The year was 1971. Sheikh Mujibur Rehman had won an electoral mandate in East Pakistan to become the prime minister of Pakistan. The dictatorship of Yahya Khan unleashed genocide in East Pakistan, flooding India with refugees. With a spike in violence, India's government was faced with tough options: remain a spectator to the savagery, or go to war against its western neighbour.
This was the genesis of Naval Commando Operations-X (NCO-X), a covert maritime warfare unit that is centrepiece of a book written by Maha Vir Chakra recipient, late Captain MNR Samant, a key NCO(X) member, co-authored by India Today Executive Editor Sandeep Unnithan.
At the high-profile launch of Operation X: The Untold Story of India's Covert Naval War in East Pakistan 1971, published by HarperCollins, the top brass of the navy both present and erstwhile converged at the Nehru Memorial Library on Friday. According to former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sunil Lanba, the 1971 operation was the Navy's finest hour. "It operated as a multidimensional force. And the high point was what Samant and his band of brothers achieved behind enemy lines," said Lanba.
According to G Parthasarathy, former High Commissioner to Pakistan, the book fills a crucial gap: of giving the unsung heroes of the 1971 Bangladesh War credit where it is due. "What was most impressive about the war was the synergy between the political leadership, the military and the people of India."
A special guest at the launch was Commodore Abdul Wahed Chowdhury from Bangladesh, who led 8 Bengali submariners to desert the Pakistanis in France and seek political asylum in India to participate in the war for Bangladesh's liberation. "I was a mutineer in the eyes of Pakistan. I am indebted to Captain Samant's unit for the role they played in our fight for independence," he said. A deep dive into India's glorious maritime history.