A piece of history dating back to the 1971 Indo-Pak War is said to have disappeared from the Eastern Command headquarters in Kolkata. A Mercedes Benz, that used to be the staff car of the then East Pakistan army commander Lt General AAK Niazi before it was brought to the Fort William, cannot be traced. It was the same car in which Niazi drove down to Dhaka airport with Lt Gen (retd) JFR Jacob to receive Lt Gen J S Aurora, the then GOC-in-C, Eastern Command, before the historic surrender on December 16, 1971 which was signed by both of them. The car which was treated as ‘War Booty’ by officials, was used by GOC-in-Cs of the Eastern Command till a few years ago. Senior Army officers are unsure whether the car was ‘scrapped’ and sent to the Panagarh depot in Burdwan for disposal through auction. If this is what actually happened, the car may have been auctioned off by now. It could either be lying in the garage of a person who knows nothing about its true value or may have landed in the hands of a scrap dealer to be torn into pieces.
“It was ‘War Booty’ that was brought from Dhaka after the War. Unfortunately, we are unable to trace it now. There is a possibility that the car was scrapped a few years ago. Maybe, officers who took the decision were not aware of its origin,” a senior officer of the Army said. In 1971, while Pakistani army generals had Mercedes as their staff cars, few Indian businessmen could hope to own the vehicle, given the country’s stringent import policy. Such cars were a strictly forbidden for all the government or military officials. A section of retired officers believe that the car was simply taken ‘off records’ to avoid any controversy. After all, bringing it to India clashed with late Field Marshal SHFJ Maneckshaw’s principle that soldiers of the Indian Army were not to behave as if they were part of an invading Army. “This was not the only Mercedes that was brought back to India. There were other cars that found their way to other command headquarters. Questions were even raised in Delhi on why the vehicles were brought back. In response, officers had said that they were brought to India for repairs that couldn’t be undertaken in Bangladesh,” a retired Army officer said.
Eminent historians like Amalendu De, sounded extremely unhappy when told about the development. “If the Army admits that the car was brought to Kolkata after the creation of Bangladesh, it should certainly have been preserved. Some anti-Indian elements in Bangladesh had earlier made allegations that the Indian Army had taken away some jeeps after the surrender. I had investigated the matter and found the allegations to be baseless. This is the first time that I am hearing of the Mercedes,” De said.
When Niazi surrendered before Aurora thirty-nine years ago, as per protocol he also handed over his revolver to Aurora. Jacob, then chief of staff, Eastern Command, wrote in his memoirs later that the revolver handed over by Niazi was not his. “....Niazi then undid his epaulette and removed his .38 revolver with attached lanyard and handed it over to Aurora. There were tears in his eyes.... Sometime later, when I examined the revolver surrendered by Niazi, I realised that the weapon wasn’t his. It was a normal Army issue .38 revolver. The barrel was choked with muck..... The lanyard was dirty and frayed in parts,” Jacob wrote stating his doubts about the weapon, “This wasn’t the personal weapon of a commanding general. More likely, Niazi had taken it from one of his military policemen and surrendered it as his personal weapon. I could not help feeling that in his own way, Niazi had got a little of his own back,” Jacob wrote.
In 2003, a pistol which was presumed to be that of Niazi, was stolen from the National Museum in Delhi. Army officials later revealed that Niazi’s revolver (it was not a pistol) was preserved safely at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun. What was stolen from the museum could have been a pistol surrendered by another Pakistani officer.
Historians can only pray that the Mercedes is also tucked away somewhere and will be shown the respect it deserves.