An icon of the Indian Army, who achieved fame in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, Lt Gen. Jack Farj Rafael Jacob, PVSM will be remembered for long for the sterling role he played in that war.
Lt Gen. JFR Jacob, PVSM, breathed his last due to pneumonia in the Army Hospital (Research and Referral), New Delhi at 8.30 am on January 13, 2016. Born in Kolkatta (then Calcutta) in 1923 CE in an affluent business family, whose ancestors—a group of Jews from Baghdad in Iraq, migrated to Bharat and settled down in Calcutta in the middle of the 18th century. Little would his parents have imagined that the young child they held in their arms, would one day play an instrumental role in a war, which would lead to the creation of a new country.
Young Jack Jacob did his schooling from Victoria school, a boarding school in Kurseong, near Darjeeling. Overriding the concerns of his father, he opted to join the British Indian Army at the age of 19. He was commissioned in to the Artillery in 1942 after passing out from the Officer’s Training School at Mhow. He saw service in northern Iraq, where he trained with Glubb Pasha’s Arab legion and for a brief period thereafter, served with Montgomery’s Eighth Army, against Rommel’s Afrika Korps in North Africa. Thereafter, his unit moved to Burma where he took part in operations in the Burma Campaign till the end of the war.
After World War II, Jacob attended and graduated from artillery schools in England and the United States, specialising in advanced artillery and missiles. Promoted to Major General in 1967, he subsequently moved to Eastern Command as the Chief of Staff. This period was to be the most eventful period of his life as he was deeply involved in all aspects of operations, from the time they were conceived in early 1971, to the ultimate victory of the combined forces of Bharat and the Mukti Bahini.
The role played by General Jacob in forcing General AAK Niazi to surrender, reflects in great measure, the mettle he was made of. On 16 December, 1971, he flew in alone to meet General Niazi. Arriving at his headquarter, Jacob read out the instrument of surrender to him. “Who said I am surrendering”, countered Niazi. “You have only come for the ceasefire”. Recounting the incident later, Jacob said that he then took Niazi aside and told him- “I have offered you terms that you will be treated with respect under the Geneva Convention. We will protect everyone including ethnic minorities. If you surrender, we can protect you. If you do not, I wash my hands off anything that happens”. He then gave him 30 minutes to think it over.
Those 30 minutes, recalled Jacob later, “were the most agonising of my life. The fate of millions hinged on the reply of the enemy commander to my no-nonsense diktat. Only I knew that I had been bluffing.”
After the end of 30 minutes, Niazi capitulated. He agreed to surrender to the Indian Army, but Jacob made it clear that the surrender was to be to the Joint Command of the Indian Armed Forces and the Mukti Bahini. That act endeared General Jacob to the people of Bangladesh. In a rarest event in military history, Jacob also insisted upon a surrender in public, and forced the enemy commander to give a guard of honour too. Most tellingly, a study of the campaign by Pakistan's National Defence College concluded that “the credit really goes to General Jacob's meticulous preparations in the Indian eastern command and to the implementation by the corps commanders.”
Retiring from the Army as the General Officer Commanding in Chief of the Army’s Eastern Command in 1978 after 37 years of service, he joined the BJP in the late 1990s, after a successful stint in the business world and served as the Party’s security advisor. He served as the Governor of Goa and also as the Governor of Punjab. As an ardent supporter of improved India-Israel relations, his home in New Delhi has for years been a pilgrimage site for Israeli diplomats, researchers, and security officers. It is because of his persistence, despite change in political dispensations, Indo-Israeli relations continue to remain strong.
On his death, tributes poured in from all quarters of the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences at the veteran's passing. Indeed a legend had been laid to rest. But he will continue to live on in the memory of soldiers as a role model and as an icon.
Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch (The writer is the former Director of CLAWS and is presently the Editor of SALUTE Magazine.)