Military & Aerospace

1971: The Gradual Escalation - I
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  1. Reported by the Times of India, New Delhi, and the Statesman, Calcutta.
  2. For the full text of the resolution see Asian Recorder, Vol XVII, No 20, p. 10657-580.
  3. Reports of British and US correspondents who were flown out, confirmed that Pakistani troops were on the rampage in a mood of revenge. See Asian Recorder, Vol XVII, No 26, p.10229.
  4. This agreement followed the Indo-Pak conflict of 1965 through the mediation of the Soviet Union.
  5. A Fokker Friendship aircraft of the Indian Airlines with a crew of four and 28 passengers aboard was hijacked to Lahore on 30 January. On 2 February it was blown up by the hijackers at Lahore airport in full view of Pakistani troops and aviation personnel
  6. According to figures released on 21 August 1971, the number of refugees from East Bengal to India had reached the 8 million mark as reported by the Hindu, Madras
  7. The New York Times quoted the World Bank to the effect that the upkeep of the refugees in the fiscal year 1971-72 would be $ 700 million.

The hawks suggested that it would be more economical to fight a war rather than bear this burden, especially when the supplementary budget presented by Finance Minister Y. B. Chavan levied additional taxes, but could not restrain further escalation of the already rising price level. Pressures for a speedy settlement of the refugee problem grew rapidly. As a result, a strong note from the, Ministry of Foreign Affairs went to Islamabad. It said India reserved the right to claim appropriate compensation for the expenditure on refugee relief in these words : “The Government of India therefore hold Pakistan fully responsible for creating such conditions forthwith as would facilitate the return of these refugees.”

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Tikka Khan’s sudden and intense crackdown had left East Pakistan shocked and completely benumbed. Its people could act only in humble submission. This atmosphere gave the impression of faked normalcy. The rebellion, which started with great elan, slowly subsided against ruthless repression by superior strength. The rebels had also been flushed out by Pakistani troops manning the border and either went underground in anguish or sought sanctuary on the other side of the border to prepare afresh for the struggle ahead.

Tikka Khans sudden and intense crackdown had left East Pakistan shocked and completely benumbed.

Conditions both on the refugee and insurgency fronts looked grim, and with this the image of Mrs Gandhi as a resolute and decisive leader began to sag. Yahya Khan scored over her for a while by displaying signs of normalcy in East Pakistan rather triumphantly and accusing India of meddling with what he called “the internal affairs of Pakistan.”

On 24 May 1971, Mrs. Gandhi vindicated her position in Parliament, saying “We all felt our country was poised for rapid economic advance and a more determined attack on the age-old poverty of our people. Even as we were settling down to these new tasks, we have been engulfed by a new and ‘gigantic problem, not of our making… so massive a migration in so short a time is unprecedented in history. Three and a half million have come in the last eight weeks. On the present estimates, the cost of relief may exceed Rs 1,800 million for six months.”

“¦so massive a migration in so short a time is unprecedented in history.

Rejecting Yahya Khan’s charge, she added that “it is mischievous to suggest that India has had anything to do with what happened in Bangladesh. This is an insult to the aspirations and spontaneous sacrifices of the people of Bangladesh, and a calculated attempt by the rulers of Pakistan to make India a scapegoat for their own misdeeds. It is also a crude attempt to deceive the world community.”

Over and over again, Mrs Gandhi appealed to the big powers and to other democratic countries to ask the military dictators of Pakistan to stop committing atrocities in East Bengal and keep their population within their borders. Otherwise, she warned that “what began as an internal affair of Pakistan was gradually turning into an internal affair of India, and would soon be turning into an international issue.” Addressing the Lok Sabha, she said : “I must share with the House our disappointment at the improbably long time the world is taking to react to the stark tragedy.”

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