'The man who bombed Karachi' dead

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT in Delhi
  • Published 12.05.09
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New Delhi, May 12: Former Indian Navy chief Admiral Sardarilal Mathradas Nanda, who described himself as “the man who bombed Karachi” and who spawned the biggest arms brokerage in the country, died last night in the capital. He was 94.

Nanda was the chief of naval staff in the 1971 war. In his autobiography released in 2004, he writes that he surprised then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with his proposal to blockade Karachi and bombard its port. Indira gave a grudging approval.

Nanda, who was born in Manora Island off Karachi and later served as a naval officer in the Karachi Port Trust, went ahead with the plan. “I was born in Karachi, I bombed Karachi,” he was to say later.

On the night of December 4-5, 1971, Indian ships launched missiles into Karachi port, blasting its fuel stocks and wasting the Pakistan Navy’s war-waging potential.

“The fire raged for seven days and Karachi was shrouded in smoke,” Nanda never tired of narrating years afterwards. “Indian Air Force pilots called it the biggest bloody bonfire in all Asia.”

Nanda was feted after that war but never put on a pedestal with the more illustrious Sam Manekshaw, the army chief who later was celebrated as the field marshal.

When Indira proposed to elevate Manekshaw to the (honorary) rank of a five-star general, Nanda was asked if he had an objection. He is reported to have said he did not mind unless he was being stripped of a star. Service chiefs are four-star generals.

After retirement in 1973, Nanda founded Crown Corporation, which mediated large arms and weapons-platform transfers.

His son Suresh, a naval officer who was his flag lieutenant, quit the service as a lieutenant commander and headed Crown’s London operations in the 1980s. Nanda’s grandson Sanjeev earned notoriety in the BMW hit-and-run case of 1999.

Nanda was suspected of bribery and commissions in a deal through which the Indian Navy acquired German HDW submarines. He was raided by the CBI in 1987. Crown is also being probed on charges of brokering deals with Israel’s Barak, which supplies ship-based missile defence systems.

Crown is named in deals that the navy had with the erstwhile Soviet Union and later Russia in the procurement and supply of equipment not only to the navy but also to the army and the air force.

The business that Nanda founded has prospered through the liberalisation of the arms procurement policies of the successive United Front, BJP and Congress-led governments. The Nandas have acquired prime property in London and Delhi, and are still executors or partners in major deals.

Nanda’s last rites were performed at the Brar Square crematorium in Delhi Cantonment this afternoon.