Sheikh Hasina should draw a veil over the nation’s blood-soaked past, moderate her quest for justice and resolve the dilemma of the Bengali and Muslim identities
Sunanda K Datta-Ray, Business Standard, March 8, 2013
Those who knew him towards the end say “Khuda Hafiz” had replaced “Joy Bangla” as his favourite greeting. He was a pragmatist. He was also a politician. Politics is the art of compromise.
No purpose is served by Indians declaiming that the Talibanisation of Bangladesh will imperil our security, or that the Shahbag Square demonstrators have morality on their side. Sheikh Hasina’s first priority is survival. While every Bangladeshi leader craves the imprimatur of India’s acceptance, no Bangladeshi leader can afford to be seen as India’s protégé. Strident secularism would be denounced as not just betraying Islam, but betraying Islam to India.
For precisely that reason, Sheikh Hasina would be well-advised to moderate her quest for justice, which has followed a zigzag path in Bangladesh. As coups and counter-coups succeeded each other, the courts took their cue from the political authority. Even without the complaints of human rights’ activists who fault Sheikh Hasina’s International Crimes Tribunal for not respecting world standards of due process, whatever she does is likely to be denounced as vengeance.
That is something Mujib’s daughter can never afford to forget. Five of her parents’ murderers were executed 35 years after the crime. It’s time now for her to recall the indulgence Mujib showed to war collaborators and draw a veil over the blood-soaked past. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission offers a precedent in reaching out to yesterday’s enemies to save the future.
Expressions of Indian support for the Shahbag Square demonstrators will only complicate her task. India can help best by expediting the proposed South Asian market and promoting the measures needed to draw Bangladesh into a growth triangle that encompasses the northeastern states and the Bay of Bengal region.
It wasn’t fashionable to admit it, but the nine million refugees who fled to India in 1971 were mostly Hindus, victims as much of Pakistani repression as of local Muslim brutality. They didn’t want to go back after liberation but had to when Indian army bulldozers razed their camps and Indian soldiers forced them into trucks at bayonet point. I asked a returning Hindu peasant if he regarded himself a Bangladeshi. “No,” he replied. “You can call me an Indian living in Bangladesh!”
That may be an inescapable identification. But, otherwise, India must be seen as the friend of all Bangladeshis, not just of a particular lobby. Bangladeshis alone can resolve the dilemma – if one exists – of their Bengali and Muslim identities.
As I have said before in this column, India’s best friend would be a Bangladesh that is not paying off old scores, but has come to terms with the past and is at peace with itself.
Read the writer’s few other posts;
When the refugees who fled East Pakistan in 1971 were being sent back – sometimes at gunpoint – to Bangladesh, I asked one of them if he regarded himself as Bangladeshi or Indian. The grizzled old peasant replied with earthy wisdom, “You can call me an Indian residing in Bangladesh!” (Sunanda K Datta-Ray, Business Standard, May 15, 2015)
- Sunanda K Datta-Ray, Bangabandu: The subtle Dhaka, Delhi bond, Jul 09, 2016
A well-wisher is said to have once warned Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the charismatic leader known as “Bangabandu” or Friend of Bengalis, that some Bangladeshis were plotting his downfall. “Nonsense!” he retorted. “I am the father of my people. Does any son ever kill his father?” Had Mujib been less intoxicated with his own grandiose role, he would have known that history cites several ambitious and impatient sons who have done exactly that. Rightly or wrongly, they felt frustrated by a dominating father. Mujib’s beleaguered daughter, Sheikh Hasina Wazed, cannot afford to forget that episode. Neither can Bangladesh’s friends in the government of India.
Instead of restraining him, Indira Gandhi, who had herself abridged India’s democracy with her Emergency dispensation, supported and encouraged Mujib in his authoritarian new role. History continues to repeat itself. India still extends unstinting support to the Awami League government. It believes – as it did with Sheikh Mujib in 1975 – that the Awami League provides the best neighbour we can expect. The Awami League must be advised not to subordinate its governmental responsibilities to the battle of the begums. If any outside force has any influence with Mrs Wazed, it’s the Indian government. Delhi is closer to Dhaka than is imagined.