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Why Manekshaw held out on the war for eight months

  • Published at 01:43 am December 16th, 2018
Indira Mujib Shilpakola Academy
Courtesy: Bangladesh Shilpakola Academy

Manekshaw had divulged the details of the meeting to Jayakar, a childhood friend of Indira’s, in an interview

It was the evening of December 16, 1971. An Instrument of Surrender was inked by Generals Jagjit Singh Aurora and AAK Niazi. This pact represented the submission of Pakistan to Mukti Bahini and the Indian Army. The nation of Bangladesh was unshackled from the chains of bondage. This argument is incontrovertible against the backdrop of the nine-month long war which claimed the lives of millions of freedom-loving people of Bangladesh, whose sovereign wills refused to kowtow to the terror and tyranny of Pakistan. The progenies of Bangladesh sacrificed their lives for their beloved motherland. A friend named India ensured the sacrifice would not go in vain.

But as facts should be looked in the face, India had to prepare ground for its armed intervention. It was not merely a 14-day affair. On December 3, 1971 aerial attacks were launched over various parts of India by the Pakistani air force. Thereafter, India’s then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi retaliated by launching a full-scale war with Pakistan. Thus, she took the bull by the horns. But that was not the beginning.

In Indira Gandhi: A Biography by Pupul Jayakar, the author describes a meeting that took place between Indira, the then prime minister of India, and Chief of the Indian Army Staff Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.

Manekshaw had divulged the details of the meeting to Jayakar, a childhood friend of Indira’s, in an interview.

Following the March 25 genocide commonly known as ‘Operation Searchlight’, there was a huge avalanche of refugees pouring into India for the sake of life and security.

The refugees were swelling in numbers with each passing day and the situation was going haywire. It was mounting on the Indian economy and this situation prompted the chief ministers of Tripura, Assam and West Bengal to solicit the prime minister’s intercession.

‘If we go to war now, we will lose’

On April 25, 1971, Indira Gandhi summoned a cabinet meeting in which Chief of the Indian Army Staff Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was present as well.

“Do you know what is happening in East Pakistan?” Indira asked.

“Yes, there are killings,” replied Manekshaw.

Indira referred to the epistles from the chief ministers seeking her intervention and said, “Refugees are pouring in. You must stop them. If necessary, move into East Pakistan but stop them.”

“You know that means war!” Manekshaw exclaimed.

“I don’t mind if its war,” Indira said.

Manekshaw explained the dangers. Owing to the outbreak of monsoon, troop movements would be confined to roads, the rest of the land would be marshy, and the rivers would become like oceans.

“The Air Force will not be able to operate. I will be tied down,” he added.

He further added that large contingents of troops were held in West Bengal, to check the Naxalites. It would take him one-and-a-half months to bring them together – they would have to be re-trained.

“Harvesting has started in Punjab and Haryana. If the country goes to war in harvest time, I will have to take over all the roads, all the horses, for troop movements. If food cannot be transported, there will be a famine.”

Summing up the situation, the outspoken Manekshaw said, “If India wages a war now, I guarantee you 100% defeat.

The Prime Minister was getting redder in the face. She postponed the meeting till 4 PM, but asked Manekshaw to stay back.

The formidable army chief asked the PM whether she wanted his resignation in the light of what he said. “But I have to tell you the truth,” he added.

“All right, Sam; go ahead – I trust you,” said Indira with an approving smile.

Rigorous preparations were undertaken since then. No space was given to hasty decisions.

And this is why India carried off the palm in the long run.

Formation of the provisional government

Bikach Chaudhuri, who wrote ‘Lokkho Muthite Jhorter Thikana: Bangladesher Muktijuddho o Tripura.’ reported the Liberation War from the front for Tripura-based daily Dainik Sambad in 1971.

He writes that within three days of Operation Searchlight, then BSF inspector general Golok Majumder received information from his contacts in East Pakistan that some senior Awami League leaders were heading for Kushtia in the garb of poor peasants.

Around March 30, Tajuddin Ahmed and Amirul Islam met Golok Majumder along the Kushtia border seeking assistance. Thence, a few days were spent between the BSF and the two Awami League leaders discussing the future course of action.

Tajuddin and Amirul Islam met Indira Gandhi at Delhi on April 4. There was a series of follow-ups till April 9. The meetings were a success.

A brief constitution for a Presidential form of government with a prime minister and cabinet was drafted by Col NS Bains, the chief law officer of BSF. It was vetted by Subrata Roy Chowdhury, a barrister from Kolkata. Finally, it was shown to Tajuddin Ahmed and his colleagues who approved it with minor changes.

As for the swearing-in ceremony of the provincial government which was formed in Agartala’s Circuit House on April 10, 1971 Baidyanath Tala was chosen as the venue as the function was to be covered by the global press.