Thursday, May 19, 2011

Whereabouts Of The C-In-C On 16 Dec : 1971

We have been discussing the surrender ceremony held in the afternoon of 16 th December 1971 at the Ramna race course whereby the Pakistani Armed Forces on the soil of East Pakistan, nay Bangladesh, surrendered to the Eastern Command of the Indian Army. The famous, well publicized and popular photograph of the signing ceremony shows Wing Commander AK Khandakar of the Headquarters Bangladesh Forces standing behind General Aurora ( second from left). The Commander-in- Chief of the Bangladesh Forces was not present. Was he invited and did he decline the invitation? Was he invited and he decided to depute Wing Commander Khandakar? Was he not invited at all, instead Wing Commander Khandakar invited? Was neither of them invited? Instead was the government of Bangladesh requested to depute a suitable personality? Where was Osmani on the 14 th or 15 th or 16 th December physically? If he was away from Calcutta then why did he leave Calcutta on the eve of the impending surrender by the Pakistanis in Dhaka? Was there no coordination, or no exchange of vital information, between headquarters of Bangladesh Forces and headquarters of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army? Was it in any way known to Osmani that the headquarters of the occupation army in Dhaka was about to crumble? Did Osmani feel it improper to sit away or stand as an onlooker while Aurora would receive the surrender? Did he feel marginalized or, in other words, were the efforts of the freedom fighters inadequately recognized? The answers are not clearly known. Osmani did not leave an answer in black and white; at least not to my knowledge.       In the last column we quoted General Jacob, who wrote “…unfortunately, Colonel Osmani could not attend the ceremony. The helicopter sent for him was damaged en route by hostile fire and could not be made serviceable in time. His absence has been misrepresented and was to cause problems later…” It is not clear from Jacob’s writing as to where was the helicopter sent? Osmani was physically in the Indian stronghold north of greater Sylhet. In those days one of the General Officers Commanding under the Indian army corps operating in then Sylhet was Major General KV Krishna Rao. Rao later became the chief of army staff of the Indian army. He has written a number of prominent books. One of them is ‘In the service of the nation’ first published by Viking in 2001 and later also published by Penguin Books. I am quoting from General Rao in slight detail.   Talking of the situation of 14-15 December 1971 , on page 109 of the said book, KV Krishna Rao writes “… Bunty and I had been discussing for some time the question of clearance of Sylhet town itself. We came to the conclusion that we should tackle it from the north and east where we already had a bridgehead in the form of 4 /5 Gorkha Rifles, and employ Zia with his East Bengal guerrillas to get behind the enemy and harass him from the west. With the troops on the southern bank of the Surma River, an impression was to be created that the attack was coming from the front, that is, the south. The enemy was to be subjected to considerable bombardment by air and artillery. The corps commander was keen that the enemy was adequately softened down before we attacked to reduce casualties. “Whilst we were conducting the operations in the Sylhet area, I received a message from my colonel general staff, Colonel Pathania, to the effect that General Osmani and his companions were shot up while flying in the area and had fetched up at the main headquarters of the division, where they were being attended to by the doctors. I was rather upset at this news, as this was the last thing that anyone could have wished to happen at this stage of the war. Upon return to my headquarters, I was happy to find that Osmani, though badly shaken, was unhurt and fit. He was wearing his battle uniform, which was drenched with engine oil. He explained to me how the incident came about. “As he hailed from Sylhet, he wanted to be the first among the Bangladeshis to get there, and requested the corps commander to arrange accordingly. The corps commander had told him to meet me at my headquarters, but as he could not contact me he tried to fly over Sylhet and land there, thinking that Sylhet was captured. As the helicopter descended it was fired upon. The pilot flew out to an area outside Sylhet on the Kalaura road and landed on the roadside, and Osmani proceeded in a vehicle from there to my main headquarters. “While Osmani was safe, his chief of staff and ADC (who happened to be the son of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) were wounded, and were being attended to by our doctors. The pilot was the same person who had flown me in the area on the previous day, and after flying back from Sylhet landed him at the same place where he landed me earlier! Although considerable fuel had leaked out, there was just enough for getting till there. I must say that this pilot had shown great presence of mind and flying skill. Osmani reiterated his desire to be the first in Sylhet of Bangladesh leaders. I expressed my faith in the Almighty and assured him that I would personally take him there at the appropriate time, God willing.” On page 116 of the same book, Generao Rao continues “… Soon after the capture of Sylhet, General Osmani once again contacted me about his visit. As soon as we made Sylhet safe enough, I invited him. I personally accompanied him on the visit. The first place that we went to was the Dargah Hazrat Shah Jalal, which is a shrine respected by people of all faiths and where Osmani’s parents were buried. There was quite a big crowd shouting slogans like ‘Joy India’, ‘Joy Indira Gandhi’, ‘Joy Indian Army’, even ‘Joy Krishna Rao’, but, strangely, hardly anything about Osmani! I felt a little embarrassed and told them that Osmani Shabeb who was their chief during the war was here and had come to see them at the first opportunity. Osmani himself felt very happy to be the first visitor from the Bangladesh government.” Earlier in this column we quoted five lines from the book by General Jacob. He had said, “…His absence has been misrepresented and was to cause problems later…”  Indeed the feeling that absence of Osmani would continue to pose problems were expressed by others also. JN Dixit was a young diplomat with less than twelve years service when he was asked to be in charge of the specially created Bangladesh desk in the ministry of foreign affairs of the Government of India in 1971. Later, early in 1972 when it became urgently necessary to open a diplomatic mission in Dhaka, the Government of India decided to send JN Dixit to do the job; although a high commissioner followed in a few weeks time. In his famous book titled ‘Lbieration and Beyond: Indo-Bangladesh Relations’ published by The University Press Limited in 1999 , Dixit writes (page 109) : “… A major political mistake at the surrender ceremony was the Indian military high command’s failure to ensure the presence of General M.A.G. Osmani, Commander from the Bangladesh side on the Joint Command, at the ceremony and making him a signatory. The formal excuse explaining his absence was that his helicopter did take off but could not reach Dhaka in time for the surrender schedule. But there was widespread suspicion that his helicopter had been sent astray so that he could not reach Dhaka in time and the focus of attention at the ceremony was riveted on the Indian military commanders. This was an unfortunate aberration which India could have avoided. The event generated much resentment among Bangladeshi political circles. Osmani’s presence at the surrender ceremony could have helped in avoiding many of the political misunderstandings which affected Indo- Bangladesh relations in the initial days of Bangladesh’s independence.” We hope some day, someone, with authenticity, will clarify the matter for the satisfaction of the present generation of Bangladeshis. Why was Osmani not a signatory in the receiving side or at least not even present at the surrender ceremony?