Written By: Brig Mumtaz Malik (R)
A personal account of a war veteran who fought in both 1965 and 1971 wars.
This is the story of another Commander Kulbhushan S. Jadhav, who was also captured red-handed while spying for India. However, he was caught on the border whereas Kulbhushan Jadhav was apprehended deep inside Pakistan territory operating for many years conducting terrorist activities. It was well over half a century ago, on April 4, 1961 and well before RAW was even created, in 1968. Army Number IC-3837 Lt Col Gunindra Lall Bhattacharya MA, LLB, psc, Assistant Director Intelligence (AD Int) of Intelligence Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt of India, Calcutta-19, was arrested while involved in espionage in East Pakistan. He was tried by a Military Court (FGCM) at Dacca (Dhaka) and awarded 10 years’ Rigorous Imprisonment (RI). The Court comprised of Colonel Allah Dad, the Deputy Director General of East Pakistan Rifles as the President, Lt Col A. T. K. Haq of the East Bengal Regiment and a civilian Magistrate as members of the Court. Incidentally, Col G.L. Bhattacharya who was MA, LLB himself, had all the facilities of full defence which included an eminent Indian Barrister, Mr. Gurru Ghattak and another Hindu Advocate from the Indian Supreme Court. A team of leading Hindu Advocates of Dacca High Court with all the local support was provided as well which was also arranged by the Government of India. Besides, he was provided with a Law qualified Lt Col of Pakistan Army as ‘Friend of the Accused’. Col Bhattacharya himself and almost a platoon of his highly experienced defence counsels intensely grilled the little Captain, the main prosecution witness and the main target, for a full one week (August 28-September 4, 1961) almost continuously and in the most aggressive manner. However, the little Captain, the only prosecution witness, quite successfully braved and defeated such a massive onslaught for no less than a week continuously from morning till evening, so confidently and bravely.
I was the young Captain with just about 6-7 years’ regimental service in my battalion (famous 4 FF Regiment) and had been posted to 614 Field Intelligence Unit (FIU) at Jessore in erstwhile East Pakistan about a couple of years earlier. This was my very first ERE (Extra-Regimental Employment) away from my parent unit and the regimental service. Since this unit belonged to 14 Division and directly under the Divisional HQ at Dacca (Dhaka) but located at Jessore Cantt, I enjoyed relative independence and freedom of action like any independent Officer Commanding of a field unit.
In mid-February 1961, a suspicious letter from one Sukumar Sen addressed to Dr. C. N. Datta M.D. on address of Calcutta-19 was intercepted at RMS (Railway Mail Service) Ishurdi Railway Junction while sorting the mail for India by train from Ishurdi to Calcutta. In fact, accidentally the envelope containing a letter with coded writings pertaining to army units and their movements etc., wrapped in a magazine, fell open at RMS Ishurdi, an Eastern border town in district Pabna. This led to a hectic and high intensity operation for my unit to locate our man out of nowhere and with almost no clues to go by. I placed all my unit personnel, including myself, at high alert working almost round the clock. This included full surveillance of all civilians especially the suspicious ones of MES, Unit’s Canteen contractors and their staff, vendors etc. in Jessore Cantt; closely watching all entries into the Cantt and keeping very vigilant eyes on all visitors. Station Workshop Canteen and the adjoining Recreation Room, from where one of the Orders Part I were found in the intercepted mail, were placed under watch. We also started censoring all the mail at Jessore Central Post Office for duplication to over ensure which proved to be a very fruitful activity. Working day and night, we prepared a list of suspicious people and gradually shortlisted it. All we had was the handwriting on the envelope and its contents. In this connection, quietly we checked the books of all the unit canteens, MES offices etc. in order to identify the hand writing. I personally visited all the banks at Jessore very discreetly and quietly went through the applications of all the account holders, made lists of suspects and continued shortlisting them. All this was a colossal task. Very laboriously and carefully we shortlisted and narrowed down around the Indian Spy, our target, for good about a month or so. Additionally, we played other tricks like leaking out startling but fake intelligence, through Unit Orders Part I by pasting them on unit Canteen Notice Board in order to attract the spy and to watch his reaction. The luck was on our side and finally when he removed the planted Routine Order from the notice board under watch, we spotted him. Once we were sure, we nabbed him on the night of March 27/28, 1961. He happened to be Raffiuddin Ahmad, Accountant of Station Workshop EME, Jessore. He lived in Jessore Town but came to the Cantt daily and left every evening on his bicycle.
Instead of going mad with joy at the initial success, very patiently and painstakingly, I continued to work on him and having successfully doubled him, continued the clandestine communication uninterrupted between the Indian spy and his handler in Calcutta. After gaining full confidence of the latter, it was planned to promise exciting intelligence, including important documents such as Pakistan Army List, GHQ Telephone Directory etc. supposedly from a clerk of the local Brigade HQ in exchange for immediate delivery of money for the documents. In the first communication we asked Col Bhattacharya to meet at the border in order to collect the documents and to deliver the money as soon as possible. Furthermore, in order to look natural, we asked him to select the place of his choosing and the date/time for the RV, so that there was no suspicion. Then suddenly, creating an emergency situation i.e., danger of being located/caught up with the big books/documents etc., we forced him to rush up immediately to a point on the border which had been used as an RV once before, between 4-6 p.m. on April 4. We didn’t leave him much time to think and it did work. It was a battle of wits between the Indian Col Bhattacharya, MA, LLB, psc, and the little Captain, who finally won the battle of wits. Col’s innocent excitement was obvious from the two movie tickets, later found in his bag, for the movie he had earlier planned to enjoy along with his wife that evening. My deepest apologies to the lady for missing the movie that evening in the company of her spouse.
In the meantime, I had carried out reconnaissance of the ambush site unobtrusively all by myself and made the plan of operation. On April 4, 1961, along with my ambush party consisting of three Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) and three Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs) of my unit, all armed with rifles, while I carried a Sten Gun we reached the site. We left Jessore along with Raffiuddin in two civilian jeeps of my unit, at about 3:30 a.m. early morning and reached the site just before daybreak, as planned. Hiding the jeeps well behind in a clump of thick trees, we were deployed and ready for action before the first light, although the action was expected in the evening. Three on top of trees and the other three on the ground, the riflemen were deployed in a semi-circle, well tucked up and camouflaged in thick growth. Raffiuddin and I placed ourselves in a ditch and thick undergrowth. Raffiuddin was briefed to stay in front of me in the open, visible from the border boundary pillar. He was thoroughly briefed, and repeatedly rehearsed, that he would not look back while he spoke to me or when I called him.
After rather a taxing wait for almost the whole day, while we were ready to receive our guests impatiently, two fairly tall men in civvies appeared approaching the boundary pillar at about 0445 p.m. They stopped near the boundary pillar and refused to move forward towards us. Repeatedly, they were signaling and urging Rafiuddin to come to them. I was crouched just behind him in the ditch. As he had already been well briefed, I had also told him that in case he disobeyed me or moved forward, I would shoot to kill him. He told me that he had recognized them, the older/heavier one as Col Bhattacharya and the younger/smarter one as Inspector P. K. Ghosh. Since they were not moving forward, I asked Raffiuddin to take just a couple of steps forward, show them the bag, supposedly carrying documents, and signal to them to come forward, which finally they did. On approaching Raffiuddin, Col Bhattacharya opened his own bag to show him the money he had brought, but in the process Rafiuddin also got a glimpse of the loaded revolver and panicked. He turned towards me and started shouting, “Sir, he has brought a gun. Sir, he will kill me!”. Suddenly they also panicked, immediately took out their revolvers and ran back towards the boundary pillar. I opened fire to shoot them down but they were running for life. I was also running after them and firing with my sten gun, while all the six riflemen were also firing at them. Inspector Ghosh who was young and athletic ran fast and escaped into Indian territory. Since I was running through ploughed fields and uneven ground, I almost missed Col Bhattacharya. Although I was classified as a Marksman and captained Regimental PARA Team in Army Championship in 1956-57, it was a very poor showing indeed. It so happened that I emptied the entire magazine, but perhaps it was about the last bullet that just grazed against the right side of the waist of the Colonel, and he raised his hands. If he had the slightest courage and presence of mind, and had turned on me with the loaded revolver in his hand, he could have killed me and escaped because my gun was now empty. Again the lady luck was on my side. I pounced upon the bleeding Colonel and disarmed him. In the meantime my men also rushed up and handcuffed him. I sent one jeep in advance, at top speed straight to CMH Jessore with a message to CO CMH, to keep the operation theater ready for the bleeding Colonel. I followed slowly along with the wounded prisoner. Suddenly, I had become a national hero although rather short-lived. I had hit the headlines. Brig Sardar Ali, SK, MC, Acting GOC 14 Division, Governor East Pakistan, Gen Azam Khan and Begum Azam hugged me and eulogized me.