Refugees from the civil war in East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) in India, 1971.
Alan Leather / Oxfam Archive, Bodleian Library

Europe’s response to waves of refugees from the war-torn Middle East raises serious questions about its commitment to humanitarian values. To be sure, Europe is facing a very difficult set of challenges. But these pale in comparison to those confronting India’s policymakers in 1971, when New Delhi was faced with a refugee surge orders of magnitude greater than the one now on Europe’s borders.

The crisis arose out of an election gone wrong. In 1970, Pakistan, which then comprised an eastern and western wing, held its first free and fair elections. The more populous eastern wing of the country voted down West Pakistan’s political parties. The election should have led to a genuine power-sharing arrangement between east and west, but that outcome was anathema to the Western-based military regime and to West Pakistan’s leading party, the Pakistan People’s Party.

For three months after the vote, the

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  • SUMIT GANGULY is Professor of Political Science and holds the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University, Bloomington. BRANDON MILIATE is a graduate student in the Department of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. 
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