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How Bangladesh Happened

I.P. Khosla

By Srinath Raghavan
Permanent Black, Ranikhet, 2013, pp. 358, Rs. 795.00


How does anything happen? The question seems simple enough, but its answer, once you have side-stepped the philosophical minefield of whether causes exist at all, can take you into diverse intellectual domains: mathematics and physics; philosophy and metaphysics; social sciences and history, to mention a few. In all these (and other) domains a central issue is whether things happen towards a particular end, the teleological view, of from initial causes, the Aristotelian view. In other words, if we look at events in the subcontinent during the year 1971, was the creation of Bangladesh in some sense predestined and inevitable, or was it the outcome of push factors: the global situation; the policies of the great powers; or of those in the region.   As Srinath Raghavan notes in this volume, much of the existing work on the subject takes the teleological view; it is thus no more than the chronicle of a birth foretold. He, however, takes the second view, that causality is at work here. This view has two rather different, if not quite opposite angles. From one angle there is a series of large or small occurrences and conjunctures, contingencies where the play of choice and chance decides the outcome. The story of this is famously summed up in the ‘butterfly effect’, whereby the flutter of a butterfly’s wings in China leads to a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Or, to take a more familiar picture, Gandhi on the march to Dandi sets off tremors that lead to the collapse of a world empire. Or, carrying on to the present volume, an article on East Pakistan by Anthony Mascarenhas in the Sunday Times of 13 June, 1971 changes the course of history, as the BBC commented at the time. The second angle points to the big picture, not perhaps the theory of everything or the Grand Unified Theory that every eminent scientist dreams of discovering, but certainly to those major forces that have for centuries been thought to guide history: long term economic growth; the rise and fall of great powers; and, in the present case, as listed by the author, the three large historical processes of decolonization, the Cold War, and globalization. These forces, of course, are unstoppable, so there is little scope for the play of chance and contingency. There may be no inevitability here, but prediction can be hazarded; indeed, all three processes and globalization in particular, ...

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