The Rediff Special/ Jagjit Singh Aurora
The Battle for Bangladesh
In the montage of images that sweep by from the last 50 years, one photograph stands out as
testimony of India's greatest military triumph. It is not a photograph of combat. It is not a visual of
blood and death. It is a rather mundane photograph of two men in uniform signing a
document. One man looks shaken, the other is tall, composed and dignified.
Twentyfive years later, Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora (retired) still retains
that composure, that dignity, that quiet power which made him one of the best-loved officers in
the Indian army. In this first person piece, exclusive to Rediff On The NeT,
General Aurora recalls the battle that gave Bangladesh its freedom.
In 1969, I took over the eastern
army command. In those days, the perceived threat was from China and not
In the 1970 general election in Pakistan, Mujibur Rehman's
Awami League won the largest number of seats and demanded
more autonomy for East Pakistan. Moreover,
Mujib should have been appointed prime minister
of Pakistan. However, this was not accepted by leaders in
Yayha Khan, the then president of Pakistan, ordered an increase
in the military strength in East Pakistan. Pakistani troops
crushed demonstrations at Dacca University. Because Mujib
had tremendous support from Bangladeshi students.
among East Pakistani troops and Yahya Khan disarmed all Bengali
Muslim soldiers. The Bengali border police also revolted. There was
strong resentment among Bengali Muslims against the rulers
of West Pakistan. They did not want Urdu as their language. They
wanted Bengali to be given importance.
We had stationed a large number of troops on the border
as we did not want the situation to flare up between the
two countries. Those days we had two other problems,
one was the border problem with Sikkim and the other was our own
Naxalite problem. We were simply not ready for war.
We were not in a position to withdraw troops from the
Tibet border as the relations with China was not cordial.
Still, we took some troops from the Tibet border to
the East Pakistan border as the situation there was getting worse.
The war could have begun in May 1971. But we did not
want to take that risk as the monsoon was approaching. At the same
time the Naxalite movement was gaining ground in West Bengal.
We had to deploy troops in that area too. For all these
reasons we were on the defensive.
As far as I remember, we started deploying our forces in large
numbers from June 1971. We started moving our military
administrative staff too because our depots were not well equipped
to fight Pakistani troops on the eastern border. Whatever
depots we had were set up during World War II. We also deployed
more troops on the Assam and Tripura borders. Because we
did not want to be caught with our trousers down if we were attacked
on that front by Pakistani forces.
In October, we felt the war would start
sooner or later. This time, we were ready.
Finally, it happened on December 3. Yahya
Khan lost his cool and decided to go in for an air strike and ground
activities on the western front, in Punjab and in Jammu.
Indian airfields close to the Punjab were bombed.
We ordered our troops to move in. In the early
hours of December 4, we started attacking on all fronts.
I had planned the army's attack and defence strategy and
I was sure the war would be over in three weeks.
Eventually, The war ended in 13 days.
The advantage, we had over
the Pakistani army was that we had the tremendous co-operation of
the local population. This made our burden much less. In all these
13 days, we were on the attacking side rather than being defensive.
Our Russian-made tanks were also superior to the Pakistani
But the most important event that led to our victory was that
we deciphered the Pakistani army's codes. The messages
which Pakistani army officers transmitted from one post to another post.
We broke that code.
Finally, General A A Niazi, the Pakistani army commander in East Pakistan,
wanted to give up. So, he conveyed a
message via the American consul general that he wanted
a cease fire. We said we were not interested in a cease fire.
If Pakistan was ready to surrender unconditionally,
we said, only then were we ready for a ceasefire. We promised we would
not harm any Pakistani soldiers. The next day, we got a message,
saying they were ready to surrender and asked if we
could send somebody to define the modalities of
When I discovered they were ready to surrender unconditionally,
I called my staff and congratulated them. After that,
we decided that the Pakistanis must sign the documents publicly.
Ninetyone thousand Pakistani soldiers surrendered publicly.
I don't know why there was a confusion after General Niazi surrendered.
It was reported that I studied with General Niazi
in college. But this was not true. In fact it was Yahya Khan who
was junior to me at the college in Quetta. I knew him. After the war, I made
a statement, saying 'I had the pleasure to study with Yahya.' People
got it mixed up and reported that he was a good friend and I don't
know what not.
Our troops withdrew by March 1972. After that I went for a long
holiday to Africa. Every year
I attend the function on December 16 at Fort William, Calcutta, to celebrate
the victory over Pakistan.
All my life, I have felt proud of this achievement. I feel
good that it is the people of India who
won this victory.
I retired from the Indian army in 1973 at the age of
56. And I feel proud that I won a war before I retired.
As told to Syed Firdaus Ashraf