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Tales of war

Are India and Bangladesh learning to accept the full truth about the past that produced them?

Written by The Indian Express | Published: October 20, 2012 2:20 am

Are India and Bangladesh learning to accept the full truth about the past that produced them?

The subcontinent is learning to say no to denial. Today,for the first time ever,the top military leadership will honour the dead of the 1962 India-China conflict. Half a century after the event,the defence ministry will memorialise those that it had chosen to simply forget. Meanwhile,four decades after the event,Bangladesh will formally acknowledge its debt to actors elsewhere in the subcontinent who had given critical support to the Liberation War of 1971. The National Committee to Honour the Foreign Friends of the Bangladesh War of Liberation has noted the error of “omission” and wants to set the record straight. These are positive developments,since nations which deliberately warp their past cannot completely understand their place in the present or see 20-20 into the future.

These wilful acts of forgetting were instances of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Bangladesh chose to forget all foreign support in its urgency to deny the instrumentality of India,both military and political,in the intervention of 1971. The language movement and the war of liberation are the overarching creation stories of Bangladesh. Every other house in the better neighbourhoods of Dhaka is home to a muktijoddha or freedom fighter. But the national narrative couldn’t be told as fluently if Bangladesh also had to acknowledge the crucial role played by Indian armour,air power,military training and logistical support. And,of course,the statesmanship of Indira Gandhi,which had discouraged the US from supporting West Pakistan despite its presence in the Indian Ocean. This story was too unwieldy to be told with pride.

Similarly,India chose to forget its fallen because the authorised version of the 1962 debacle had become too embarrassing and too complicated. There were too many difficult questions raised about the political and military leadership,and the quality of spares and support that frontline troops were provided with. These questions will be raised at every significant anniversary of the conflict — at least until the Henderson Brooks-PC Bhagat report is declassified. The authorised version will remain the inexplicable story of a general rout,though several commanders and units had given a good account of themselves. But now,two South Asian nations admit to having been in denial about painful aspects of their past. Perhaps the others could follow suit? All of them have ghosts they prefer not to name,and which they need to exorcise.

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