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Gen J.S. Aurora

He saw mud, massacre and betrayal in '47; yet 71 was just duty, not poetic justice.
Prashant Panjiar

MY memories are of Kala in Jhelum where I was raised. Of the Army evacuation, which meant escorting convoys of refugees across the border through slush, mud and massacres. It poured rain, rained riots that summer of'47.

An incident springs to mind. I raced down from Mussoorie when I heard my brother-in-law had been stabbed at Jhelum. At Amritsar I was luckily put in charge of a military vehicle going into Lala Moosa from where I drove to Jhelum. I found my brother-in-law safe. He refused to accompany me as he'd already arranged to go across to Ferozepur under military escort.

On my way back to Amritsar with a truckload of refugees I had tense moments: the truck broke down on a bridge. A Muslim crowd's help was elicited to push a truck carrying Hindu refugees to the side of the road. It wasn't always so smooth. Once Pakistani officials insisted on searching the truck--they suspected us of carrying ammunition. It was a thin cover for the real purpose: looting refugees of their gold, cash. Much aggressive posturing, paper waving, phone calling, wheedling later, we were allowed to proceed. Without being searched.

Pakistani avarice you saved your people from. But who can save a people from their own people? Beyond Wagah, every second truck, excluding ours, broke down. It was mystifying till one realised Indian tempo operators had sabotaged the vehicles so they could charge high rates to ferry them.

Have I ever been nostalgic about my Pakistan years? No. I think of East Punjab as home now. Did it feel strange in 1971 to be presiding over the breakup of a country whose birth had in a sense broken our lives in 1947? No. The idea of avenging, of poetic justice, never came to me.

We weren't responsible for creating Bangladesh. Pakistan was already a divided country: geographically, politically and after the '71 carnage by the Pakistan army, emotionally. We didn't create Bangladesh. We liberated it.

Today, Partition memories anger me less than that of the 1984 riots. I was very angry. Not with the Hindus but with Mrs Gandhi and the Congress. They deliberately created a division between Hindus and Sikhs to garnet votes. The Hindu press showed an extremely irresponsible bias.

The idea of Khalistan too never occurred to me. From the outset, I've said it's a stupid idea. I've had daylong arguments with pro-Khalistani Sikhs in Canada about this.

1947, 1984, 1992. Is there any difference? Yes. Earlier communal riots were about police arbitrating. Now communal riots are about police participating. Aiding and abetting the majority. That's shameful.

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OUTLOOK: 28 May, 1997
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