Greater Bangladesh (translated variously as Bengali: বৃহত্তর বাংলাদেশ, Brihottor Bangladesh; Bengali: বৃহৎ বাংলাদেশ Brihot Bangladesh; Bengali: মহাবাংলাদেশ, Mohabangladesh; and Bengali: বিশাল বাংলা, Bishal Bangla) is a political theory circulated by a number of Indian politicians and writers that the People's Republic of Bangladesh has aspirations of territorial expansion, to include the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, Assam and Andaman Islands as part of its own territory. The theory is principally based on a widespread belief amongst Indian masses that a large number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants reside in Indian territory.
The ethno-linguistic region of Bengal encompasses the territory of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, as well as parts of Assam and Tripura. During the rule of the Hindu Sena dynasty in Bengal the notion of a Greater Bangladesh first emerged with the idea of uniting Bengali-speaking people in the areas now known as Orissa, Bihar and Indian North East (Assam, Tripura, and Meghalaya) along with the Bengal. These areas formed the Bengal Presidency, a province of British India formed in 1765, though Assam including Meghalaya and Sylhet District was severed from the Presidency in 1874, which became the Province of Assam together with Lushai Hills in 1912. This province was partitioned in 1947 into Hindu-majority West Bengal and Muslim-majority East Bengal (now Bangladesh) to facilitate the creation of the separate Muslim state of Pakistan, of which East Bengal became a province.
In January 1947, Sarat Chandra Bose resigned from the Indian National Congress, partially in protest against the partition of Bengal. He called for an Independent Bengal separate from both India and Pakistan, and formed his own party - the Socialist Republican Party. At that time, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Abul Hashem, two Bengali leaders of the Muslim League also advocated for an Independent Bengal comprising both the Eastern (now Bangladesh) and Western (now West Bengal) parts of Bengal. Akram Khan (politician) and Khawaja Nazimuddin, two other Muslim League leaders wanted a United Bengal as part of Pakistan. Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha and Syama Prasad Mookerjee, founder of Bharatiya Jana Sangh which later was succeeded by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), opposed the idea of an Independent Bengal or a United Bengal. Hindu Mahashabha and Mookerjee was concerned about Bose and Suhrawardy discussing a sovereign state of Bengal, while opposing the idea of a United Bengal even as a part of the Union of India. Jawaharlal Nehru, then a leader of the majority faction of the Congress, was opposed to a United Bengal unconnected to the Union.
Achieving a "Greater Bangladesh" as Lebensraum (additional living space) is alleged to be the reason for large-scale illegal immigration from Bangladesh into India's northeastern states. Similarly it is alleged that illegal immigration is actively encouraged by some political groups in Bangladesh as well as the state of Bangladesh to convert large parts of India's northeastern states and West Bengal into Muslim-majority areas that would subsequently seek to separate from India and join Muslim-majority Bangladesh. One Indian proposition is that the state of Bangladesh is pursuing a territorial design seeking a Lebensraum for its teeming population and trying to establish a Greater Bangladesh. Another proposition called for capturing one or two districts in Bangladesh and sending illegal immigrants there. Yet another proposition called for killing off Bangladeshi immigrants in India to thwart the designs of state of Bangladesh.
It is suspected, though, that the figures of Bangladeshi migrants in India are to far-fetched to be accorded any credence. The diplomatic difficulty is increased by the failure of India to comprehend that supporting Indian rebels in a plot to carve out a Greater Bangladesh would bring very little strategic dividend to Bangladesh. Scholars have also reflected that under the guise of anti-Bangladeshi immigrant movement it is actually an anti-Muslim agenda pointed towards Bangladeshi Muslims by false propaganda and widely exaggerated claims on immigrant population. There also is an alleged parallel threat of turning Assam into a part of a Greater West Bengal. In 1950s, Atulya Ghosh, a leader of the Congress, had called to form a Greater West Bengal by annexing territory of neighboring Bihar.
At the turn of the 21st century, Indian political circles started to take a serious look at Bangladeshi illegal immigrants infiltrating into India. Bangladesh is under pressure from India as a source of rebellion in Indian North-East for this Indian perception. It is also hard pressed to convince India that encouraging migration is not a state policy of Bangladesh. The state of Bangladesh denied the existence of these immigrants while stripping them of their Bangladeshi citizenship. According to Jyoti M. Pathania of South Asia Analysis Group the reasons for Bangladeshi immigration to India are: basic need theory i.e. food, shelter and clothing, economic dictates i.e. employment opportunity, better wages and comparatively better living conditions, demographic disproportion especially for minorities (Hindus) in this densely populated country having roughly a density of 780 per km2 as against half that number on Indian side of the border, and being cheap labor the Bangladeshis find easy acceptance as “domestic helps” in Indian homes, which keeps proliferating by ever increasing demand for domestic helps. The Centre for Women and Children Studies estimated in 1998 that 27,000 Bangladeshis have been forced into prostitution in India.
A number of Indian politicians and journalists alleged that advocates of a Greater Bangladesh seek the expansion of Bangladeshi hegemony in Northeastern India, including the states of Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya and Tripura, as well as the Arakan Province of Burma (Myanmar), where there is a considerable population of Bengali Muslims. It was also alleged that United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) conspired with state of Bangladesh to secede four to five Muslim majority districts of Assam to form a Greater Bangladesh, though Bangladesh in the contrary arrested a number of ULFA leaders, including Ranju Chowdhury, Arabinda Rajkhowa and Anup Chetia, to support Indian action against militancy.
In 2002, nine Islamic groups including Indian militant organizations Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA), Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam (MULFA) and Muslim Volunteer Force (MVF), Pakistani militant organization Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), Myanmar groups Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) and Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front of Myanmar (ARIFM), and Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, a pan-South Asian militant organization outlawed in Bangladesh with leaders sentenced to death, formed a coalition that declared the formation Greater Bangladesh as one of their aims. Historically India has been accusing Bangladesh of supporting extremist organizations like ULFA and National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), while Bangladesh accused India of supporting similar organizations like Swadhin Bangabhumi Andolan and United People's Democratic Front (UPDF).
Effects of allegation
In Assam, agitation against immigrants started as early as 1979, led by All Assam Students Union. Their demand was to put a stop on the influx of immigrants and deportation of those who have already settled. It gradually took violent form and ethnic violence started between Assamese and Bengalis, mostly Muslim. It eventually led to the infamous Nellie massacre in 1983 due to a controversy over the 1983 election. In 1985 Indian Government signed the Assam accord with the leaders of the agitation to stop the issue. As per the accord India started building a fence along the Assam-Bangladesh border which is now almost complete. However Assam also has a large number of genuine Indian Muslim Bengalis. It is difficult to distinguish between illegal Bangaldeshis and local Bengali speakers.
Ethnic and religious tensions in the Indian North East had led to massacre of Bengali-speaking Muslims in Nellie in February 1983. The greatest carnage against immigrants occurred in 18 February when 990 in Neille and 585 in Barbori were killed. Villages were burned while women and children identified as immigrant Muslims were hacked into pieces. Smuggling and illegal immigration along the Indian-Bangladeshi border has been identified as major cause of killing of more than 3,000 people in the massacre. The Neille Massacre has been identified one of the earliest state-sanctioned attempts at ethnic cleansing that was followed by similar incidents in Delhi (1984), Bhagalpur (1989), Mumbai (1993) and Gujarat (2002).
The Sinha Report
In a 1998, Lieutenant General S.K. Sinha, then the Governor of Assam and later the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, wrote a report to K.R. Narayanan, then the President of India claiming that massive illegal immigration from Bangladesh was directly linked with "the long-cherished design of Greater Bangladesh," and also quoted pre-1971 comments from late Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and late President of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman endorsing the inclusion of Assam into East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Anxiety and popular anger over illegal immigration prompted political unrest in the state of Assam, and criticism has increased over the Indian government's failure to secure its borders with Bangladesh and stop the illegal immigration.
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