Forty three years ago India stood tall on this day as the Indian Armed Forces came of age, from fighting tactical battles to perfecting the art of joint services collaboration and multi-theatre war.The Pakistan army’s surrender was a victory of India’s intelligence agencies, diplomacy and the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
On this historical day, Pakistan army’s Commander of East Pakistan – Lieutenant General A.A.K. Niazi – surrendered before Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, who was the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army. Lt Gen Niazi took off his lanyard, badges of rank and pistol and signed the surrender document marking the end of a 13-day blitzkrieg. This was the only war that the independent Indian Army planned, executed and carried out with precision and captured 93,000 prisoners.
I am not going to chronicle the war itself today. I write so that some of my readers do not forget what we as a country did and are capable of doing. Our politicians and governments have all but forgotten 1971. As a result, our younger generation does not know India’s aggressive attitude that was showcased in December 1971. This war created a lot of firsts for us:
- First major victory for a young Indian democracy that helped strengthen the confidence of the leadership and population.
- First time that the Indian leadership took a decisive action on moral grounds.
- First time that we violated the UN Charter.
- First time that we stood up to the US of A, China & Europe.
- First time that we put our heads together to rectify a mistake that the British had made.
- First time that India decided the Bangladeshi immigration problem must have a solution that would give Bangla Desh legitimate freedom.
A country that won a war, liberated it’s neighbour, resolved certain geo political issues in the region did not celebrate this victory in a manner befitting a winner. We let go of our position as a power to reckon with and developed a psyche of shunning/ignoring our defence forces, instead of building the capability & potential of our Armed Forces. Lord Meghnad Desai puts it well, “If we continue to be embarrassed about our Armed Forces, we will never be able to establish leadership in Asia. And it is especially relevant now as Pakistan is not a threat, it is a pin prick, our competitive threat lies in China.”
With the 1971 War, Indira Gandhi achieved a lot, bordering on the impossible. She dismembered Pakistan, permanently reduced its territory and humiliated it militarily. A humiliation from which the country has never recovered, so much so that last week General Pervez Musharraf told a Pakistani channel that he launched the Kargil operation as a ‘tit-for-tat’ for the 1971 war. He lost that war as an army chief, and it was a shame that he brought upon his country is something he conveniently ignored talking about. As did the journalist who interviewed him.
The war also removed any feelings of inferiority of the Indian Armed Forces. Unfortunately, that’s where it stopped. Post 1971, we have become a country that refuses to acknowledge the selfless contribution, sacrifices and service of the defence of this country. We do absolutely nothing to invest emotionally in a victory that took place after 8 centuries of foreign domination. In fact, as a nation, we have done precious little emotional investment in our armed forces.
World over, December 25th marks the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce of the First World War. Homage is being paid to the Indian soldier and his bravery recognized across the European countries. Indian Army’s exploits in Europe, their landing in Marseilles is being celebrated by the French. Israel, even today, celebrates Liberation of Haifa from Ottoman Empire in 1918. Over 900 Indian soldiers became martyrs in a foreign land. Israel acknowledges with gratitude, every year, the supreme sacrifice of those Indian soldiers. It saddens me to say here, in India, we refuse to recognize the victorious exploits of our Armed Forces. 1971 War is all but forgotten by the nation.
A sense of nationalistic pride must be instilled in the younger generation about our achievements and what we are capable of today also. Let us make a beginning by paying tribute to all the known and unknown heroes who have protected India and all Indians for the last 7 decades.
The time has come for us to recognize, acknowledge and salute the soldiers who sacrifice their everything for our something. I felt humbled this morning to meet the war veterans of 1971 at the Vijay Diwas Memorial Service in Bangalore, knowing that they stood tall at our borders, only for us to sleep safely at night.
As a citizen of this great country, I appeal to the 125 crore Indians to pay homage to the Indian Armed Forces, because of whom, we have inherited a favourable geo strategic environment, in which we can build a progressive and prosperous India.