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General with liberator's aura
- Bengali nation will remember Aurora forever, says Hasina

May 3: In death ' as in life ' Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora will be remembered as the face of modern India's biggest military victory.

For Bangladesh ' it was still to be known as such in 1971 when the Pakistani army in the east surrendered to this Indian officer ' it meant a great deal more than that, a fact its leaders recalled again today in the death of Aurora at the age of 88.

'The Bengali nation will remember Gen. Aurora forever for his contribution during Bangladesh's Liberation War in 1971. Our final victory in the Liberation War was accelerated due to cooperation and support from India which gave shelter to one crore refugees and joined the allied forces with freedom fighters,' said Sheikh Hasina.

Her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was the leader of that liberation movement.

Dhaka's TV stations showed video clips of Aurora with his Pakistani counterpart, Lt Gen. A.A.K. Niazi, as the two walked to the Race Course grounds for the signing of the surrender documents.

On the afternoon of December 16, 1971, a tearful Niazi, the commander of the Pakistani forces in Bangladesh, handed over to Aurora a .38 army issue revolver and signed the instrument of surrender. Aurora, commander of the eastern army at Fort William, Calcutta, had taken a helicopter to Agartala and Dhaka for the ceremony.

'The Pakistan Eastern Command agree to surrender all Pakistan Armed Forces in Bangla Desh to Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, General Officer Commanding in Chief of the Indian and Bangla Desh forces in the Eastern Theatre. This surrender includes all Pakistan land, air and naval forces as also all para-military forces and civil armed forces. The forces will lay down their arms and surrender at the places where they are currently located to the nearest regular troops under the command of Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora,' reads the first paragraph of the document.

Aurora accepted the revolver and the document without a word. 'That was his nature,' his aide de camp, Lt General Mohinder Singh (then captain), now adjutant general at Army Headquarters, recalls.

'After the signing, he issued orders that the Pakistani soldiers ' some 93,000 troops ' be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. He did the talking later. When Niazi was brought to Fort William to be 'de-briefed'.'

'I'm the witness of that historic moment. Gen. Aurora became a household name in Bangladesh,' recalled Raushanuzzaman, then a student of Dhaka University.

The site of the Pakistani surrender is now being converted into an Independence Square, where an eternal flame has been planned to mark the defeat of the Pakistani military at the hands of the allied forces, as the Indian troops and Bangladeshi freedom fighters together were then known, led by Aurora.

'Gen. Aurora will be remembered in the history of Bangladesh for his contribution during our war of liberation in 1971 when he led the allied forces culminating in the surrender of the occupation forces,' Bangladesh foreign minister M. Morshed Khan said in a condolence message to his Indian counterpart Natwar Singh.

Some 18,000 Indian soldiers died in that war.

Aurora last visited Dhaka in 1996 when Bangladesh celebrated the 25th anniversary of its independence.

'Jaggi did all the work and I got the baton,' Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw said about Aurora at a conference of former army commanders last year.

Aurora was Manekshaw's trusted commander. But Lt General J.F.R. Jacob, who was the chief of staff to Aurora at Fort William, says the army commander was bypassed in the planning of the Indian army's moves for the Bangladesh operation.

But he was hands-on in raising the Mukti Bahini. He also oversaw a corps-level operation in Bengal against the Naxalites.

'We worked together as a team for the lightning movement,' Jacob says today. 'Aurora was a fine gentleman. I knew him and his wife, Bhanti, who died of cancer a few years ago well, personally and professionally. We were good friends.'

But Jacob writes in his book Surrender at Dacca that Aurora had resisted the plan to attack Dhaka in the run-up to the war. He had also insisted that his wife should accompany him to the surrender ceremony. Aurora usually got his way.

Aurora was highly decorated but never really in the running to take over as the army chief. In 1984, after the army was drafted in to storm the Golden Temple and raid the forces led by Bhindranwale, Aurora was severely critical of Indira Gandhi. He took up the cause of Sikh victims of the riots following her assassination. In 1986, the Akali Dal gave him a ticket to the Rajya Sabha.

Aurora will be given a funeral with full military honours on Thursday at Delhi Cantonment's Brar Square.

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