Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina’s message to India: ‘After 1975, when we lost our family…’

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday thanked India for supporting during the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan and giving “shelter” to her family in 1975 when many of her family members were killed in 1975.

A Bangladeshi polling officer puts indelible ink on the finger of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after arriving to cast her vote in Dhaka on Sunday, (AP)

Sheikh Hasina’s message to India comes as Bangladeshis began voting in the general elections with the prime minister set to win a fourth straight term after the main opposition party refused to take part, raising questions about the legitimacy of the polls.

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“You are most welcome. We are very lucky…India is our trusted friend. During our 1971 liberation war, they supported us…After 1975, when we lost our whole family…they gave us shelter. So our best wishes to the people of India,” Hasina told reporters. Live Updates on Bangladesh general elections

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The India-Pakistan war began place in the backdrop of tensions between Pakistan (also known then as West Pakistan) and the Bengali majority East Pakistan, which was closer to India then. On March 25, 1971, the Pakistan Army, led by lieutenant general Tikka Khan, who later went on to become Pakistan’s first COAS, launched Operation Searchlight to quell the rebellion in East Pakistan. Massive human rights violations were reportedly perpetrated by the Pakistan Army during this operation.

While the Indian Air Force (IAF) responded with initial retaliatory strikes the same night, then prime minister Indira Gandhi ordered a “full-scale” invasion of Pakistan. Thus, officially commenced the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971. The war came to an end in less than two weeks on December 16, 1971, with the Eastern Command chief of the Indian Army, Lt Gen JS Aurora, making the Eastern Command chief of the Pakistan Army, Lt Gen AAK Niazi, sign the instrument of surrender. East Pakistan became Bangladesh, with Awami League leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, becoming its first president in January 1972, as well as its second prime minister in 1974. Mujib, who was assassinated in 1975, is the father of Sheikh Hasina.

Bangladesh elections

Polling centres in Bangladesh opened at 8am local time after a monthlong campaign beset by daily street protests, the jailing of Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and viral videos of ruling party leaders urging voters to cast ballots or risk losing government benefits.

With most of Hasina’s rivals behind bars, voter turnout is expected to fall but won’t dent the 76-year-old politician’s re-election. Hasina has overseen one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and lifted millions out of poverty as part of her development agenda — achievements often overshadowed by her turn to authoritarianism.

Boycotts

Election officials will start counting the ballots after polls close at 4pm with results due late Sunday or early Monday. About 120 million people are eligible to vote for 300 of the 350 seats in parliament.

In recent weeks, prominent leaders from Hasina’s Awami League party have been shown on social media video clips telling voters that they risked losing their benefits if they didn’t take part in the elections. The Election Commission served a notice to at least one of the politicians.

The main Bangladesh Nationalist Party has boycotted the national vote in response to Hasina refusing to step aside and allowing a caretaker government to run the poll. The dispute has led to street battles between the opposition group, security forces and supporters of Awami League.

(With inputs from agencies)

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