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Niazi’s surrender gun stolen
- National Museum and navy trade blame

New Delhi, June 28: Cheers went up in the Dhaka racecourse on December 16, 1971, as Lieutenant General A.A.K. ‘Tiger’ Niazi signed the instrument of surrender, laid down his personal pistol and removed the badges of rank before Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, marking a bright chapter in India’s military history and the creation of Bangladesh.

Today, the pistol was stolen from the National Museum here, triggering a spat between the museum authorities and the navy. The incident has sent ripples through Delhi police and the Centre.

The .762 calibre Chinese-made pistol was displayed in a glass case at the Naval Maritime Heritage Gallery on the first floor of the prestigious museum. The gallery, as well as the entire floor housing it, comes under the jurisdiction of the Indian Navy. Two navy personnel are posted to guard the gallery and they sometimes double up as guides if visitors have queries about the exhibits.

The theft is said to have occurred before 12.55 pm, when Senior Sailor Akbar Ali went up to the museum’s officiating director, S.P. Singh, to inform him that the pistol was missing.

Ali told Singh that he had left the gallery around 12.35 pm to look for an electrician to replace a defunct bulb. He returned to find the glass case neatly unscrewed and the pistol gone.

The other guard, D.K. Saini, had not reported for duty today. The National Museum, which is closed on Mondays, was open to the public when the gun went missing.

Led by deputy commissioner of police Manoj Lal, Delhi police personnel rushed to the gallery on receiving the report. They are believed to have picked up some fingerprints from the spot and are interrogating both Ali and Saini. The crime branch, too, has been pressed into action.

Investigators said preliminary findings pointed to an inside job and said the way the weapon had been clinically removed by unscrewing the glass case was an indication.

Union tourism and culture minister Jagmohan later summoned Singh and, according to ministry sources, expressed surprise at how one could walk in and out of such a high-security zone. While navy personnel guard the Naval Maritime Heritage Gallery, the Central Industrial Security Force is in charge of the building’s security.

“We have been asking the navy to remove the maritime gallery to its headquarters. The exhibits are under its jurisdiction. The National Museum has nothing to do with it. Their personnel are responsible for the entire security of the maritime gallery,” said Singh.

But the navy placed the onus of the security and management of the exhibition on the museum authorities.

The force has tasked two officers to coordinate investigations with Delhi police. “We are not suspecting the involvement of the sailor present there as he has been doing this duty for the past two years,” one of them said.

He added that the pistol was brought from the naval base at Cochin when the Naval Maritime Heritage Gallery was opened in 1992.

No one is sure how the pistol of Niazi, who was held in India as a prisoner of war for over two years, came to be with the navy. It is believed to have come from the then Commander in Chief of the Eastern Fleet, Admiral . Krishnan, who was present with Aurora and Major General J.F.R. Jacob, then chief of staff, Eastern Command, and now governor of Punjab, at the time of surrender.

Military historian Praven Kumar claimed the stolen pistol was not Niazi’s real weapon, saying he had photographs showing that the Pakistani military commander was using a .38 revolver and not a pistol. The revolver is now with the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun, he claimed.

Reacting to the incident, Makhan Lal, chairperson of the Delhi Institute of Heritage Research and Management, decried a general decline in the functioning of cultural institutions. “There is no annual verification of the antique items in possession of these institutes,” he said.

Singh countered the allegation, saying the museum does an annual verification of exhibits under its jurisdiction. “Since this gallery does not come under our supervision, the navy should carry out the verification,” he added.

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