Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking on Friday said that as a youngster aged about 22, he participated in a rally for the liberation of Bangladesh and also went to jail for the same. The remark made on March 26, the Independence day of Bangladesh, sparked a political slugfest, with several members of the opposition questioning Modi's statement and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party coming to his defence.
Modi who is on a two day visit to Bangladesh to further cooperation between the two countries said, "Being involved in the struggle for independence of Bangladesh was one of the first movements in my life. I must have been 20-22 years old when I and my colleagues did satyagraha for the freedom of the people of Bangladesh and had the opportunity to go to jail for it..."
Following his remark, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor questioned the same and also termed it, "fake news".
Tharoor's tweet said, "International education: our PM is giving Bangladesh a taste of Indian "fake news". The absurdity is that everyone knows who liberated Bangladesh"
Tharoor later tweeted apologising stating that Modi had acknowledged Indira Gandhi.
Awards, Books All Show Modi Was Part Of Satyagrha For Bangladesh: BJP
In response to questions raised, several members of the BJP put out tweets about a citation awarded to late Atal Bihari Vajpayee in June 2015 by Bangladesh and a book authored by PM Modi where he is said to have written about being jailed in Tihar prison for taking part in the movement.
WAS A SATYAGRAHA ORGANISED BY JANA SANGH FOR BANGLADESH?
We ran a search for the citation awarded to Vajypayee and found that in June 2015, Bangladesh had conferred Vajpayee with the prestigious 'Liberation War Honour'. With the late veteran BJP leader then unwell, Modi attended the event and received the citation on behalf of Vajpayee.
The citation hails Vajpayee as a highly respected political leader and acknowledged his active role in support of the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971. It also mentions that the Jana Sangh, the earlier version of the now Bharatiya Janata Party, held a satyagraha from August 1- 11 which concluded with a rally on August 12, 1971, held in front of the Indian Parliament and attended by several supporters.
The citation reads, "To press the demand for Indian Government's expedited support to Bangladesh's Liberation War, Jana Sangh held a Gana Satyagraha during 1-11 August and their volunteers organised a huge rally in front of the Indian Parliament House on 12 August 1971. Shri Vajpayee took a firm stand at national and international levels for the cause of Bangladesh and its striving people..."
We found the citation posted by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India
We looked through archives of newspaper reports dating back to 1971 and found several papers having reported on the satyagraha orgaised by the Jana Sangh. A photo published by The Economic Times and available in the Times of India archives shows Vajpayee addressing a rally in the August of 1971, demanding the immediate recognition of Bangladesh by the Indian government. Vajpayee was then an important figure and president of the Jana Sangh.
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We also found video footage in the archives of wire agency Associated Press capturing visuals of the satyagraha from August 2, 1971, and August 12, 1971.
Additionally, The Times of India published its archive from August 12, 1971, which reports on 10,000 Jana Sangh men courting arrest in Delhi on the last day of the 'Recognise Bangladesh Satyagraha".
While reported stories and visual evidence does show that a rally for the recognition of Bangladesh was organised by Jana Sangh and attended by thousands of its volunteers and supporters, BOOM could not independently verify whether PM Modi was a part of the same.
PAST REFERENCES BY MODI TO PARTICIPATING IN THE BANGLADESH LIBERATION MOVEMENT
This is not the first instance where PM Modi has said that he participated in the movement to get recognition for the Bangladesh government post its liberation.
When Modi visited Bangladesh in 2015, a year after being elected as the Prime Minister of India, to collect the citation awarded to Vajpayee, he spoke about the rallies organised for Bangladesh by the Jana Sangh were his first time participating in any kind of protest outside his hometown. At the event, while accepting the award, Modi says that while he made his foray into politics late in his life, as a youngster, he was part of some students activism events.
At the event, Modi said that many youth activists had come to Delhi in response to Vajpayee's call for Satyagraha for the recognition of the Bangladesh government in 1971. "First time in my life I left the village and came to Delhi to participate in the satyagraha for the recognition of Bangladesh by Jana Sangh and had an opportunity to become a satyagrahi and this was my first political activity..."Modi can be heard saying at the 16 minute time stamp
He repeated the same incident the next day while addressing students at the Dhaka University.
We further found a 2015 Economic Times article by author Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay on how Modi's participation the anti-Emergency struggle marked his first steps into politics. Mukhopadhyay who has penned a Modi biography writes, "Participation in the anti-Emergency struggle was an important part of the political CV of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi..." He then goes on to describe this and also refers to Modi having served time in Tihar jail. Mukhopadhyay writes, "Modi's first known political activity as an adult was in 1971 when he joined a Jana Sangh satyagraha in Delhi led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee to enlist for the battlefield. But the government disallowed open support to Mukti Bahini and Modi was put in Tihar Jail for a short period."
BOOM spoke to the author who said the information in the article and in his book are those provided to him by Modi himself. He said, "...those are quotes that are attributed to him and theses are things he told me on record"
DID MODI WRITE ABOUT BEING ARRESTED FOR PARTICIPATING IN THE BANGLADESH SATYAGRAHA MOVEMENT?
Several BJP leaders and some journalists tweeted the blurb of a book, 'Sangharsh ma Gujarat' (Gujarat in a period of trial), authored by Modi in 1978. The tweets had a photo of the back cover of the book with the blurb describing the contents which span Modi's childhood, education and his role in the Jana Sangh and its activities.
The last line of the second last paragraph of the blurb mentions Bangladesh saying, "Agau Bangladesh satyagraha samay Tihad jail jai avela che" which loosely translates to, "Previously, he went to Tihar jail during the Bangladesh satyagraha"
BOOM ran a search for the book 'Sangharsh ma Gujarat' and found a PDF version of the same on Narendra Modi's website. This e-version of the book is the third print of the book, published in September 2020, and does not have the same back cover or blurb as in the tweets being shared.
We read through this e-version of the book and did not find any mention of Bangladesh in any of the chapters. The book majorly speaks about the events through which the Jana Sangh fought the Emergency between 1975-77.
We also spoke to Gujarat based journalist Deepal Trivedi who has written an article published in the Ahmedabad Mirror about the book. Trivedi told BOOM that Sangharsh Ma Gujarat does not mention anything about Modi having participated in a movement for Bangladesh's liberation or recognition of its government.
It is not clear if any previous editions of the book contained any references to the satyagraha.
(Additional reporting by Charmi Trevadia)
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