What if India hadn’t gone into the 1971 war?

Jaithirth Rao in the Indian Express:

“The ‘liberation’ of Bangladesh has been presented as a significant moment in the history of free India, in fact in the history of the entire subcontinent…. What if India had not helped East Pakistani secessionism? What if Pakistan had remained one country?

“As long as West Pakistani Muslims were continuing to persecute East Pakistani Muslims, secessionist leaders in our lovely Kashmir vale would have been on the back foot…. Unwieldy Pakistan would not have had much time and energy to devote to the Afghan frontier or to inciting saffron-growing Sufi farmers in Srinagar and Kupwara….

“If there had been no Bangladesh would China have acquired a naval base in Chittagong like the one they have in Gwadar? Would the Chinese “encircle India” strategy been more purposeful? The impartial historian would argue that the Bangladesh war actually did a disservice to Indira Gandhi. She may not have become arrogant and imposed the Emergency of 1975.”

Read the full article: It happened in 1971

External reading*: What if?

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21 Responses to “What if India hadn’t gone into the 1971 war?”

  1. the colonel Says:

    the correct thing was done.

    How many countries were created after WW1 & WW2.

    Mr Rao can write anything. He has never looked down the barrel of a gun.

    And analysis????


  2. Mysore Peshva Says:

    My mother was a public health worker serving refugees from East Pakistan in West Bengal, circa 1971. She says they were unspeakably sad days for the millions of homeless, destitute individuals that had been victims of the West Pakistan military’s atrocities in East Pakistan.

    In that terrible situation, India had a moral imperative to act.

    But India also had a pragmatic imperative. If India had not liberated Bangladesh, then the Indian states of West Bengal and Orissa and Assam would have had to support up to 10 million refugees… Oh wait, that still happened, regardless!

  3. Faldo Says:

    I think this analysis seems too simplistic and does not take into account the geo-political factors at that time. The argument that just because we have migrants anyway, we should not have acted then does not cut ice. The people who came then sought refuge as they needed physical protection. If they did not leave their place then, they would probably have lost their lives or faced torture and humiliation. Anthony Mascarenhas’ books have described the brutalities during the period in great detail (http://www.gendercide.org/case_bangladesh.html).

    Many of the people who come now could be called migrants (not refugees) in want of a better lifestyle and do not necessarily migrate due to state persecution. It is another matter that thay are causing great problems to the border states, but that is also partly due to bad patrolling and weak laws.
    For all we know, if India had not acted then there might have been multiple LOCs to worry about.

  4. mounaprasad Says:

    >>“If there had been no Bangladesh would China have acquired a naval base in Chittagong like the one they have in Gwadar?>>

    This is a very simplistic view. Even a undivided pakistan would have allowed a naval base for China in Chittagong. Pakistan ceded land in POK even when Bangladesh was not formed, that should explain the mentality of the pakistanis. The only way forward is to further vivisect pakistan and just leave the rump of Punjab as the erstwhile pakistan while Sindh,Baloch and Pashto secede and form their own countries.

  5. Vinay Says:

    Oh, what bullshit!

    The author is worried about Chinese naval bases in Chittagong? Chinese encirclement? Dear author, we would have been encircled by Pakistan itself, were it not for 1971!

    Imagine a scenario with nuclear missiles from present day BD pointing towards Kolkata!

    Crazy opinion by the author.

  6. the colonel Says:

    Thank You Mysore Peshva ,

    Please do write some more and show that Mr Rao how to clam up his gibberish

  7. twistleton Says:

    As if one Pakistan is not complicated enough to deal with… :D

    I wish more people would see the Back to the Future series, where Marty realizes that although things could have been better, things could also have been a lot worse.

  8. vanita singh Says:

    Everything should be seen in the context of that time.I was 18 at that time and i can tell you that it was absolutely needed for india to go in war.Please check old news papers.

  9. Soopi Byari Says:

    I think Mrs Gandhi’s act totally lacked vision. Instead of liberating Bangladesh, India should’ve absorbed it. As to compensate the loss Pak should’ve got a piece of Kashmir. That way India would’ve had a better geographic relation over it’s north-eastern states and she would’ve saved of the cancerous militancies like Naga, Manipuri, Bodo etc,. And since such a deal would’ve ended with a better relationship with Pakistan, we would’ve saved a huge amount of money which now we spend to buy arms. But then “wishes were horses……!”

  10. Jagadish Says:

    Change is the name of the game, the only constant. The west/east Pakistan problem and separation is very recent, hence well known. Similar regrettable events have been happening throughout history.

    How many of us remember Punjab in the heart of our very own Bharat? I mean the real Punjab, not the fragment of a state we have in India today. Back then, Punjab stretched from Gurgaon in the south to Kangra and Chambal in the northeast, all the way till Mianwali and Dera Ghazi Khan in the west, bordering Afghanistan.

    This was chopped up during the 1947 partition, dear chacha Nehru made grand promises to the Sikhs which he broke immediately, and the Sikhs were stateless, agitating till 1966. Even then, he took Chandigarh, made it a UT and gave it to Haryana.

    To me, this was one of the biggest atrocities during the partition. E/W pakistan does not come close. The old Punjab was ONE people, one language, one culture, one state, cruelly chopped into pieces to appease the Pakistanis, British and our dear leaders, one people torn asunder, never to be reunited. East Bengal culture, language, people and customs were nothing similar or close to west Pakistan, the split was mostly political.

    State and national borders bend to the whims of powerful politicians. People matter very little.

  11. Objectivist Mantra Says:

    The problem with us is that we give too much importance to the concept of nations and states. It is not as if some God in heaven created the various nations.

    All nations are created out the ambitions, greed and the power of individuals. What one set of individuals can do, another equally determined set of individuals can undo.

    The borders and the names of nations have been changing for the last 2000 years and they will keep changing in the future. Perhaps a day will come when the concept of nations will cease to matter.

    Globalization is already leading to the devaluation of national borders. Some day it might cease to matter if you are a Chinese, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian or African or American. We can live like civilized individuals.

    In one sense I agree with Jaithirth Rao. The war of 1971 has eventually led to all kinds of problems for India. But in other sense I disagree with him – he seems to be giving too much importance to the breaking up of Pakistan in two countries.

    A nation is nothing more than a housing society on a much larger scale. The war of 1971 only led to one housing society breaking up into two. That’s all. What’s the big deal?

    It is foolish of anyone to be blindly devoted to his housing society, but that is what we seem to be doing. All patriots are misguided and slightly mad people. They are dangerous to human civilization.

  12. the colonel Says:

    Adding on to Jagadish with ref to punjab:

    Luv and Kush the sons of Raam founded LAHORE and KASORE: Both now in Pak. Other Sikh and hindu places were carte-blanche given to Pak.

    The Governor of Punjab Stoutly opposed the partition of Punjab and said it should go to india: mountbatten AN ADMIRAL made in charge of LAND(which only the stupid indian political class agreed to!!!!) was foxholed
    and along came our nehru.

    So my family moved out from afghanistan.

    AND Soopi Byari: would’ve saved a huge amount of money which now we spend to buy arms. WHICH ARMS Soopi Byari:??????????

  13. the colonel Says:

    And Further:-

    A Train Journey

    This happened a year ago. I was travelling by train from Indore to Mumbai. I had just concluded a hectic six day workshop at one of the city’s premier schools.

    As I stowed my suitcase under the aisle berth, I looked forward to a good night’s sleep.

    The coach was an AC 2 tier, and the four passengers in the coupe were already in their seats. Two men, two women. Perfect.

    One of the men, the younger one, looked a little weird, I thought. His face was a little lopsided, with the symmetry slightly askew. He had very short, almost crew cut hair.

    Not wanting to stare, I hung my handbag on the peg above my berth, and settled down on it. I then pulled out my mobile phone and dialed my husband’s number to give him a “sit rep” (‘situation report’, in naval parlance. My conversation, alas, is peppered with service terminology, which is the direct result of being in the company of service personnel-my father, father-in-law,and now, husband).

    While I was on the phone, three well built young men came in and plonked themselves on my seat. Asking my husband to hold the line, I looked enquiringly at them.One of them pointed to the berth above mine, signaling that it was his. I nodded and went back to my conversation.

    As I spoke, the three, while laughing and joking amongst themselves, slowly started hogging up more and more of the berth, while I shrunk more and more into one corner, until I reached the extreme limit of shrinking. Extremely cramped, I cut off my phone conversation, and declared to the three that I wanted to lie down and would they please move out?

    One of them pointed to a notice stuck above the berth that said that passengers could use the berth to lie down only after 9 p.m. Until then everyone had to sit.

    Before I could give a fitting reply, several of which were on the tip of my tongue,and without my realising it, the young man with the lop sided face was beside me. In a very soft, calm manner, but with a cold gaze, he asked the three to get up and move to the next coupe. The three men looked at my ‘rescuer’, one of them looked ready to say something, but one look at the young man’s eyes, and they quietly moved out. I turned around to thank the young man, and his”Not at all, Ma’am”, gave away, to me, his profession.

    “Are you in the services?”

    “Yes, Ma’am. Infantry. Came to Mhow for a short course.”

    “My husband’s in the Indian Navy. My father and father-in-law were both in the Army.”

    One question led to another, and our conversation soon turned to the current situation in the country, and especially in Kashmir.

    By now our co passengers had joined in. None of them had ever been north of Delhi,and they more than I, wanted to get a firsthand account of how bad things were in the valley.

    The Army Major (whose name I shall not disclose) then held us spell bound for the next couple of hours with his experiences, of which a few are mentioned here.

    As a young officer, his first day in the unit was also the first time he killed a man (a militant), that too at close range. After the incident was over, he was distraught, and it was the care and counseling of his seniors that brought him out of his depression.

    He spoke of the utmost trust and camaraderie that he shared with his unit members,which was more valuable than any money in the world, because that was what their lives depended on.

    Like a true soldier, he also spoke of values and just behavior, even towards the enemy. Once during the Kargil war, his unit had surrounded a post occupied by Pakistani soldiers. They fought fiercely, and finally overcame the enemy.The Pak soldiers, though in mufti, fought with all their medals on, as they knew they were going to die, and wanted to die a true soldier’s death. After it was over, the Indian Major had his men identify the soldiers from their I-cards, and sent a letter to their unit in Pakistan praising them, requesting that they be honored accordingly. It was later learned that the request had been carried out.

    His own face was lop sided because it was shattered by shrapnel during the Kargil conflict. He had a rod in his back and legs, which is why he could not offer his lower berth to one of the lady passengers.

    He was full of praise for the Army doctors, who reconstructed his face, and “made it almost as good as new”. We all asked him what his family had to say about his new face.

    “My wife and six year old daughter feel I look more handsome now”, he said with a laugh.

    He said the toughest job was to flush out militants holed up in houses in villages.(I was reminded of this while watching the recent Mumbai carnage).

    “It’s a game of extreme patience and vigilance. The exercise takes place mostly at night and entire villages are cordoned off for the task.”

    While the army personnel grew more experienced at tackling them over a period of time, the militants too became smarter.

    “These days they aim not for the chest or head, but for the thighs, where the main artery is located. At times, if a soldier injured in the thigh is not rushed to medical help immediately, we risk losing him.”

    I listened spellbound, my sleep long forgotten. I could see the other passengers similarly engaged; horrified, but unable to break away. It was almost an ‘ancient mariner’ kind of scenario.

    At one point I asked him whether he had received a bravery award for all he had done.

    “No Ma’am.”

    “Why not?”

    “Ma’am, if the Army had to give out awards to everyone who has done what Idid, they would soon run out of medals. ”

    His answer stumped all of us. What we thought of as extraordinary bravery was in fact an everyday and routine affair for most Army personnel in Kashmir and other insurgency-hit areas. I sat quietly, reflecting on a real life example of selfless service.

    “What motivates you people?”, asked one of my fellow passengers.

    “Love for our country, its people, and pride in being an Indian.”

    This simple statement brought out the goose pimples on my arms. I remembered how as a child whenever we went to see a movie, the National Anthem played at the end, when we all stood up to attention. Independence Day and The Republic Day were never holidays meant to sit at home, but to go out and march and hoist the national flag. “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan”, was the slogan that popped out almost everywhere, worshiping the two different kinds of people who protected and respected Mother Earth.

    We still need these two people, one to feed us and the other to protect us.

    *Smita (Bhatnagar) Sahay*
    *W/O Capt P Sahay (Indian Navy)*


    And One More Experience : This is with a RIKSHAW_WALLA by someone i know

    There were two rickshaw-walas vying for our business when we wanted to go to Sankat-Mochan temple in Benaras. I agreed to go with the one who was about 20, seemed like a regular young rickshaw-wala, but I found something interesting about this fellow in his eyes. I was not proved wrong.

    He wanted Rs 50, we said Rs 30. We settled for 40. The highlights of the conversation with him:

    “aap kahan se aaye hain”

    “bijness ya kaam karte hain?”
    “naukri karte hain”

    “internet mein”

    “humara bhi kuch wahin kaam lagwa do” I just chuckled

    “main try kar raha hoon engineering padhne kee. achchi naukri lag jaayegi tab”

    “achcha?” I asked a little interested

    “haan, delhi mein Guru Gobind Singh Indraprashta University mein engineering ke liye apply kara hai. achchi hai woh university”

    I agreed.

    “haan, kal hee maine JEE bhi diya”

    “JEE matlab, IIT ka?”

    “haan, Joint Entrance Examination” he pronounced it perfectly just to make it clear to me what JEE stood for. “mushkil hota hai exam”

    “haan, 2 saal toh log padhte hee hain uske liye, asaan nahin hai” I carried on the conversation

    “Delhi mein Akaash coaching institute hain na?”
    “haan, hai”

    “aapne kya padhai kari?”
    “main engineer hoon, aur phir mba bhi kiya”

    “kahan se engineer?”

    “IIT delhi se”

    He swung back, surprised, a little delighted, and smiled. “Ok, aapke liye Rs 30″

    Swati and I laughed

    Swati asked “padhai kab karte they IIT ke liye”

    “bas, rickshaw chalaane ke baad raat mein”. Then he added “kismein engineering kari aapne?”

    “toh aapki chemistry toh badi strong hogi”

    “nahin, aisa nahin hai”

    He continued “yeh bataiye….jab Mendeleev ne Periodic Table banaya tha tab kitne elements they usmein?”

    Now it was my turn to get surprised. He was quizzing me. I said “shayad 70-80″

    “no, 63″ he said sharply. “kaunse element kee electronegativity highest hai?”

    > Swati was laughing, and I didnt try too hard and said “pata nahin”

    “Flourine”, he said confidently. Without a break he asked,”kaunse element kee electron affinity highest hoti hai?”

    Now I was laughing too and said “nahin pata”

    “Chlorine. toh aapka kaunsa subject strong tha?” clearly having proven that my chemistry wasnt a strong point

    “Physics”, I said
    “achha, Newton’s second law of motion kya hai”
    I knew this one I thought, “F=ma” I said

    “Physics is not about formula, it is understanding concept!” he reprimanded me in near perfect english. “Tell me in statement”

    I was shocked. Swati continued to laugh.

    I said “ok, Newtons second law, er….was….”

    ” ‘was’ nahin, ‘is’!Second law abhi bhi hai!” he snapped at my use of ‘was’

    Surely, my physics wasnt impressing him either. “yaad nahin, I said”

    “Force on an object is directly proportional to the mass of the object and the acceleration of the object”, he said it in near perfect english. “aapne mtech nahin kiya?”

    “nahin, mba kiya”

    “mba waale toh sirf paisa kamana chahte hain, kaam nahin karte”

    “nahin, aisa nahin hai, paisa kamaane ke liye kaam karna padta hai”

    He said “arrey, rehene do” or some words to that effect. He didnt think too highly of me apparently anymore.

    In a minute we reached our destination. We got off and I told him that he must and should definitely study more, and that I think he is sharp as hell.

    He took only Rs 30, smiled and began to leave. I got my camera out and said “Raju, ek photo leta hoon tumhari”. He waved me off, dismissed the idea and rode off before I could say anything more….leaving me feeling high and dry like a spurned lover.

  14. Objectivisty Mantra Says:


    Interesting experiences. One needs to be a really patient type to be able to recollect such mundane happenings. great.

    But I also stand by my earlier argument that patriotism is not a virtue… The division of humanity on lines of nationality is as pernicious as the division on lines of caste, religion and race.

    It is time the humanity grew up and accepted that we are all humans before we become Pakistanis, Americans, Africans, Chinese or Indians.

    A national border is a crime against humanity and nature….

  15. the colonel Says:

    Objectivisty Mantra:

    Yes Patriotism is not a virtue: see the various Sena’s. useless bums.

    And Religion: Churumuri had forgotten THAT IT IS THE BIGGEST SCAM.

    National Borders: Its a BIG LARF: Larf; the spelling is correct.

    You have permission to include them in your Blogs.

    And The Indian Army: We stand up for what is right. Ask the POW’s from Pak. We are not for patriots. We just get the job done.

  16. Sanjeeva Says:

    This “What If” is a meaningless and illogical thing – at least until a Time Machine is invented. I don’t understand why one should break his head, scratch his brain, wring the hands, heave a sigh about something which cannot be undone. One should not live in the past. Leave the past and look to the future. If at all, learn from the past. A debate on “what if” (whatever be the subject) is waste of time and does not serve any purpose, not even of academic interest.

  17. Objectivist Mantra Says:

    @colonel, thanks. we are proud of officers like you.

    the job of the army or the police is to preserve justice. That’s all. the tragedy is that too often our men in uniform are used and abused to implement a demagogue’s so-called patriotic agenda.

    In a perfect world, the army would not be a patriotic force, it would not be under the command of democratically elected demagogues. The army would exist only to serve the cause of justice, which has been framed on the basis of individual rights…

  18. harkol Says:

    There are many ‘what ifs’ that we may never have answer for. What if Pakistan was never created? What if British never left India? What if British never came to India (China is doing far better than India without the English language)…

    Bottom line, decisions are taken based on situation on the ground. 1971, Pakistan wasn’t a Nuclear state, and was involved in a genocide causing massive hammer-age in India due to refuges. In a way IGs hands were tied, as not doing something would’ve meant a disaster too.

    While IG lost her mind after the war, the war did cut Pakistan down to size (Imagine a nuclear Pakistan on both sides of India).

    The problem wasn’t Bangla war. It was India’s stupidity after Bangla war. It should’ve ensured Pakistan remained a non-nuclear state as part of the Shimla treaty, or by making sure it never attained it (like Israel has been doing it). India didn’t nip the Pakistani mischief in the bud, and now it has grown to be a terror state.

  19. Vinay Says:

    Objectivist Mantra:

    We do not live in utopia. No point talking about stuff like “national borders should be irrelevant”.

    Common sense dictates that one should plan based on current realities.

  20. Jagadish Says:

    @Objectivist Mantra:

    I can’t believe you’re really being serious but it sounds like you are.

    You propose to live like “civilized individuals” within your “housing society” of enlightened nations. This is based on the implicit assumption of fair and unbiased behaviour from every participant. This core assumption is based on some alternate universe.

    The reality on this planet is anything but this, actually the opposite of this, has always been and will continue to remain lopsided and biased for as long as human beings exist, even though you may wish otherwise.

  21. Smita Sahay Says:

    Dear all,

    I am Smita Sahay, wife of Captain P Sahay, Indian Navy, the writer of one of the pieces that the Col so kindly put up (train journey, although I had originally called it “Pride India”). I thank him for sharing it here.

    It was sent as a mail to friends and family (the forward of which colonel saab may have received), most of who are in the Armed forces, and later posted on my blog (smitasahay.blogspot.com).

    I feel the write up is as relevant today as it was when it was written.

    Objectivist Mantra, I have lived in the almost all the border areas with my father, an officer of the Border Roads Organisation (he was an Emergency Commissioned Officer in the Indian Army before that).

    Try living there (in Nagaland, Ladakh, Kashmir, Mizoram, Assam, West Bengal) to understand that armchair idealism and this kind of debate is a luxury that becomes possible only when there is someone guarding those borders.
    The world over, there is peace only when a strong army is there to ensure it.

    The definition of civilised can vary from person to person.

    For me, it means having the muscle but using it only after careful deliberation, avoiding all unnecessary bloodshed, and only as a deterrent.
    Speaking of virtues, protecting oneself is also one.

    I agree with what Jagadish says, “The reality on this planet is anything but this, actually the opposite of this, has always been and will continue to remain lopsided and biased for as long as human beings exist, even though you may wish otherwise.”

    Its not about an ‘eye for an eye’, but about protecting your own eyes!

    I agree with the Colonel that the Army is there just to get the job done.

    Politicians will be politicians, but we have our democracy to thank that we are not under military rule, as it should be used only to protect (ref to the complete collapse of governance in our neighbouring state, Pakistan).

    That they (politicians) need to learn to value the Armed forces more is a completely valid point. Regards

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