When freedom triumphed

Discussion in 'Defence & Strategic Issues' started by Galaxy, Nov 26, 2011.

  1. Galaxy

    Galaxy Elite Member Elite Member

    Aug 27, 2011
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    When freedom triumphed

    November 25, 2011

    “You can't live outside history”—Anatomy of a Disappearance, by Hisham Matar

    Indira Gandhi was on a state visit to Bangladesh after the liberation war. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had scheduled a big public meeting at Ramna Maidan—a sprawling open space in the heart of congested Dacca. The dais was in the shape of a country boat, the Awami League symbol. He expressed his wish to build a memorial at the site to honour the Indian soldiers who fought in the war. Mrs G tactfully declined. Her reasoning was simple: a war-ravaged country couldn't afford to waste its limited resources. She wanted 1971 to be Bangladesh's war of liberation rather than an Indo-Pak clash.

    Indira's role in the 1971 Bangladesh liberation struggle has always been about her wearing the pants in the cabinet, having the guts to take on the United States and refusing to bow down to international pressure. And in the face of many more thrilling moments—especially her being pitted against President Nixon and Henry Kissinger—this incident is hardly likely to be remembered. But, perhaps, this was one of her most sensitive gestures.

    It is the war that altered the map of the world. For India, the story of the 1971 war began and ended at this figure—93,000—the number of Pakistanis who surrendered. Forty years later, this fact shines even brighter. Across the border, the win was much more about idealism and the satisfactory feeling of freedom.

    No different from other wars, this one was about courage, bravery, tactics, diplomacy and heroism. In India, her finest generals took centrestage. They planned a perfect war and men like Captain Mulla, who chose not to abandon ship while his sailors were going down, proved that patriotism is much more than just a feeling. In the yet-to-be-born Bangladesh, young students, peasants, doctors, ex Pak army officers and engineers fought shoulder to shoulder with the Indian fauj for their independence. The Indian Army in olive green and the young men in lungis.

    But the war of 1971 is more than just about a victory. It is about the old-fashioned value of friendship—more than har ek friend zaroori hota hai version of the feeling.
    In a world where ‘friendship' between nations is far from altruistic, it may be naïve to believe that the fringe benefits of perhaps beating Pakistan didn't sweeten the plan. The wounds of 1965 were far from healed and a chance to get even would have felt good for the Indian defence establishment, but for the most part, it was the genuine suffering of the Bangladeshi people that moved Indian politicians.

    Nothing prepared Indira for the horrors she saw when she visited refugee camps in Calcutta. She had thought she would be able to deal with them with her experience of them in Delhi, but she couldn't. P.N. Dhar, who went with her, described a scene: “What we saw in the camps defied description. More than the stories of what had happened to them, it was their physical and mental state that assaulted our moral sensibility.”

    It is this spirit of cooperation that goes beyond just the ordinary lump-in-the-throat patriotic fervour however inspiring that may be. Young motivated men went into battle armed with just about basic training to fight for their land. Bangladesh's liberation war may have been a military war that the Indians won, but it was the battle that every Bangladeshi fought. It is acknowledging of this sentiment, which the Indian political class as well as Indian soldiers was aware of, that makes the war special.

    “The contribution of the Mukti Bahini was tremendous,”says Lt. General J.F.R. Jacob. “Due credit must be given to them.”

    Their boldness is something that every fauji will acknowledge. For all intents and purposes, it was the joint forces of the Mukti Bahini and the Indian Army. It may be referred to as the Indo-Pak war by many quarters, but ask almost anyone who fought it, and they will mention how brave the other was in battle. However, there was no question of the Indian Army outstaying its welcome. It moved out as soon as it could. Far from the American brand of help, this wasn't about friendship with long-term commitment.

    After the surrender in Dacca on December 16, at the UN, foreign minister Sardar Swaran Singh passed a note to foreign secretary T.N. Kaul, asking all Indian delegates to meet after the session was over. “We were all curious about the purpose of the meeting,'' writes J.N. Dixit in Liberation and Beyond.

    Singh told them that no Indian delegate should be seen at the bar for the next 48 hours. “He also cautioned us not to be boastful or jingoistic in our conversations with other delegates about the victory of the Indian Army and the liberation of Bangladesh.”

    It is acts like this that make 1971 far more than just a war won.

    The war may have been about togetherness but it was mostly, as Tagore wrote it, “ekla chalo re”. Indira's stand on East Pakistan was not without risk. She was completely alone. Indira with her Santiniketan stint had certainly absorbed this principle. It was her government's complete conviction to throw its weight behind the independence movement—without any international partners till the Soviets came along—that made India a regional superpower.

    The only hyphenated superhero, Spider-man, may have said, “with great power comes great responsibility'', but the wily men—Indira's Kashmiri coterie—understood it. During the 1972 Shimla talks, P.N. Dhar suffered a heart attack and his place was taken by P.N. Haksar. The summit so far was nowhere near cordial. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi “found each other repellent. But in addition to personal antagonism, they clashed on their objectives,'' writes Katherine Frank in Indira.
    However, “the main objective in Haksar's eyes was not to humiliate Pakistan but rather create trust and confidence between it and India. He said to Indira, “You must not forget Versailles Treaty. You don't trample a man who is down and out.” He then did various redrafts of the treaties stressing on bilateralism. A sentiment Gen. Jacob echoed when he talked about the surrender in 1971. He wanted to treat Gen. Niazi with respect.

    1971 is about moments like this. Far away from the limelight, quiet gestures that were as much about bravery, heroism and winning as were the battles that the joint command won. It is about being real super-heroes.

    It is also the story of those who remained unsung or forgotten. Men like Albert Ekka who went into certain death knowing that they would never come back—of men like Uttaia, a JCO who carried ammunition back and forth despite being hit in the battle of Basantar, or 17-year-old Hamidur, who fought bravely in the battle of Dholoi only to die before he was an adult. And it is as much the story of those who will forever remain faceless—women who helped out in refugee camps, men who buried young Mukti jodhhas in Meghalaya praying for them and those who opened up hearts and homes for people who walked across. Ultimately, it is the story of warmth, generosity and the open-heartedness.

    “People opened up their homes completely,'' says veteran journalist Haroon Habib. “I remember, in Calcutta there were people living in the openings of small buildings. The flat owners never once said anything. They also opened up their kitchens to Muslims. They helped women give birth to their children. It was about humanity.”

    Ordinary people did extraordinary things. As refugees came pouring into India, it was impossible for India or Indira to not look east. At the height of it, up to 1,50,000 a day flowed in, says Katherine Frank, and it totalled 10 million in the next months. The horrors of the refugee camps left Indira “so overwhelmed by the scale of human misery that she could hardly speak,'' writes Frank.

    Even the Indian film industry decided to do its bit. As movie actor Waheeda Rahman, who was chairperson of the committee for fundraising for refugees, put it, it was about humanity. George Harrison, of the Beatles, got his accent right with the help of Ustad Ravi Shankar when he crooned “Joy Bangla”.

    “In 1971, the population of Tripura was five lakh and the refugees were five lakh themselves,'' says Colonel Sajjad A. Zahir, who has been given the responsibility to document Friends of Bangladesh. “By October, 789 were wounded and dead in Tripura. They got killed in the retaliation by the Pakistani army. These were ordinary people who had nothing to do with the war. But they never turned on the refugees.”

    Like Indira Gandhi's generous moment of friendship, this part of the 1971 story has been forgotten. As, in some way, have the people who fought it. The last generation of Indian Army tigers—these men fought many wars and lost many men—somehow have retreated in the background. In Tagore's sonar land, instead of fading in the distance, as it has in India, the past is alive, kicking and very much ‘the' present.

    Forty years after, the government under Sheikh Hasina is ensuring that Bangladesh doesn't forget. Over 500 people from all over the world will be honoured for being a friend of Bangladesh to mark the anniversary of the war. Col. Sajjad Zahir is going to remote places to document their contribution and just to say thank you.

    India needs to remember those who fought and those who fought the war without going to the field. And it is more than just about victory. It is about something much more long-lasting and deeper than the rush of triumph. It is about being heroes.

    The Week | When freedom triumphed
  3. The Messiah

    The Messiah Bow Before Me! Elite Member

    Aug 25, 2010
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    Good article :)

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