New Delhi: One of the lasting images that have kept Lt Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora alive in India’s memory is a picture of the tall, turbaned figure sitting next to a grim and shaken Pakistani Lt Gen. A.A.K. Niazi who signed the instrument of surrender on 16 December 1971.
Lt Gen. Aurora led the crucial Eastern Command of the Indian Army during the 1971 India-Pakistan war that led to the birth of Bangladesh.
The moment was captured in an iconic black and white photograph which finds itself prominently displayed in the Indian government’s defence offices today.
While he was known as the ‘Liberator of Bangladesh’ after India’s 1971 victory, Lt Gen. Aurora also strongly advocated peaceful coexistence of India and Pakistan.
On his 103rd birth anniversary, ThePrint takes a look at the life and career of the decorated solider.
Aurora was born on 13 February 1916 in Kalle Gujjran in Jhelum district, now in Pakistan. He was commissioned into the 1st battalion of the 2nd Punjab Regiment in 1939, and ended up serving through all three Indo-Pak wars.
From a Captain in 1947 to a General in 1966, his military tenure took him to North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) in the 1962 Indo-China War as a Brigadier, Director General Military Training (DGMT). A series of staff and field postings followed before he reached his finest hour in 1971, when he had to plan and execute the Bangladesh Liberation War.
“So innovative was his operational planning and so meticulous its execution that Lt-Gen J.S. Aurora did not forsake his daily round of golf even once during the 12-day (13-day) battle to ‘liberate’ East Pakistan…” said an obituary in the British Independent.
“Aurora followed the novel strategy of ‘leaving the highways for the byways’, thereby obviating traditional battle engagements. He formed small, highly mobile units that surrounded the Pakistanis, cutting them off from one another and from their extended supply lines,” said the report.
Aurora also utilised air power imaginatively and effectively in support of ground forces, and introduced an element of surprise by employing the newly raised mechanised infantry battalions, it added.
The liberation war execution
The planning for the war began as early as June 1971.
In an article Aurora penned for Rediff, he wrote, “As far as I remember, we started deploying our forces in large numbers from June 1971. We started moving our military administrative staff too because our depots were not well equipped to fight Pakistani troops on the eastern border.
“Whatever depots we had were set up during World War II. We also deployed more troops on the Assam and Tripura borders. Because we did not want to be caught with our trousers down if we were attacked on that front by Pakistani forces,” he wrote.
Aurora said that he planned the army’s attack and defence strategy and was sure the war would be over in three weeks. He also candidly admitted that Indian forces had the advantage of local population’s cooperation.
“This made our burden much less. In all these 13 days, we were on the attacking side rather than being defensive. Our Russian-made tanks were also superior to the Pakistani tanks,” he wrote.
He further emphasised the significance of Indian forces’s deciphering Pakistani army’s codes.
In his autobiography, Surrender at Dacca: Birth of a Nation, Lt Gen. J.F.R. Jacob offered another view on the officer: “He was physically tough and professionally knowledgeable. He served long years under (Field Marshal Sam) Manekshaw and was believed to acquiesce readily to his wishes.
“During the 1971 operations, Aurora undertook frequent visits to the forward areas but failed to win the confidence of most field commanders. His relations with most of them were like oil and water and he did not build up his subordinate commanders inspite of their successes in battle,” wrote Jacob.
Aurora retired from the Indian Army two years after the war.
Almost a decade later, he emerged from the shadows to criticise then prime minister Indira Gandhi for sanctioning Operation Blue Star to neutralise Sikh militants sitting in the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
In the aftermath of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Aurora sought to rehabilitate the victims.
In 1986, he became a Rajya Sabha MP as an Akali Dal nominee.
Apart from the military honour of Param Vishist Seva Medal, he was also awarded the Padma Bhushan for his role in the 1971 operations.
He died on 3 May, 2005, at the age of 89.
Get the PrintEssential to make sense of the day's key developments.