A closer look at the 1971 War, accounts by those who participated in it

New Delhi : There have been many publications on the India-Pakistan War of 1971, which has been called the “War of the Century, but the book edited by Major General Ian Cardozo is unique in the sense that it gives us an account of the war narrated by individuals, both civil and military, who participated in it.

Major General Cardozo participated in the war and was wounded at Sylhet in Bangladesh. He overcame the handicap of an amputated limb and became the first disabled officer of the Indian Army to command an infantry battalion, a brigade and a division. I had the opportunity of interacting with him when he was posted at the army Headquarters.

The first few chapters of the book vividly narrate the personal account of the people of Bangladesh, villagers, who suffered tremendously during the crackdown by Pakistani troops in East Pakistan. The Pakistan Army did not even spare its Bengali soldiers. Among the accounts included is the role played by Sepoy Asghar Baluch of the Baluch Regiment.

It also contains an account of the murder and mayhem at the Gandhi Ashram in Noakhali and at Chawk Haldi which left 350 women of the village widowed.

Lt. Col. Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir also provides an account of the murder of Imam Safiruddin Munshi and his children in Mymensingh by Pakistani soldiers.

The second section of the book gives us an account of the role played by units of the Indian Army in the liberation of Bangladesh, like the celebrated Battle of Hilli, the para-drop at Tangail, which was a tough task. It contains accounts of unit commanders of the Indian Army who managed to cross river obstacles and reach the outskirts of Dacca. The Pakistan Army destroyed bridges, but they were reconstructed in a day of two by the engineer units of the Indian Army

The book has an account of the non conventional role played by the 52 Engineer Regiment. Colonel K. S. Mann narrates the triumphant march of the Indian Army from Agartala to Dacca.

The book has a vivid account of the surrender of Pakistani Army units at Comilla

The third section of the book gives a detailed account of the battles fought in the Western sector, like the Battle of the Chicken Neck, which commenced on 5-6 December. It has been narrated by Colonel S.V. Kotwal, ex Regimental Medical Officer of the 11 Guards Regiment. It is followed by a narration of the Battle of Khem Karan, narrated by Colonel Gurdep Singh Gill.

Officers who participated in various battles like the Battle of Bur and the Battle of Ring Contour have narrated their experiences, providing various details of the brave resistance of the units which faced the Pakistan Army.

The fourth section contains the role played by the Indian Air Force. It commences with a memoir of Air Commodore Ashok Shinde, who was asked to proceed on a mission to help army units resisting the Pakistan Army in the Chhamb Sector. The battle started on December 3, which happened to be his birthday.

Air Commodore Manbir Singh narrates the role of the Indian Air Force in neutralizing the Pakistan Air Force in the eastern sector. Vivid accounts of the role of Canberra bombers, both in the eastern and western fronts, are provided by Wing Commander Raghunath. An interesting account of the role played by his unit on every day of the war is provided by Wing Commander Kulbir Singh Harnal.

The fifth and final section gives an account of the naval operations during the war. Rear Admiral S. Ramsagar gives us an account of the role played by the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, which moved to the eastern sector once the crackdown by the Pakistan Army commenced in East Pakistan. At the commencement of the war in December, the Seahawks and Alizes based on Vikarnt were able to neutralise Pakistan air force units in Dacca and Chittagong. They also attacked vessels at Chalna and nearby ports which made it impossible for the Pakistan Army to escape from East Pakistan.

The Indian Navy also achieved remarkable success by carrying out missile attacks on Karachi harbour.

Commodore Vijay Jerath has provided an account of the operations which succeeded in tying up the Pakistan Navy inside the harbour, which destroyed the will of the Pakistan Navy to enter into battle.

Commodore K. P. Mathew has given us an account of the riddle of the sinking of Pakistan submarine PNS Ghazi.

While we have read many publications giving us an account of the India-Pakistan War of 1971, In Quest of Freedom, The War of 1971, provides us with a closer look.

Book review; In Quest of Freedom, The War of 1971, edited by Maj Gen Ian Cardozo, published by Bloomsbury, pages 306, Rs 399

Mr. I. Ramamohan is a former Principal Information Officer of the Government of India. He can be reached at raoramamohan@hotmail.com. (ANI)