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’71 salute to Indira

New Delhi, April 16: Rahul Gandhi’s comment on dividing Pakistan may or may not hark back to the “India is Indira, and Indira is India” era, but witnesses to the events of 1971 say Indira Gandhi showed remarkable nerve by doing what she did.

“If Mrs Gandhi is getting credit for what happened in 1971, then she should. She showed guts and determination, (and) she never wavered…. She stood up to (US President Richard) Nixon, she stood up to so many UN Security Council resolutions against India,” said General J.F. Jacob, the governor of Punjab and Goa during the BJP’s tenure and widely considered to be the hero of the Dhaka surrender.

However, most generals and bureaucrats involved in the 1971 events felt that for Rahul to convert the victory into a family heirloom was to diminish its value.

Campaigning in Uttar Pradesh two days ago, Rahul had claimed that members of his family never went back on their commitments and cited Pakistan’s division as an example. The comment, which goes against India’s official stand that it had no role to play in the creation of Bangladesh, drew a sharp response from Pakistan and a burst of anger from political parties.

Moreover, the generals and bureaucrats said, with the neighbours now involved in a delicate peace negotiation, Rahul’s remarks would “unnecessarily” add to the tension natural in any such process.

The witnesses to 1971, however, pointed out that Indira Gandhi should be given more credit than is recognised publicly. India had started giving covert help to the Mukti Bahini fighters in erstwhile East Pakistan long before it went public with such support.

The first acknowledgement of Indian help came on July 29, 1971, when then foreign minister Swaran Singh stood up in Parliament to say that he was proposing a resolution that Delhi would do everything “to lend support to the freedom fighters”.

In reality, India had already begun to covertly assist the Mukti Bahini in April that year. Only a month before, on March 26, the Pakistan army had marched into Dhaka University and slaughtered many student activists.

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