The Indian Express of 26 August front paged as article by Ms Seema Chishti titled :“ When four of India’s Greatest painters were sent to cover the India -Pakistan War of 1965”.
It mentions the names of MF Hussain, Krishen Khanna, Ram Kumar and Tyeb Mehta. These artists visited the battlefields after the action was over. They were able to capture the destruction of war but not its action, ethos or poignancy. The works of a soldier artist who fought through the battle of Longewala and subsequently painted his impressions, seen live on the battlefront, needs to be better known ( Paintings of Longewala Battle are shown below). I refer to Colonel Arul Raj, who served in my regiment and saw action with me in the battle of Longewala. He is not only an artist but a cartoonist (some cartoons attached) whom I felt would have been an ideal replacement for the ‘Laxman’. Here is an excerpt of my book “ The Sarkari Mussalman” ( Intriguing title which the book explains) and relevant paintings by Colonel Arul Raj on the battle of Longewala
1971 INDO PAK WAR AND LIBERATION OF BANGLADESH
In late October 1971, I was part of several hundred officers, (with Capt Arul sitting next to me), of the 'Battle Axe Division’, all seated on tarpaulin sheets on the desert sands in Jaisalmer sector awaiting the address of the Chief of Army Staff, Gen (later FM) Sam Manekshaw. There was a table covered with an Army issue blanket, chair and a microphone set up in front. We heard his helicopter land. He breezed in, brushed aside the microphone, climbed on to the table and stood facing us with his hands on his hips. His address was short and crisp. 'Boys, I am sending you across. Victory must be ensured. I want you to remember three things, firstly, prisoners of war will not be Ill-treated, secondly, there will be no plunder or booty hunting, and lastly keep away from the ‘Begums’ (Pakistani women)'. He jumped off the table, had a cup of tea with us in an enamel mug, standard Army issue, and flew off. His speech was short, crisp and left no doubts in our minds. He was not verbose. The hallmark of leadership is good oratory, brief, precise and to the point to fire the imagination of the listeners. Sam Manekshaw's address had us spellbound. He had incomparable charisma which is a strange alchemy of inner spirit, energy, fire, radiance, enthusiasm and spontaneity. This charisma was genuine, not a fake put on act. It was a spark that ignited the fire within us.
For several months we had been rehearsing our role of breaking through the Pakistani defenses with our objective being the town of Rahim Yar Khan, a rail and road communication center in Pakistan. Our short fall of vehicles, equipment and man power was made up. We began receiving new vehicles, reservists and ammunition, the markings on which we could not decipher. It was Hebrew.
The Batteries of my Regiment were allotted to three Infantry Brigades. One battery of the Regiment, which I subsequently commanded, was deployed to support the Longewala post. This post had been established to check any out-flanking attack by Pakistan during the Battle Axe Division's thrust to Rahim Yar Khan (RYK) planned for 4 December 1971. RYK was our objective in the desert. We had to traverse very rugged and inhospitable terrain. The Sadewala and Longewala posts protected the Western flanks of our formation. We also did not expect the Pakistanis to take the approach via Longewala. They surprised us, indeed, by taking it and surrounded our post on the night 3/4 December 1971. This had been preceded by massive pre-emptive strikes on our airfields in the West, including Jodhpur. Our ammunition replenishment column was on its way from Jodhpur that night and reached us with great difficulty. We were concentrated further East at Tanot, preparing for our divisional thrust on 4 December 1971. The Pakistani armour, comprising Chinese T 59 tanks of 22 Armoured Regiment, surrounded the post. For some unknown reason the Pakistani armour paused and waited the arrival of their infantry, which they had over shot. They were also, probably, inhibited by the wire fence which they mistook as markers of a minefield. It was really meant to keep out stray dogs and cattle. The post commander, Major Chand Puri kept his nerve and so did his commanding officer, Lt Col Khursheed Hussain at Sadhewala. Unfortunately, the movie 'Border' depicted the latter in ambivalent light, probably to add grist to the mill and to project Indian Muslim soldiers in poor light. This was unfair and challenged by our armed forces personnel, in the know of actualities.
That night 3/4 December 1971 there was massive confusion. We were asked to veer West from our Assembly Area North of Tanot and head for Longewala. The single road artery was clogged and we were sitting ducks for the Pakistani Air Force. We called in our Air Force at dawn on 4 December 1971. We saw our Hunter aircraft dive and play merry hell into the Pakistani Armour, the bulk of which was decimated. 40 Pakistani tanks were destroyed or abandoned. We captured five field guns and three anti aircraft guns. The burning tanks eerily lit the night sky. Every artillery piece in range brought down a barrage of fire and contributed significantly to the defence of Longewala. Had it not been for our Air Force our armour, of obsolescent AMX13 tanks buttressed by a few Russian T 54 tanks would have been no match for the Pakistani Armour. The Pakistani plan was bold and audacious. They planned to outflank us and head for Jaisalmer, their objective. They, however, made the cardinal error, in execution, by allowing their armour to overshoot the Infantry and not allocating enough air resources for their thrust to Longewala. The destruction of the Pakistani Armoured Regiment gave us respite and it took another day to stabilize the situation. The Pakistani Divisional commander,18 Infantry division, was reportedly sacked.
The Pakistanis had no option but to fall back with us in hot pursuit. The inhibiting factors to movement were difficult terrain and logistics. Our vehicles could only move on 'duck board' tracks made of wooden planks linked together with rope. Water was strictly rationed. A water bottle for each day. One had to make the best use of it and the emergency ration of ' Shakar-Paras’ (hard sweetened flour cubes) heightened thirst. To conserve water, I grew a stubble. One night during a lull in the firing three khaki clad figures staggered into the gun position with their hands above their heads. They kept shouting ' Don't shoot, we're Bengali officers'. They were deserters from the Pakistan Army. As a precaution we relieved them of their weapons but took good care of them. They were promptly dispatched to higher HQ from where, after debriefing, they were dispatched to the East to fight with the Mukti Bahini. Several prisoners of war were taken, interrogated and dispatched to prisoners of war camps. Gen Manekshaw's instructions was scrupulously observed.
One night in a raid on a Ranger post our artillery observation Officer with the raiding party attacked a village fort called 'Islamgarh’. It involved a cross country movement. Our men were adept at such moves and the raid achieved complete surprise. In the morning the Junior Commissioned Officer, who was part of the raiding party, handed me a cloth bound Koran which he had retrieved from the village mosque. He felt that there was a likelihood of it being desecrated and It would be safe in my custody. I still have it and will return it to its rightful place, at the opportune time.
Despite our overall superiority we could make only limited progress, about 15 Kms till the ceasefire was declared. We spent the next six months in the blistering heat of the Thar Desert in Pakistan Sindh. Temperatures touched 50 degrees and snake and scorpions were a hazard. Swarms of flies were a nuance and mosquito nets had to be used, even during the day time siesta, to keep them at bay.
The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.