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Agartala Conspiracy: How Indira Gandhi provided the ‘necessary push’ to liberate Bangladesh

East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) had nothing common with Pakistan, except that both the countries were carved out of India. The two nations were like a set of Siamese twin, joined at the hip but with two thinking heads. Around 1964, East Pakistan planned to secede from its namesake to earn its own identity. And India played a major part in helping its neighbour to realise its dream.

On 6 January 1968, Pakistan unearthed a conspiracy that certain people from East Pakistan were hatching a plan in Agartala (Tripura) with aid from the Indian government. Bengali Muslims working for the Pakistani military had conspired to start a ‘revolt’ against the state under the leadership of Naval Commander Moazzem Hossain.

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Naval Commander Moazzem Hossain was in charge of the mutiny that planned to secede from Pakistan

But before the plan could materialize, Pakistan intelligence agency (ISI) head in Dhaka Lt Col Samsul Alam blew the lid off. The ‘revealation’ earned him Shitara-e-Basarat from Pakistan for bravery. What the Bengali mutineers didn’t know was that ISI had planted Amir Hussain Mian as its mole, who was in charge of funds of the group. Mian would have siphoned the entire money, but the rebels smelled a rat, and appointed another man Asraf Ali to strike off the betrayer. But Ali too turned his back on the group and sided with the ISI.

On 12 July 1967, Navy steward Mujibur and Ali Reza, a teacher, both rebels of East Pakistan, held a meeting with Indian officials in Agartala. They discussed procurement of firearms and explosives for their ‘cause’ and sought aid from India to counter Pakistani war offensives once their plan took off. Ealrier too, the group had similar meetings in Agartala with senior Indian intelligence officials.

mujibur_alireza
Although plans of a mutiny were on since 1964, the movement picked up steam once Indira Gandhi took over the reins of India in 1966.

Although plans of a mutiny were on since 1964, the movement picked up steam once Indira Gandhi took over the reins of India in 1966. The support from India to carry on a mutiny in East Pakistan was massive. PN Ojha, the first secretary to Indian High Commission in Dhaka apparently played a key role in backing the rebels.

Pakistan accused 35 people in the Agartala Conspiracy, based on the 63-page statement recorded from mutiny defaulter Mian. Mujibur Rehman, (the founding father of Bangladesh) was named as the main accused although he was not present during the Agartala meet.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
Mujibur Rehman, the founding father of Bangladesh, was the main accused in the Agartala Conspiracy. The irony was, the leader was not present during the meet.

While the trial was still going on, a policeman assassinated an accused, Sergeant Zahurul Haq. The killing triggered mass anger in Dhaka and the mob lit the guest house where officials conducting the trial were residing. Though the two officers managed to escape secretly, the fire gutted many documents relevant to the trial. Seeing the extreme reaction of the masses, Pakistan President Ayub Khan closed the case on February 22, 1968, nearly a year after the charge sheet was filed. All the accused, including Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, were released unconditionally.

Eight months later, RAW, India’s foreign intelligence agency was created that went to play a massive role in the Bangladesh Liberation War. The Agartala Conspiracy was just the prelude to a massive blood bath that would change the course of East Pakistan soon.

About the author

Rubi

Whether it’s women issues, politics or the paranormal, Rubi has an opinion on everything. Art and entertainment interest her, too. Hindu College alumni, she has written for The Hindustan Times and The Financial Express. Every now and then, she loves picking up her camera to capture life and its various shades.

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