“So today we fight, not merely for territorial integrity, but for the basic ideals which have given strength to this country”.
_ Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, shortly after midnight of 4th December 1971.
And that’s how India formally engaged herself in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.
Today we celebrate the 49th Indian Navy day, to commemorate the decisive victory of India in the
Battle of Karachi, under the Operation Trident, where the barrage of anti-ship missiles launched by
the Soviet-built Osa-1-class boats viz, INS Nirghat, INS Nipat, INS Veer locked on to their targets
sinking the destroyer PNS Khaibar, the minesweeper PNS Muhafiz and the merchant vessel SS Venus
Challenger. Notably, the cargo vessel was carrying ammunition, and fuel storage tanks to Karachi
for the Pakistani forces. It exploded immediately forming the bonfire that (then) Admiral S.S. Nanda
promised to do so. Another Class-C destroyer PNS Shahjahan was badly damaged and eventually
The Indo-Pakistan war lasted just 13 days and is one of the shortest wars in history which also saw the usage of anti-ship missiles for the first time in the region. The war started on 3rd December 1971 and ended with the fall of Dacca and the formal surrender of Pakistan under Lt. General A.A.K.Niazi on 16th December 1971. What we fail to see often that the “war” isn’t just an isolated incident between two neighbors but the culmination of multiple events occurring both within and outside the region.
Just after the partition of India in 1947, the eastern province of Pakistan was mainly seen as a colony
with its citizens as 2nd class, inferior to the Urdu speaking population of the west. Treated like a milking cow with its flourishing jute mills and rice cultivation, the benefits reaching the shore of Bay of Bengal were next to nothing. While the entire country was under the rule of a military dictator General Yahya Khan, the spirit of nationalism under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibar Rahman was rising in the eastern province.
Outside the region, the USA under President Nixon was in their 26th year of the cold war with the erstwhile USSR, burdened with the deaths of more than 50,000 American soldiers in
Vietnam war. The rapid military built up by Soviets notably its Navy Exercise Okean which saw
maneuvering of over 200 warships, submarines, and aircrafts over Indian, Pacific, Atlantic oceans,
Baltic and Mediterranean seas. Just beyond the Himalayan range, China’s cultural revolution by Chairman Mao was in its full swing as it completed its 5th year.
As the Pakistan Authority unleashed its wrath on its own citizens, the eastern province rose to
their Bengali masculinity reverberating along the lines of Satish Chandra Chattopadhyay’s play, Bengali Paltan (1916)
“Who calls me now a coward base/And brands my race a coward race?”
They were forced to leave their homes, chased and hunted down along the streets of their own motherland (Operation Searchlight by General Tikka Khan on 25th March), and then they formed the Mukti Bahini to fight against the tyrant.
As the Sanskrit shloka goes by,
“Ye yaant yabhyudaye preetim nojjhanti vyasaneshu cha
Te baandhavaas te suhrido lokah svaartha paro aparaha.” [Lochana-1]
"He is a real friend one who rejoices in our prosperity and does not desert us in distress. The rest are
India extended hands towards the freedom fighters and provided covert support for the arming and
training of the men who took asylum across the borders of West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, and Meghalaya.
Thus, came the drawing up of Operation X by the Indian Navy, a completely covert operation to train,
arm, launch, and finally attack the Pakistani forces and their naval fleet in the eastern theatre by the
fighters in guerrilla warfare. Back then Navy was at the bottom of the list of government priority
and living on Cinderella budget got its chance finally to prove its worth to the country and the
Told by Captain M.N.R. Samant, Maha Vir Chakra Awardee, Operation X tells the spine-chilling tale of
strong willpower, determination, and proud soldiers of the Naval force. Operation X initially trained
defected personnel of PNS Mangro and soon started recruiting highly spirited youths. Taking us through the various stages and hurdles it faced along with the book shared how a clandestine mission was broken into different parts and performed with almost complete accuracy. From designing indigenous limpet mines to suit the mission, converting normal vessels into armored boats, the Naval force left no stone unturned for the success of the mission.
Written with the utmost care, it specifically describes the waterways of Bangladesh and the recount of different ports and their importance made the reading an experience of its own. Sharing every single detail and the parallel incidents like that of the sinking of PNS Ghazi, Indo-Soviet friendship treaty, brewing animosity between Nixon and Gandhi, atrocities of Pakistani government, saddening incident of the sinking of INS Khukri, the formation of Bangladesh government in exile.
The book is more than just about a secret Mission as it speaks loudly about the emotions, decision-making skills, and history of a vital time period in post-independent India. The 1971 war not only liberated Bangladesh but also showcased the prowess of the Indian Navy. It goes beyond a military history and strategy book as it teaches important lessons on leadership, innovation in both technologies and ideas. In one of the incidents, the officers had to use vintage World war 2 era maps due to the absence of current ones which shows the adaptable nature of the force and sheer determination to win the war in the most righteous ways.
The book is all about the fascinating, adrenaline kicking tale of the formidable Indian Navy.
At times it goes technical which can be justified given the emotional investment of one of the authors. A must-read to understand the 1971 war, history of the Indian Navy, and the Independence of Bangladesh. Operation X will surely heat one’s blood in the cold December.
Operation X is published by Harper Collins India. To order a copy go here.
Message from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on Navy Day in 1971,
This is the Navy's finest year. For the first time in its history, it has been put to the test. The past ten days have more than justified the faith and confidence that the country has reposed in the Service.
To the officers and men of the Navy, I send my best wishes. You are doing a splendid job. The country is proud of you. _Taken from The Man who bombed Karachi
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Captain M.N.R. Samant- Captain Mohan Narayan Rao Samant, MVC (1930 – 20 March 2019) was an officer of the Indian Navy, who was awarded with the Maha Vir Chakra, India's second-highest war-time gallantry award. Samant played an important role in the covert operation called Naval Commando Operation X, which was instituted in 1971 during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Samant had also served as the first commanding officer of the submarine INS Karanj after being appointed to that post in 1969. After the 1971 war ended, he became the first Chief of Naval Staff of the newly-created Bangladesh Navy. _Wikipedia
Sandeep Unnithan- Sandeep Unnithan is an executive editor with India Today where he writes on security-related issues.