Well before the 25th March Pakistan army crackdown, Sheikh Mujib had made up his mind that he would not go underground and stay put in his Dhanmondi home in Dhaka. But he had instructed his second in command in Awami League, Tajuddin Ahmed that in case he was arrested or killed, Awami League leaders should “cross over to China” because “India should not be embarrassed under any circumstances. But if China refused to help, Indian help should be sought as a last resort.” This and many other untold stories figure in Golak Bihari Majumdar’s unpublished memoirs which he could not finish because of his sudden death last July. Golak was the chief of the BSF’s eastern frontier. Throughout the nine months of the liberation war, he acted as a bridge between the Indian establishment and the self-exiled Bangladesh leadership and India-trained Mukti Bahini. During those crucial days, he got his orders directly from Indira Gandhi, who had instructed him to “do what you think is fit, go as far as you think is right in national interest.”
In February 1971 when Sheikh Mujib and Pakistan President Yahya Khan failed to come to an agreement on power-sharing, BSF director general JF Rustomji sensed a political deadlock was imminent, which would lead to trouble in East Pakistan. He felt “BSF must act decisively at the right time in national interest.” So, he sent Golak from Delhi BSF HQ to Calcutta as head of BSF’s eastern frontier. Rustomji gave Golak a blank cheque. His order to Golak was “to do whatever was necessary in India’s and Bangladesh’s national interest” and also to “take suitable action as he deemed fit.” Golak’s first task was to set up a well-oiled intelligence network along the border. At once, he started getting regular inflow of authentic information from across the border. Within three days of the crackdown, he received secret information that some senior Awami League leaders were heading towards the Kushthia-India border in the guise of poor peasants.
Golak at once rushed to Banpur-Gede border and from there to the Bangladesh sub-divisional town Meherpur. Taufique Elahi Chowdhury was the local SDO. Golak inquired about the presence of senior Awami League leaders in the area. Taufique at first pleaded ignorance, but subsequently confirmed that two senior leaders were indeed in Meherpur. Soon, he presented two tired, famished-looking gentlemen before Golak. One was Tajuddin Ahmed and the other was Barrister Amirul Islam. Golak heard from Tajuddin about Mujib’s instruction to seek Chinese help. At once, Indira and Rustomji’s instructions flashed through his mind.
He did not want them to cross over to China and instead, requested them to come to India with him. Moreover, Golak extended the invitation as he was more than sure that the Chinese would ditch Bangladesh’s liberation war. He had come to know from intelligence sources that President Yahya was busy facilitating the then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s path-breaking visit to China. On being invited, Tajuddin asked Golak point-blank: “On whose authority are you inviting us to India and what could India offer us?” Golak promptly replied, “I have been sent by Government of India, specifically, Indira Gandhi, our Prime Minister.”
Later on, both Golak and Tajuddin discovered they were contemporaries in St Paul’s College, Calcutta. Golak writes that after this revelation, Tajuddin amd Amirul reposed their trust in him and agreed to come to India. It was Golak’s invitation that took Bangladesh’s liberation war on a positive course and created history by liberating Bangladesh. From Meherpur, all three drove straight to Dum Dum airport as Rustomji was arriving from Delhi to meet the Bangladeshi leaders. But Rustomji wanted to be sure whether the two Bangladeshi leaders were really those they were claiming to be. BSF intelligence chief Rajagopal was asked to talk to the two. He too confirmed that both were indeed Tajuddin and Amirul. Rustomji and Golak brought the two leaders to Calcutta’s Assam House. Rustomji gave them his personal clothes to wear.
A special air force plane was kept ready at Dum Dum airport to take them to Delhi. As a security measure, Delhi airport was closed to all air traffic for greater part of the day. Because of delayed take off, the special aircraft reached Delhi late. Inquiries were made by Indira herself as to why the aircraft was taking such a long time to reach Delhi. Golak and the two leaders underwent an exhaustive debriefing because none in Delhi had much knowledge of what was happening inside Bangladesh. The next day, Tajuddin met Indira. She was extremely cordial and “promised him that India would give all help to make the liberation war a success.” At that meeting, one of Tajuddin’s firm comments was that he and other Bangladeshi leaders should be treated as equals in all matters. Indira readily agreed.
On their return to Calcutta, Golak arranged a safe house for Tajuddin close to the local BSF HQ. Golak recounts in his memoirs “an unknown alarming incident” which had the potential to change the course of Bangladesh’s liberation war. Golak’s close friend Nihar Chakravarty, during his morning walk, spotted on successive days some Americans keeping a close watch on the safe house. He also found a long range telescope and other sophisticated surveillance equipment fitted on the window of a neighbouring hotel overlooking the safe house. Nihar rushed to Golak with the information. A raiding party was sent to the hotel. But the Americans had prior tip off and left the hotel leaving behind the surveillance equipment.
Later, Golak learnt from intelligence and his American sources that the CIA had hatched a plot to kidnap Tajuddin and other senior Awami League leaders from the safe house and whisk them off to the neighbouring Maidan where long range US Navy helicopters would make a dramatic landing and ferry the kidnapped leaders to the US aircraft carrier Enterprise which was then deployed in the Bay of Bengal. CIA’s kidnap plan had been personally cleared by President Nixon.
Golak also played a leading part in heralding desertions from Pak chanceries all over the world by Bengali-speaking diplomats who by their act gave the provisional government a status and tacit recognition. It was Rustomji, who had suggested that something needed to be done on the diplomatic front. When MEA in Delhi was sounded on this, it asked BSF to keep off as any faux pas on “our part might cause a diplomatic disaster” for India and the liberation war.
But Golak through his persuasive power won over Pak deputy high commissioner Hossian Ali in Calcutta by playing on his nationalist urge and sentiment and also by providing a strong commando cover for him and his family. This infused enough courage in Hossain Ali to lower the Pakistani Flag and hoist the Bangladeshi Flag atop the Pak chancery on 18 April. To ensure that the flag hoisting took place without trouble, Golak dressed in kurta, pyjama sat across the chancery with a shoe shine kit. Rustomji walked past Golak three times but failed to spot him. The hoisting of Bangladeshi Flag started the process of loyalty swithovers in all Pak diplomatic missions all over the world.
The need for a Constitution of Bangladesh was also keenly felt. Calcutta’s well-known barrister Subrata Roychowdhry along with some Bangladesh’s experts worked on the draft which was later approved by the provisional government. This was read out at the swearing-in ceremony of the provisional government at Mujib Nagar. Golak also had to arrange singers whose rendering of the national anthem “Aamar sonar Bangla” electrified the gathering. It was because of his unique contribution to the liberation war that the government awarded Golak Param Vishisht Seva Medal, an honour usually reserved for the military. He was the first civilian recipient of PVSM.
The author is a veteran journalist and former editor of The Statesman, New Delhi.