MORE THAN A SOLDIER'S CONFESSION
An odyssey in war and peace: An autobiography By J.F.R. Jacob, Roli, Rs 350
In this book, the soldier-author has covered a wide spectrum from his “early years” to his “abiding impressions”. He shows glimpses of his probity, fair play, objectivity and military common sense. However, J.F.R. Jacob could not overcome his “uniform-personality”, even as a writer. He had, throughout his 37-year-long career, clashed with his superiors and colleagues alike. In his autobiography, he is always ‘right’ while the others are ‘wrong’.
One nevertheless discovers in his writing some fascinating features of the Indian military’s thought, belief and action from World War II to the Bangladesh War of 1971. The author also does well to depict the corrupt British officers in the Indian army.
Some interesting aspects of the soldiers’ psyche are reflected in his writing. “The soldiers of my regiment were Punjabi Mussalman and their sympathy lay with the Indonesians” during post-World War II deployment of the Indian garrison to that country.
In the heyday (1950s) of “Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai”, during a Chinese military delegation’s visit to the power demonstration of the divisional artillery, the author was startled by the banquet speech of a Chinese general —“China would never forget that Indian troops took part in the sacking and looting of the Summer Palace during the 2nd Opium War.”
An important revelation about the blatant misuse of defence assets in the 1950s —“We were even required to provide horses and soldiers for the film Mughal-e-Azam” — comes as a shock. One cannot but agree with the author’s comment that “Krishna Menon’s tenure as Defence Minister was to prove a disaster for the armed forces... as he attempted to politicize the forces by promoting and placing in key positions some politically motivated officers of dubious capability.”
The soldier-author’s finest hour was the Indo-Pak war of 1971. Understandably, a great deal has been written about it in the book, some of which stands out —“(the) contribution of the RSS was invaluable. They also helped our troops to dig trenches, and after the war they helped to repatriate the refugees”. The author gives “due credit to the international press correspondents for highlighting the atrocities committed by the Pakistani army on the Bengalis of the east”.
Jacob does not have any praise for the Research and Analysis Wing because “We got very little hard intelligence... and they actually provided us with just two half sheets of data during the entire period (of the war)”. He opines that “There was no suitable machinery for the direction of war at the highest level”. And to make matters worse, it appears that every field general disliked each other. “These personality clashes had an adverse effect on the passage of orders and their implementation”. Is it not a miracle that despite all the internal chaos, confusion, bickering and insubordination, India managed to achieve such a spectacular victory?
Jacob has a racy style of writing. The book is an enjoyable read for its authenticity and prima facie credibility vis-à-vis facts and figures. However, poor editing has not done any good to the quality of the book.