Every Indian should know about Lieutenant General Jacob Farj Rafael Jacob – the key person behind the vanquishing of Pakistani troops in the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh. More interestingly, he accomplished so with a big bluff.
Following the Operation Searchlight launched by the atrocious Pakistani Army, about 10 million refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) flocked into India, and crisis was growing worse by the day. Although General Manekshaw planned for a full onslaught and capture the provinces of Chittagong and Khulna, it was inherently a difficult plan. It meant that the Indian troops had to go on to a protracted battle, with possible loss of lives of large number of soldiers. Also, the swampy, inaccessible, riverine terrain of East Pakistan was the last place where an army would like to launch a full-scale combat.
At this point, Major General Jacob realized that there should be an easier way out.
It would be sufficient if the Indian Army got hold of Dhaka – the largest city and capital of East Pakistan.
So far so good.
But he came up with an unprecedented and uncanny plan to make this happen.
A cease-fire was sponsored by the United Nations and on 16 Dec, 1971, Maj. Gen. Jacob traveled alone to meet his Pakistani counterpart Lt. Gen. A A K Niazi. Just three days before that, he got hold of Niazi on the wireless that night and explained that the Indian forces outside Dhaka were very strong, a Mukti Bahini uprising was imminent, ethnic minorities would be protected and that they (the Pakistan army) would be treated with dignity if they surrendered. However, Jacob knew that, at that time, he had just 3,000 troops surrounding Dhaka, where his meeting was taking place. On the other hand, there were no less than 25,000 Pakistani troops in the area. It was impossible to capture Dhaka with such mismatched strength.
But as an utter surprise to the Pakistan side, Jacob delivered an ultimatum based on a compete bluff.
He threatened that the Pakistani side would be bombed to annihilation by the Indian Air Force (although they were probably not well-equipped to do so at that time!) if they did not surrender.
Jacob, as he retells it, went out to the veranda, pacing for the full half hour. Exhibiting his legendary self-control, the general appeared relatively calm while puffing his pipe and asking the Pakistani sentry about his wife and children. But knowing that he had been bluffing, “I appealed to God for help and said the Shema Yisrael,” (Times of Israel)
Niazi signed the paper in 30 min and the Pakistani Army surrendered unconditionally in public! When Niazi realized later that he fell victim to the ‘bait’ given by Jacob, it was too late, and independent Bangladesh had come into existence with full international support. Not to mention, thousands of lives of soldiers and civilians were saved.
Apart from this heroic feat, the life of Gen. Jacob is memorable for many other reasons:
1. Born in a affluent and deeply religious Baghdadi Jewish family in Calcutta, he went on to become the highest ranked Jewish officer in the Indian Army.
2. Following his retirement from Army, he served as the Governors of Goa and Punjab.
3. His efforts strengthened the friendly ties between India and Israel enormously.
4. He was very proud of his Jewish ancestry, and at the same time, he was a proud son of India. In his own words:
“I am very proud to be a Jew, but am Indian through and through. I was born in India and served here my whole life; this is where I want to die.”
This great hero of India passed away recently on 13 Jan, 2016 in Delhi at ripe old age of 92.