Tell us about your experience of going to East Pakistan covering the Indo-Pak war.
I had to go to East Pakistan, so I did it. What we were hearing then and some reporters filing reports in Calcutta were hearsay. But if one had to know what was happening, he had to get inside (ground zero). Now I often wonder whether I had realised or not that I had a very young family when I was entering. I could have been arrested by the Pakistan Army and shot dead. But I did it. I had gone to Jessore Railway Station to ensure that the world knew that I had been to the location. I did that and was lucky to come back.
You have lamented in the book that the battle was won on the field but was lost in the negotiating table. Why did that happen despite having a strong government and shrewd politicians back in India?
I often wonder whether we Indians as race are very sympathetic or friendly. We have always been emotional even towards the Chinese (China). We had captured Haji Pir with great sacrifice. Somewhere I have felt that we lost out in the game of brinkmanship on many occasions.
Every Prime Minister of India thinks in the initial years of his or her term that the Pakistan issue can be resolved but thinks completely otherwise towards the end. What is it that no Prime Minister could do to resolve the issue?
I wonder whether we are naive, emotional or good people. I don’t think this can work out. Once Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq became the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the country had totally changed and moved towards an Islamic extremism. I don’t want to be totally pessimistic but I don’t think there is a solution with Pakistan round the corner.
Can you tell us in a nutshell about Nehru’s legacy?
The biggest legacy is democracy. He saw us as a nation through three General Elections which left India’s people with the habit of going into polls and electing a government. That’s the biggest legacy which he enjoyed. He was always present in Parliament and he used to interact so much with the rest, media. He was the only Prime Minister to say that the free press was better than a controlled press. I personally feel it’s the legacy given to us by him.
We also find criticisms of Nehru. How do you look at him in a balanced way?
Even now I would say that he did a lot of hard work for India. Remember we never made anything (before Nehru). Every penny that India had was spent on building infrastructure, new plants, education. We have got the results of all those investments. He didn’t expect a war with China because he had felt the world had seen so much warfare that no nation would solve their political programmes with wars.
Therefore he neglected the Army but in the 20 months he had lived after the war (Indo-Sino war), he had built the Indian Army from 250,000 to half-a-million. He had rearmed the Indian Army. He was concerned about Pakistan which was then fully-weaponized by America. The Americans were no friend of ours at that time. (IBNS-TWF)