Gunday: An Indian Narrative in guise
Bangladeshi youth are protesting against a new Bollywood action thriller which portrays a picture counterfactual to the events that led to the 1971 struggle for independence from Pakistan. The thriller titled Gunday depicts the bloody creation of Bangladesh as a byproduct of 13-day battle between India and Pakistan beginning on Dec. 3, 1971. According to many viewers, the film apparently indicates that Bangladeshis were involved in crimes like arms smuggling and meanwhile there were insinuations that they preferred identifying themselves as Indians.
Protesters claim that the film does not address the historic struggle for self governance by the Bengalis of the then East Pakistan which culminated in war of liberation. The war was imposed by the Pakistan when it started a genocide on 25th March, 1971. Yash Raj films, the production company behind Gunday, has apologised in a statement on its blog for “any disrespect or hurt” the film has caused to Bangladeshis.“This was and is meant to be a fictional work and does not in any way project or disrespect any particular segment of society or persons or a nation,” the statement says.
Yet, the most important statement was made by Ali Abbas Zafar, the writer and director of Gunday who said that the films about history or politics inevitably have multiple conflicting narratives. “Each country has its own version of events… the Bangladeshis see it from their point of view, but according to the Indian history, the war began when Pakistan attacked India on December 3. We are not trying to offend their sentiments, but the facts on the Indian side are different,” said Mr Zafar. “People have responded well to the film, but only object to the first two minutes,” he added.
The war in 1971 was a complex phenomenon involving several parties and groups. At one level, it was the Indo-Pak war as two enemies slugged it out and India won, defeating Pakistan. The surrender ceremony held at Dhaka has become an iconic event for Indian Army. For a strange reason, the Commander-in-chief of the Bangladesh Army was not present at the surrender ceremony. Upon looking at the photograph of the surrender of Pakistani army it is hard to conceive that the war was between Pakistan and the combined forces of India and Bengali liberation fighters.
Bangladeshis believe that war was the final touch to their nationalist movement and their fight for freedom was started back in 1952. Their aspiration of freedom gained momentum through six point movement of 1966 and the mass upsurge in 1969. The Indo-Pak war was in fact a byproduct of the Bangladesh war of liberation.
Bangladeshi people also passionately contest the Indian narrative claiming “India liberated Bangladesh” as this comes across as a favour to them. Many Bangladeshis also believe that Indian intervention was actually an attempt to impede the nationalist movement which would have succeeded in the long run without Indian assistance. They also argue that a prolonged war would have led to Leftists in leadership, something India did not want.
In fact, at many occasions, Awami league supported freedom fighters were engaged in fight with leftist freedom fighters. It is widely believed that the mainstream left parties Communist Party of Bangladesh(CPB)-National Awami Party(NAP) had formed a separate armed force with 15000 soldiers to fight against Pakistani forces. These leftist fighters did not get an opportunity to launch full scale attack on them.
While Pakistan was focused on only one enemy —India; India had two — Pakistan and China. China was also Pakistan’s main ally in the region making it a deadly combination for India. In 1971, the situation offered India great opportunities to regain national pride which was shaken during Indo-China war in 1962.
From 25th March to 3rd December 1971, it was only the freedom fighters who fought against the Pakistani armies and shattered their confidence to a great extent. Freedom fighters, who did not take any assistance from India both in terms of weapons and training fought extraordinarily well in some areas and created free sovereign territories within occupied homeland.
Why Pakistan attacked India in 1971 is a puzzle but India took full advantage of that opportunity to intervene. India had all the reasons in hand when it planned the final assault. It had 10 million refugees who were a big burden and became the prime reason to attack Pakistan. It had few options left other than to go for war for its own survival. Bangladeshis find it difficult to accept the Indian narrative that they were not capable of winning the war, even though they had few resources, little organisational capabilities and few weapons. Moreover, their safe sanctuaries and camps were in India.
Different viewpoints on this war of liberation lead to different conclusions. To the Indians, independent Bangladesh was a byproduct of the bigger Indo-Pak war. India’s main objective of 1971 war was ‘dismembering’ Pakistan. To Pakistan, it was also a Pak-India war and the Bangladeshis were running a guerrilla war as an Indian proxy. To Bangladeshis, their war, that is, Pak-Bangla war is the main war and dismembering Pakistan was impossible without the conflict generated by the March situation of 1971.
What India never acknowledges is, without Bangladesh and its movement, Pakistan would never have had a reason to react the way it did. The election of 1970 led to the March crackdown by Pakistani forces and ultimately the war. Nationalist movements since 1952 had a snowball effect which gained momentum through the events of 1962 and 1969 and eventually led to the ultimate defeat of Pakistan on 16th December 1971 in Dhaka.
India for sure did not support the nationalistic movement of Bengalis. It was not possible on their part to support a movement for a sovereign Bengali nation while keeping half of Bengali speaking people within its sovereign territory. It was too dangerous for India.
India by default will never tolerate a passionate expression of Bengali national identity. It will be a backlash to its own existence. Therefore, she will continue to undermine the true spirit of 1971 war, Gunday was that Indian narrative in disguise and we should thank its maker Mr. Zafar for being truthful. No Indian politician had the courage to express their true feeling about the Bangladesh liberation war.