Greater Bangladesh

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Montage of Bengal.jpg
Greater Bangladesh in map

Greater Bangladesh (Bengali: বৃহৎ বঙ্গ, romanizedBrihôt Bāngā)[1] also referred to as Bishal Bangla[2] (Bengali: বিশাল বাংলা "Great Bengal"), describes the nationalist political ideology which seeks to unite all Bengali speaking regions into a single nation. Many of these areas were once part of United Bengal, including the Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland, as well as the Andaman Islands and the Rakhine State (formerly Arakan) in Myanmar.[3] Currently, the states of West Bengal and Assam in India and Rakhine State of Myanmar have a significant Muslim population with Bengali ethnic lineage.


The region of Bengal was first united as a single independent state by King Shashanka, who conquered all of what is now Bangladesh, West Bengal, Tripur, Jharkhand, and parts of Southern Assam and East and Central Bihar. Bengal was also later united by the Bengali Buddhist Pala Emperors, whose reign expanded to included lands from as far north as the Kashmiri hills to as far south as modern day Andhra Pradesh. The notion of a Greater Bangladesh first arose during the rule of the Hindu Sena dynasty. This ideology included the states of Bihar and Jharkhand, which are now considered non-Bengali states.[4] After the Sena Dynasty's collapse, the region became a hub of Islamic culture and a flourishing economic superpower. After the Battle of Raj Mahal the Bengal Sultanate was integrated into the Mughal Empire with the empire's Crown Princes acting as its viceroy.

After the Maratha Rebellions in Northern India, the Bengal province became autonomous and was ruled by the Nawab of Bengal. After the Battle of Plassey, the region became an administrative division of British India with Bengal's capital Calcutta acting as the Indian capital. The Bengal Presidency was formed in 1765, and in 1905, the presidency was divided into Bengal province, East Bengal province, and Assam province. Assam and the Lushai Hills became part of the Province of Assam in 1912. In 1912, Bengal was separated into two states of the British empire after the Indian independence movement began to arise. These new provinces were Bihar and Orissa and East Bengal and Assam. These provinces were partitioned again in 1947 into the 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.[5]

United Bengal[edit]

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.[6][7] 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.[6][8]

Mohammad Akram Khan and Khawaja Nazimuddin, two other Muslim League leaders, wanted a United Bengal as part of Pakistan. Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha and Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the 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.[6] Hindu Mahashabha and Mookerjee were concerned about Bose and Suhrawardy discussing a sovereign state of Bengal, while opposing the idea of a United Bengal, even as part of India. Jawaharlal Nehru, then a leader of the majority faction of the Congress, was opposed to a United Bengal unless it was connected to the Union.[9]

Conspiracy theories[edit]

Lebensraum theory[edit]

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 states.[10] 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, particularly Assam and West Bengal into Muslim-majority areas that would subsequently seek to separate from India and join Muslim-majority Bangladesh.[10] 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.[3] Another proposition called for capturing one or two districts in Bangladesh and sending illegal immigrants there.[3][11] Yet another proposition called for killing off Bangladeshi immigrants in India to thwart the designs of state of Bangladesh.[12]

It is suspected, though, that the figures of Bangladeshi migrants in India are too far-fetched to be accorded any credence.[13] The diplomatic difficulty is increased by the failure of conspiracy theorists in India to comprehend that supporting Indian rebels in a plot to carve out a Greater Bangladesh would bring very little strategic dividend to Bangladesh.[13] Scholars have also reflected that under the guise of Bangladeshi immigrant movement it is actually a Muslim false propaganda and widely understated claims on immigrant population.[14] There also is an alleged parallel threat of turning Assam into a part of a Greater West Bengal.[15][16]

Migration theory[edit]

At the turn of the 21st century, Indian political circles started to take a serious look at Bangladeshi illegal immigration into India.[3] Bangladesh is under pressure from India as a source of rebellion in Indian North-East for this Indian perception.[13] It is also hard pressed to convince India that encouraging migration is not a state policy of Bangladesh.[13] The state of Bangladesh denied the existence of these immigrants while stripping them of their Bangladeshi citizenship.[3] 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.[17] The Centre for Women and Children Studies estimated in 1998 that 27,000 Bangladeshis have been forced into prostitution in India.[18][19]

Militancy theory[edit]

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][10] 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,[20] including Ranju Chowdhury, Arabinda Rajkhowa and Anup Chetia, to support Indian action against militancy.[21]

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,[22] formed a coalition that declared the formation Greater Bangladesh as one of their aims.[1][23] 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).[24]

Effects of allegation[edit]

Nellie massacre[edit]

In Assam, agitation against immigrants started as early as 1979, led by All Assam Students Union.[25] Their demand was to put a stop on the influx of immigrants and deportation of those who have already settled.[26] 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.[27] In 1985 Indian Government signed the Assam accord with the leaders of the agitation to stop the issue.[26][28] As per the accord India started building a fence along the Assam-Bangladesh border which is now almost complete.[29] However Assam also has a large number of genuine Indian Muslim Bengalis. It is difficult to distinguish between illegal Bangladeshis and local Bengali speakers.[30]

Ethnic and religious tensions in the Indian North East had led to massacre of Bengali-speaking Muslims in Nellie in February 1983.[31] The greatest carnage against immigrants occurred on 18 February when 990 in Neille and 585 in Barbori were killed.[32] Villages were burned while women and children identified as immigrant Muslims were hacked into pieces.[33] 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.[34] The Neille Massacre has been argued as one of the cases of ethnic cleansing with the complicity of state, that was followed by similar incidents of carnages in Delhi (1984), Bhagalpur (1989), Mumbai (1993) and Gujarat (2002).[33]

The Sinha Report[edit]

In 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).[10][35] 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.[10][35]

Rakhine State of Myanmar[edit]

Rakhine State of Myanmar (formerly Burma) is another region where Bangladesh may have a territorial interest for historical reasons. During the Pakistan Movement in the 1940s, Rohingya Muslims in Arakan (today's Rakhaine State) organized a separatist movement to merge the region with East Pakistan, current days Bangladesh.[36] The commitments of the British regarding the status of Muslims after the World War II were not clear. V Force felt that Muslims along with other minorities must be rewarded after the war for their loyalty to the British against the Japanese. Muslim leaders believed that the British had promised them a "Muslim National Area" in Maungdaw region. They were also apprehensive of a future Buddhist-dominated government. In 1946, calls were made for annexation of the territory by Pakistan as well as of an independent state.[37] Before the independence of Burma in January 1948, Muslim leaders from Arakan addressed themselves to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and asked his assistance in incorporating the Mayu region to Pakistan considering their religious affinity and geographical proximity with East Pakistan.[36]The North Arakan Muslim League was founded in Akyab (modern Sittwe) two months later.[36] The proposal never materialized since it was reportedly turned down by Jinnah, saying that he was not in a position to interfere in Burmese matters.[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. ^ Venkata Siddharthacharry, Jambudwipa, a blueprint for a South Asian community, page 256, Radiant Publishers, 1985, ISBN 81-7027-088-X
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Mikey Leung and Belinda Meggitt, Bangladesh, page 7-8, Bradt Travel Guides, 2009, ISBN 1-84162-293-1
  5. ^ Soumyendra Nath Mukherjee (1987). Sir William Jones: A Study in Eighteenth-century British Attitudes to India. Cambridge University Press. p. 230. ISBN 978-0-86131-581-9.
  6. ^ a b c Bashabi Fraser, Bengal Partition Stories: An Unclosed Chapter, page 24-25, Anthem Press, 2008, ISBN 1-84331-299-9
  7. ^ Anton Pelinka and Renée Schell, Democracy Indian style, page 79, Transaction Publishers, 2003, ISBN 0-7658-0186-8
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  9. ^ Benjamin Zachariah, Nehru, page 136, Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0-415-25017-X
  10. ^ a b c d e Braja Bihari Kumara (2006). Illegal migration from Bangladesh. Concept Publishing Company. ISBN 978-81-8069-224-6.
  11. ^ "Send All Infiltrators to a Space in Bangladesh", The Shillong Times, 20 January 2003
  12. ^ Falguni Burman, "Check Bangla Influx for Survival: VHP", The Assam Tribune, 20 January 2003
  13. ^ a b c d Zakia Soman and Jimmy Dabhi, Peace and Justice, page 138-39, Pearson Education India, 2010, ISBN 81-317-2944-3
  15. ^ Harendranath Barua and Yogeśa Dāsa, Reflections on Assam, 1944-1983, page 185, Harendranath Barua Memorial Society, 1992
  16. ^ Joya Chatterji, The spoils of partition: Bengal and India, 1947-1967, page 46, Cambridge University Press, 2007, ISBN 0-521-87536-6
  17. ^ Jyoti M. Pathania, India & Bangladesh - Migration Matrix- Reactive and not Proactive Archived 18 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine, Paper no. 632, South Asia Analysis Group
  18. ^ Donna M. Hughes, Laura Joy Sporcic, Nadine Z. Mendelsohn and Vanessa Chirgwin, Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation Archived 15 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women
  19. ^ Bimal Kanti Paul; Syed Abu Hasnath, "Trafficking in Bangladeshi Women and Girls", Geographical Review, p.268-276, April 2000
  20. ^ M. Sakhawat Hussain, South Asian tangle, page 204, Palok Publishers & Bangladesh Research Forum, 2007
  21. ^ PTI, "ULFA leader arrested in Bangladesh", The Hindu, 2010-06-07
  22. ^ Three to die for UK envoy attack, BBC, 2008-12-23
  23. ^ Hiranmay Karlekar, Bangladesh: the next Afghanistan?, page 169, Sage Publications, 2005, ISBN 0-7619-3401-4
  24. ^ 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
  25. ^ From 1979 to 1985: The Anti-Foreigners Movement in Assam Archived 25 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ a b Report on illegal migration into assam
  27. ^ Nellie 1983: A series by
  28. ^ Full text of the accord
  29. ^ Achievements of Assam accord
  30. ^ Indifference, impotence, and intolerance:transnational Bangladeshis in India, Sujata Ramachandran Archived 23 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ K. Warikoo, Himalayan Frontiers of India, page 174, Taylor & Francis, 2009, ISBN 0-415-46839-6
  32. ^ Hemendra Narayan, 25 years on Nellie Still haunts, Nellie India Massacre Assam, 2008, ISBN 81-7525-942-6
  33. ^ a b Harsh Mander, "Nellie: India’s forgotten massacre", The Hindu, 2008-12-14
  34. ^ Gupta, Basu and Chattarji, Globalization in India: Contents and Discontents, page 66, Pearson Education India, 2010, ISBN 81-317-1988-X
  35. ^ a b Arup Chandra (13 February 1999). "Assam governor asks Centre to seal Bangladesh border". Retrieved 21 August 2010.
  36. ^ a b c d Yegar 1972, p. 10.
  37. ^ Christie, Clive J. (1998). A Modern History of Southeast Asia: Decolonization, Nationalism and Separatism. I.B. Tauris. pp. 164, 165–167.


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