We need to celebrate 1971 war by K Yatish Rajawat
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We need to celebrate 1971 war by K Yatish Rajawat

By K. Yatish Rajawat

There is an old saying in the Army in Punjabi "Jine jeet nahi wekhi usay jeetna kaun sikhayega." Loosely translated it means that if one has not seen victory, how can you teach ‘em to win a war.
Today, 16 December, is the 45th anniversary of the 1971 India–Pakistan war, the first war after World War-II that the Indian Army won conclusively. The only war that the independent Indian Army planned, executed and carried out with precision and captured 93,000 prisoners.
Indian Army personnel pay their respects to martyrs of the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 for the Liberation of Bangladesh, during a function in Kolkata on 16 December 2012. AFP. The trouble is that Indian polity wants to forget the 1971 war. They want to forget the aggressive attitude that once occupied center-stage. Even the Congress which could use it very effectively, as it was after Indira Gandhi’s resolve that enabled the war, never really celebrated it.
It was the first major victory for a young Indian democracy and helped strengthen the confidence of the leadership and population. Subsequent generations and populations want to forget it completely. On the other hand the Kargil war which was a misadventure thwarted by Indian Army looms larger in debate and is more celebrated. There is even a Kargil Vijay Diwas, while the 1971 war is referred to as Vijay Diwas (Victory Day). The irony is that the posts that were occupied and conquered in 1971 were the same ones which were occupied by the Pakistan Army in 1999.
Why is it important to remember 1971? It was the first time that the Indian leadership decided to take a decisive action on moral grounds. It was the first time that India violated the UN charter. It was the first time that India handled pressure from US, China and Europe. It was the first time that India decided that an error made by the British in division needed to be corrected by force. It was the first time that India decided that the Bangladeshi immigrant problem could only be addressed if the country was given its legitimacy. There were many other firsts and some of them are also the last for a country that has now forgotten its heroes of this war.
Successive governments have looked at accomplishments of the Indian armed forces as almost an embarrassment, particularly the Congress which ignored the ’71 war anniversary. The expectation from the current government is not to ignore the anniversary and bring it back into public discourse.
There are several reasons for bringing back the victory in the ’71 war into public discourse. It is not only because it was a victory and our armed forces need to be celebrated. Lord Meghnad Desai puts it well, "If we continue to be embarrassed about our Armed forces, we will never be able to establish leadership in Asia. And it is especially relevant now as Pakistan is not a threat, it is a pin prick, our competitive threat lies in China."
The ’71 war cannot be discussed without the debacle and disgrace that India faced in ’62 war at the hands of China. We cannot forget that how ill-prepared the Indian Army was for that conflict. We should not forget the lesson that a nation that ignores its army cannot afford peace. This is also one of the reason that Congress cannot celebrate ’71 as it reminds them of the debacle of ’62.
YD Gundevia
The 60’s was a lost decade for India, two successive wars ’62 and ‘65 a drought, importing food grains from US, economy was shot too bits, rupee was devalued, Congress was facing internal trouble. Led by Pandit Nehru, India was on a moral high during the period 1947 to 1961. His idea of a moral world order collapsed in 1962 with India not measuring up to the Chinese. Suddenly, India found itself without friends, even those of the non-aligned variety. India has to court America, and the western powers that it has avoided earlier. Pandit Nehru was also forced to negotiate peace with Pakistan. India was willing to cede a size-able area to Pakistan as per YD Gundevia Outside the Archives (1969). Gundevia was a foreign secretary during Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri’s time.
Late Narasimha Rao, the erstwhile prime minister says in his autobiographical semi-fictional work The Insider about impact of the 1962 War: "India’s image plummeted considerably after the 1962 debacle. The focus on economic development became diluted. The obsession with victory and defeat in war revived atavistic notions. It reminded the people that India had never won a major war throughout her long history. She had been a perpetual loser in all encounters. Many began to interpret the country’s philosophy and heritage as the foundation of its weakness."
Then the ’71 war happened or was planned and executed with perfection by the Indian armed forces. All three forces Army, Navy and Air force played a stellar role in executing a pre-planned campaign. While political experts may be divided about whether it was planned or not, military experts are clear that the campaign was planned and executed one.
Lord Desai writes in The Rediscovery of India: "Indira Gandhi had achieved the impossible. She had dismembered India’s main enemy, permanently reduced its territory and humiliated it militarily…[p. 353]
He adds, "In Pakistan the event was seen as the first defeat of Muslim armies by a Hindu army in a thousand years [p. 354], Though, Desai says this should not be over rated as there have been several victories before.
"The liberation of Bangladesh did several things for Indira Gandhi and India. It removed any residual feelings of inferiority about Indian Army’s fighting powers." But was that all!
Brigadier Omkar Singh Gorayya, (Retd.), Indian Army
Brigadier Omkar Singh Gorayya, who was the first Indian military leader to enter Dhaka, and is releasing a book on it next month says, "I find it strange that we do nothing to invest emotional content in a win that has occurred after 800 years of foreign domination. Today 1971 War is all but forgotten by the nation. Today, the anniversary is only celebrated in small cantonment functions, as if the armed forces fought for themselves not the country. It is time we invest some cultural and emotional content in the 1971 War. Geopolitical space is also about perception."
It is especially important this year as the world is commemorating the start of the First World War. Indian Army’s exploits in Europe, their landing in Marseilles is being celebrated by the French and here we refuse to recognize the exploits of independent Indian Army victory.
If the Europeans can celebrate the exploits of Indian Armed forces so many decades later, can we not pay respect to the Martyrs of the ’71 war.

This article was first published on www.firstpost.con on December 16th, 2014 and has been duly republished with the authorization of the author.