118 years of Trust


Saturday, December 26, 1998

This above all
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"Abdullah, I am here," wrote Gen Nagra

By Prabhjot Singh

"MY dear Abdullah. I am here. The game is up. I suggest you give yourself up to me. I will look after you," wrote Major-General Gandharv Singh Nagra in a note sent to Lieut-Gen A.A. K. Niazi, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command, soon after Indian troops had entered Dacca on December 16,1971, to the cheers of thousands of Bengalis shouting "Joi Bangla".

Early in the morning on that day, the composite Indian force, led by General Nagra, successfully assaulted a bridge on the outskirts of the then East Pakistan’s capital before receiving word that Pakistani Commander had accepted India’s ultimatum to surrender.

The immediate response to General Nagra’s note was that there would be no further resistance. Subsequently, General Nagra and his men entered Dacca city. One-and-a-half hours after sending the message through his ADC, Captain Mehta, General Nagra was with General Niazi.

"Surely by the 13th day of the war, Abdullah knew that he had lost the war. It was only a question of time. Any further delay would have meant more casualties," recalls General Nagra, living a retired life at his Sector-28 house in Chandigarh.

"And when I walked into Abdullah’s office in Dacca, there was instant recognition. General Niazi had put on some weight though his face still had the same glow.

"Hello Abdullah, how are you?" I asked him.

Abdullah broke down and exclaimed: "Pindi mein bethe hue logon ne marwa diya (The people sitting in Pindi doomed us.) I let him talk to lighten his heart. There were reminiscences. Tea followed and of course there was forced friendliness. The rest is history," says General Nagra.

General Nagra has a huge pile of newspaper clippings, pictures, war mementos and war trophies to substantiate his story.

"After a meeting with General Abdullah Niazi," he says, "I went to Dacca airport to await the arrival of the Chief of the staff of Eastern Command, Maj-Gen J.F.R. Jacob, by helicopter from Calcutta. At that time, Pakistani soldiers far out-numbered our men. There was sporadic shooting inside Dacca in which many soldiers, including both Pakistani and Indian, were killed. I sent Brig H.S. Kler, Commander of the 95th Mountain Brigade, to the Inter-Continental Hotel in the neutral zone to protect foreigners and the former civilian government of East Pakistan which had taken refuge there.

"I fought my way into Dacca from the North after crossing the Pakistan border on the morning of December 4. With slighty more than two brigades, we covered 160 miles, partly by bullock-cart and foot-fighting at every town," says General Nagra.

Michael Carver, a retired Chief of Defence Staff of Great Britain and a known military expert, in his book War since 1945, writes about the fall of Dacca: "32 Corps had made less dramatic progress and was still some way from its two main objectives of Rangpur and Bogra; but it was on the operation of the small force under General Nagra in the northern sector that General Jagjit Singh Aurora had his eye. The Pakistan brigade at Mymnesingh, which his force, reinforced by a second brigade, was in the process of attempting to surround, was the only one that might now be able to escape, making its way to the south to join the garrison at Dacca".

He further writes: "After several attempts to fight their way through, the Pakistanis gave up, some surrendering, others disappearing into the countryside. Nagra decided to exploit the situation and pushed his forces rapidly southwards. Delayed for a time at Jaydebpur, they bypassed it by a new road not marked on their maps, and by the early morning of December 16 were in the western outskirts of Dacca, 12 days after the war had started. By this time Pakistani troops were surrendering all over the country and Niazi realised that the game was up.

"In the early hours of December 16, General Yahya Khan accepted to surrender and, having given orders that would be no air operations against the city, General Aurora, with his naval and Air Force colleagues and the Chief of the Staff of Mukti Bahini, flew by helicopter to Dacca racecourse and there at 4.31 p.m. received Niazi’s signature to the surrender document, which his Chief of Staff had flown in three-and-a-half hours before and presented to Niazi to initial. At 3 p.m., Nagra had entered Dacca with four battalions and received the surrender of General Ansari’s 9th Pakistan Division. This blitzkrieg, as it could truly be called, was a classic example of the application of Lidell Hart’s theory of the expanding torrent, first pioneered by the German army with its tactics of infiltration in the Ludendorff offensive on the Western Front in March 1918," wrote Field Marshal Carver.

Maj-Gen D.K. Palit, in his book, The lightning Campaign, the Indo-Pakistan War,1971, writes: "Later in the day on December 12, the Indian brigade coming down the Jamalpur road linked up with the paratroopers. Soon after came General Gandharv Nagra, the General Officer Commanding, and his tactical headquarters.

"The GOC’s plans were to push ahead as fast as possible for Dacca. He sent the leading brigade down the road, to Jaydebpur; a second brigade was due to follow up in a few hours. The Para Battalion was ordered to remain temporarily in Tangail.

"On the 13th the leading troops were held up at Joydebpur, where there was some resistance. The second brigade then passed through and took over the advance. They forced a crossing over a river which delayed them a few hours, but were soon pushing south towards Tungi.

"On the 14th, the GOC took a new step. Just east of Kaliakair, a newly built highway unmarked on the map takes off southwards. Informed by the locals that this road linked up with the Khulna-Dacca highway and led into Dacca, via Manikganj, from the west, General Nagra decided to place his bet on this axis and pushed the completely regrouped para battalion down this road.

"Thus it was that in the early morning of December 16, as dawn was breaking, the leading elements of the para battalion came on the outskirts of Dacca, exactly 12 days after the first Indian troops crossed the Bangladesh border on their historic mission of liberation."

General Nagra says that he had been forced to present a correct picture of the entire operation just because certain attempts had been made to distort the facts and present a distorted version. "I did my job and never bothered to claim any credit for it. But when some one tries to misinterpret or distort history, it hurts you," he says showing The Tribune team a number of war trophies he has cherished since his "golden triumph" at Dacca.

The mantra that yields results

By Mangu Ram Gupta

I FIRST served the High Court of PEPSU, Patiala, and thereafter the Punjab and Haryana High Court of Chandigarh, for about three decades. During my long stint of service in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, almost every administrative and judicial branch of that High Court, except the Establishment Branch, worked under me at one time or the other.

I was a hard taskmaster. I wanted all those, who worked under me, to attend to their work with diligence, dedication, and devotion; and achieve the best results. I further impressed upon them that they should not treat their work as an anathema but should have some zeal or enthusiasm for it. What I thus desired them to do was to discharge their duties in the best possible way and strive hard to win the admiration of their superiors with their hard work and conscientious discharge of their duties.

There were two ways to achieve this objective. One way was to adopt harsh measures and to coerce the officials concerned into doing their work the way I wanted them to do it. I was, nevertheless, dead against any such measures because harshness can hardly bring one rich dividends. Nor can it overnight metamorphose the officials who are thick-skinned and are accustomed to doing their work in a slip-shod manner. Harshness also cannot procure for one the willing cooperation of one’s subordinates. All this apart, harshness leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the one who is harsh to one’s subordinates and bitterness in the minds of the latter. And then a strong desire to resist harshness is implanted in every human heart. I, accordingly completely concurred with the wise wit who said, "I never could believe that Providence had sent a few men into the world, ready booted and spurred to ride, and millions ready saddled and bridled to be ridden". Harshness thus stood totally exiled from my mind.

The other way to achieve the laudable objective was to treat the officials concerned in an exquisitely fine manner and be kind to them and thereby win their hearts; their complete cooperation; and transform them into willing and devoted workers. This was my mantra which worked wonderfully well and yielded remarkable results as would appear from what follows hereafter.

In the High Court, there is the Copy Branch, where certified copies of the judgements, orders etc. are prepared. It so happened that no less than 36,000 applications for such copies got accumulated in that branch and it was plagued by utter confusion, chaos, and a crisis of the worst order. The litigants and their lawyers could not get the copies of judgements for months together and were thus unable to file appeals against those judgements. There was as such a horrible hullabaloo and the lawyers were forced to meet the then Chief Justice of the High Court, and bring the scenario, prevailing in the branch, to his notice. The Chief Justice asked me to get the mess cleared. The branch was accordingly placed under my charge, and I was assured that I could handle the situation in whatever way it suited me and that there would be no interference whatsoever in my handling of the branch. It was elating but at the same time an equally chilling challenge. I, however, had no choice but to strive to meet the challenge and rise to the occasion.

How to pull the branch out of "the monstrous mess" it was in, and produce good grains from a soil which was overgrown with wild weeds was the question which stared me in the face and sent a shudder down my spine. I was, nevertheless, determined to meet the challenge and set things right irrespective of the formidable nature of the task. The moment the stupendous task was entrusted to me, I hastened to the branch to make an assessment of the syndrome on the spot.

I inspected various rooms of the branch and found the situation far worse than what it was said to be. I asked the officials, working in the branch, to assemble in one room. Knowing my nature, these officials did not allow me to utter a word; expressed their immense happiness at the branch having been placed under my charge; and held out two solemn assurances to me. One, that there would be no indulgence in any unfair practices. Two, that they would give me full cooperation and put in as much work as I desired them to do. Absolutely voluntary as these assurances were, they went a long way to enhance the image of the officials in my eyes and to lessen my worry to some extent.

Two things now clamoured for immediate attention. The applications which were lying helter-skelter in all corners of various rooms of the branch; and the judicial records which were lying piled up to the ceilings of a number of rooms in haphazard manner. To put our shoulders to the wheel, I asked the officials to tie the aforesaid applications into bundles and place the bundles in one room. As regards the records, I advised the officials to sort them out and arrange them in such a manner that those having judgements running into one to 10 pages should form one lot; 11 to 25 pages should from another lot; and 26 to 50 pages should form still another lot; so on and so forth.

A tremendous amount of work was involved in this sorting and arranging of records. Three-fourths of the officials of the branch were put to this work and the remaining one-fourth were required to attend to the influx of fresh applications which came in a constant stream of about 80 applications per day. The former gave an excellent account of themselves and were able to arrange the records in the desired manner in as short a time as a fortnight. With this admirable achievement, another big hurdle was crossed and my worry was further lessened.

The officials were now in a comfortable position to handle the records lotwise and prepare the copies of the judgements. So far as I can now recollect, the High Court rules and orders prescribed a standard of 4000 words per day for each typist of the branch. With this standard, it was, however, not possible to touch even the fringe of the gigantic problem. The officials concerned were accordingly coaxed to give me an output at least six times of this standard; and they agreed.

With this understanding, the officials started their work in right earnest. Some of them came to the office at 8 a.m. even and by 2 p.m. gave me an output which quite often exceeded even the agreed-one . Having done their day’s job in such a remarkable manner, they needed some rest and were allowed to go home. This also acted as an incentive which urged them to give me a still higher output. The others also did their job with a keen sense of urgency and a determined will to liquidate the accumulated applications as fast as they could. It was, thus, in this marvellous manner that the dreadful debris of 36000 applications along with the influx of nearly 80 fresh applications per day was cleared by the officials in question within about 500 working days and the branch was pulled out of the abysmal abyss and brought to the stage of day-to-day work. This was surely the most scintillating success of which the officials could be justly proud of.

Two things conspicuously stand out of this spectacular success, achieved by the officials. One, though the strength of the staff is important and it is normally believed that greater the strength of the staff, the higher the output yet what is far more important is "the will of each member of the staff". Linking the strength of the staff with the amount of work is not always correct because to make an unwilling worker work is somewhat like flogging a dead horse and his output can never match that of a willing worker.

Two, that kindness to one’s subordinates enables one to win their hearts and works wonders. It is surely a powerful panacea and a miraculous mantra to achieve such objectives. My mantra has thus a great power and potential and is a prerequisite for all such successes. Who will, therefore, dare not to hail it and hold it aloft?back

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