Lt Gen Jack Farj Rafael Jacob, who died Wednesday, was most celebrated for his role in the 1971 war when he was Chief of Staff of Eastern Command in Calcutta, his birthplace. The endgame of Pakistan’s surrender on December 16, 1971, has his imprint.
When General A A K Niazi, commander of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan, invited Jacob to discuss a ceasefire, Jacob flew to Dhaka with an instrument of surrender. In his book Surrender at Dacca – Birth of a Nation, Jacob writes he did not fully inform Army headquarters, including Field Marshal S H F J Manekshaw, of the instrument of surrender.
In Dhaka he told General Niazi, he writes, that by accepting his offer of a public surrender, he and his defeated soldiers would receive the protection of the Indian Army. Else, the consequences were for Niazi’s to face. There were only 3,000 Indian troops in Dhaka against Pakistan’s 26,000 but Niazi accepted Jacob’s offer, leading to surrender of 93,000 Pakistanis. Niazi later told the Pakistani enquiry commission on the 1971 war that “Jacob blackmailed me”.
Jacob’s recounting of his role in the 1971 war created a controversy. He claimed in his book he took the decision to race to capture Dhaka, against Manekshaw’s orders to capture other areas. Many felt Jacob was trying to appropriate a bigger role during the war at the cost of other top leaders such as Lt General J S Aurora and Manekshaw.
Born in 1923 to a Jewish family with Iraqi roots, Jacob went to a boarding school in Darjeeling and joined the Indian Army in 1941, at age 18, against the wishes of his father. The war in North Africa was over by the time his artillery brigade was dispatched there to reinforce the British Army. From there, Jacob’s unit was sent to Burma where he fought the Japanese till the end of the World War II.
Jacob retired in 1978. After an unsuccessful stint in business, he joined public life as an adviser to the BJP on military affairs. He served as the governor of Goa in 1998, a period of political instability in the state. From there, he moved to Punjab as a governor.
Jacob was a skilled painter, a lover of antique art, a fan of Western classical music, an enthusiastic angler and a lover of poetry. While fighting in World War II, he carried a slim, rice-paper edition of the Oxford Book of Modern Verse in the back pocket of his uniform, which he read during lulls in battle.
Jacob was also celebrated in Israel, where his uniform hangs in the Israeli military museum. He is featured in John Colvin’s book on Jewish military heroes, Lions of Judah. Jacob was an advocate of strong India-Israel relations.
But he rejected all offers to move to Israel. “I am proud to be a Jew, but am Indian through and through. I was born in India and served her my whole life. This is where I want to die,” he once said.
A wish that came true Wednesday.