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Greater Bangladesh

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Title: Greater Bangladesh  
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Subject: Bangladesh–India relations, Politics of India, Politics of Bangladesh, Outline of Bangladesh, 2012 Assam violence
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Greater Bangladesh

Greater Bangladesh (translated variously as Bengali: বৃহত্তর বাংলাদেশ, Brihottor Bangladesh;[1] Bengali: বৃহৎ বাংলাদেশ Brihot Bangladesh;[2] Bengali: মহাবাংলাদেশ, Mohabangladesh;[3] and Bengali: বিশাল বাংলা, Bishal Bangla[4]) 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.[5] The theory is principally based on a widespread belief amongst Indian masses that a large number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants reside in Indian territory.[6]


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.[7] 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.

United Bengal

Bengali speaking region

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.[8][9] 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.[8][10] 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.[8] 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.[11]

Conspiracy theories

Lebensraum theory

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.[6] 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.[6] 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.[5] Another proposition called for capturing one or two districts in Bangladesh and sending illegal immigrants there.[5][12] Yet another proposition called for killing off Bangladeshi immigrants in India to thwart the designs of state of Bangladesh.[13]

It is suspected, though, that the figures of Bangladeshi migrants in India are to far-fetched to be accorded any credence.[14] 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.[14] 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.[15] There also is an alleged parallel threat of turning Assam into a part of a Greater West Bengal.[16] In 1950s, Atulya Ghosh, a leader of the Congress, had called to form a Greater West Bengal by annexing territory of neighboring Bihar.[17]

Migration theory

At the turn of the 21st century, Indian political circles started to take a serious look at Bangladeshi illegal immigrants infiltrating into India.[5] Bangladesh is under pressure from India as a source of rebellion in Indian North-East for this Indian perception.[14] It is also hard pressed to convince India that encouraging migration is not a state policy of Bangladesh.[14] The state of Bangladesh denied the existence of these immigrants while stripping them of their Bangladeshi citizenship.[5] 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.[18] The Centre for Women and Children Studies estimated in 1998 that 27,000 Bangladeshis have been forced into prostitution in India.[19][20]

Militancy theory

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.[1][6] 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,[21] including Ranju Chowdhury, Arabinda Rajkhowa and Anup Chetia, to support Indian action against militancy.[22]

In 2002, nine Islamic groups including Indian militant organizations Swadhin Bangabhumi Andolan and United People's Democratic Front (UPDF).[25]

Effects of allegation

Nellie massacre

In Assam, agitation against immigrants started as early as 1979, led by All Assam Students Union.[26] Their demand was to put a stop on the influx of immigrants and deportation of those who have already settled.[27] 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.[28] In 1985 Indian Government signed the Assam accord with the leaders of the agitation to stop the issue.[27][29] As per the accord India started building a fence along the Assam-Bangladesh border which is now almost complete.[30] However Assam also has a large number of genuine Indian Muslim Bengalis. It is difficult to distinguish between illegal Bangaldeshis and local Bengali speakers.[31]

Ethnic and religious tensions in the Indian North East had led to massacre of Bengali-speaking Muslims in Nellie in February 1983.[32] The greatest carnage against immigrants occurred in 18 February when 990 in Neille and 585 in Barbori were killed.[33] Villages were burned while women and children identified as immigrant Muslims were hacked into pieces.[34] 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.[35] 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).[34]

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).[6][36] 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.[6][36]


  1. ^ a b c Col. Ved Prakash, Terrorism in India's north-east: a gathering storm (Volume 1),Kalpaz Publications, 2008, ISBN 81-7835-660-0
  2. ^ Mahendra Gaur, Indian affairs annual (Volume 2), 2007, ISBN 81-7835-434-9
  3. ^ James Warner Björkman, Fundamentalism, revivalists, and violence in South Asia, page 38, Riverdale Company, 1988, ISBN 0-913215-06-6
  4. ^ Venkata Siddharthacharry, Jambudwipa, a blueprint for a South Asian community, page 256, Radiant Publishers, 1985, ISBN 81-7027-088-X
  5. ^ a b c d e Willem van Schendel, The Bengal borderland: beyond state and nation in South Asia, page 233-34, Anthem Press, 2005, ISBN 1-84331-145-3
  6. ^ a b c d e f Braja Bihari Kumara (2006). Illegal migration from Bangladesh. Concept Publishing Company.  
  7. ^ Mikey Leung and Belinda Meggitt, Bangladesh, page 7-8, Bradt Travel Guides, 2009, ISBN 1-84162-293-1
  8. ^ a b c Bashabi Fraser, Bengal Partition Stories: An Unclosed Chapter, page 24-25, Anthem Press, 2008, ISBN 1-84331-299-9
  9. ^ Anton Pelinka and Renée Schell, Democracy Indian style, page 79, Transaction Publishers, 2003, ISBN 0-7658-0186-8
  10. ^ M. Bhaskaran Nair, Politics in Bangladesh: a study of Awami League, 1949-58, page 46, Northern Book Centre, 1990, ISBN 81-85119-79-1
  11. ^ Benjamin Zachariah, Nehru, page 136, Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0-415-25017-X
  12. ^ "Send All Infiltrators to a Space in Bangladesh", The Shillong Times, 20 January 2003
  13. ^ Falguni Burman, "Check Bangla Influx for Survival: VHP", The Assam Tribune, 20 January 2003
  14. ^ a b c d Zakia Soman and Jimmy Dabhi, Peace and Justice, page 138-39, Pearson Education India, 2010, ISBN 81-317-2944-3
  16. ^ Harendranath Barua and Yogeśa Dāsa, Reflections on Assam, 1944-1983, page 185, Harendranath Barua Memorial Society, 1992
  17. ^ Joya Chatterji, The spoils of partition: Bengal and India, 1947-1967, page 46, Cambridge University Press, 2007, ISBN 0-521-87536-6
  18. ^ Jyoti M. Pathania, India & Bangladesh - Migration Matrix- Reactive and not Proactive, Paper no. 632, South Asia Analysis Group
  19. ^ Donna M. Hughes, Laura Joy Sporcic, Nadine Z. Mendelsohn and Vanessa Chirgwin, Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women
  20. ^ Bimal Kanti Paul; Syed Abu Hasnath, "Trafficking in Bangladeshi Women and Girls", Geographical Review, p.268-276, April 2000
  21. ^ M. Sakhawat Hussain, South Asian tangle, page 204, Palok Publishers & Bangladesh Research Forum, 2007
  22. ^ PTI, "ULFA leader arrested in Bangladesh", The Hindu, 2010-06-07
  23. ^ Three to die for UK envoy attack, BBC, 2008-12-23
  24. ^ Hiranmay Karlekar, Bangladesh: the next Afghanistan?, page 169, Sage Publications, 2005, ISBN 0-7619-3401-4
  25. ^ Ashley J. Tellis and Michael Wills, Strategic Asia 2007-08: domestic political change and grand strategy, page 231, National Bureau of Asian Research, 2007, ISBN 0-9713938-8-5
  26. ^ From 1979 to 1985: The Anti-Foreigners Movement in Assam
  27. ^ a b Report on illegal migration into assam
  28. ^ Nellie 1983: A series by
  29. ^ Full text of the accord
  30. ^ Achievements of Assam accord
  31. ^ Indifference, impotence, and intolerance:transnational Bangladeshis in India, Sujata Ramachandran
  32. ^ K. Warikoo, Himalayan Frontiers of India, page 174, Taylor & Francis, 2009, ISBN 0-415-46839-6
  33. ^ Hemendra Narayan, 25 years on Nellie Still haunts, Nellie India Massacre Assam, 2008, ISBN 81-7525-942-6
  34. ^ a b Harsh Mander, "Nellie: India’s forgotten massacre", The Hindu, 2008-12-14
  35. ^ Gupta, Basu and Chattarji, Globalization in India: Contents and Discontents, page 66, Pearson Education India, 2010, ISBN 81-317-1988-X
  36. ^ a b Arup Chandra (13 February 1999). "Assam governor asks Centre to seal Bangladesh border". Retrieved 2010-08-21. 
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