New Delhi, Oct.31, : India today remembers two of its leaders, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Mrs Indira Gandhi, who strengthened the unity and integrity of the country .
While Sardar Vallabhai Patel was the main force in the integration of Princely States of India , Indira Gandhi will be remembered for her endeavour to strengthen the nation, and frustrate the attempt of zealous neighbours and international forces to weaken India.
When the small princely states acceded to India, Jammu and Kashmir and Hyderabad tried to remain independent. Sardar Patel had an effective operation which forced Hyderabad’s integration, but he could not accomplish the same result in Jammu and Kashmir as the Government of India chose to complain to the United Nations.
In 1971, Indira Gandhi led the country to give shelter to millions of refugees who fled to India to save themselves from the onslaught of the Pakistan Army, which was determined not to implement the result of elections in that country. According to the results of the elections in Pakistan, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman should have been the Prime Minister of Pakistan, as the Awami League which he headed won the majority of seats in the national Parliament. But the military rulers headed by General Yahya Khan, clamped down on East Pakistan.
The military clampdown on East Pakistan on March 25, led to refugees in their thousands crossing the border into West Bengal, Meghalaya, Assam and Tripura in the following months . Their numbers swelled to nearly ten million.
Initial diplomatic efforts to stop the Pakistan Army committing atrocities in the eastern wing failed to achieve any success. Pakistan felt encouraged because of the sympathetic attitude of President Nixon of the United States.
India then prepared itself for a possible conflict with Pakistan under the leadership of Indira Gandhi. Indira Gandhi visited various world capitals to make them aware of the ground realities in East Pakistan. India also entered into an agreement with the then Soviet Union , which assured support in times of conflict.
The Indian Army was then headed by General S. H. F. J. Manekshaw, the Navy by Admiral S.M. Nanda and the Air Force by Air Marshal P.C. Lal. Single-mindedly, the armed forces prepared for a possible conflict with Pakistan. I had the opportunity of following the events as the Public Relations Officer of the Army in New Delhi.
When Pakistan attacked Indian airfields in December 3, the war formally broke out. Indian troops crossed the border in the East and the West. The effort in the west was to ensure that the Pakistan Army did not attack or occupy strategically important areas in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Indian Army crossed the border in East Pakistan on all three fronts, across the West Bengal , from Assam in the North and from Tripura in the East . The Navy and the Air Force established complete control over the Bay of Bengal and the airfields in East Pakistan.
The war concluded in 12 days, and the 93,000 strong Pakistan Army surrendered to the Indian Army and the Mukti Bahini.
Indira Gandhi led the nation during the crisis. She concluded the agreement with Pakistan in Shimla in 1972, and agreed to return the prisoners of war, following an assurance from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto that he would ensure that the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir would be turned into an International Border.
Pakistan has never forgotten the defeat in 1971. It started a proxy war in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.
She also fought off Pakistan’s efforts to weaken India by promoting a proxy war in Punjab in the early 1980s, and that cost her life in October 1984.
It is fitting that the nation remembers Indira Gandhi and Sardar Patel for strengthening the unity of India today.
Mr. I Ramamohan Rao is a former Principal Information Officer of the Government of India. He can be reached on [email protected] (ANI)