Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation

CAB: A historic commitment

Bangladesh’s historic mistreatment of the Hindu minority shows why India should be a natural home for persecuted Hindus in Muslim majority nations.

When he tabled the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 in Lok Sabha, Union Home Minister, Amit Shah asked a fundamental question, in response to the Congress party’s leader in the House, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who, because he comes from an infiltrator dominated Murshidabad was repeatedly obstructing the placing of the Bill. Shah asked: “Why is it that this Bill has to be tabled? It has to be”, he answered, “because, in 1947, the Indian National Congress had partitioned this country on the basis of religion.” This is the stark truth that needs to be told; that this Bill and this herculean effort that is going into remedying this historic wrong, is because the Congress party had capitulated before Jinnah’s communal blackmail.

The Bharatiya Jana Sangh and Bharatiya Janata Party have never overlooked this dimension of our partition history. Ever since their inceptions, they have continuously advocated the cause of the Hindus living in either part of Pakistan and have demanded that the Indian leadership fulfil its promised duties towards these minorities in the neighbourhood. During the historic campaign in 2014 and in 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly referred to this historic commitment and promised to bring it into effect. The Jana Sangh, for instance, in its first all India session in December 1953 in Kanpur, referred to the “continuously deteriorating condition of the Hindus in East Bengal”. It pointed out how Pakistan’s policy was to “drive out all those who are of strong will and to force through atrocities the weaker to embrace Islam…” It reminded the then ruling party that “the Hindus of Pakistan had not asked for partition but it was thrust upon them against their wishes and at the time of partition, leaders of India including Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Nehru had given them a clear promise that it would be the duty of the people and the Government of India to always consider protection of their interests…”

Since then, the Congress party – during Nehru’s era and later – has been lukewarm to the plight of Bengali Hindu refugees and to the Hindus being forced to leave Pakistan and Bangladesh. Nehru refused to heed to Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s repeated exhortation that there be a complete exchange of population on the eastern front as well and kept harping on his demand that the Bengali Hindu refugee must go back to East Bengal. The foundation of the Nehru-Liaqat Pact of April 1950 was meant to facilitate that pipe dream. While Muslims who had gone to East Pakistan returned to West Bengal, the Hindus who went back to East Pakistan could not survive, they were hounded and driven out to return to West Bengal and eke out an existence as refugees without elementary dignity and a source of livelihood.

As Mookerjee asked during his intervention in Parliament on August 7, 1950, when the House discussed in detail the ‘Bengal Situation’: “What was the main purpose of the Pact [Nehru-Liaqat Pact]?” He asked the House, “Was not the chief object of the pact that Hindus would be able to live in East Bengal with a sense of security and without fear; that there would be no exodus and those who had come away would gradually of their own accord feel emboldened to go back to their home? Was it not the purpose of the Pact that there would be a sense of security in the minds of the minorities [in East Pakistan/Bengal] themselves so that they could decide on their own course of action without any fear or expectation of favour from any quarter? Judged from this standpoint the Pact has failed.” The essential test for the pact, Mookerjee had argued, “would be whether conditions of security are being created in East Bengal whereby Hindus can live there out of their own free will.”

Obviously, the pact had failed. In his historic statement in Parliament on his resignation, Mookerjee reminded those who had questioned then the need for India to fulfil its promise. He had said, “Let us not forget that the Hindus of East Bengal are entitled to the protection of India, not on humanitarian considerations alone, but by virtue of their sufferings and sacrifices, made cheerfully for generations, not for advancing their own parochial interests, but for laying the foundations of India’s political freedom and intellectual progress. It is the united voices of leaders that are dead and of the youth that smilingly walked up to the gallows for India’s cause that calls for justice and fair play at the hands of free India of today.”

It was this failure of the first pact that added to the woes of Bengali Hindu refugees who became rootless and felt abandoned. Mookerjee’s intervention during this debate on free India’s provisional parliament, is also deeply disturbing because having extensively travelled across the area where the refugees had come to seek shelter, having interacted with them, he gave an authentic and heart-wrenching description of their status and the challenges and persecutions that compelled them to leave their home and hearth.

Speaking of the failure of the Nehru-Liaqat Pact, Mookerjee pointed out, after giving an exhaustive list of attacks on Hindus in East Bengal between April 1950, when the pact was signed and June 1950, that in every one of these cases of attack, it is the “minority i.e., the Hindu is the victim and the oppressor is a member of the majority community. The entire social and economic structure in which Hindus lived has collapsed and it is impossible for them to live there.” It was therefore impossible for the Hindus, to continue to survive in East Bengal, he argued because the “loot mentality has been roused. The blood lust is there. The lust to abduct women is there. You cannot escape from the telling and terrible facts,” he told the House.

Bengali Hindu refugees have especially been the worst sufferers. Blinded by the exigencies of vote-bank politics, the Congress, the Communist parties and the later splinters like Trinamool Congress have always ignored or obfuscated the present state and future of Bengali Hindu refugees. The communists have a record of massacring Bengali Hindu refugees, especially the Dalit refugees who had come from East Bengal and wanted to settle down in West Bengal, in the Sunderban estuary region of Marichhjhapi. These parties have always stood in the way of granting citizenship to Bengali Hindus who have been compelled, forced and terrorised to leave their homes and to come away to India. Not to grant them Citizenship today, to oppose their right to a life of dignity as citizens of India, will be to renege on a historic commitment, it will be ignoring their historic contribution to the making of a free India, one cannot ignore the decades of suffering that these people underwent in their land of birth and also the miserable lives that they had been forced to lead as refugees in West Bengal and in other parts of India. These people do not seek mercy, they do not seek favours, they aspire to a life of respect and opportunity. India is their natural home and they are entitled to seek a new life of possibilities here.

Syama Prasad’s words in Parliament, describing the plight of the refugees and their will to survive, still ring true, “They are facing the spectre of death, not for any fault of their own. They cannot get shelter and they cannot get work. They do not want to live as idlers and it is amazing how even today they raise their feeble voice and shout Bande Mataram which they have not forgotten yet and shed tears.”

(The writer is a Member, National Executive Committee (NEC), BJP and Chairman of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. Views expressed are personal)