Ushinor Majumdar’s ‘India’s Secret War’: BSF’s exploits in the run-up to 1971 war : The Tribune India

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Ushinor Majumdar’s ‘India’s Secret War’: BSF’s exploits in the run-up to 1971 war

Ushinor Majumdar’s ‘India’s Secret War’: BSF’s exploits in the run-up to 1971 war

India’s Secret War: BSF and nine months to the birth of Bangladesh by Ushinor Majumdar. Penguin Random House. Pages 312. Rs 499

Book Title: India’s Secret War: BSF and nine months to the birth of Bangladesh

Author: Ushinor Majumdar

Sujan Dutta

Professor Ali. Captain Ali. Whatever the name, the man was the same. Parimal Kumar Ghosh. He died in the national capital recently (July 6). He was 84 years old and was ailing.

In his death, he has given life to Ushinor Majumdar’s just published book. The life of the book is not like finding fortune in the graveyard. But on the evidence of the wealth of material that goes into the details, it is quite probable that he was the author’s muse.

In the nine months leading to the 13-day war of December 1971, then Assistant Commandant PK Ghosh was in charge of a Border Outpost (BOP) in south Tripura, opposite Chittagong and flanking then East Pakistan’s Chittagong-Dhaka trunk road.

Ghosh had served as an Emergency Commissioned Officer in the Army before joining the BSF in August 1970. Even before the Indian government had formulated its policy on East Pakistan (Bangladesh), he was inside the country having taken a conscience call despite the threat of a court martial for having crossed the international border from his command post. He first assumed the alias ‘Prof Ali’, and later, ‘Capt Ali’, after villagers opposite his BOP reported how women were terrorised by the Pakistan army. This was in the weeks following ‘Operation Searchlight’, the Pakistan army’s crackdown on intellectuals in Dacca University and across the country in March of 1971.

On March 7 that year, before he was arrested and jailed in West Pakistan, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had made the call for independence in a famous speech: “Ebare’r songram amader mukti’r songram; ebare’r songram, swadhinota’r songram” (The struggle this time is for our freedom, for our liberation).

In going beyond the call of duty, Ghosh actually opened up new channels for the Indian security forces to train and coordinate with rebels of the East Pakistan forces who had heeded Mujibur Rahman’s call in Chittagong and had taken up arms against their former masters.

What Majumdar does deftly in recounting the deeds of ‘Capt Ali’ — and his book was published before Ghosh’s death — is frame and bookend a generation of officials of Indian institutions through the deeds of the Border Security Force.

He brings the meticulousness of an investigative journalist and combines it with compelling storytelling to bring in sharp relief more than 50 years after the events the spirit of the times.

Ghosh, who the author has clearly interviewed many times, has shared not only personal notes and photographs, but embodies a spirit of a generation.

The men were working for a living of course, taking and issuing orders. But in a younger India, they were also setting up institutions — such as the BSF — with a certain sense of idealism. Youthfulness has its charms. And chief among the principles of that idealism was the belief that one must stand by the persecuted against the oppressor. Prof Ali or Capt Ali is only one of the protagonists in the book. He gives it a telos.

In framing this idea through narratives, Majumdar also gives a point of reference despite the plethora of already existing material on the events of 1971 that re-mapped South Asia.

This is not an exercise of warring over turfs; nor is it one to overwhelm the fight of the Bangladeshis themselves. But it is a document of a time before the explosion into a full-scale, three-dimensional war.

Stories of wars and battles, singular heroism and blowing up of bridges naturally lend themselves to gripping tales. But here, the author has threaded singular episodes from outposts in remote locations through the chaos of the 1970s’ Calcutta and the corridors in New Delhi to document a process — infinitely more painstaking than reporting an event.

It covers the episodes but it is not episodic. The discussions in Delhi that marked the shift of diplomatic policy, the formation of the provisional government in ‘Mujibnagar’, the setting up of the Free Bangladesh Radio in Calcutta and the first supplies of arms — a 3-inch mortar and rifles — are detailed. There is fun in the details. (I particularly loved how tobacco shreds were rolled into a fine leaf of Capstan cigarette paper; the stout smoke was used to light a fuse)

All of it makes for a thrilling read.