Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Lt. General J.F.R. Jacob: I Had To Ignore Orders

Lt. General J.F.R. Jacob tells Forbes India that he does not regret being the unsung hero of the 1971 India-Pakistan War over Bangladesh

Published: Jul 6, 2011 06:00:51 AM IST
Updated: Jul 6, 2011 07:36:41 AM IST
Lt. General J.F.R. Jacob: I Had To Ignore Orders
Image: Amit Verma
Lt. General J.F.R. Jacob

Lt. General J.F.R. Jacob
Headed the Eastern Command during the 1971 operations. Later, he was appointed governor to Goa and Punjab.
Victoria School in Kurseong near Darjeeling.
Enlisted in the Indian Army at 18, and saw action in World War II and the 1965 war against Pakistan. He was Chief of Staff of Eastern Command during the 1971 operations. Also served as governor in Goa and Punjab.
Reading war history, collecting antiques and artefacts.

In all these years, your role in the 1971 operations [in the India-Pakistan War] seems to have remained understated. Why was this?

I did my duty. I was given a task, I did it. The limelight was hogged by others. But people kept persuading me that I must write the truth. So I waited for 35 years before coming out with my first book: Surrender at Dacca. I gave copies of that book to Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw and Lt. General J.S. Aurora when both of them were alive and healthy. [Both of them were top officials at the time]. Neither of them sent any rejoinder.

What is your assessment of Sam Manekshaw?

I have the highest regard for him. He stood up for the izzat or prestige of the army...Regarding the operation, his vision and mine were different. Manekshaw was being pushed by the government to move to Bangladesh in April. He was pushing me. I refused and gave him good reasons. He had asked for a brief and it was my brief that was read out to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. We had said Dhaka [should be taken first] but he [Manekshaw] said Dhaka was not important and wanted to take the entry ports. But I disagreed violently. Dhaka is the centre of gravity and in war you go for the centre of gravity. Manekshaw sent us an order that “you will, by so and so hours, capture the following”, and goes on to list every single town, except Dhaka! To make matters worse for us, he copied it to the three corps. I had to speak to them and asked them to ignore orders. I had to ignore orders.

You seem to have played a very important role in getting Pakistan to surrender.
Manekshaw called me and said, “Jake, go and get a surrender.” I said, “I sent you a surrender document, three days ago. Do I negotiate on that?” He just told me, “You know what to do.” That’s the only order I got. I was carrying my unconfirmed draft of the instrument of surrender to the meeting with Lieutenant General Niazi, [who headed the Eastern Command of the Pakistan Army]. At the meeting, Niazi said he had only come to discuss a ceasefire and not surrender...I took him to the side and told him that if they would surrender I could guarantee the safety of their families. I gave him 30 minutes and said if we didn’t reach an agreement by then, there would be resumption of hostilities and bombing. Then I thought to myself, “What have I done?” Suppose he says no, what do I do? I had nothing in my hand. Niazi had 26,400 troops. We had about 3,000, that’s all.

Why do you think Niazi buckled?
I don’t know. I can only quote the version from a Pakistani report which said that General Jacob was calmly pacing up and down smoking a pipe [while waiting for Niazi’s response]. I wasn’t calmly puffing my pipe! Aurora was expected in a few hours and the ceasefire would expire by the evening. So I went back [to Niazi] putting on a brave face. I took the paper and said, “I take it as accepted.” There was no answer; not a murmur. He glared. Niazi had tears in his eyes. Niazi also later said, “I was compelled to surrender by Jacob, who blackmailed me.”...You had no idea what I felt like with all those generals snarling at me...I was alone. Suppose I failed? I did not fail. I got an unconditional public surrender based on my personal unconfirmed draft.

Do you feel hurt that your role in the 1971 operations was not recognised by the government?
I don’t feel any sense of injustice. I didn’t ask for any award and was not considered fit for one. That does not concern me. I am not a medal-hunter.

(This story appears in the 15 July, 2011 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Mandeep Singh Bajwa

    How was Jacob 'heading Eastern Command' ? The Army Commander was General Aurora. Jacob was merely the chief of staff.

    on Oct 2, 2014
  • Colonel (retired) Azam Qadri

    I am a Book writer and writing a book that involves Field Marshal Cariappa and Air Chief Marshal Cariappa. Can anyone help me get me through to the Air Chief Marshal Cariappa?

    on Aug 21, 2014
    • Krishnan

      Not sure if this will help. The Filed Marshal is long gone and his son was an Air Marshal not ACM- he may be contacted in Coorg.

      on Jan 10, 2015
  • Colonel (retired) Azam Qadri

    I am a Book writer and I will like to get contact details of Gen Jacobs. Him and my late father, Brigadier Azmat Hyat Khan were friends before the partition of India and I think fought against each other in the Battle Of Chambb in 1965. I want to communicate with him, if someone can help me out.

    on Aug 21, 2014
  • Alok Asthana

    What an army which allowed a Chief of Staff to ignore/change the orders of the Chief and did not courtmartial Gen Jacob. A very telling remark on the lack of professionalism of Indian army in not ensuring that such bloopers are put down firmly. Now every staff officer will think that he can override the Commander. Am stunned to find that Indian army, which penalises junior officers for even minor deviations, did NOTHING about this disobedience.

    on Jun 29, 2014
  • Vishnu Sharma

    General JFR Jacob did all the meticulous planning and management of logistics which went into the brilliant campaign in East Pakistan in 1971. He ensured that the Indian army ran like a finely tuned war machine and with a full stomach. The chief impression one got when observing the Indian army\'s campaign in East Pakistan was that of a finely tuned war machine munching its way towards Dacca which was the heart of East Pakistan at a blistering pace. It was Blitzkrieg pure and simple. All the elements of combined elements and rapidly-mobile warfare were in place and the Indians just hauled ass and bypassed all Pakistani resistance points to reach Dacca within 15 days without getting bogged down in set piece battles of attrition.

    on Dec 18, 2013
  • Sunil Bhat

    India was indeed fortunate that General JFR Jacob was the General in charge of detailed planning for the war with Pakistan in the Eastern Theater in 1971. He correctly assessed the importance of taking Dacca, the capital of East Pakistan, by passing the towns which would have bogged down the Indian army and the cease fire would have come into effect before vanquishing the communal Pakistanis. With around three thousand troops he made the Pakistanis surrender! Not only that he had it held in a public ceremony.

    on Aug 24, 2013
  • Lt Col(retd) A B Sawarkar

    It is a shame that Jacob is so vociferously unkind to everyone who mattered in the 1971 War.That he was only a Staff Officer and NOT a Commander should not have been forgotten by him. He should be ashamed to criticize a man of Manekshaw's stature. He is not fit to hold a candle to Sam Bahadur, the most valiant and outstanding Officer, General and Chief ever produced by India. We won't produce a Manekshaw ever again.

    on Mar 7, 2012
  • R P Mittal

    Does anyone remember the names of Army generals of 62 war ? Well none of them was ready to come forward to take the responsibility and the credit for the defeat. Only poor Kaul bore the brunt. General Jacob should consider himself fortunate that everything went right and he didn't get into trouble for taking initiative. Otherwise he would have been in serious trouble for ignoring orders and finalising unconfirmed documents. Additionally, he did become a governor so there were people in govt who recognised his contributions. Well done sir.

    on Jul 7, 2011