It was a war well planned and conducted in almost a Kautilyan/Chanakyan mode under the rule of the Congress, then headed by Indira Gandhi
The 50th Anniversary of the 1971 India-Pakistan War which culminated in the liberation of Bangladesh, is getting marked by a number of book launches. In the lead is Remembered Glory, a welcome compendium of anecdotes/incidents/events straddling that war, many of those not much known, but all of which talk of critical actions, and are informative and inspiring.
A serious drawback for India is that for over seventy years since its independence, its actual history has not been taught in schools. Much of that history, marked by many wars/conflicts have been suppressed, or tampered with, or twisted. In such circumstances, books, journals, films, theatre, and media coverage of wars and conflicts, play an important role in raising public consciousness about the nation’s history. It is important for a nation’s history to be taught, to be known, as it is a major factor in planning for the future and also in developing national pride.
The 1971 war stands out in some respects as an exception. It was a war well planned and conducted in almost a Kautilyan/Chanakyan mode under the rule of the Congress, then headed by Indira Gandhi. She and her predecessor Lal Bahadur Shastri were two exceptional Congress leaders, who were assertive in dealing with Pakistan in 1971and 1965 respectively. Gandhi had been assertive against the Chinese too in 1967, when she approved use of artillery by Indian Army against the Chinese at Nathu La and Cho La, Sikkim. However, the assertiveness of both Shastri and Gandhi against Pakistan lasted only till the 1965 and 1971 wars were fought. In the peace talks that followed both these wars, they became soft. Shastri returned Zoji La and Gandhi returned 93,000 Pakistani POWs without extracting any concession from Pakistan in favor of India.
Except for these two Congress leaders, all the rest, before and after them, till 2014, were known for managing - or often mismanaging - India’s many post-Independence wars and conflicts by being utterly defensive always not wanting to “raise the level of conflict” and thereby, not appropriately utilizing the capability of India’s armed forces for decisive results most importantly required to maintain its security and integrity.
Wars/conflicts for professional armed forces involve conferring of gallantry awards but owing to the ‘fog of war’ and too much happening simultaneously, there are always many actions that do not get recorded or do not get sent to higher headquarters. Thereby, there always remain many unsung heroes.
The authors indeed deserve praise for their devoted, innovative and sustained effort to present eighty-two true stories of valor, over two volumes, of the 1971 India-Pakistan war lasting officially 13 days, in two theatres - western and eastern - and resulting in the liberation and birth of a new nation, Bangladesh.
The struggle involving Bengali youth of erstwhile East Pakistan forming the Mukti Vahini (freedom force) began in March, 1971, when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman won a massive electoral victory, which Pakistani authorities could simply not digest and they launched a massive pogrom killing millions of Bengali intellectuals and masses as well as raping a large number (up to 4,00,000) of women and treating them as ‘war booty’.
It were under these very tense circumstances that Tony Mascarenhas, a Pakistani journalist, got his story of the Pakistan Army’s atrocities in East Pakistan published in the Sunday Times, a British paper, only after he was lucky enough to move with his family in a great hurry to UK, where he was speedily offered sanctuary/citizenship. The story broke and shocked the world but failed to move any nation, US, UK or any other, to take any action against Pakistan. US had already committed its 7th Fleet to enter Indian waters in support of Pakistan. Indian Navy Chief, Admiral S.M. (Charles) Nanda’s message to commanding officers of all Indian Naval ships were that if the Americans came too close, “call them aboard for a drink”.
On 16 December, 1971, 93,000 Pakistani troops surrendered to the Indian Army in the newly liberated Bangladesh. Taken as prisoners of war (POWs) by Indian Army, they were imprisoned comfortably and treated most humanely as promised by then Army Chief, Gen (later Field Marshal) SHFJ Manekshaw. Over a year later, all 93,000 were repatriated in excellent health with a packet of sweets in their hand. In harsh contrast, the Pakistan Army conducted the worst kind of torture by keeping at least 54 Indian Armed Forces personnel including many officers captured by them but not registered as POW.
Every time there was a Red Cross arranged scrutiny, these hapless Indians were shifted from one jail to another, effectively hoodwinking officials and relatives who came to check out. Not being able to get this very unfortunate Indian personnel released from Pakistan is a major failure on India’s part. Those still alive are languishing in Pakistani jails. Their list is published in the first edition.
While both the editions of the book will be very engaging for a wide readership spanning sections and age groups, for all those dealing with national security they are ‘must read’.
(REMEMBERED GLORY: True Stories from 1971 War; Author Milind Wagle and Col Ajay Raina; Publisher Military History Research Foundation; Pages 213 in paperback; Price Rs. 399)
(The reviewer is a strategic analyst and former Defence Ministry and Indian Army spokesperson. Views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)