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Why does India want to hide its war documents?

May 12, 2010 16:12 IST

India was not involved in genocide in Bangladesh for it to shred the papers related to the 1971 war. Their release could have been controlled, even delayed, but to destroy it was a crime, writes Mahesh Vijapurkar.

It was the 1975-76 sports season and the Indian Army chief, Sam Manekshaw was down in Hyderabad to address a press conference on a sporting event. As a sports reporter, I was there at the Fatehmaidan Club in the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium.

At lunch, when Sam Bahadur started circulating, with a shandy in his hand, I approached him for a brief conversation. I asked him how did the Bangladesh war go, and what the Mukti Bahini was and where did the Radio Betaarkendra operate from.

He minced no words and in seven terse words, explained the extent of Indian involvement with the Mukti Bahini. The radio was operating, he said, out of a ship on the river Hoogly. Immediately after, he added for good measure, "You print that and I shall come after you; you'll be dead!"

That was his way of saying it was off the record, I assumed. Several such off the record conversations take place between journalists and sources of information. He wanted to keep it that way but before I could have it clarified, I was elbowed out by another journalist who wanted to shoot the breeze with the hero.

My impression at that moment was that Manekshaw did not want another ruckus in Parliament like the one he had triggered by an interview to a student-journalist of a New Delhi journalism school's tabloid laboratory paper. He had told the reporter that if he'd been the Pakistani general during the wars with Pakistan, Pakistan would have won. It was his way of explaining to the aspiring journalist that a thinking general with a strategy can win a war and that Pakistan had made some mistakes.

That caught the fancy of newswires around the world for the United News of India picked up the story and spread it. The student became a celebrity but Manekshaw was in trouble.

The MPs had taken it amiss and thought that India could be defeated, forgetting that Chinese had had the better of India earlier. They were appalled at the gall of an Indian general saying he could defeat India! That was why the assumption that he wanted to keep the conversation with me off the record.

However, I managed a moment with Mankeshaw and asked him why he wanted it off the record. Didn't the Pakistanis know? He said, "They may know, but we just don't want to confirm it, do we?"

Now all that becomes clear. The destruction of all war-related records on the Eastern border points to the fact that India was deeply involved in helping the Bangladeshis even before the war had actually started and the country was liberated. The freedom fighters there, in coloured lungis, had fought valiantly but they apparently had substantial help beyond the training camps.

Those seven words, in the context of the revelations that documents were shred points to that. Not that the Pakistanis did not know what had happened. Perhaps the shredding of the documents was to ensure that there was no paper trail.

Those seven terse words of the field marshal indicated that Indian help to Bangladesh was not confined merely to running training camps for the freedom fighters but went much beyond that. The dismemberment of Pakistan in that war was done with care, with lot of details worked out, a lot of preparatory work even before the first shot was fired on the Eastern Sector.

Obviously, the field marshal was scarce inclined to put anything on record then. But history cannot be starved of facts relating to turning points in the sub-continent.

Of course, there is the feeling in academic circles that Indian establishment is parsimonious with information even if relates to historic events and that valuable records are kept away from public scrutiny which would enable a country have a well-fleshed, documented history.

Going by the media reports emanating from New Delhi, it points to a deliberate plan to starve even the archives of the documents. It was not as if India was involved in genocide in Bangladesh for it to have wanting to shred the papers. Their release could have been controlled, even delayed, but to destroy was a crime.

And why should India fight shy of letting the world know its role in the sub-continent?

Mahesh Vijapurkar