Victory: The tale of a table and two chairs
By Anisur Rahman
DHAKA, Dec 15, 2022 (BSS) - Pakistan's last military commander in their so-called eastern theatre Lieutenant General AAK Niazi signed the surrender instrument in the late afternoon of December 16, 1971, to the allied forces' commander Jagjit Singh Aurora at Dhaka's the then Racecourse and now called Suhrawardy Udyan.
The event, regarded as the world's first-ever such surrender ceremony in public, was held on a makeshift stage mainly consisting of a table and two chairs, which are now kept at the National Museum for display as a major 1971 war relic.
But it remained largely unknown how the stage was set in haste and who was entrusted with that task until 2012 when an Indian war veteran, Brigadier General Sant Singh, told a BSS reporter that he was the man, who arranged the historic ceremony.
Singh revealed the interesting piece of information, though it was not an issue of great concern for him or anybody else against the backdrop of a historical episode as he was talking to this reporter on the sidelines of a ceremony in Dhaka.
The old general, whom the freedom fighters in 1971 fondly called "Brigadier Babaji" because of his attire - typical Shikh turban and beard -- and affectionate attitude - was in Dhaka along with several other foreigners who were awarded "Friends of Liberation War Honour".
Singh, 94 at that time, recalled that as the Pakistani commander agreed to surrender in talks with India's eastern command's general staff chief Major General JFR Jacob at Dhaka Cantonment, he was asked to arrange the event at the Racecourse.
"I thought a table and two chairs will be needed for signing the 'instrument of surrender' and so I looked around for a suitable table and the chairs at General Niazi's office," Singh said.
He added: "(Then) I saw the table and grabbed it along with two chairs and rushed to the Racecourse Maidan."
The nonagenarian general, however, looked at this reporter with a smile and a little surprise gesture as, of all the important things, why he was being asked about "a table and two chairs".
Singh said he did not get enough time to select a suitable corner at the Racecourse to set up the simple makeshift stage and ensure security.
Years later, Liberation War time K Force commander and liberated Bangladesh's first army chief Major General Shafiullah, in a conversation with this BSS journalist told that he was actually asked to set the stage at Racecourse.
But as Shafiullah, a major at that time, reached the scene "I saw the task has been done already by somebody else."
"Till today (that day) I have no idea who did it," he said and then this reporter told him the Singh's story and Shafiullah smiled with amusement.
Singh, a recipient of India's top gallantry award Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) twice, said he had carried out another crucial task of interrogating Niazi in line with intelligence requirements immediately after the surrender ceremony.
"We needed to interrogate him for quite a long time on that evening for the military requirement or security reasons . . . to know about the location of his troops, their previous plans etc," said Singh.
Later, he said, Niazi was brought to his residence by the Indian troops "and I went to his home (at cantonment) too".
"I deployed 30 Indian soldiers to guard the house . . . we were concerned that he could flee as on the previous night several high-ranking Pakistani military officers fled the country in helicopters through Burma," he said.
The citation of Bangladesh's honour awarded to Singh pointed out that as commander of the Indian military's FJ Sector in 1971, Bengali freedom fighters fondly called him "Babaji" whom he trained for the war.
"After capturing Mymensingh he advanced towards Dhaka via Modhupur and reached Dhaka on 16 December before the surrender of the Pakistani Army. He always led his troops from the front," read the citation.
Singh, however, told BSS that the most memorable moment for him was the liberation of Dhaka and "this is the biggest achievement of my career".
The citation acknowledged his boldness and decisiveness during the time of liberating Dhaka.
Singh was awarded the second MVC after he captured Mymensingh and Madhupur in Bangladesh while he was leading just one infantry battalion against two of the enemy.