You, and I, and all our common friends know we are very close and good friends since our Dhaka College days (1964-1966). You also met my parents, and they always liked you a lot. My late mother, not long before her death in this September, asked me about you. She mentioned seeing you on TV, and even noticed the dark prayer-mark on your forehead. You have always been very generous and nice to me. I still remember, you would be the one who would invariably see me off at the Phulbaria Railway Station in Dhaka, during long holidays, when I would go home.
Despite our political differences, we have been good friends. We were together against the dictatorial Ayub regime during the turbulent days of the 1969 student-and-mass movement. We went on hunger strike together along with two other friends (18th-22nd Febraury, 1969) at Dhaka University Bat Tala for the release of Agartala Conspiracy Case prisoners, including Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. You and me still cherish the memory of Sheikh Mujib’s (he was not yet the “Bangabandhu”) coming to the Bat Tala from the Dhaka Central Jail to break our fast.
Yes, I have become a bit nostalgic, and emotional too! The purpose of writing this open letter isn’t about cherishing old memories of our camaraderie and friendship. It’s rather about something else. I write this to register my shock, disbelief, and total disappointment by your recent public statement at Agartala. I think what you said about what sort of relationship Bangladesh and India should have in the coming days was not only least expected from a mature journalist-turned-politician like you, but was also very distressing for those who knew you to be a conscientious, realist, sensible, and above all, a patriot. This letter doesn’t mean I doubt your patriotism, but I believe you were simply carried away, became a bit emotional to restrain your tongue, and said something which shouldn’t ever be said, at least not by you.
Had an X, Y, or Z said what you said last week at the Rabindra Satabarshiki Bhavan in Agartala in a programme organized by Tripura’s Ishwar Pathshala and Indo-Bangla Friendship Committee, I wouldn’t have bothered to write any letter to them. I’m surprised that you said: “We [India and Bangladesh] need uniform visas and currencies in similitude with the European Union.” When I first saw this in an online newspaper, I thought it was another fake news, somebody was trying to do some nasty character assassination of Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury! But, believe me, when some responsible media outlets in the country also revealed what you had told at Agartala, it was very discomforting for me. Believe me, almost all our common friends think what I am thinking aloud, and sharing with you in this open letter.
I think your following observation is also unwarranted. You said: “Sometimes, I notice that efforts are being made to breach the bond between India and Bangladesh. The camaraderie between these two countries will remain as long as the history of our liberation is alive.” I’m not sure whom you held responsible for monkeywrenching the “smooth machine” of Indo-Bangladesh relationship! Do you really believe the Indo-Bangladesh relationship is on an uneven keel, because of the machinations by the so-called anti-Liberation Forces? And then, what did you actually mean when you said as long as the history of our liberation “is alive”, “the camaraderie between these two countries [India and Bangladesh] will remain”? Very hyperbolic expression indeed! No offence my dear friend, this is what your statement appeared to be!
I strongly believe that almost half a century after the Liberation, if Bangladesh has to chase the bogey of “Anti-Liberation Forces” (by the way, who are they?), the chase would remain a wild goose chase, a foolish and hopeless pursuit of something unattainable! It’s time to say good-bye to what historian David Ludden (a good friend of Bangladesh) has aptly called “The Politics of Independence in Bangladesh”. The country is already over-polarised between “patriots” and “enemies” or “pro-”and “anti-Liberation” forces. Blaming “anti-Liberation people” for problems in Indo-Bangladesh relationship is rather overstretching the imagination, especially because India is the only country in the world today which has bad to very bad relationship with all its immediate neighbours; what Israel and South Africa used to be, once upon a time! So why blame Bangladesh or the non-existent “anti-Liberation Forces” for the prevalent bad relationship between India and Bangladesh!
I’ve problems in understanding you that Indo-Bangladesh friendship would remain so long as “the history of our liberation is alive”. What you actually meant by this ambiguous assertion is beyond me. What has the “history of our liberation” – “alive” or “dead” – has to do with the existence of friendly relationship between India and Bangladesh? I believe, you know what Farakka, Tipaimukh, and Teesta barrages are all about! They are Indian monstrosities to destroy Bangladesh’s agriculture, ecology, and overall prosperity by depriving the country of its due share of waters from the Ganges, Barak, and Teesta. And when some Bangladeshis protest against India’s failng hegemony in Bangladesh – not that many do so since the demise of brave, bold, and patriotic Maulana Bhashani – pro-Indian elements in Bangladesh conveniently call them “pro-Pakistani” or “anti-Liberation”. By the way, do you also bracket anti-Indian people with “anti-Liberation” or “Pro-Pakistani” elements?
The way you singled out the main hindrances to better friendship and understanding between India and Pakistan, I’m sorry, sounded very illogical, to put it very mildly, my dear friend! You didn’t mention the one-sided transit facilities that India is enjoying to connect Paschim Banga with its not-so-tranquil Northeastern states – by denying similar facilities to Bangladesh to trade with Nepal and Bhutan – and there’s no mention of willful killing of Bangladeshi nationals at the Indo-Bangladesh border by Indian BSF, let alone any mention of India’s intrusive policies vis-à-vis internal affairs of Bangladesh, especially since 2009. The way India’s former External Affairs Secretary Sujata Singh arm twisted Ershad to take part in the 2014’s Parliamentary Elections in Bangladesh (to put a stamp of legitimacy on the farcical elections), and what India’s former President Pranab Mukherjee has recently revealed about his undue interference in the internal affairs of Bangladesh (as candidly admitted in his political autobiography) are missing in your Agartala Statement. We all know these intrusive acts by India – which always behave like the Orwellian Big Brother vis-à-vis its smaller neighbours, except Pakistan – have been the main problems toward any meaningful or lasting friendship between the two countries.
Last but not least, your suggesting that Bangladesh and India adopt a common currency in similitude with the EU is unbelievably absurd, unrealistic, and uncalled for. The US and Canada are neighbours, and so are Australia and New Zealand, who have been very good friends (their citizens don’t require any visa to visit each other), but they don’t have common currencies to further strengthen their relationship. There are hundreds of similar examples from across the world. I still can’t fathom the real motive behind this preposterous suggestion! You know even in the most culturally, economically, and politically integrated union of nation states in Europe (EU), currently 19 of 28 member states have common currency, they use the euro. You also know Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s famous Six-Point Programme included the provision for two separate currencies for the proposed Federation of East and West Pakistan. Then again, I also don’t understand what you meant by “We [India and Bangladesh] need uniform visas”!
By the way, are you aware that while you went out of the way carrying “bundles of olive branches” to Agartala with a view to bringing India and Bangladesh closer to each other, many Indian politicians (and possibly most Indians themselves) aren’t that keen on having Bangladesh as India’s most favoured friend? Friendship can’t be a one-sided affair, unlike slavery, where the underdog is unwilling to continue with his/her servile relationship with the master. Recently, Assam’s Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said that the entire stretch of Indo-Bangladesh border would be totally sealed by December 2018 with hi-tech scanning gadgets to be the additional security agents.
However, I must admire your optimism and hope that one day India and Bangladesh will become good friends (of course, on equal terms, not as master and slave)! I think you would agree with me my dear friend, that it’s rather too early to be that optimistic about having a visa-free travel between the two countries, let alone having a common currency!
Last but not least, I want to explain to you and the readers of this open letter why I’m writing this to you, instead of writing something similar to the Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid! The reason is plain and simple. I don’t know him, he’s not my friend, His recent public statement, which is many, many times more preposterous and dangerous than your relatively harmless Agartala Statement, which only smacks of some inadvertence and naiveté on part of a harmless soul like you. What the Education Minister said is highly objectionable, beyond any comments, and he’s liable to legal action as he not only asked government officials to take bribe – “within a tolerable limit” – but he also said: “The ministers are thieves as well. I’m a thief too”. In any country with a semblance of the rule of law, he would have been facing legal charges, firstly, for defamation from all “the ministers” he said were “thieves”; and secondly, from the anti-corruption bureau (DUDOK) for his confession, “I’m a thief too”.
Finally, I think you still have time to elaborate through a public statement what you actually meant to say and actually said inadvertently, at Agartala. I think you should do so for the sake of your own image, and also for the sake of defending Bangladesh, which India has been successfully undermining, overpowering, and exploiting politically, economically, and culturally.
Wishing you and your wonderful family a Happy and Wonderful New Year!
Dr. Taj Hashmi teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (Sage, 2014). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org