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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 1, New Delhi, December 19, 2020

India was prepared to enter East Pakistan much before Dec’71 | Sankar Ray

Saturday 19 December 2020

by Sankar Ray

The continuous inflow of thousands of people from the erstwhile East Pakistan into eastern India, mainly West Bengal, followed by Assam and Tripura, following a crackdown by military-feudal clique of West Pakistan, led by General Yahya Khan, Pak dictator-in-power in retaliation to the declaration of independence by the Awami League President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman left the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with no choice other than asking the Indian military command to march into beleaguered East Pakistan and help the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army for setting up the sovereign democratic republic of Bangladesh.

The refugees from Bangladesh-in-the-womb-of-contemporary-history crossed 10 million between end-March and mid-July 1971, according to rough estimates by international human rights organizations. Sheltering, feeding, caressing and minimising deaths and permanent disabilities put excessive pressure on the national economy.

Dr Ranen Sen, a CPI MP and a national council member of the party, of whom I had been intimately associated for a few years in the tail end of his life as his private secretary shared with me his meeting with Mrs Gandhi along with other MPs such as Priya Ranjan Das Munshi of Congress after the information to the Indian intelligence that the then US President Richard Nixon might direct the US Navy’s seventh fleet, led by the USS Enterprise nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to push into Bay of Bengal to frighten India to withdraw its offensive against East Pakistan – essentially to help the Mukti Bahini. “Extremely worried as we were”, said Dr Sen,” we told her, ‘Ports like Chittagong and Vizag would be converted into wooden dust and existence of both Indians and Bengalis on both the countries would be in peril. We also said that the Chinese gunboats were too in the Bay of Bengal, pressed against the Indian naval flee A visibly unperturbed Mrs. Gandhi replied, ‘You, Bengalees, are by nature emotional. No point in being worried. Please wait and leave it to us’. She paused and asked when would the soil of Bangladesh would get solidified after the monsoon. We replied, ‘End November’. She told us confidentially that the Indian armed forces would enter East Pakistan on and around 3 December. We came back to our MP apartments. At night, we heard in the overseas radio news that the Soviet Red Army had inflicted heavy damage to China’s People’s Liberation Army along the Sino-Soviet borders. I got the message the Prime Minister wanted to convey.”

The rest is history.

The alert Soviet military intelligence helped the USSR authorities, with Leonid Brezhnev to timely dispatch Soviet nuclear submarines and other surface ships to trail the Seventh Fleet Task Force 74.

The nature of convoluted Cold War schemes of President Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger is explained well in their conversations on 10 December 1971 (by the time, the Pakistani military in the west was demoralised and about to collapse in the face of the Indian Army and Air Force) divulged by the US media, excerpts of which follows.

Nixon: Our desire is to save West Pakistan. That’s all.

Kissinger: That’s right. That is exactly right.

Nixon: All right. Keep those carriers moving now.

Kissinger: The carriers—everything is moving. Four Jordanian planes have already moved to Pakistan, 22 more are coming. We’re talking to the Saudis, the Turks we’ve now found are willing to give five. So we’re going to keep that moving until there’s a settlement.

Nixon: Could you tell the Chinese it would be very helpful if they could move some forces or threaten to move some forces?

Kissinger: Absolutely.

Nixon: They’ve got to threaten or they’ve got to move, one of the two. You know what I mean?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: How about getting the French to sell some planes to the Paks?

Kissinger: Yeah. They’re already doing it.

Nixon: This should have been done long ago. The Chinese have not warned the Indians.

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: All they’ve got to do is move something. Move a division. You know, move some trucks. Fly some planes. You know, some symbolic act. We’re not doing a goddamn thing, Henry, you know that.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: But these Indians are cowards. Right?

Kissinger: Right. But with Russian backing. You see, the Russians have sent notes to Iran, Turkey, to a lot of countries threatening them. The Russians have played a miserable game.

If the two American leaders were calling Indians cowards, a few months earlier the Indians were a different breed altogether. Nixon: The Indians need—what they need really is a—

Kissinger: They’re such bastards.

Nixon: A mass famine. But they aren’t going to get that…But if they’re not going to have a famine the last thing they need is another war. Let the goddamn Indians fight a war.

Kissinger: They are the most aggressive goddamn people around there”

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