Col Ashok Kumar Tara, the Indian soldier who saved PM of Bangladesh

Col Ashok Kumar Tara (left) with the family of Mujibur Rahman (centre).
Col Ashok Kumar Tara (left) with the family of Mujibur Rahman (centre).
By Saibal Gupta

History was created on December 16, 1971 when a free Bangladesh emerged after the surrender of Pakistani armed forces in Dhaka but very people know that on the next day, a 29-year-old unarmed Indian Army officer single-handedly saved the family of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman including his daughter Sheikh Hasina – the present Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

Colonel Ashok Kumar Tara (retd), Vir Chakra, who was only then 29 years old, was entrusted with the job of rescuing Sheikh Mujib's family, sequestered in their home in Dhanmondi, from the clutches of the Pakistani Army. Sheikh Mujib was himself in a jail in then west Pakistan, having been arrested and flown out in the crackdown under Pakistan Army's "Operation Searchlight" earlier that year.

"They (the family) were kept in house arrest at a place called Dhanmondi in Dhaka. I went to the place with only two soldiers and I didn't have any arms," Col Tara told IANS in an interview.

Recounting the incident, he said: "I understood one thing that if I went with arms and many soldiers, then the Pakistani Army might get scared and start firing on the people. This might cause harm to the family. There were 12 people. I took the risk and went there on December 17 at 9 a.m.

"I decided to face the Pakistanis with my guts and wits. I left my weapon with my 2 jawans and told them to stay behind. I, alone without a weapon, moved towards the house. I reached near the house and asked if there was anyone. They (the soldiers there) replied in Punjabi and being a Punjabi, I can understand the language. They told me to stop or otherwise, they will fire," Tara said.

"I told them I am an army officer and have come to tell you that the Pakistani Army has surrendered. They did not believe it and in response, they abused me in nasty language, but I kept quiet as I knew what my task is, what my aim is. I later again told them to understand the situation, by chance, by luck an Indian helicopter flew over the house. I immediately told them to look at the helicopter… 'Have you ever seen an Indian helicopter over your head', I asked. They were impressed but said they will ask their senior officers about the surrender," he recalled.

Col Ashok Kumar Tara (left) with the family of Mujibur Rahman (centre).Photo by Flickr

"During that time, I was just at the gate, the bayonet of the rifle was touching the right side of my body. I told them there was no communication, as the telephone lines had been cut. I told them if you delay, the Mukti Bahini will come, and the Indian Army will come and kill you. Your family, which is waiting in Pakistan, will not be able to meet you and what will happen to your body, you can't imagine," he said.

"This talk continued for 25 minutes. They even fired at the house. I was unmoved and told them this will not impact me because it will damage you more than me. You are 12 people, you all will be killed and never reach your home. If you surrender, I, as an Indian Army officer, promise you that I will take you to the headquarters so that you could reach your home in Pakistan. Somehow, they agreed and surrendered."

"I then opened the door of the house, and the first lady who came out was the wife of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. She embraced me and said 'you are my son and God has sent you to save us'. She was followed by, Sheikh Hasina with her 3-year-old son Rasul and her sister," he said.

In October 2012, he was invited to Bangladesh to be bestowed with an award by Sheikh Hasina. The award was the honour of 'Friend of the Liberation War'.

"There has been some correspondence, the High Commission in Delhi always invites me for ceremonies," he said, adding that during her 2017 India visit, Sheikh Hasina met Tara and exchanged pleasantries.

Asked about the India-Bangladesh relationship, Tara said: "The relations immediately after the war were very close. But after three years, when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated and then during the military rule, the relationship was in a bad shape. However, when present PM Sheikh Hasina came back to power, the relationship became very good again. The present government also wants a very good relationship with them. There is a brotherhood between the two nations. PM Narendra Modi has said this number of times.

"At present, the relationship is very good and I wish that such relationship carries on." (IANS/JB)

(Keywords: India, Bangladesh, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, History, Ashok Kumar Tara, Soldier, Army)