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6 months ago

Documentation of Siliguri Conference

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We were the war generation Indian children, as India had fought three wars in our childhood years. 1948, 1962 and 1965. 1971 was still to happen. My father – Brigadier Ajit Kumar Mitra, AVSM, was born in Odisha in 1921, to Dukhishyam and Indira Mitra, and belonged to a small zamindar family in Odisha. Most of the locations where he served were ‘non-family’ stations due to the risks associated with being close to the borders. We saw our fathers for two months in the year when he came home on leave from the borders. As his only son, I enjoyed an excellent relationship with my father, one of course primarily of deep hero worship. Stories of his experiences were part of my growing-up years.

The Bangladesh war was a different experience for me. For one, I was much older, though still in school, so could understand and relate more to the situation. We lived in Delhi, and the newspapers of that period covered a lot about the evolving situation. The refugee crisis, stories of genocide, the famous George Harrison and Ravi Shankar concert in Madison Square Garden in New York, and Joan Baez singing ‘Bangladesh, Bangladesh’, were all part of my remembered experience of those days. The capital of India did not miss a day with some coverage of the evolving situation in the East of India.

The most memorable highlight, of course, was the electrifying presence of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi, addressing a joint rally to a mammoth and rapturous crowd at the Parade Ground in the Delhi Cantonment, to which I was a personal witness, on 10 January of 1972. It was an amazing experience!

Whilst there were conversations at home, that covered the nature of the creation of Bangladesh, its people, the challenge of the refugees, and their maintenance, very little was shared with me, on the specifics of what my father did during the war. A few small trophies were at home, including a display of captured Pakistani small arms bullets (which reads like a world map, showing the extensive nature of global weapons support to the Pakistan Army), or a Chinese-made pistol, which was carried by the officers of the Pakistan Army, given in surrender. The pistol was given away to one of the Dogra Battalions, and the display of the small arms munitions is now in the Museum of the 33Corps at Sukhna, North Bengal, where it was gifted by the family of Brigadier Ajit Kumar Mitra AVSM to 33 Corps of the Indian Army.

I had no idea then, about the role my father played in the formation of Bangladesh, be it the meeting of the first Bangladesh government in exile, or the extensive support to the Mukti Bahini and his deep and abiding affection for Tajuddin Ahmed, the PM of the Bangladesh Government in exile, with whom he developed a close equation. As well of course as the millions of refugees who came into the area of his command, which was at Sukhna, the Head Quarters of 33 Corps. He was at that time Brigadier Admin of the 33 Corps, a frontline force during the Bangladesh war of Independence. The role required extensive involvement with the challenge of managing the refugees, the training and arming of the Bangladesh freedom fighters and the Mukti Bahini, and logistical support for the cross-border operations. The Corps was in operational engagement right from supporting the meeting for the Provisional Government of Bangladesh in exile, in Bangladesh in April of 1971, to the main meeting of the 400 plus representatives of the different MNA and MPA’s in the first week of July 1971, when some momentous decisions were taken, whether on the nature of Bangladesh as a country, or the conduct of the war of Independence.

Separately of course the Corps played a major role in the training of the Mukti Fauj and later Mukti Bahini personnel, as well as supporting their efforts in waging war against the powerful Pakistan Army, both like guerilla warfare and direct warfare to capture territory from the Pakistan Army. Brig Ajit Mitra would visit the Mukti Bahini camps as part of the Indian Army’s support, deep inside the then East Pakistan, even in October 1971, when the war for liberation was joined in earnest by the brave Mukti Bahini members and the soldiers of the Indian army who supported them. The Corps then played a significant role in the defeat and capture of the Pakistan army, in the areas of Hilli, Dinajpur, Bogra, and other areas in the North- West part of Bangladesh.

My father passed away in 2004 and upon his demise, whilst going through his old papers I came across a typed official document which is on the ‘Siliguri Conference’. Brigadier Ajit Kumar Mitra was assigned to arrange and prepare a report of the conference to his higher authority which he did accordingly.

The document is a compelling pen sketch of those momentous times, the thoughts and discussions amongst the political leadership of the Bangladesh Muktijudho, the free and frank discussions, and decisions that were taken including what kind of country Bangladesh would be, a secular democracy. He had made a summary of his impressions of the leaders present and his discussions with them, which make very interesting reading. The document also contains interviews with important personalities, such as the acting President of the government in exile Syed Nazrul Islam, Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad, and Commander in Chief Col Osmani. Separately important points like the naming of the Mukti Fouj into the Mukti Bahini as the Air force and Navy personnel had also joined the war of liberation, aside from the army forces, as proposed by then Col Osmani, are also recorded.

This document is an interesting commentary on those momentous and challenging times when the dream of liberation and the creation of a free and secular Bangladesh were enacted. The numerous challenges and the nature of geopolitics of that era are also covered, as is the appreciation of the support from India, given its economic limitations. Various leaders and personalities took part in the conference. Importantly, this document also includes their views on the ongoing liberation war and my father’s impression of them. Some very exceptional and brave men, led the war for Independence and the creation of Bangladesh, as is evidenced by this document.

In addition to my father’s, this document includes observations, impressions, and assessments from Lieutenant Colonel K A Majumdar and Captain A D Surve, who were my father’s team members in organising the Siliguri Conference. The document I have found is not complete, but its significance as a record of the history of the birth of ‘Sonar Bangla’ is so immense that it has been presented to Prothoma Publication [in Dhaka], for appropriate and wide circulation, to the people of Bangladesh, and for posterity. Also, as a gesture of friendship and appreciation of the relationship between our two great countries.

 

[Kolkata, August 2022]

The piece is excerpted from the book titled ‘1971: The Siliguri Conference’ edited by Matiur Rahman.

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