On December 16, 2017, the official Twitter and Facebook accounts of the Additional Directorate General of Public Information (ADGPI), IHQ of MoD (Indian Army) -- with more than 5 million followers combined -- wrote the following: “16 December 1971. On this day, 46 years ago, 93,000 Pakistani troops raised white flags and surrendered to the #IndianArmy #IndoPakWar71 #VijayDiwas #[email protected]
A popular Twitter account called @IndiaHistorypic with about 550,000 followers also tweeted the same sort of misinformation -- “1971: Pakistan Soldiers Surrender to Indian Army In Bangladesh. 93,000 Soldiers Surrendered and Were Sent Back to Pakistan” (they have removed the tweet ever since, after this article’s author pointed it out).
The ADGPI of the Indian Army repeated the same sort of false information about the surrender at Sylhet, again in both its Twitter and Facebook accounts, where it wrote: “16-17 December 1971. Surrender at Sylhet. Two Pakistani Brigadiers signed surrender documents in presence of the then Commanding Officer 4/5 GR(FF), Lt Col A B Harolikar. 107 officers, 219 JCOs & 6,229 other ranks of Pak surrendered to the #IndianArmy #VijayDiwas #IndoPakWar71.”
This tweet was even re-tweeted by the official twitter account of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.
This is simply false. This falsehood was re-tweeted and shared thousands of times, thus adding to the culture of jingoistic misinformation that exists around such matters. The spreading of such misinformation from such powerful government agencies is a matter of very serious concern.
Get your facts straight
The truth is, in the territory of Bangladesh, no surrender to the Indian Army took place. All the surrenders were to the Joint Command of the Indian and Bangladesh Forces in the Eastern Theatre.
In the 1971 Bangladesh liberation struggle, the India Bangladesh Joint Command forces or Mitrobahini (Alliance army, an alliance between Indian Army and Bangladesh Liberation forces like Muktibahini and Mujibbahini) as it is called by Bengalis, provided the final push in what was already a widespread guerrilla struggle.
There was widespread intelligence on the ground that Pakistani Army didn’t have. There were huge swathes of East Bengal that was held by local freedom fighter armies, controlled either by various left-wing groups or pro-Awami League groups like Tangail’s Kaderia Bahini led by Bongobir Kader “Bagha” Siddiqui.
Thankfully, the Indian Army of the time was not in the business of making random claims and quasi-political statements
Then there was widespread sabotage of Pakistani installations, including the daring amphibious attack by Bengali freedom fighters on the Chittagong port that crucially disabled the Pakistani Navy and supplies including oil. Then there were Muktibahini units which fought alongside the Indian Army as part of the joint command during the final push.
In fact, the first attack in that final assault was done by the rudimentary Bangladesh air force. And, all this happened in the context of years of Bengali nationalist political mobilisation in Bangladesh.
To reduce this to an Indian Army versus Pakistani Army war may suit certain narratives but certainly doesn’t match historical facts on the ground that is well-documented for anyone who would care to look.
And, nothing established this fact more clearly than the text of the final surrender document of the Pakistani forces that happened in Dhaka on December 16, 1971 in the Race Course ground -- nowhere is the term “Indian Army” mentioned in this Instrument of Surrender.
Gimmicks and games
Spreading of misinformation from an official Twitter account of ADGPI, Indian Army is a serious matter because, surely, truth should not be a casualty in an army formed under the aegis of a constitution whose motto is “Satyameva Jayate” (Truth always wins).
This is also in violation of the “Policy on use of Social Media by All Ranks in the Indian Army” that has been posted by the Facebook account of the ADGPI, Indian Army, which clearly states: “Users of social media, both serving and veterans are cautioned to verify the facts before accepting content circulation in social media as truth.”
Does this not apply to the people running the official ADGPI social media accounts themselves?
Why is it so important that “Joint Command” was mentioned in the surrender document and not the Indian Army, as ADGPI would like Indian citizens to believe? Firstly, that was the reality. But from the New Delhi stand-point in 1971, this was much more than a technicality.
New Delhi had always maintained, during its feverish diplomatic efforts in the United Nation and various capitals, that it was not the aggressor (which was Pakistan’s constant charge) and that they were merely assisting the already existing armed liberation struggle in the context of a huge refugee influx when no other way was left and, that too, after Pakistan’s declaration of war.
New Delhi maintained this as its position till the very end. In fact, this is why it is said that Indira Gandhi had insisted that the first assault in the Eastern front happened in the hand of a Bengali liberation force. This is the now legendary air sortie.
Today, when the US is Modi’s India’s dear friend, it is easy to forget the Cold War politics at the UN, when the Soviet Union -- siding with India and Bangladesh -- was crucial to the success of the liberation struggle and keeping out China and the US from direct involvement in the Bangladesh war, averting a multi-front struggle that would have been disastrous.
In 1971, if the Indian Army claimed that it had gone in to defeat Pakistan Army all by itself and hand over East Bengal to Bangladeshis, it would have been calamitous. Thankfully, the Indian Army of the time was not in the business of making random claims and quasi-political statements in public forum and TV shows for public consumption. It let the civilian government do the talking, as it should, as per the constitution.
The Indian Army is not an autonomous institution and is squarely under the Ministry of Defense just like any other union government entity is under its corresponding ministry.
Lies, lies, and lies
Outside the Indian Union, in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, a crypto-Islamist narrative exists that uses every opportunity to play down and dilute the crucial role of the Indian Army in the Bangladesh liberation struggle using various conspiracy theories.
Misinformation propagated by official Indian Army sources only adds credibility to the mischievous and communally inspired conspiracy theory peddlers for whom the Hindus of Bangladesh are essentially leftover Indian citizens and the role of the Indian Army in the liberation struggle is synonymous with some “Hindu” role in the liberation struggle that does not fit their narrative.
The present government of Bangladesh is trying to fight these kinds of communal elements and this sort of false claims, but the Indian Army puts the government in a very tough spot. Delhi does not exactly have a good reputation in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka -- and very recently Maldives has swerved into the Chinese camp. New Delhi might want to do a bit of honest soul-searching about why this is the case.
The fact is, East Bengal didn’t join the Indian Union after 1971. It charted its own path, demonstrating that the reality of South Asia is not of one composite nationality or two religion-based nationalities, but of multiple language-based nationalities.
Garga Chatterjee is a political and cultural commentator. He can be followed on twitter @gargac.