Eye witness accounts of ‘fall of Dhaka’

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Part II

Author Prem Prakash

THE author of the newly launched book ‘Reporting India, recalls the message given by General Manekshaw, who was later promoted to the rank of Field Marshal, to Pakistan during the war.   

“By December 14 it was clear that the Pakistan Army was in no position to continue fighting. General Sam Manekshaw, chief of Indian Army, called upon the Pakistan Army to surrender or face annihilation.  General JFR Jacob of the Indian Army flew into Dhaka to finalize the terms of surrender, which was to be unconditional with India guaranteeing Pakistani troops protection against almost certain annihilation by Mukti Bahini.

“As the Army advanced, I flew into Calcutta from where I travelled with General Jagjit Singh Aurora and General Jacob to cover the surrender ceremony, held at Race Course Road in Dhaka. Pakistan surrendered to Indian Army and Mukti Bahini. General Aurora signed for India and General Niazi, commander of Pakistani forces signed on behalf of Pakistan. It was a heady feeling for us journalists covering those last few days of the ‘Fall of Dhaka’. I will never forget the face and expressions of common people who saw an end to their misery,” he says.

Title of the Book

The book says India moved the Pakistan Army into cantonments, where some 93,000 soldiers laid down their weapons – the biggest surrender since World War II.

“Again, these were historic events I covered, but at that time uppermost in my mind was the thought that I had to quickly shoot and send pictures to London,” says the author.

He says that Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was still in a Pakistani prison with a death sentence hanging over his head. “It is said that the Pakistanis had dug a grave near his prison cell. Mrs Gandhi acted firmly and ensured his release in January 1972. Mujibur Rahman flew to London and from there to Delhi on his way back to Dhaka.”        

The author notes that Mujibur Rahman’s arrival in Dhaka after his release was big world news at the time and beating the competitors on such a story was not going to be easy. “Thus, I advised told John Tulloh, the Asia-Pacific Editor of Visnews, who was waiting for my material in Bangkok that I was going to edit the story myself as I filmed and restricted the footage to 400 feet, i.e., ten minutes, which was the time we had booked for the satellite feed in Bangkok. No news channel ran a news item for more than three to four minutes”.

Pakistan Commander Gen AA.K. Niazi returning the pen to India’s Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora after signing the instrument of surrender at ‘Paltan Maidan’ in Dhaka on 16th December 1971.

The author recalls that he got a congratulatory cable from Tulloh the next morning stating that while other journalists’ material was still being processed, “ours was already on satellite and reaching everyone”.

The author also recounts the risks in coverage of the situation during the crackdown launched by Tikka Khan.

He recalls that as they made their way to Jessore, a shock awaited them on the outskirts of the town.

“Dead bodies of civilians lay on the road and by the roadside. We were told they had been killed by Pakistan Army….The film we had shot was to be the first look the world would have of the scene in East Pakistan. The pictures told the story of the genocide that was being inflicted all over East Pakistan.”

The book talks about Razakar force created by Tikka Khan to spread terror among the population in general and among Hindu villagers in particular.  It says women were special targets of essentially Punjabi-dominated Pakistan Army.

The author recalls how he and his colleague landed in serious trouble at the House of a local member of National Assembly, the only Muslim League candidate to be elected from East Pakistan. “Once on Indian soil, we heaved a sigh of relief. That had been a close shave,” he says.

He locked himself in the room after sending his story. “I just wanted to thank the Lord for having brought us home safely…To this day I feel lucky to have survived that foray into East Pakistan,” he says.

The author recalls that the then Principal Information Officer of the government had asked him about Bangladeshi leaders and recalls that Badshah, press secretary to Mujibur Rahman, whom the Sheikh treated as his son, was instrumental in presenting the provisional government of Bangladesh to international media.

“We were all escorted by Badshah to the border and then crossed over to what was still East Pakistan. We reached a village where a huge stage had been raised. The leaders of Awami League appeared and a provisional government of Bangladesh was announced. They declared their determination to continue the struggle till Pakistan withdrew from their country. The Bangladesh flag was raised and the meeting ended with the chanting of Tagore’s ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’ which was later adopted as the national anthem of Bangladesh,” the author says.

“Our mission was to tell the world the truth – and we succeeded. The stories and pictures from East Pakistan greatly influenced world opinion in favour of Bangladesh’s fight for freedom. The world came to know of the atrocities and genocide being committed by the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan,” he adds.        

Prem Prakash is a pioneer in Indian journalism and in his long career has covered some of the most important stories of post-Independence India including the 1962 war with China, 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan, the assassination of Indira Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri’s fateful Tashkent journey. The book provides a detailed account of his professional life and stories he covered from Nehru’s demise to rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The 225-page book is available on Amazon and Flipkart. (The first part of the article was published in previous edition. ANI)   

(Editor’s note: The contents of the book are the expressions of the experience and knowledge of the author. We are printing them just for the information of our readers and one can disagree with them if like.)