| Doug Crowder
New Delhi, Sept. 4: The commander of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet is expected in India and in the Bay of Bengal to a warm welcome on Thursday, at once reviving memories of the threat his force once posed and emphasising the contrast in the times.
Vice-Admiral Doug Crowder reaches Chennai on September 6. He will fly to Port Blair, the shore centre of the multinational naval exercise, Malabar 07-02, that began this morning. At Port Blair he will be hosted in the Unified Command station of the Indian military.
After formalities and a banquet for him in a cove overlooking the turquoise Andaman Sea, he is likely to fly by helicopter or in a C2A Greyhound to the USS Kitty Hawk, the lead ship of his fleet that is here for the wargames.
About the time that the admiral goes into the war room of his ship for the briefing on the exercises, Prakash Karat’s jatha would be nearing Visakhapatnam, headquarters of India’s Eastern Naval Command.
Karat started from Chennai this morning, as did Bardhan from Calcutta. Along the way, Karat and Bardhan, in speeches and in pamphlets, will narrate the story of the Seventh Fleet in the Bay of Bengal in 1971.
The arrival of the Seventh Fleet commander now will be timed to a nicety for the propaganda of the Left.
Thirty-six years ago on December 10, 1971, according to records in the archives of the defence ministry, the Indian Navy intercepted a signal to the Seventh Fleet to move from the Gulf of Tonkin, off North Vietnam, into the Bay of Bengal in aid of Pakistan.
India was at war in Bangladesh. The Indian Army led by Sam Manekshaw had waded into what was then East Pakistan and columns of its troops with the Mukti Bahini liberation warriors were closing in on Dhaka. A beleaguered Pakistan appealed to the US for help.
When the intelligence on the Seventh Fleet was de-crypted, Indira Gandhi turned to Manekshaw. Everyone knew that India’s eastern fleet was no match for the world’s most powerful navy.
India’s lone carrier, the INS Vikrant, was less than a third of the size of the USS Enterprise, then the lead ship (the “tip of the spear”) of the Seventh Fleet. Today, that pole position belongs to the USS Kitty Hawk.
The press got wind of the news. The Liberation Times, a newspaper from Calcutta then, reported that the Indian Navy’s flag officer commanding the eastern command, Vice-Admiral Krishnan, was asked if he was preparing to take on the Seventh Fleet.
“Bas, hukum dena (All I need is the order),” he replied.
In the event, that order was not issued. But Manekshaw instructed the army to speed up. On December 13, the Indian Army enforced the surrender at Dhaka.
More than 93,000 Pakistani troops who were to have been evacuated by the Seventh Fleet from Chittagong also surrendered, granting India its biggest military victory, and Bangladesh was born.
That history would not be lost on Crowder and his force as they prepare to engage the Indian Navy again, this time as allies in a supposed coalition.