbai. Views are personal)

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Published: 28 Mar 2021, 1:02 PM