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Rest In Peace, Jacob Sir

Rest In Peace, Jacob Sir
One had heard of Major General JFR Jacob, but could not meet him because of the war. It was the second week of December 1971 and this writer was in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on a social commitment. The entire metropolis was pitch dark after sun-down when one managed to meet Jacob’s contemporary, Major General BN Sirkar (of the Central India Horse regiment) who was the chief and overall in-charge of the clandestine warfare of Mukti Bahini. It is another matter that while Jacob was a prominent personality, Sirkar loved to maintain a low profile with his behind-the-scene operations. Suffice to say, the meeting with Sirkar was brief. 

Jacob, however, in that virtually unending exciting fortnight from December 3 to 17, 1971, was the talk of the town. Calcuttans, one vividly recalls, were proudly referring to the feats of the “local boy” and trying hard to bask under reflected glories. And the gentleman, Jacob, with his eternal impish smile, would enjoy every bit of adulation heaped on him by his innumerable admirers transcending all barriers. One may ask, why not? Jacob was a visible and prominent part of the biggest military-cum-political strategic victory in the history of modern India.

Much later, however, I met Jacob, the living legend. I had met the victorious General after he had been superannuated from the Army. On being introduced as a graduate from the National Defence College in 1987, the General behaved as if we were brothers. It was an amazingly friendly and warm gesture by a man of his stature to a nobody in public. I still cannot forget that moment of Jacob’s warmth. It was a gesture; perhaps a small gesture with a far-reaching and lasting human impact. One might suspect that Jacob had mastered the art and craft of winning friends after reading the book “How to win friends” by Dale Carnegie. He must be a psychologist!

Thus, when the surrendered Pakistani General AAK Niazi, post-Bangladesh war of 1971, deposed before the Rehman Committee that Jacob “psychologically blackmailed” him into en masse surrender of his troops, one has reason to believe that Jacob must have been at his devastating best to hypnotise and mesmerise his opponent General, who from all accounts, was by no means a soldier.

However, like all humans, Jacob too had his detractors who more often than not would challenge him for “self-glorification”. Without going into the merits or demerits of this view, one thing is indisputable: whatever Jacob did or undid, one could never question his integrity. Being a life-long bachelor, he simply knew nothing but his profession, to which he was wedded.

Again, it must be remembered that notwithstanding his so-called criticism and difference of opinion with his boss Sam Manekshaw on policy concerns, it was the same Jacob who had the guts and gumption to not depose against this boss at Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, Nilgiris, when Nehru’s Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon wanted to “fix” “anti-national” officers like Manekshaw and his ilk through “nationalist” chamcha (sycophant) officers. Those were the days (1960s) of “courtier officers”, when the professional Army Chief, too, was as helpless as a doll.

In some ways, the 1962 war was a blessing in disguise. The humiliating loss helped uproot the rotten elements of the Indian establishment, thereby paving the way to future glory by the likes of Generals JN Chaudhuri,  Sam Manekshaw, TN Raina, and Lt Generals JS Aurora, PN Thapan, Sagat Singh, Jacob, and Sirkar. The best part is that 1971 was the culmination of superb professional armed forces, the shining example of which was Jacob.

A man known to cross swords with any bully, with a profound sense and courage of conviction pertaining to intellectual integrity, Jacob’s presence was always felt in every forum. He was one of those persons who could be described thus: “Love him or hate him, you just cannot ignore him”; and also you could challenge his method as well as his decision, but one could neither doubt, nor deny, nor dispute, nor challenge his intention.

In a way Jacob is also one of the finest products of Independent India. Jacob, a Jew, was a diehard nationalist. He was the living symbol of the India which more often than not is being tested and challenged by all and sundry from abroad who have heard of India but are not known to be interested in the welfare of the geography of 1.25 billion people. Jacob’s very presence was the ultimate and befitting answer to them.

This writer last met the legendary General Jacob on Friday, October 30, 2015, at annual general meeting of Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The grand old man was visibly sick yet active, ebullient and chirpy. In his usual way, he greeted this writer with a disarming Jacob-like smile. One never thought it would be the last meeting, i.e the last post. Farewell great man. We love you. R.I.P Jacob Sir.

(The author is a Supreme Court Advocate and graduate of the National Defence College of India. Views expressed are strictly personal)
Abhijit Bhattacharyya

Abhijit Bhattacharyya

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