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When the war began with General Yahya Khan’s “unlucky strike” on the evening of December 3, 1971, Indira Gandhi was in Calcutta, now Kolkata. She returned to Delhi late at night. After consulting her cabinet colleagues and leaders of opposition parties, who all concurred with her war plans, she addressed the nation at midnight. She appealed to all Indians valiantly to fight the war “forced on us”, and told the world that the Indian army and the Mukti Bahini were fighting under the joint Indo-Bangladeshi command.
It is pointless to give a detailed account of the war because it has already been described, discussed and analysed threadbare. The overall verdict was best summed up by The Sunday Times, London, on December 22, 1971: “It was an achievement reminiscent of the German blitzkrieg across France in 1940.” Even so, a few flaws in the lightning campaign, which lasted only 14 days, need to be noted. The most serious of these was that the occupation of Dacca (now Dhaka) was not even mentioned in the war plans. The directive was to “occupy as much of the Bangladesh territory as possible”. Major General J.F.R. Jacob, chief of staff to Lieutenant General J.S. Aurora, the GOC-in-C of Eastern Army Command and overall field commander, claims that he had included this objective in the plans later. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that local commanders, conscious of the critical importance of taking Dacca, collectively did so.
Capturing Dacca was absolutely necessary. But to get there in an eastward thrust was not easy, because Bangladesh is crisscrossed by many north-south rivers. The dropping of paratroopers helped. It was easier to get to Dacca from the north, where two divisions were deployed, because there are no east-west rivers in Bangladesh. No wonder, then, that Major General Gandharv Nagra, GOC of one of the two northern divisions, was the first to reach the Bangladesh capital. He had even sent a note about his imminent arrival to General A.A.K. Niazi, Pakistan’s overall commander, addressing him as “My dear Abdullah”. The two knew each other well when Nagra was the military attaché at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.
This, however, is no reason to be critical of the higher military leadership for not unleashing both divisions in the north to march southwards. The Indo-Soviet treaty was doubtless a major deterrent to China. The Soviet Union had deployed mechanised troops along the Chinese frontier, especially in Kazakhstan, and the Soviet submarines were keeping a close watch on the movement of American warships in the Indian Ocean. Yet, who could be certain that China would not act irrationally, particularly when there were frequent reports of Chinese troop movements along the disputed border with this country? Therefore, General continued…