Military & Aerospace

1971: The Gradual Escalation - I
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Pressures started building up, especially in eastern India, in favour of Indias recognition of the Bangladesh Government, and of Bangladesh as a separate entity.

Accordingly, Mrs Gandhi made a significant statement: “We are convinced that there can be no military solution to the problem of East Bengal. A political solution must be brought about by those who have the power to do so. World opinion is a great force. It can influence the most powerful. The great powers have a special responsibility. If they exercise their power rightly and expeditiously, then only can we look forward to durable peace on our subcontinent. But if they fail, and I sincerely hope they will not, then the suppression of human rights, the uprooting of people and the continued homelessness of a vast number of human beings will threaten peace.”

After taking the opposition fully into confidence, the Indian Cabinet declared for the benefit of the international community that India had no intention of allowing the refugees to settle in its territory permanently. The refugees were being accommodated temporarily mainly on human considerations and at a considerable strain on India’s own economy. The responsibility of sending them back rested on the entire international community and not India alone. In this regard, an organised campaign was put into effect all over the world. Indian embassies put across the theme that the refugee problem was so gigantic that it was no longer an internal affair of Pakistan and India.

Other powers must prevail on Pakistan to see reason and create suitable conditions for the refugees to go back. Otherwise, India would have no alternative to taking such steps as necessary to safeguard its interests. Stress was laid on the fact that India could not be expected to bear the crushing burden of expenditure on the refugees on its own. Various official and nonofficial delegations headed by half a dozen ministers and Jayaprakash Narayan in his personal capacity toured world capitals, “putting the world powers in the dock for their apathy towards the East Bengal development.”


At home, several drives were organised to collect funds and relief goods for the refugees, and these actions carried realisation of the plight of the refugees in “a house to house drive” to all corners of the country. On his return from a tour of some 46 countries, JP issued a passionate call for active support to the Freedom Fighters in Bangladesh and deplored the Government’s in action in this regard.Meanwhile, after the initial setback to the Mukti Bahini operations caused by Tikka Khan’s repressive measures, the insurgent movement was organised on a firmer footing by setting up several camps for equipping and training the force properly, as well as for coordination, planning and better command and control of guerilla operations. It took much time to restore momentum to the Mukti Bahini operations.

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JP added his powerful voice in its support in ad dressing a two-day Bihar State Conference on Bangladesh on 6 July 1971, declaring that “the country, the Government and the people are unworthy if these are not prepared for a war,” implying that India should be prepared to fight Pakistan to solve the Bangladesh problem. He stressed that the “defeat of Bangladesh will be defeat of India.” It is significant that this call for war to settle the issue was given at the onset of the monsoon, when a major offensive in the western and eastern wings was no longer feasible.

“¦after the initial setback to the Mukti Bahini operations caused by Tikka Khans repressive measures, the insurgent movement was organised on a firmer footing by setting up several camps for equipping and training the force properly, as well as for coordination, planning and better command and control of guerilla operations.

The magnitude of the problem created by the refugee influx was never appreciated correctly by the international community, which viewed developments from a distance and was fed with contradictory facts and figures by India and Pakistan which were utterly confusing. On 6 May, R. K. Khadilkar, Mrs Gandhi’s Minister for Labour and Rehabilitation, told newsmen that about one and a half million refuges had arrived in West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Bihar and had been lodged in about 150 camps.

The Government expected many more millions to come, and “the cost of these relief operations finally will obviously be beyond the capacity of India to bear singlehanded.” Till then, India had spent about Rs 100 million on the refugees, but the costs were ultimately expected to be much more. Accordingly, the Indian Government requested the UN Food and Agriculture organisation (FAO) for emergency assistance in the form of rice, wheat, pulses, milk powder and cooking oil.

India also appealed to the “democratic forces of the world to rise above normal diplomatic and political considerations and help in finding as early and satisfactory solution of this great and tragic human problem.” Various international aid agencies, including the World. Food Programme, the World Congress of Churches and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), contributed generously to meet the urgent needs of the refugees. UN Secretary General U Thant appealed on behalf of all the UN organisations on 19 May to both member-governments and private bodies and other sources and hoped his appeal would have “a positive and generous response.”

He said that while the extent of refugees and their needs could not be assessed with accuracy “in view of the fluid situation,” there was “conclusive evidence of the presence of large numbers of people from East Pakistan in India,” and emergency assistance was required to provide them with food, clothes, shelter, medical relief and other essentials. He added that he fully shared the serious concern of the international community at the plight of these refugees, and expressed the hope that “these unfortunate people will be voluntarily repatriated at the earliest possible time.” Meanwhile, massive external assistance on an emergency basis was warranted.

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