Swadhin Sen and Wahid Palash
[Authors’ Notes: This essay was written in reaction to a news in Znews in 2003. At this moment of masculinist and orgasmic expressions of hatred – communal, ethnic, sexist, partisan, and national – in both real and virtual world, cricket match in World Cup 2015 has become a rallying point of neo-nationalistic tyranny. In contrast to the dominating belief, sports has never been apolitical. Sometimes it becomes a space for solidarity and protest, at other times it becomes the weapons of domination and hegemonic control. The influx of corporate capital in various aspects of the sports, cricket in particular, has made the situation out of the ordinary. The players who are auctioned and paid high price in different T20 cricket leagues, especially, in IPL, and who in these cases nullify the nationalistic boundaries, turns into the embodiment of national pride and glory. Solidarity in one context turns into difference in other.
The case of often jingoistic expressions of nationalistic sentiments on the match between Bangladesh and India, cannot simply be termed ahistorical. The exhibition of ‘mauka, mauka’ vedio expressing that ‘India liberated Bangladesh in 1971’ is neither simply the perception of a few fellow Indian citizens nor could it be brushed aside as a trivial and accidental gesture. When a huge corpus of scholarship has already been devoted to the essential relationship between cricket and nationalism in South Asia, a few cautious points could be brought to fore for the readers.
Following is a short essay written by me and my friend Wahid Palash in 2003. I feel that several points in this essay could be elaborated upon and worked out especially in the light of the contemporary aspects of cyber war on nationalism and huge influx of capital into the game. Several points could also be theorized in the historical context of the changes in various domains of domination and resistance in the last decade in South Asian context. The foundational concept of the liberation war of Bangladesh often, in contrast to our generalized view in this essay, transgress the simple Hinduttvabadi/ secular binary in Indian context, I would like to add with my understanding gained through the last decade. I want to claim that the dominating perception of the liberation war of Bangladesh in India has been analogous. In spite of these limitations of this short essay, I think that the short essay could be an interesting one for the readers. I want to thank Manosh Chowdhury for retrieving this essay.]
26 March, the Independence Day of Bangladesh. On this day of 1971, the liberation struggle begun against the 24 yrs old Pakistani regime of cruelty, torture, betrayal and debauchery. After 9 months of fight against a technologically superior nation-state and its military forces the new state of Bangladesh emerged on 16 December 1971. Meanwhile, Indian government and people, especially from West Bengal, provided assistance in many aspects: training of the Liberation army, giving shelter and subsistence for over one crow refuges, diplomatic support for the newly founded Bangladesh Govt. and others. The people of West Bengal should be particularly noted for their moral, emotional and political and economic support. The Govt. of India officially acknowledged the existence of a new nation-state of Bangladesh in the first week of December 1971 and provided direct military support, as we came to know from the mainstream sources till now, for the liberation fighters.
On 26 March 2003, 2: 30 P. M. (around) the presenter of Znews narrated in Hindi something that could be translated like this: Today is the independence day of Bangladesh. Bangladeshi people in this very day began fight for liberation against the military regime of Pakistan. At one time of this war, Indian army entered to free Bangladeshi people in the same way as the US-British Forces are trying to free Iraqi people right now. He demonstrated with graphical representations, like the CNN and BBC do, how similar the two endeavors are referring to the strategies and concepts. We watch that the US-British occupation forces are moving toward Baghdad from different directions. We are shown the movement through vivid cartographic and animated illustrations. Znews, an international satellite Hindi TV channel of India, has shown pictorially how Indian forces, in the same way, moved towards Dhaka.
We strongly condemn this atrocity by Znews. But this whole narration cannot simply be identified as outrageous and condemnable. Because it embodies some very foundational ideas about the making of modern historical narrative; also, more significantly, about the activity of narration production by the present BJP (in coalition) government and their Hinduttva nationalism. This act of narration must also be viewed in the context of present Pakistan-India conflict, particularly over Kashmir and the role of US-Britain in engendering the entire issue. While many people around, including in India and Bangladesh are on protest against the brutal and illegal attack of the occupation forces in Iraq, such remark clearly bring to light a few new phenomenon. We have to recall that the entire Ztv corporate house and its various channels have an overt connection to the BJP-Shibshena-RSS axis and their hegemonic propaganda projects. We also have to remind ourselves about the massacres in Kashmir conducted by the Indian Military Groups and renegade militants on the one hand and the several Pro-Pakistani militant groups on the other. While we try to comprehend this sort of reporting, we have to recognize how the interest of US-Britain and interest of the Indian Govt. (and corporate media and film industries) complement each other, within the domain of imagining a grand narrative of ‘Islamic terrorism’. The very fact of the matter that also have to be considered is the recent listing of Bangladesh and Pakistan as terrorist states by US government and the incessant propaganda of Indian officials and media about the presence of ISI activities and pro-Islamic ‘terrorists’ in Bangladesh. The commentary in Znews must be identified in the greater landscape of the recent efforts of Western and Indian media to construct the image of Bangladesh as a fundamentalist and communal state (and Bangladeshi people as fanatic and communal).
Why had India (as a state) supported the emergence of Bangladesh? Was it only a matter of ‘humanitarian aid’ or ‘liberating gesture’? Was it for that India was no longer being able to support the huge amount of refuges? The breaking up of Pakistan didn’t mean anything to the Indian govt., irrespective of the right and left fraction in Indira Gandhi govt.? Although most of the corporate news media and their allies are representing US-British attack as a gesture for salvation of a fallen nation, through the huge aid of Internet we came to know the reality of horror, pain, despair and courage of Iraqi people and the protesters around the globe. This is not at all like the reality represented in a Hollywood action movie or video game or in BBC or CNN or FoxNews by the ’embedded’ reporters. This war is imperialistic; this war is unjustified by the international laws. But this war has not been preplanned by a bunch of maniacs as some of us might think. Rather, this thought is an over simplification and negation of the historical constructions of European (and US) identities. For us, this is an overt expression of rational thinking and scientific programming, as far as the modern rationality and logic of freedom concerned. This war is preemptive and illogical to the very logic of International law, although we all, pro and anti war activists, are speaking in many ways the same languages of reason.
Yet our question is- what makes it possible for the media houses in India to postulate an equation between US-British invasion and the Liberation war of Bangladesh. We should note that in many representation of Indian history, 1971 is identified as the time of last war between Pakistan and India, with a total absence of Bangladeshi warriors and people and their painstaking struggles.
This selective exclusion of Bangladesh, most of the population of which are Muslims, is embedded in the formation of the Hinduttva narrative propagated by the present oppressive regime of India. The equation of the two wars is not incidental. The construction of Western narratives of the ‘Other’ nations, cultures and religions (especially Islam) throughout the last 300 yrs (after the enlightenment) has acted to build a self- image of the west as civilized, progressive, secular and rational. Selective exclusionary constructions and projections have been integral for forces and processes of this representation and construction, both in the side of the west and in the side of ‘non-western’ anti-colonial nationalists. The Hinduttva narrative, being modern and progressive in nature (think about the image of Hinduttva nowadays in Advani’s speech, in super hit mainstream Hindi films and in Media), embodies the same exclusionary processes in the conditions of inequality in capacities and power among nation-states, among several nations and communities in and outside the national boundary of India. If we carefully look at the recent Hinduttvabadi nationalistic narratives and its gradual changes and continuity throughout the colonial and post-colonial times, we have to recognize that it emerged embodying the core concepts of modernity and rationality. At the same time an amalgamation with selected tradition was essential in this process of representation of a modern Indian self-hood, both religious and secular. Exclusion of Islam and other outcasts were very important features of these identity productions, even when Islamic identities were shown to be integral to Indianness by the secular nationalists. In recent manifestations of ‘cultural nationalism’ of BJP the exclusionary processes acting in the same way but in different conditions than before. A careful observation of any mainstream Hindi movie or TV serial will illustrate how modernity and religion can be and should be accommodated and how religions other than Hinduttva are incapable of doing this, without the help and authenticity of the Hindu cultural values in particular. The entire narrative of secularizing Hinduttva presupposes an authority and power of a national selfhood and of a nation-state. At the same time, it strengthens the historically constructed inequalities in capacities among different collectives and nation-states in imagined Bharat Bhumi. This is the narrative of subjugation and of careful reshaping of the politics of identity and history. We want to see the representation of the equation between the Movement of Indian army and the invasion of US-British forces within this theorization.
Still, from a nationalistic point of view, we don’t want to see Indian army and its role as oppressive and colonizing as Anglo-American forces and their massacres. But through this representation in Znews, should we assume that, a truth, may be partially and covertly, comes out at last. The popular narratives of Indianness, at least a considerable part of it, manifest that the whole matter of the involvement of India in our war of liberation is not so innocent and ‘humanitarian’ as many of us suppose. It must be noted that the role of India as a nation-state in south Asia as an imperialistic power indicates the same.
What is more important, in the Znews commentary, is the connotation of an idea that thirty-two years back Indian army ‘freed’ Bangladesh (by replacing the Pakistani regime). While present Bangladesh, after 3 decades of its freedom- as the narration of Znews implicitly implies- has been degraded and degenerated a lot with the contamination by the ‘Islamic fanaticism’. Therefore, it denotes further that the US-British led ‘operation Iraqi freedom’ might be able to rationalize the possibility of future operation Bangladeshi freedom’, may be, by the Indian state or by US-British-India alliance. This particular nuance underneath the Znews commentary bears the biggest horror for us in this moment in time. We have to remind ourselves of the fact that there are dangerous concerns over the Gas-Oil sector of Bangladesh right now. Because, US and British government, to uphold the interest of the multicorporate agencies, pushing the Bangladesh government hard to export Oil and Gas through pipeline to India even in the face of huge oppositions from the experts, politicians and activists of all sorts including the mass.
The piece was originally posted on alalodulal.org. Dr. Swadhin Sen is an Associate Professor of Archaeology, Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka and Wahid Palash is a doctoral fellow at Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA