Jagjivan Ram was the nation’s defence minister during one of the most critical phases of Indian history — the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971.
At the time, India had two very strong personalities at the helm — Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and then General and later Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, who was the Chief of the Army Staff.
It was in such a situation that Jagjivan Ram played an important role of a moderator to avoid ruffled feathers at the apex level.
In fact, Field Marshall Manekshaw acknowledged the contribution by the then defence minister at the end of the war.
It was in March 1971 that Gandhi asked Manekshaw to open the campaign for liberation of Bangladesh. However, the latter knew that the armed forces were not prepared and needed more time for the same.
The Prime Minister continued to insist, but Manekshaw stood his ground. Here, Jagjivan Ram as the defence minister helped smooth out ties between the two.
At one stage, he even urged Mankekshaw, “Maan bhi jao (Please give in)”, but the Army chief refused to budge, knowing fully well that success was not assured.
Jagjivan Ram ensured that both remained on board and Gandhi finally gave Man1971 ekshaw the freedom to go in at a time of his choosing.
This was important because civil and military relations can get nasty, especially if there is a strong leader at the helm of the government.
Jagjivan Ram ensured that the relationship didn’t sour, thus, ensuring smooth functioning of both the government and the armed forces.
He was the perfect example of a mature defence minister and senior leader. While Gandhi allowed Mankeshaw to go at a time of his choosing, it was absolutely necessary in those months that the forces get the weapons and equipment it desired on time.
Jagjivan Ram and the then defence secretary, K B Lall, made sure that the armed forces’ demands were fully met in the shortest possible time.
Now, Jagjivan Ram, being the defence minister and a senior Congress leader, could have easily taken a share of the credit after the successful completion of the 1971 War against Pakistan.
But he made it clear that the victory was due to the efforts of the armed forces and didn’t take away the spotlight from them.
(The military veteran and historian spoke to News18’s Aishwarya Kumar.)