Indian Army Officer Defies Odds to Connect Dhaka in 1971

Indian Army Officer's Resilience Echoes in Communication Triumph

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Lt. Col. M.A Siddiqui (Retd.)
Lt. Col. M.A Siddiqui (Retd.)
Lt. Col. M.A Siddiqui (Retd.) was commissioned in the Corps of Signals in December 1957. He participated in the Wars against China in 1962, against Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. He was awarded 'Mention in Dispatch' in the Bangladesh Liberation War 1971. His contact details are: [email protected], Ph: 9818260900 * Views are personal.

In my story “My Orders to Bring A Pakistani General to Dhaka to Surrender in 1971“, I described the scene in Dhaka town when I had gone there, escorting a Pakistani General, Qazi Abdul Majid, from Bhairab Bazar. The scene that day was chaotic. In the euphoria of liberation, people had gone berserk. Perceived Pak sympathisers were being hunted and killed. One could see the dead bodies lying on the road in broad daylight, with cyclists, rickshaws and cars going past without a bother. If anyone was in control of the town, it was the hooligans. 

We had returned to Mainamati, the cantonment (Cantt) town adjacent to Comilla, where the HQ 4 Corps was. We heard the news on the TV of the surrender ceremony being held in Dhaka on the 16th. There was no communication between Dhaka and the outside world. On the 16th evening, Brig GS Sidhu, the Chief Signal Officer (CSO) of 4 Corps, called Maj MR Narayanan, the Engineering Company Commander of 4 Corps Signal Regiment, and told him to get a radio set GR 345 ready with an operator, to accompany him to Dhaka the next morning, where he was going with the Corps Commander, Gen Sagat Singh, to find out what the situation there was like. Naru (as fondly called by us) did what was needed and awaited further instructions from the CSO, but no call came that day. 

He got the call the next morning (18th December), and the CSO informed him that the situation there was quite pathetic and there was an urgent need to establish some communication(common) set up in Dhaka and told him to get ready with a skeleton staff to move by helicopter, which was coming to Comilla to pick them up. By the evening, Naru was in Dhaka Cantt with his skeleton staff and met the CSO, who briefed him on the situation. They both rushed to attend the meeting being held by the CSO, Eastern Command, who, on seeing Naru, assumed that elements of the 4 Corps Signal Regiment had already reached and rattled off his orders, which was the restructuring of communications from Dhaka to Command and Army HQ, involving the following:-

1. Establish an RR link to Teliamora to extend trunk speech and telegraph circuits to Dhaka.

2. Establish Rtg link E-5 to Kolkata

3. Establish Rtg link A-1 to Delhi.

He was told to use the resources of Pak Signals and their men to complete the given task.

Within five minutes, Naru was out of the meeting room and stood confused about how the CSO Command expected him to accomplish the given task with literally nothing available. 

The first task of establishing the RR link to Teliamora was fine as, anticipating future requirements, his RR terminals were already on their way to Dhaka under Sub Natu. His only concern was that they should get priority in crossing the Meghna River, as many vehicles had lined up at the Daudkandi ferry site. 

Brig Sidhu perhaps sensed Naru’s concern and comforted him, saying that the CSO Command was under tremendous pressure and there was no point in arguing with him and advising Naru to do the best he could do under the given situation. Naru moaned, “Sir, I don’t even have transport. How am I going to move around as the various complexes are not in one location but spread in an area of around 5 km?”. 

The CSO pointed out to the abandoned jeeps of the Paks, saying, you can pick any of these. They all have fuel; even he was using one of them. Putting a comforting hand on his shoulder, he returned to the meeting, which was still on. Naru put his ever-reliable driver, Barkat Ram, to select a jeep from the lot and take charge.

He then came to the Signal Centre and asked one of the Pak NCOs to get their men together, and then he briefed them on the given task. He gave them a pep talk to put them at ease, assuring them of dignified treatment due to a soldier and extorted their help and cooperation to accomplish the given task. His pep talk motivated the Pak Signals men, who felt assured of their safety and agreed to do their best. Haveldar Guldast was the NCO in charge of the Receiver station who had gone away to the PW Camp and had yet to return. The Transmitter station was 5 km away under Subaidar Riaz. An NCO volunteered to accompany Naru to show him the way, and they set off in his jeep. Sub Riaz was waiting for them, and he received Naru at the entrance along with a JCO from the Command, who had come there with the frequency crystals for the radio links to be established. 

Naru looked around and selected two Seimens 1 KW Transmitters as he and his men were familiar with their work. He checked on the existing Pak radio network. He found that the frequency of their Rawalpindi and the proposed link to Delhi were quite close, and the existing rhombic antenna with little adjustment in direction could work. For the link to Calcutta, they will have to erect a new dipole antenna (two, in fact, one each for the transmitter and receiver). That would have taken time, and he gave them the ‘go ahead’ after verifying that the parameter of the dipole antennae had been correctly calculated. This task was expected to take time. They checked with the Receiver station and found that Hav Guldast had still not returned. On Sub Riaz’s advice, they decided to go to the PW Camp and pick up Hav Guldast. 

As they were going, they found some Pak PW stragglers carrying rifles, heading towards the PW camp on foot. Sub Riaz asked Naru if they could give them a lift as the Mukti Bahini men were on the prowl, and they would most certainly kill them. Naru stopped and asked the Pak soldiers to get in. They hesitated for a moment until they saw Sub Riaz and felt relieved. Barely a few km ahead, they were stopped by a group of Mukti Bahini. Their leader showed the torch on Sub Riaz’s face, who was driving, and glee could be seen on his face on their ‘catch’ till he turned the light on Naru and instantly recognised him by his uniform and gave him a salute. He inquired from Naru as to who the Paks were, and Naru told him, “Bandhoo, these people are working with me on an important task, and I need their help”. Naru had picked up a few Bengali words to communicate with the locals. Upon hearing this, the Mukti Bahini officer took a step back, gave a smart salute, and waved them on.

They picked up Hav Guldast from the PW compound. After putting them to work, Naru came into the Signal Centre and found a group of media men waiting to file their report so that it could be transmitted to Kolkata, where their men would collect the report for further transmission to the desired destination. Naru assured them that they were in the process of setting up their communication network, which may take a few hours to be functional. Once this is done, he will take their reports and get them sent to Kolkata. As he came out, a familiar figure approached him, and from his gait, he felt relieved that Naib Subedar Natu had arrived with his RR detachment. He pointed to him the area he had earmarked for their antennas to come up. In about 45 minutes, both the antennas were erected, and within minutes, the RF meter on the monitor showed full deflection. After a bit of adjustment, the voice of his officer at the Daudkandi ferry site, where he had located a relay station, came loud and clear. In no time, the patch-up work at the Teliamore node was completed. The speech and telegraph circuits to Delhi and Kolkata were derived and extended to the exchange and the signal centre to become functional. An important task that the CSO Command had given was thus accomplished. He came to the room where the media men were waiting and collected their reports for transmission to Kolkata as promised. 

By midnight, the Delhi A1 link was also through, and Naru’s friend, Major Natrajan, came on the line and said that Gen Pettingal, the Signal- officer- in Chief, wanted to speak to him. Soon, the Gen came on the line, and Naru updated him on the situation in Dhaka. He was told to ask Brig Tewari, the CSO Command, to speak to the So-in-C first thing in the morning. 

Meanwhile, the antennae for the E-5 Rtg link to Kolkata were ready and switched on. Kolkata’s end was not in the air. He contacted them via Delhi, but there was no response from their Receiver station. By 6 AM, they also came on air, and the Rtg link to Kolkata was soon established. Thus, Naru had accomplished the three vital tasks the CSO and Command assigned him.

It was 6:30 AM on the 19th morning, and Naru was feeling tired but elated simultaneously, having accomplished all the tasks the CSO Command gave, literally out of nothing. He pulled a chair and sat down, closing his eyes for much-needed rest. He must have dozed off, but his mind was alert, and he reminisced the events of the past few months:-

His mind went back to when the brand new exchange vehicle had capsized in Badarpur’s Barak River ferry site, for which his CO. blamed him. He thought his career in the Army was finished. He, however, did not give up, having faith and confidence in his ability to deliver. It was his idea to locate an RR node at Mizo Hills, 100 km back. He was sure it would succeed, giving him the coverage of the entire frontage of the 4 Corps’ area of operations. But how to do it? His CO will not listen to him. He got an opportunity when Brig GS Sidhu, the Corps CSO, took him along to show him the new location of the Corps HQ. He saw the opportunity and shared his idea. The CSO looked surprised! “Are you sure it is going to work? he asked”, “I am confident, Sir, that it will work”, Naru replied. They had reached the helipad as the CSO wanted to see off the Corps Commander who was going somewhere. Knowing that he was scheduled to stop at Aizawl on the way back, the CSO shared Naru’s idea, and the Corps Commander agreed to take him along. Once there, Naru did a quick survey of the possible sites he had already selected off the map and decided on the water tank area, which was on high ground and had a security guard and power. Once back from Aizawl, he rushed to brief his CO on what had been decided. At the sight of Naru, his CO first flared up at having disappeared without informing him. He was also unhappy that the idea of the RR node at Aizawl had gone to the CSO without his knowledge. However, he cooled down and listened to Naru’s plans carefully. 

Convinced that Naru’s idea was sound, his CO told him he should leave it to him and that he would personally supervise the matter. He asked Naru to devote his time to other matters as he was already overloaded. Three days later, when the RR detachment had reached Aizawl and set up their Radio Set C41/R210, everyone, including Naru, was anxiously waiting, glued to the receiver for a signal. Suddenly, the RF Meter on the receiver showed a full deflection to the maximum. With a quick alignment of the antennae and hurrah, the RR link to Aizawl had become a reality! This gave us tremendous flexibility as the Corps formations were now free to move anywhere within the frontage of the Corps area of operation, with assured communication support. 

With ingenuity and innovative ideas, Naru had redeemed himself in his unit. After that, he planned and executed the 4 Corps operational communications. The timely arrival of the RR detachment to Dhaka under Sub Natu was a part of his plans. He felt elated and happy at what he had achieved. He also felt grateful to the Pak Signals personnel who supported him and cooperated. They could have easily messed up his plans by doing some mischief, but they acted professionally and diligently did their job.

Naru was suddenly jolted out of his thoughts. He heard someone frantically yelling from an adjoining building, asking him to come over. He went across and found that CSO Command was having another meeting. When he saw Naru, he yelled, ‘Why are you late? Did you not know of the morning’s meeting?’

Naru replied, ‘No, Sir. I left as soon as you gave me the task last evening. ‘ He then briefed him about the task accomplished quickly and told him to call the SO-in-C, who wanted to speak with him urgently. The CSO was not amused, and his foul mood of the previous evening had remained. He was amid his salvo aimed at someone else when Naru showed up and got a bit of it from the CSO Command. He remarked, “If everyone keeps sleeping, how will we get the comns through.”

Naru could not help and blurted out, “Sir, what I have been able to achieve, I am sure not many people would have done so under the given circumstances”.

Pin-drop silence descended in the hall. Brig Sidhu sensed the awkward moment and quickly spoke out, explaining the difficulties Naru had faced in accomplishing the given task and continued in the same breath to say that now that the communications have been established, I suggest the Command Signals should take over the task. Without waiting further, he turned to Naru and told him to go to the Signal Centre and hand over the job to an officer nominated by the CSO Command. Naru saluted, turned around and proceeded towards the Signal Centre.

There, he met Maj Nayyar, the nominated officer and spent the next couple of hours briefing him on the developments of the past 24 hours. He also told him about the Pak Signals people and their helpfulness, which made his task easier. He requested Maj Nayyar to ensure they were safely escorted to the PW camp when they were no longer required at the Signal Centre.

Ever since I read about Maj Nayyar having taken over the Signal communication responsibilities from Naru, I cannot help thinking of why no communications were established in Dhaka by us earlier, as elements of the Command Signal Regiment were in Dhaka already. He is the same Maj Nayyar whom I had met at Dhaka airport on the 15th morning when I had gone there escorting the Pak Gen. Someone had slipped up somewhere and did not perform their given task.

Who were they? Perhaps we will never know, and it will remain a mystery forever.


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