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Moist eyes on Vijay Diwas

Lt Gen. (retd) J.F.R. Jacob’s eyes moistened when two junior officers assisted him to the war memorial in Fort William on the morning of Vijay Diwas.

The 93-year-old soldier laid a wreath and saluted the memorial, a reminder of the martyrs and the victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war when he was chief of staff of the Eastern Command.

He was in his fifties when almost one lakh Pakistani troops surrendered and Bangladesh was born. “As a man in uniform, it was my proudest moment. I feel very nostalgic today,” Jacob said.

The declaration of defeat, kept at Fort William, the Eastern Command HQ, reads: “The Pakistan Eastern Command agrees to surrender all Pakistan armed forces in Bangladesh to Lt Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora, the GOC-in-charge of the Indian and Bangladesh forces in the eastern theatre.”

As two Cheetah helicopters of the army did a flypast on a clear Monday morning, Major (retd) S.J. Hossain stood ramrod straight and raised his right hand to a salute in front of the three-column granite memorial — visible from the eastern gate of Fort William on Red Road.

“It is a very emotional occasion for us. Bangladesh sacrificed millions of lives to achieve liberation,” said the 63-year-old who was a student in 1971 when war broke out and joined the Mukti Bahini, the civilian resistance that fought alongside the Indian army.

The Major is among a group of 84 Mukti Joddhas, the civilian volunteers of the Mukti Bahini, who have come to Calcutta to observe the 42nd Vijay Diwas.

This is the biggest delegation of Bangladeshi freedom fighters to arrive here in recent times, despite the turmoil in the neighbouring country following the execution of Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Kader Mullah — also known as the Butcher of Mirpur, a suburb of Dhaka — for atrocities committed during the 1971 war.

“The number of Mukti Joddhas has doubled this year. This bears testimony to the cordial relationship that the two nations share,” said Lt Gen. Dalbir Singh, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Command.

Every year, Mukti Joddhas visit Calcutta to celebrate Vijay Diwas with the Indian army. “We look up to India as big brother, not because it is a regional superpower but for helping us liberate our nation,” said Sheikh Abu Naser Abdul Hai, who is part of this year’s team.

Hai was a student, too, when he enlisted as a Mukti Joddha and “won a war” with ragtag training.