How the Indian Army used a picture to fool Pakistan into surrendering in the 1971 war. Kunwar Rajeshwar Singh Karki brings you an interesting anecdote from his hidden treasure that how 1971 war was won hands down by India.
It is a well established fact that when the 1971 war broke out in the east, the Pakistani army had deployed almost 4 divisions on the borders of East Pakistan, to halt the Indian advance. The Indians on the other hand, tried to bypass these held positions, and reach Dhaka in a Blitzkrieg style attack.
Quite critical to the entire enterprise of forcing an early surrender and taking Dhaka, was the famed parachute drop of troops of the 2nd Battalion Para Regiment, at Tangail to cut off the escape route of the Pakistani 93rd Brigade, retreating from the north to defend Dhaka.
There paras stormed in like a raging stampede, successfully cutting off the 93rd Pak Bde by taking Poongli Bridge, establishing a link up with the Maratha Light Inf, and becoming the first Indian troops to enter Dhaka, thereafter.
Our story, however takes place far from the rice fields of Bangladesh, and in the Directorate of Public Relations of the Indian Army.
The PR officer in Delhi at the time, was Lt col Ramamohan Rao. His job profile was to release information about the Army offensives to the media and press at large. Major General Inder Singh Gill was the Colonel of the Para Regiment at that time. He met Rao before the airdrop, and asked him to ensure good publicity for the event.
Indeed, such publicity was critical in building up pressure on the east Pakistani Military establishment, and thus, to the success of the war mission itself.
As the army had no prior access to Tangail, no photographs of the event could be made available, further throwing a spanner in the works. It was here, that Rao was struck by a brilliant idea. An idea that might as well have turned the course of the war.
He had been to Agra a year earlier, to cover an exercise by the 50th Independent Para Brigade. He quickly fished out one of those pictures, and had it released with the caption that troops of the Indian Para Brigade were airdropped over East Pakistan on the morning of 12th December.
He DELIBERATELY omitted saying that the picture was unrelated to the action, and was actually a file photo from Agra.
For the uninitiated, the 2nd Para Battalion, which was actually airdropped, could not have had more than a mere 700 odd soldiers to it. A brigade by contrast, can have around 4000-5000 men including support elements. Rao had taken a constraint to achieving his aim (the lack of photos), and turned it into a masterstroke.
The next day the International media carried the picture, implying that it was taken from Tangail, and that an ENTIRE Para Brigade was on its merry way to Dhaka, not the single battalion, that was actually deployed.
The rest is history. Gen AAK Niazi, the Pakistani military commander in the East caved in and surrendered over 90,000 of his men. When asked later, as to the reason for his surrender, among other things, Niazi pointed to a copy of the Times London, on his desk, carrying Rao’s picture of the ”Tangail Para drop.”
The 2nd Para entered Dhaka, the first liberator troops in the capital of a new country wrought by the blood of Indians and Bangladeshis alike. Everyone had a gala time, and went back to what they were doing. But what happened AFTER the war?
When the war ended, Rao was hauled up by his boss, and asked to furnish reasons why he hadn’t mentioned that it was a file picture.
Elsewhere, however, R.N. Kao, the founder of India’s premier intelligence agency, the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) smiled to himself as he saw the newspapers carrying proof of Rao’s beautiful bluff. He didn’t need to be told the reasons why.
Lt Col Ramamohan Rao received a phone call later that day. He soon became a ‘Kaoboy’, a early member of the RAW.
About Writer – Kunwar Rajeshwar Singh Karki is an ‘Ex Mayo’ and an ‘Informed Farmer’ currently based in Nainital.