Disquiet on the eastern front
An Odyssey in War and Peace
If India’s war against Pakistan in 1965 was won on points, the war in 1971 was clearly won by a knock-out. The protagonists of the 1971 operations have intriguing tales to tell. One such figure is Lt. Gen. JFR ‘Jake’ Jacob, chief of staff, Eastern army who was directly involved in the action. His autobiography, An Odyssey in War and Peace is a no-holds-barred account of the machinations of the liberation of Bangladesh, which forms the core of book.
Gen. Jacob has always been at loggerheads with the ‘establishment’ perspective of the 1971 operations. Taking off from the findings of his earlier book Surrender at Dacca: Birth of a Nation, Gen. Jacob makes light of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw’s claims that it was he who advised Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to wait till November 1971 to attack Bangladesh (East Pakistan as it then was) or otherwise accept his resignation. Not only does Gen. Jacob squarely take credit for this assessment, but proceeds to demonstrate that Dacca (Dhaka) was never directed to be taken by the army command, and that it was seized only at Gen. Jacob’s instance sans any orders from New Delhi.
While much of this episode makes for compelling reading, it is a little unsettling to see constant contradictions in the accounts of the 1971 operations from senior officers of the fauj. Having read two biographies of field marshal Manekshaw, biographies of Lt. Gen. IS Gill (director of military operations) and KF Rustamji (the legendary director general of the BSF, which played a crucial but unsung role in the operations), as well as autobiographies of air chief marshal PC Lall and admiral SM Nanda — then chiefs of the air and naval staff, respectively — the discrepancies in the facts are there to behold. Besides, the lack of mutual respect and trust among much of the senior military leadership of the time is apparent.
The book is a must-read for the anecdotal account of a proud gunner’s life, especially his run-ins with the controversial duo of defence minister VK Krishna Menon and Lt. Gen. ‘Biji’ Kaul, and other prickly seniors. Sadly, the author at times slips into making personal insinuations against senior officers, particularly field marshal Manekshaw and Eastern army commander Lt. Gen. JS Aurora, who is made to appear as a pliant yes-man. One cannot but feel that the book is slightly self-congratulatory in nature.
Those who’ve read Surrender at Dacca may find some overlap. Acknowledged by international and (even) Pakistani scholars as a key figure in the 1971 operations, Gen. Jacob has provided an account that is imperative reading when it comes to the Bangladesh operations. Paradoxically, when it comes to these operations, the more one knows, the less one knows.
Aditya Sondhi is an advocate and founder-convenor of the annual Gen KS Thimayya Memorial Lectures in Bangalore