Military Digest| Operation Jackpot: what went into launching the Mukti Bahini

Bengali defectors and volunteers comprising some 550 personnel were structured into a naval special force and used for underwater sabotage using limpet mines and demolition charges

Pakistani forces had launched a robust operation to stamp out all Bengali opposition to their plans in East Pakistan. Brutal and ruthless it soon achieved a measure of success. The defeat of the freedom movement in East Bengal was totally against Indian interests. There was also the danger of leadership of the Mukti Bahini and the resistance movement passing into the hands of ultra-Leftists. Therefore, the Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi ordered the arming, training and tasking of the Mukti Bahini by the Army.

Accordingly, the Army Chief issued an operational instruction to the Eastern Army Commander, Lieutenant General JS Aurora on May 1, 1971. Goals were fixed as assisting the Provisional Government of Bangladesh in motivating the East Pakistani people to join the freedom movement. Secondly, the raising, training and equipping of East Pakistani volunteers for conducting guerrilla warfare inside their homeland with a view to tie down Pakistani troops, later through stepping up insurgency to damage their morale and limit their offensive capability by hitting at their logistic support. Lastly, to utilise the insurgent forces as auxiliaries to the Eastern Army on the outbreak of hostilities.

THE REBEL ARMY

To start with, Major General Onkar Singh Kalka – a hands-on, fighting commander – was appointed to coordinate the effort codenamed Operation Jackpot as director of operations. He set to work with the energy that he was well known for.

Using the manpower of five defecting infantry units of the Pakistan Army (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 8th Battalions of the East Bengal Regiment) a Niyomit Bahini (regular army) was raised for conducting conventional operations including nibbling at enemy-held territory. In September, three more battalions were raised. Three artillery batteries were raised for fire support using defecting Pakistani Artillery personnel and new recruits. Two were equipped with Italian Oto Melara 105mm mountain pack guns and one with 3.7-inch howitzers. The entire force was organised into three brigades.

Bengali defectors and volunteers comprising some 550 personnel were structured into a naval special force and used for underwater sabotage using limpet mines and demolition charges. Two Alouette III helicopters, an Otter light aircraft and a Dakota transport, all armed comprised the Bangladesh Air Force codenamed the Kilo Flight. Personnel of the paramilitary East Pakistan Rifles and the Police were organised into sector troops popularly known as the Mukti Fauj to operate in various regional formations within East Pakistan. These comprised nearly 10,000 troops organised into 45 companies.

A large number of civilians and students had crossed over to India to offer their services in the fight for freedom. They were trained in Indian camps and made up the Gano Bahini. By November their numbers had reached some 83,000. They were deployed in the interior for sabotage and laying ambushes.

THE MUJIB BAHINI

Major General SS Uban, commander of the Special Frontier Force (SFF) built up the Mujib Bahini a force extremely loyal to Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman and his party’s ideology. Constituted as an elite force it had its own communication set-up and was not under the control of the Bangladesh forces Commander-in-Chief Colonel Osmany or even the government-in-exile. Another small force of some 1,800 men under General Uban operated in the Chittagong Hill Tracts along with his own troops from the SFF on missions relating to harassment and disruption of lines of communications.

Eleven independent guerrilla groups were also operating inside East Pakistan equipped largely with captured Pakistani weapons. Chief among them was the Kader Bahini of Abdul Kader Siddiqui (popularly known as Tiger) with some 17,000 volunteers. Operating in Mymensingh area they carried out some daring attacks on Pakistani troops and installations. Noting their numbers and effectiveness the Indian Army provided the group with a large quantity of arms, ammunition and communications equipment. Tiger Siddiqui’s men secured the dropping zone (DZ) for the Tangail para-drop setting-up road blocks on all approaches to prevent the enemy from counter-attacking.

For command and control, the Mukti Bahini was divided into 11 geographic operational sectors further subdivided into sub-sectors. Sector N0. 10 had no territorial limits and had naval commandos used for disruption and anti-shipping tasks. A Border Security Force (BSF) Commandant and a Mukti Bahini commander had joint responsibility for each sector. The Army set up Jackpot Sectors (namely A, B, C, D, E, F (later renamed FJ) and E-1) to control these Mukti Bahini formations. Some of the best commanders like Brigadiers JC Joshi, Prem Singh, NA Salick, VrC, Shabeg Singh, MB Wadke, Sant Singh, MVC and K Lakhpat Singh (preceded by Lieutenant Colonel VN Rao, commanding 5/5 Gorkha Rifles) were posted in as sector commanders. A dedicated set of officers, JCOs and men was provided to them to serve as instructors, supply coordinators and field commanders. Among them was General S Roychowdhury (Army Chief 1994-97) then a Major. He served with Charlie Sector operating in Jessore and Khulna areas. Personnel from field formations were also used for training, logistic support and especially for fire support and as reinforcements for Mukti Bahini troops.

IN FIRST PERSON

I spoke to a number of Indian officers who served with the Jackpot Sectors. Lieutenant Colonel Alok Rudra, a Gunner served with Delta Sector. Colonel Pradeep Saxena and Lieutenant Colonel SS Bhatia fought with 82 Light Regiment and provided fire from their 120mm mortars to extricate the guerrillas from tricky situations on occasion. The experiences of Colonel KJS Bakshi, from the Corps of Engineers were typical. Moved from a unit in Central Command he was posted to Charlie Sector, headquartered at Krishnanagar in West Bengal.

His first task was to take over hundreds of vehicles brought over by defecting Bengalis, get them registered and issued to our own troops for their use. He notes that the civil administration was very helpful in this as in all matters. The Sector set up a training camp at Chakulya, neat Jamshedpur now in Jharkhand. Defectors from the East Pakistan Rifles and others from what the Pakistanis are pleased to call Civil Armed Forces (CAF) comprised most of the trainees.

They were destined to become sector troops. In the main camp, guerrilla training was imparted to them. As a Sapper he was called upon to train them in demolitions and the fabrication and optimum use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDS). The mighty River Padma flowing on the periphery of their area of responsibility (AOR) it was considered necessary to target enemy shipping to disrupt their logistics chain as well prevent their withdrawal for a last-ditch defence of the Dhaka Bowl. Mukti Bahini operatives were trained to use rocket launchers for the purpose. Bakshi remembers that the most successful method involved the use of around 400 metres of wire and a battery to remotely trigger the launcher mechanism.

Everything was in short supply and scrounging and improvisation was the order of the day. But they did it and achieved success in all their operations. Sarabjit Singh, who retired as Director-General of Police, Punjab remembers that he was asked to send all the American and European weapons (less the British ones) held by his Special Security Bureau (SSB) unit to be issued to the Mukti Bahini. Later he and his men ran a training camp for members of one of the non-Awami League political parties in Meghalaya.

In August Maneckshaw realised that he needed someone capable to task the Research and Analysis Wing about the Army’s requirements of information and analyse the same. General Onkar Kalkat was recalled from Kolkata to take over as Chief Military Intelligence Adviser to the external intelligence agency. His place as commander of Operation Jackpot was taken by the efficient armour officer, Major General BN ‘Jimmy’ Sarkar. The foundation having been laid so well by his predecessor; Sarkar lost no time in stepping up the tempo of operations.

INITIAL SUCCESS

An archetypal account of a Jackpot Sector’s war is that of Foxtrot Juliet Sector. Brigadier Sant Singh from Panjgrain, district Faridkot, was posted as commander of the sector dealing with operations in Mymensingh and Tangail districts, located contiguously at Tura in Meghalaya. The formation trained 15,000 freedom fighters in basic military skills including demolition, grenade throwing and mine-laying. Operations were launched to deny surface communications and disperse Pakistani forces. The functioning of offices and schools was stopped, the Deputy Commissioner’s office being disrupted by getting a young boy to throw a grenade in his court. The civil administration was totally paralysed, Phulpur sub-division was declared an area liberated of Pakistani control. The Mukti Bahini’s highly motivated and patriotic cadres dominated the area forcing the Pakistanis to break up their troops into penny-packets in order to engage them.

Brigadier Sant Singh, a redoubtable infantryman, played the leading role in the success of his sector and the Mukti Bahini units it controlled. Already decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra for his leadership while commanding 5 Sikh Light Infantry in 1965 he was awarded a bar to the MVC for his role in securing Mymensingh and Madhopur during the war itself, an episode that deserves a separate article in itself.

Operation Jackpot and the Mukti Bahini’s guerrilla war were undoubted successes and deserve all the credit they got. However, for the officers and men of Operation Jackpot there was no triumphant homecoming, no welcome arches, no reunions, no memorial, no tributes, nothing at all – all their records and correspondence were destroyed. After half a century the nation needs to remember them and their dedication, devotion to duty and selflessness, My humble salute to them.

 

 

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