On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in Bangladesh to take part in the country’s celebrations marking its 50th Independence Day, recalled that he had participated in a satyagraha for the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.
Delivering a speech in Dacca, Modi said the satyagraha for Bangladesh was one of his first protests and revealed that he had been arrested for it.
This triggered a loud protest by the Congress ecosystem, which not only claimed that Modi had taken away credit from the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for the liberation of Bangladesh but also “lied” about participating in a satyagraha for the liberation and recognition of Bangladesh in 1971.
Many Congress leaders, including Shashi Tharoor, attacked the Prime Minister claiming he had not mentioned Indira Gandhi in his speech, while the party’s keyboard warriors started trending #LieLikeModi on Twitter.
“The claim that ANYONE did satyagraha for the freedom of Bangladesh and were arrested is too ridiculous to require refutation,” said Srinath Raghavan, a historian, who is also a professor at the Ashoka University.
Both these claims are wrong.
In his speech at the closing ceremony of the celebrations marking Bangladesh’s 50th Independence Day, the Prime Minister had rightly acknowledged the critical role of Indira Gandhi in the liberation of Bangladesh.
“Bangladesh's freedom fight got support from...every political party and every section in India. Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's efforts and her pivotal contribution in freedom of Bangladesh is publicly known,” he said.
Modi’s claim on satyagraha for Bangladesh, which Raghavan said was “too ridiculous to require refutation”, also appears to be true.
In 1971, the Jan Sangh had organised multiple events, including a satyagraha, to call for the liberation and recognition of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has recognised the role played by the Jan Sangh. The country has awarded former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for his active role in supporting the Liberation War, and the citation for the award, available here, also mentions the “Gana Satyagraha” organised by the Jan Sangh in August 1971.
“To press the demand for the Indian government’s expedited support to Bangladesh’s Liberation War, Jan Sangh held a Gana Satyagraha during 1-11 August and their volunteers organised a huge rally in front of the Indian Parliament on 12 August 1971. Shri Vajpayee took a firm stand at the national and international level for the cause of Bangladesh,” the citation reads.
A large number of Jan Sangh leaders and volunteers were arrested during the satyagraha, as is evidenced by news reports and videos of the time, which have been already shared on social media by multiple users.
Lending credence to this, the short biography of Jan Sangh leader and Member of Parliament (MP) Thakur Baldev Singh on the official Lok Sabha website records that he was arrested for participating in one such protest demanding the “liberation and recognition of Bangladesh” in 1971.
India’s official history of the 1971 war says that Jan Sangh, among other political parties at the time, had passed resolutions urging the Government of India to immediately accord recognition to Bangladesh.
The Jan Sangh, according to the official history of the 1971 war, staged a demonstration in Delhi on 24 May demanding the recognition of Bangladesh. Thousands of its volunteers, and some MPs and Members of Legislative Assemblies, were arrested during the agitation for Bangladesh, it adds.
“The demand, however, was rejected by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi..,” the official history of the 1971 war reads.
Many Jan Sangh leaders, including Rajya Sabha member Sunder Singh Bhandari, demanded that the Government of India not only recognise the Bangladesh government but also immediately extend “moral, material and military” support to freedom fighters, the official war history says.
The Congress’ claim that Modi “made up” a story about being arrested for demanding support for Bangladesh’s Liberation war is also wrong.
Modi’s claim that he was arrested during the satyagraha for Bangladesh is not new, and hence, could not have been made up for this event.
Prime Minister Modi had made a reference to this in 2015 as well.
BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya has said that the Prime Minister talks about going to Tihar Jail during the Bangladesh satyagraha in a book he authored in 1978.
Journalist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay had also recorded this fact in a piece in 2015.
“Modi’s first known political activity as an adult was in 1971 when he joined a Jana Sangh satyagraha in Delhi led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee to enlist for the battlefield. But the government disallowed open support to Mukti Bahini and Modi was put in Tihar Jail for a short period,” Mukhopadhyay wrote.
Prakhar Gupta is a senior editor at Swarajya. He tweets @prakharkgupta.
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