1) Endeavor, leadership and the story of a nation
The ultimate accolade for India’s role in creating Bangladesh is that today, it is a relatively prosperous country
GS 2: International Relations
- Bangladesh and India both celebrated the golden jubilee (26 March) of Bangladesh’s Independence recently, alongside the birth centenary of ‘Banghabandu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
- The creation of Bangladesh — from the ashes of East Pakistan — is presumably India’s finest foreign policy triumph till date, and it defies imagination why India has been so reticent in acknowledging this fact.
The architect, India’s stand
- Anyone who had an opportunity to witness Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s steely resolve during that period — as for instance when it was communicated to her during a meeting of the War Cabinet, that the U.S. Seventh Fleet (which included the nuclear powered aircraft carrier, Enterprise) was steaming up the Bay of Bengal, will hardly dispute this fact.
- Displaying no signs of diffidence, she made it clear that it made little difference to the cause that they had embarked upon.
- Few nations across the world can possibly boast of an achievement of this nature.
- What is even more noteworthy is that while accomplishing this task, India did not claim any ‘spoils of victory’.
- After Pakistan’s defeat in East Pakistan, India voluntarily and unconditionally, handed over power to the elected representatives of the newly established nation.
A year of significance
Not too many among the current generation would remember that 1971 was a signal year for India.
- It was in 1971 that India had extended all out support to the Government in Sri Lanka to defeat the group, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in that country.
- Bangladesh, which was carved out of East Pakistan following a program launched by the military rulers in Islamabad that was unmatched in modern times.
- Half-a-century later, India would have done well to highlight and remind the world of these two events, to further embellish its democratic credentials.
- While India was busy scripting a new destiny for the people of East Pakistan, millions of refugees from East Pakistan were streaming into India.
- It was to adhere to this position till Pakistan declared war on India in December 1971.
- Meantime, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had been arrested and flown to West Pakistan.
- Tajuddin Ahmad had been secretly sworn in as the Prime Minister of an independent Bangladesh and installed in Mujibnagar, from where the new government-in-exile operated till the liberation of East Pakistan.
- India well recognised that before India could legitimately intervene in East Pakistan, the new government-in-exile had to acquire legitimacy, both within East Pakistan and also internationally.
- All this demonstrated political finesse of the highest order.
Coordination and the goal
- Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s carefully crafted diplomatic dispatches to world leaders had helped create a groundswell of support for the persecuted Bengalis of East Pakistan.
- The signing of the Indo-Soviet Treaty in August 1971 came as a shot-in-the-arm for India, encouraging it to stay the course.
- Russia’s action was in marked contrast to the stand of western nations such as the United States which displayed hostility to India’s efforts, viewing it as an encouragement to the forces seeking to dismember the state of Pakistan.
- Within the country, regular meetings and the constant dialogue with Opposition leaders ensured that India acted in a united manner, notwithstanding the public clamour for immediate action.
- India sought to intervene in East Pakistan, only after Pakistan attacked India on December 3, 1971.
- Three days later on December 6, India made the formal announcement of recognizing the new state of Bangladesh, almost nine months after the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh had been proclaimed by Sheik Mujibur Rahman.
- Still later in March 1972, India and Bangladesh signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship.
- The West, however, erroneously believed the humanitarian disaster notwithstanding, that it could not let down its ally Pakistan, which was a member of several western-led military alliances.
- Quite a few other nations, while sympathetic to the plight of the beleaguered population of East Pakistan, were unwilling to extend support fearing the wrath of the U.S.
Operating from the shadows
A great deal has been written about the military exploits in connection with the formation of Bangladesh — of the Indian Army, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force.
Very little has, however, been mentioned about the role of the intelligence agencies.
- Fifty years after Bangladesh gained Independence, it may, however, be time to give a pat on the back of the two principal intelligence agencies at the time — the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW/RAW).
- A vast network of agents had been created by the IB well before the organization was bifurcated in 1968 into the IB and the R&AW, and the latter built on these assets.
- These agents played a critical role behind the scenes, preparing the ground for the eventual collapse of Pakistani Army resistance in East Bengal.
- The time has also come to acknowledge the role of the Mukti Bahini — the Army of Bangladeshi irregulars — fashioned by the intelligence agencies which played a key role during the conflict.
- The ultimate accolade for India’s role in creating a new nation is that Bangladesh is today a relatively prosperous country, having made steady progress from the category of a Least Developed Country to a Developing country.
- Bangladesh “will get time up to 2026 to prepare for the transition to the status of a developing country”.
- Today, Bangladesh is a shining example of what is possible through human endeavor and a wise leadership.
- It has not allowed itself to be drawn into the vortex of foreign influences, and maintains an independent foreign policy.
- Relations with India are excellent today, though there have been periods when relations were not all that cordial.
- Currently, Bangladesh’s annual GDP growth exceeds that of its erstwhile parent, Pakistan.
- Women empowerment has been a major catalyst in Bangladesh’s progress, and this is largely responsible for transforming the country.
2) A case for judicial federalism
The need for a uniform judicial order across India is unwarranted in COVID-19-related cases
GS 2: Indian Judiciary
Pleas of various hospitals for oxygen supply were filed in different HC’s across country.
- The Gujarat High Court issued a series of directions, including for laboratory testing and procurement of oxygen.
- The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court was constrained to hold night sittings to consider the issue of oxygen supply.
- It directed immediate restoration of oxygen supply that had been reduced from the Bhilai steel plant in Chhattisgarh.
- The Delhi High Court directed the Central government to ensure adequate measures for the supply of oxygen.
Legislature Vs Executive
- In comparison to the legislature and the executive, what the judiciary can deliver in the realm of socio-economic rights is limited.
- Courts cannot build better health infrastructure or directly supply oxygen; neither are they functionally bound to.
- What they can do is
- To ask tough questions to the executive,
- Implement existing laws and regulations, and
- Hold the executive accountable in various aspects of healthcare allocation.
- In Parmanand Katara v. Union of India (1989), the Supreme Court underlined the value of human lives and said that the right to emergency medical treatment is part of the citizen’s fundamental rights.
- In the face of a de facto COVID-19 health emergency, the High Courts of Delhi, Gujarat, Madras and Bombay, among others, have done their duty to protect this right.
Transfer of cases
- On April 22, the Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of the issue in ‘Re: Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic’.
- It said, “Prima facie, we are inclined to take the view that the distribution of these essential services and supplies must be done in an even-handed manner according to the advice of the health authorities” and asked the Central government to present a national plan.
- In addition, it issued an order asking the State governments and the Union Territories to “show cause why uniform orders” should not be passed by the Supreme Court.
- Under Article 139A of the Constitution, the Supreme Court does have the power to transfer cases from the High Courts to itself if cases involve the same questions of law.
- However, what make the court’s usurpation disturbing are two well-founded observations regarding its contemporary conduct.
- One, the court has been indifferent to the actions and inactions of the executive even in cases where interference was warranted, such as the Internet ban in Kashmir.
- Two, where effective remedies were sought, when activists and journalists were arrested and detained, the court categorically stayed aloof. It acted as if its hands were tied.
A characteristic feature of the apex court in the recent years is general lack of dissent in issues that have serious political ramifications.
- This deficit occurs not only in the formally pronounced judgments and orders; dissenting judges on the Bench are rare, and the hearing on the COVID-19 case was no exception.
According to the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, public health and hospitals come under the State List as Item No. 6.
- There could be related subjects coming under the Union List or Concurrent List.
- Also, there may be areas of inter-State conflicts.
- But as of now, the respective High Courts have been dealing with specific challenges at the regional level, the resolution of which does not warrant the top court’s interference.
- In addition to the geographical reasons, the constitutional scheme of the Indian judiciary is pertinent.
In L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India (1997), the Supreme Court itself said that the High Courts are “institutions endowed with glorious judicial traditions” since they “had been in existence since the 19th century and were possessed of a hoary past enabling them to win the confidence of the people”.
Even otherwise, in a way, the power of the High Court under Article 226 is wider than the Supreme Court’s under Article 32, for in the former, a writ can be issued not only in cases of violation of fundamental rights but also “for any other purpose”.
- This position was reiterated by the court soon after its inception in State of Orissa v. Madan Gopal Rungta (1951).
Autonomy is the rule
- Judicial federalism has intrinsic and instrumental benefits which are essentially political.
- The United States is an illustrative case. Scholar G. Alan Tarr of Rutgers University hinted, “Despite the existence of some endemic and periodical problems, the American system of judicial federalism has largely succeeded in promoting national uniformity and subnational diversity in the administration of justice”.
- Justice Sandra Day O’Connor rightly said in a 1984 paper that the U.S. Supreme Court reviews “only a relative handful of cases from state courts” which ensures “a large measure of autonomy in the application of federal law” for the State courts.
- The need for a uniform judicial order across India is warranted only when it is unavoidable — for example, in cases of an apparent conflict of laws or judgments on legal interpretation.
- Otherwise, autonomy, not uniformity, is the rule.
- Decentralisation, not centrism, is the principle.
- In the COVID-19-related cases, High Courts across the country have acted with an immense sense of judicial responsibility.
- This is a legal landscape that deserves to be encouraged. To do this, the Supreme Court must simply stay away.