1971 — Indira Gandhi

Maruti Naik
4 min readAug 27, 2021
Picture from an article in Livemint

A twenty thread tweet — reproduced here

Have been reading about the events leading upto the 1971 war and the eventual creation of Bangladesh — thought of creating a thread — largely from 3 biographies on Indira Gandhi by — Pupul Jayakar, Katherine Frank and Inder Malhotra. So here goes…

We pick up the thread from December 70, when a general election is held in Pakistan. The Awami league wins all but 2 seats in East Pakistan thereby giving it a decisive majority overall. Sheikh Mujib is prevented from assuming power and a civil disobedience movement starts, dissidents are hounded and arrested; an estimated 3 million people are killed in the year 1971. Indira Gandhi makes a speech in the Lok Sabha in March 71 expressing sympathy and solidarity with the people of East Bengal in their struggle for freedom.

She calls upon all the governments of the world to take notice and end the decimation of people, amounting to genocide. Refugees start pouring in, peaking to 1.5 lakhs in a day. Primacy is given to providing all aid possible to these people while she calms everyone clamoring for action. “One wrong step or even a wrong word, would have an effect different from the desired one”. General Sam Maneskshaw is brought in to start preparations for the inevitable war. Care is taken to consider all factors, weather, the possibility of chinese intervention and even the fact that it is harvesting season; an immediate war would lead to closure of roads thereby affecting transportation of food.

All the while she maintains calm — aware that unplanned immediate acton as suggested by some may not work, “to some members guts are equated with voice power and the use of passionate words. I wish life was so simple”. To others taunting her to reach out to other countries she said “I have never begged, and have no intention of begging now”.

Cut to Kissinger’s visit in July 1971, basically stating that we cannot expect any help from the U.S. Followed up by his secret trip to China. The prospect of a Pakistan-US_China triangle looms ahead. The swift response — a treaty with Soviet Union gets signed by us. Then the 3 week tour of Europe and US. Sympathy for the case, urging her to exercise restraint was what she received aplenty — There was an exchange with Sir Alec — Britains Foreign Secy. — “Our fear”, he says “is that there would be war”. She counters “We won’t start it”.

In another interview when “restraint” was used she thundered ‘when Hitler was on the rampage, did you keep quiet-let jews die?’. Then that famous showdown with Nixon. What comes through in those talks is her sense of fierce pride, her sense of duty and her instinct. She takes her point of view to the American public addressing the press and stating that it is impossible to shake hands with a clenched fist. Amidst all this she finds the time to watch a ballet performance, a music concert as she completes her tour of the West.

Picture from the internet

Back to India, staring at an inevitable war — Sam Bahadur is ready to execute the well laid plans.Opposition members are kept appraised. Pakistan attacks us on the Western front. She travels back from Calcutta and sets off a well coordinated military effort. Victory is achieved in quick time. All this under the shadow of the U.S. Seventh fleet. Her passionate speech at the Ram Lila grounds “we will not retreat, not by a single step” keeps the morale high not just of the forces but the entire nation.

Her interview with a Swedish TV channel when she recived word from the General confirming victory. ‘Yes, Yes, Thank you”. Then that speech in Parliament declaring victory — a short one soaked in humility, acknowledging the magnificent display of duty by the armed forces and 14/20 wishing the new born nation a future of peace and prosperity. Pupul Jayakar brings out a poignant episode — She met with indira Gandhi immediately after the speech — they embraced and as they parted Indira Gandhi whispered “Will we win the peace”.

For me this was the defining moment — for someone to stand at the pinnacle of success and immediately think about the future that lay ahead, not to be swayed by victory but be concious of the added responsibilities that success brings is such a great lesson for all of us.

The team work at display P.N. Haskar, P.N.Dhar, D.P.Dhar, T.N.Kaul, L.K.Jha, General Sam Bahadur and many others played their roles to perfection. They could do that because of the great trust she placed in them. Getting the opposition memmers aligned to this objective was superbly managed. All in all great preparation, an empowered team, clarity of purpose, nimble diplomacy, nerves of steel and above all a sense of duty to our neighbours were eminently on display right through.

Pupul Jayakar writes about a discussion where Indira Gandhi mentioned that “the colour red suffused me throughout the war” — it led her into a heightened state of mind- her perceptions razor sharp and vivid.

Indira Gandhi visited the new nation where she addressed a massive gathering along with Sheikh Mujib. He spoke with great emotion and turning to her, quoted Tagore to her “I am a pauper, I have nothing to give. I have only love to give you”

Picture from the internet



Maruti Naik

I write to remember. I write to remain honest. I write to leave a bread crumb trail for my daughter. I write to relax. Trying to impress my better half, I write