1971 War: Dhaka or Bust?

1971 war was the finest hour of Indian Army. In a quick, decisive, well planned & well executed campaign, Indian Army carved out a new nation on the face of earth - Bangladesh.  It was a remarkable campaign when different departments of Indian Govt. - Armed Forces, Defense Ministry, External Affairs Ministry, Home Ministry, Finance Ministry, Indian Railways, RAW etc worked like well oiled machine to surprise the world with what it achieved in just 12 days. Indian Army was led by Field Marshal S.H.F.J. Manekshaw who had Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora as Eastern Army commander & Lt. Gen. JFR Jacob was the 'Chief of Staff' (COS) of Eastern Command.

Gen. Jacob has been very critical of Field Marshal Manekshaw & Gen. Aurora about their operational plans of 1971 war. In his book "Surrender at Dacca - Birth of a Nation", he has mentioned that the objective of Army Headquarters (HQ) was never Dhaka & it was to capture as much territory of erstwhile East Pakistan as possible to install an interim Govt so that millions of refugees, who had been coming to India since April 1971, can be sent back to their home land. Gen Jacob claims that it was actually he who insisted that Dhaka must be the final objective & he made final move to capture Dakha. Here is a list of some of the statements he made during an interview given to Forbes Magazine on 15th July, 2011: -

(i) Manekshaw was being pushed by the government to move to Bangladesh in April. He was pushing me. I refused and gave him good reasons. (ii) He had asked for a brief and it was my brief that was read out to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. (iii) We had said Dhaka [should be taken first] but he [Manekshaw] said Dhaka was not important and wanted to take the entry ports. But I disagreed violently. Dhaka is the centre of gravity and in war you go for the centre of gravity. (iv) Manekshaw sent us an order that “you will, by so and so hours, capture the following”, and goes on to list every single town, except Dhaka! To make matters worse for us, he copied it to the three corps. I had to speak to them and asked them to ignore orders. I had to ignore orders.

(Link to the interview - http://business.in.com/interview/close-range/lt-general-jfr-jacob-i-had-to-ignore-orders/26542/1)

He has expressed same views to an interview given to BBC also. In his biography, he again attacked most of his bosses including Gen. Aurora & Field Marshal Manekshaw. These allegations are really very serious. To get a clearer picture, I went through few books & articles written on 1971 war. Here is what I found: -

(i) Manekshaw was being pushed by the government to move to Bangladesh in April. He was pushing me. I refused and gave him good reasons. (ii) He had asked for a brief and it was my brief that was read out to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
In another interview to BBC, Gen Jacob said," Manekshaw called me & asked me to prepare to invade East Pakistan".

(Link to the BBC interview - http://www.bbc.co.uk/hindi/india/2011/12/111214_1971_jacobiv_rf.shtml)

Mrs. Gandhi asked FM Manekshaw to march into Bangladesh for the first & last time when she summoned him to join a cabinet meeting. This is how that meeting proceeded*: -

In that meeting, Mrs. Gandhi read telegrams of different states sharing their border with Bangladesh stating that millions of refugees have been coming to their states & the situation can lead to an economic & social disaster. Then she asked Sam what he was doing about it. Sam answered "nothing. It has nothing to with me. What do you want me to do?" She asked him to march into the erstwhile East Pakistan. Sam said “That means war." She said “I don’t mind if it is war". Sam said "What has bible got to do with it?"

Sardar Swarn Singh said "What has bible got to do with it?" Sam said, “In the first book, the first chapter, the first paragraph of the Bible, God said, 'let there be light & there was light' - so you feel that "let there be war & there is war". Are you ready? I certainly am not ready. I will tell you what is happening. It is now the end of April. In a few days time, 15-20 days time, the monsoon will break & in East Pakistan, when it rains, the rivers become like oceans. If you stand on one side, you can't see the other. I would be confined to the roads. Due to weather conditions, the air force will not be able to support me & the Pakistanis will thrash me- that's one. Secondly, my armored division is in Jhansi- Babina area; another division is in Secunderabad area. We are now harvesting. I will require every vehicle, every truck, all the road space, all the railway space to move my soldiers & you will not be able to move your crops." Sam then turned to Agricultural minister Mr. Fakruddin Ahmed & said, "If there is famine in India, they will blame you. I won’t be there to take the blame." Then he told Mrs. Gandhi, "My armored division, which is my strike force, has got 12 tanks which are operational out of a total of 197 tanks."

Finance Minister, Y. B. Chavan who was a friend of Sam asked, "Sam, why only 12?”

Sam replied, "Sir, because you are the Finance minister. I have been pleading for funds but you said that you have got no money."

Sam again turned to Mrs. Gandhi & said, "Prime Minister, if in 1962, your father has asked me as the Army Chief & not General Thaper (Army Chief during 1962 Indo-China war) and you father had said, "Throw the Chinese out', I would have turned around & told him, 'Look these are the problems.' Now I am telling you what the problems are. If you still want me to go ahead, Prime Minister, I guarantee you 100% defeat. Now you give me your orders".

Then Jagjivan Ram said, “Sam, maan jau na".

Sam said, "I have given my professional view, now the government must take a decision".

The PM did not say anything. She was red in face and said, “Achcha, cabinet char baje milenge".

Everyone walked out; Sam being the junior most was the last to leave.

"Chief, sit down", PM said.

Chief replied, “Prime Minister, before you open your mouth, do you want me to send in my resignation on the grounds of mental health, or physical?"

She Said, "Oh, sit down Sam. Everything you told me, is it true?"

Chief replied "Yes. Look it's my job to fight. It is my job to fight to win. Are you ready? I certainly am not ready. Have you internally got everything ready? Internationally have you got everything ready? I don’t think so. I know what you want, but I must do it in my own time and I guarantee you 100% success. But I want to make it quite clear. There must be one commander. I don’t mind working under the BSF, under the CRPF, under anybody you like. But I will not have a soviet telling me what to do and I must have one political master who will give me instructions. I don't want the refugee ministry. Home ministry, defense ministry all telling me. Now make up your mind."

PM said, "All right Sam, nobody will interfere, you will be in command."

"Thank you, I guarantee your accomplishment.”


Need not to say that Manekshaw was not the kind of person who could have been pushed to do anything he did not find professionally right, leave aside committing a blunder like invading East Pakistan without preparation.

Now let’s see, first, what a 'Chief of Staff' is & how this post came to existence. During WWII, Field Marshal Montgomery was commanding the 8th Army in North Africa when he realized that he waste a lot of his precious time in dealing with matters that have little operational value or little importance. He came up with the idea of 'Chief of Staff' and appointed Fracis de Guingand as his 'Chief of Staff' to work on such matters and to coordinate functioning of all senior Staff officers. Most armies of the world adopted the system. Now Lt. Gen. Jacob was 'Chief of Staff' of Eastern Command. He was responsible for the coordination of Senior Staff Officers in the Eastern Command & he did that job very well.

Indian Army is considered as one of the most disciplined armies of the world & they follow their chain of command in its letter & spirit. And IT IS NEXT TO IMPOSSIBLE THAT an Indian Army chief would call 'Chief of Staff' of Eastern Command & not the Eastern Army Commander to give any order or to have any assessment. Moreover before becoming Army chief, Manekshaw was Eastern Army Commander & it is too hard to believe that he did not know the terrain of Bangladesh. The logistic challenges in the East Pakistan, that Sam talked about in the cabinet meeting, is not a top secret. It is something that a normal student of Military history would know about. So it is baseless to say that a thorough professional like Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw would have called Gen. Jacob directly to know challenges in the area he had already commanded for years.

(iii) We had said Dhaka [should be taken first] but he [Manekshaw] said Dhaka was not important and wanted to take the entry ports. But I disagreed violently. Dhaka is the centre of gravity and in war you go for the centre of gravity.

Geographical location of Dhaka is such that it can be defended by a dedicated small force for months so initially it was considered that Dhaka can be forced to surrender by a prolonged siege & not by a direct assault but the campaign had to be completed within 3 weeks. Because it was anticipated that international powers would enforce a ceasefire and the outcome of the campaign would be stalemate just like 1965 Indo-Pak war. Declassified documents of CIA & the US State department shows that New Delhi had assured Moscow that campaign in East Pakistan will complete in about 10 days.

To get Pakistan forces out of Dhaka bowl, the India-East Pak border was kept alive through continuous skirmishes all along the border using Mukti Bahini backed by BSF. Taking this bait, Gen A.A.K Niazi, commander of Pakistan forces in East Pakistan, deployed his forces on the border against Mukti Bahini's actions & in the towns on the possible lines of Indian Advance to turn them to 'fortresses'. Pak troops deployed (in company strength) on the border were to fight till they were ordered to withdraw to their designated 'fortress' where they were to fight till the end. But towards the end of November 1971, he issued another order prohibiting any withdrawal of troops holding forward position unless 75% causalities had been sustained. Niazi adopted this plan so as to delay advance of Indian army till international powers enforce a ceasefire. This plans looked fine on paper but it proved fatal for Pak forces.

As per the book "India's wars since independence" by Maj. Gen. Sukhwant SIngh (who was Deputy Director of Military Operation(DDMO) in Army Headquarters, New Delhi), the Indian plan was evolved by Lt. Gen. K.K. Singh (DMO) & the plan was discussed with Eastern Army Commander, different formation commanders & the Field Marshal Manekshaw himself. After many corrections, the final plan was to attack the Dhaka bowl from 3 sides with maximum speed while by-passing heavily defended fortress & capturing the main communication centers. The attack had to be as fast as possible to gain as much territory as possible while moving in general direction of Dhaka. As Gen Sukhwant Singh mentioned on page#59: -

"Once the enemy was defeated in detail by this maneuver, the race for Dacca would be started by any formation in a position to do so. It was fully appreciated that without the capture of Dacca the campaign could not be concluded successfully."

Again on page#79, he wrote: -

"Because of these limitations the higher command, in assigning tasks to Eastern Command, did not spell out the capture of Dacca but left it to be considered during the conduct of operations as and when opportunity offered itself."

Let me mention few more evidences.

In another book "India's army after independence", Maj. K. C. Praval wrote on page#324: -

"However, a reappraisal towards the end of November led to a change in the orders & Aurora was told that the whole of East Pakistan was to be occupied, with the Dacca as the prime objective."

After Lt. Gen. K. K. Singh left DMO office, Lt. Gen. Inderjit Singh Gill became Officiating DMO. In his books, Lt. Gen Jacob has praised Gen Gill more than anyone else. Jacob said that Inder was only officer in Army HQ who had his head on his shoulders & the one who held his (Jacob's) hand in New Delhi. Because during the war, Jacob informed Gill that he wanted to move 123, 167 & 5th Mountain Brigade which gen Gill (as DMO) approved & later on 6th Dec, Jacob requested to move 167th & 5th mountain Brigades into East Pakistan in order to push the advance on Dhaka. Manekshaw was not available at that time, so Gen Gill approved the request. In 2007, Gen Jacob sent a copy of his book to Inder Gill. In that copy, next to line that says "...In Gen. Manekshaw's orders surprisingly, no mention was made of Dacca...” Inder wrote a fitting remark BULLSHIT. Towards the end of Nov, 1971, the plans were revised & it was envisaged that 4th Corp would cross over Meghna river & would advance to Dhaka from the east & 101 Communication Zone along with 95 Mountain Brigade would advance to Dhaka from the north, which is exactly what happened.**

In 1992, during a discussion about 1971 war operations at College of Combat, Mhow Gen. Gill cleared that :-

“The objectives given to the Eastern Command in the army HQ Operational Instruction were the areas up to the main river lines. Dacca was not included as an objective. This was because it was considered at the time planning was done, that Eastern Command would not have the capability of capturing the whole of East Pakistan before a ceasefire was enforced upon us.

The importance of Dacca as the main objective was made clear in August although no formal amendment to the Army HQ Operational Instruction was sent out until late November. The amendment, when it was sent out, was that the objective of Eastern Command was the capture of whole of East Pakistan."***

(iv)Manekshaw sent us an order that “you will, by so and so hours, capture the following”, and goes on to list every single town, except Dhaka! To make matters worse for us, he copied it to the three corps. I had to speak to them and asked them to ignore orders. I had to ignore orders.

As stated above, the objective (Dhaka) was clear to Army HQ by August & plans were readjusted formal notification was sent to eastern Command at the end of Nov, 1971. Capturing ports of Chittagong and Khulna were given priority in the beginning because it was anticipated that Pak Army will get reinforcements through these ports as Indian Air Force will have air superiority within initial days of the war & will not allow any reinforcement by air. These two ports could also have been used by Pak Army to escape to West Pakistan or any other neutral country. So securing these ports was important. But when Naval Chief of Staff, Admiral S.M. Nanda gave assurance that he will secure the sea access to East Pakistan through these ports, task of securing these ports was given low priority. And that’s exactly how the war proceeded.

Looking at the discipline & chain of command maintained by Indian Army, anyone who is familiar with Army's way of working would fail to understand how (& when) a 'Chief of Staff'  can ask corp commanders to ignore orders given by the Army Chief. Even if he does so, there is no way that the corp commanders will follow order of COS against the order given by the Army Chief. For God's sake, we are talking about Indian Army.

In his interview to Forbes, BBC & in his books, Gen Jacob has said that he is not a medal hunter or glory hungry person but from all the noise he has been making, it looks like he is trying to snatch the main spot in the picture of most glorious moment of Indian Army. Perhaps that why he can be seen right besides Gen Niazi giving a nice pose to the photographers with a broad smile where as all other generals are looking down at the surrender document.


* Leadership Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw by Maj. Gen. Shubhi Sood, SDS publishers, pp147.

** Born to dare - The life of Lt. Gen. Inderjit Singh Gill, PVSM, MC, Penguin Publications, pp203.

*** India's Armed Forces - Fifty Years of War & Peace, Major Gen. Ashok Krishna, Lancer Publisher, 1998,pp 98-99