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Ex-brigadiers remember the 1971 war

Interview with three retired Brigaders on the 1971 war during which India helped liberate Bangladesh (East Pakistan).

india Updated: Dec 17, 2011 12:45 IST
Hindustan Times

Brig KS Chandpuri (retd), MVC

When Chandpuri told his seniors that Pakistan tanks were approaching Longewala, he was reportedly told to "go to sleep". But it was not a false alarm.

Before the battle
It was a full moon on the night of December 4/5. When I learnt Pakistan tanks were heading towards boundary pillars 635 and 638, I could easily assess that Longewala was their target. I gathered my men at 11pm and apprised them of the situation. To motivate them, I narrated to them the example of Guru Gobind Singhji.

Defending Longewala

A splinter struck me; I was bleeding but I did not tell anyone as it could demoralise the soldiers. I was determined to die. I did not want to become a prisoner. I kept a magazine in my pocket to avoid arrest

On Pakistan’s failure
Pakistan Air Force could not help their troops. There were no forward bases. So, the Indian Air Force had a free run. Pak tanks got jammed in the sand. Their attack was not spirited and they had put Bengali troops at front. My post was 16 km inside the border. Climbing up to it was difficult. Had they crossed Longewala they would have easily reached Jaisalmer as there were metalled roads ahead.

Brig Sant Singh (retd), MVC

Brig Sant Singh’s Maha Vir Chakra citation reads: His personal gallantry, leadership, skillful handling of meagre resources, audacity, improvisation and maximum use of local resources were responsible for the successful and rapid advance against much stronger enemy…

Preparing for war
Bangladesh is full of rivers and rivulets and ideal for defence. We were not prepared for war in April-May, so to keep the hope alive, Mukti Bahini had to be trained. I was one of the six brigadiers handed over the task to train them. I trained about 1,500 Bangladeshis, particularly in demolitions. Mukti Bahini blew up bridges and restricted the movement of Pakistan army.

Race against time
We moved very fast. The US Seventh Fleet was in Bay of Bengal. Chinese troops could also intervene and UN could impose a ceasefire. So we continued to move even on the nights of December 14 and 15.

On surrender
I arranged for the surrender ceremony and kept only two chairs — one for Lt Gen Aurora and other for Lt Gen Niazi. I interrogated Niazi to know about his war plans. I asked him if he was authorised to surrender. He replied that he was authorised but the timing was left to him. We soon opened up in Punjabi. I asked him whether he spoke to his family. He replied that he had called his wife in Karachi.

Lt Gen JFR Jacob (retd), PVSM

As Chief of Staff, Eastern Army, Maj Gen Jack Jacob was one of the key men behind the Indian campaign in East Pakistan. ‘Jake’, as he is popularly known, organised the surrender at Dacca. Many people mistakenly believe he is a Keralite Christian. In fact, he is a Jew. Forty years after the war, Jacob thinks he did not get due credit for his role in Pakistan’s defeat — and a certain Parsi general "sitting in Delhi" during the war was given undue importance.

On the Mukti Bahini
Sam (General Sam Manekshaw) wanted to move into Bangladesh as early as April, 1971. But I told him we didn’t have the infrastructure and logistics. The Mukti Bahini needed to be trained. I said November 15 was a reasonable deadline.

On Indira Gandhi
Mrs Gandhi took hard decisions in the war. Thanks to her pact with the Soviets, the Chinese did not dare attack us.

On Lt Gen Niazi
I took Niazi aside and told him, 'Look you have 30 minutes to decide on signing the surrender papers. Your men will be treated with dignity and given a safe passage. If you refuse, I can’t give any guarantees.' I converted what was a ceasefire into an unconditional public surrender, in a few hours. Where in history has such a thing happened?

First Published: Dec 16, 2011 11:55 IST