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On Dec.12 1971, a psy-op that aided the Tangail pradrop: Bangla war

By I. Ramamohan Rao, New Delhi, Dec.12 : I had the unique opportunity of being the Public Relations Officer of the Army in New Delhi during the the 1971 India Pakistan operations.


As an officer in the Directorate of Public Relations, I was attached to the office of the Army Chief, General S.H.F.J. Manekshaw, who later became a Field Marshal for his role in the war.

Pakistan had nearly four divisions in its eastern wing. Three divisions were deployed along the border with India to plug the main arteries that converged into East Pakistan. The Pakistan military thought that if the roads were blocked, the Indian Army would not be able to reach Dacca.

During the first week of the war, the Indian Army tried to negotiate the rivers and be at the rear of the Pakistan Army. The Indian Air Force neutralised the Pakistan Air Force in its Eastern Wing within the first two days of the war and the Sea Hawks of the Indian Navy's aircraft Carrier INS Vikrant flattened landing sites at Chittagong and Cox's Bazar.

In addition, surprise attacks by the Indian Navy through missile boats in the West tied down the rest of the Pakistan Navy, which suffered the loss of a submirine Ghazi, which was stalking the INS Vikrant.

Much to the surprise of the Commanders of the Pakistan Army in the East, the Indian Army dropped troops of the Para Brigade in Tangail on December 12 in the rear of the Pakistani Forces.

I remember running into the Director of Military Operations, Major General Inder Gill, when he told me the previous morning that the Indian Army would be organizing a para drop and asked me to ensure good publicity for the event. Major General Gill was the Colonel of the Para Regiment and I knew that publicity for the paradrop was vital for the operation.

I requested the Chief Public Relations Officer of the Eastern Command, Colonel B.P. Rikhye, to ensure maximum press coverage at his end. I was disappointed on the morning of December 12, when he told me that he could not arrange for the pictures as the paradrop originated from a place where he had no access.

It occured to me that I had gone to Agra a year or so earlier to cover an exercise by the Para Brigade. I rushed to the defense photo section and dug out the photograph printed and released in Delhi of the Agra event. This picture was released with a caption that said troops of the Indian Para Brigade were airdropped over East Pakistan on the morning of twelfth December. I deliberatly eliminated saying that it was a file photograph. Not a lie, but not the complete truth either. The photograph made it appear that an entire para prigade had been airdropped.

The picture of the paradrop was published on the front pages of the newspapers all over the world, including leading newspapers in the United Kingdom like the Times, London, and the New York Times in the United States.

The march of the Indian paratroopers from Tangail towards Dacca unnerved the Pakistan Army. The Indian Army had taken steps to ensure that the mobility of the Pakistani troops towards Dacca from the positions they had taken earlier were blocked.

On one of those afternoons, I was called to the Army Chief's room to ensure the recording of the message to Pakistani troops in the East Pakistan. The Secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing, R.N. Kao and the Director of External Publicity S.K. Singh, who later became the Foreign Secretary were present.

The substance of the message, which was in Urdu from Sam Manekshaw to the Pakistani soldiers was: You are living in hostile territory among a population who hate you. You are surrounded. The Pakistani Air Force in the East has been grounded and no reinforcements are possible. The ports are under the control of the Indian Navy. I give you an assurance with full authority as the General of the Indian Army that if you surrender you will be looked after honourably and I will ensure that you will be able to return to your families safely.

Simultaneously, surrender documents were printed with the message of Sam Manekshaw and airrdropped at various places in the east. These were drafted by Col. V. Longer, who was earlier Director of Public Relations in the Ministry of Defence, and had joined the Research and Analysis Wing.

The message of Sam Manekshw was broadcast over the All India Radio in national and medium wave channels from Calcutta at frequent intervals. The surrender documents were airdropped too.

Events came to a close quickly. The march of the paratroopers, the march of Indian formation from the Tripura border, led by Lt. Gen. Sagat Singh, coupled with the messages from Sam Manekshaw, and the pressure built up by the Mukti Bahini, unnerved the Pakistan Army. Major General J.F.R. Jacob, the Chief of Staff of Eastern Command, who flew to Dacca, was able to bring pressure on Lt.Gen. A.A. K. Niazi and finalised the details of the surrender to the Indian Army. Lt. Gen. J. S. Aurora flew to Dacca to accept the surrender.

I had known that the surrender was to take place on December 16, but could not tell anyone. The privilege was that of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who announced it in Parliament.

The war was over.

A week later I heard from an officer who was present in Dacca after the momentous days, that when asked why the Pakistan Army surrendered , even though it could have held on for weeks, Lt.Gen.Niazi pointed at a copy of the Times London, which was on his table which carried a photograph of the airdrop of the troops of the Indian Para Brigade. as one of the reasons.

I felt that I too had played a small part in bringing the war to an early end.

I had to fight a 'war' in my office in Delhi later when I had to furnish reasons why I did not mention that the photograph I released was a file picture. My boss sought an 'explanation' from me. But in another room, in another office, a certain R. N. Kao smiled and appreciated my work. I soon became a Kaoboy.

e.mail. rao ramamohan@hotmail.com

--ANI (Posted on 13-12-2013)

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