KOLKATA: Subhas Chandra Badal was a student in Sherpur, a small town in Mymensingh district of what is now Bangladesh, when the Pakistan army launched a genocide in his country in March 1971, forcing him to escape to Meghalaya, join the ranks of Mukti Bahini freedom fighters and return to wage a war for his motherland's freedom.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi flies to Dhaka to join the celebrations on the occasion of Bangladesh's 50th anniversary of Independence, freedom fighters like Badal are waiting eagerly to reconnect with the country, which aided their cause and was Mukti Bahini's ally in the liberation war.
Badal, a nom de guerre Chanda had assumed and which later became a part of his name, was active in student politics when the genocide and the fight to liberate his country had started.
He said it was natural for him to transit from being the district secretary of Chatra League, Awami League's student arm, to join the ranks of the guerilla army.
Tariq Karim, the former high commissioner of Bangladesh to India, stated that the blood of people from the two sides "mingled" in the soil of Pakistan during the freedom movement.
"India stood firmly with us during that struggle and the blood of people from the two sides mingled in the soil of Bangladesh as we fought for freedom," Karim, who was a diplomat in Tehran when the neighbouring country declared independence, told PTI over the telephone from Dhaka.
Badal (68), now a retired journalist in the Bangladesh capital, said, "We came to know about the inhuman genocide in Dhaka during the early hours of March 26, 1971, as well as the declaration of independence by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from the broadcasts by East Pakistan Rifles radio communications system, we hit the streets that very day."
The genocide unleashed by the Pakistan Army from the night of March 25 to "cleanse" and cow-down the population of East Pakistan was code-named 'Operation Searchlight'.
Sheikh Mujib, who had been arrested and whisked away by the Pakistan army in the middle of the night, had in a hurried missive, said "this may be my last message, from today Bangladesh is independent.
I call upon the people of Bangladesh to resist the army of occupation to the last."
Refugees and freedom fighters poured across the border into eastern India soon after this declaration of Independence.
"India opened its arms to our people. People in every state in eastern India, from West Bengal to Meghalaya to tiny Tripura, helped us in whatever way possible. Many of us remember fondly Purno Sangma (Indian politician from Meghalaya who later became the chief minister of the state) who acted as a liaison with Mukti Bahini," said Badal.
Nearly 10 million Bangladeshis were given shelter in refugee camps across east India.
Freedom fighters like Badal were trained by the Border Security Force in camps near the border.
"March 1971 is a major milestone in Indo-Bangla relations after many ups and downs for over 50 years, our relations have been on the upswing in the last decade," said Karim, who worked hard to improve ties between the countries and taken initiatives to connect eastern India with Bangladesh.
Indian diplomats hope that Modi's visit to Dhaka will prove to be another milestone for the relation the two countries share.
"Connectivity has also extended to cyberspace, with the undersea internet link established between Agartala and Cox's Bazaar in Bangladesh. Connectivity with eastern India is expected to boost the GDP of both the nations," said Ambassador Pinak Chakravarty, former secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, adding that he hoped to see a direct train service between Delhi and Dhaka in a year or two.
Over the years, economic growth has propelled Bangladesh into a position of envy for many nations in Asia, notwithstanding the fact that the country was dismissed after its birth by many including Henry Kissinger, then USA's national security advisor, as a "basket case".