New Delhi: Lt Gen J.F.R. Jacob (retd), one of the last of the Indian Army veterans to have seen action in World War II and who played a steller role in the 1971 war that led to the creation of Bangladesh, died in a hospital here on Wednesday, an offcial said.
Jacob, 93, a bachelor, passed away around 8.30 a.m. at the Army Hospital (Research and Referral) due to pneumonia, a hospital official said. He had been admitted on January 1.
Enlisting in the British Indian Army in 1942 much against the wishes of his father, the Calcutta (now Kolkata)-born Jacob, who traced his roots to Baghdadi Jews from Iraq who settled in the city in the 18th century, saw his finest moment on Dec 16, 1971 when he flew to Dacca (now Dhaka) and persuaded the Pakistani Army commander in the then East Pakistan, Lt. Gen. A.A.K. Niazi, to surrender along with some 93,000 troops to bring the war to an end.
It was a campaign that was to have concluded in three but did so in two, largely due to Jacob's dramatic flight to Dacca.
Niazi would later claim that Jacob had arm-twisted him, but the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, which probed the Pakistani Army's debacle, had this to say: "He displayed a shameful and abject attitude in agreeing to surrender when he had himself offered a ceasefire to the Indian commander-in-chief; in signing the surrender document agreeing to lay down arms...."
The last word on Jacob, came from Pakistan's National Defence College, which concluded in a study that "the credit really goes to General Jacob's meticulous preparations in the Indian eastern command and to the implementation by his Corps commanders."
Jacob was then a major general and soon picked up his third star to head the Eastern Command, of which he was chief of staff under Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora during the Bangladesh operations.
Prior to this, he commanded the 12 Infantry Division and saw action in the 1965 war with Pakistan. after retirement, he served as the governor of Goa and Punjab and as the security advisor to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
"I am proud to be a Jew, but am Indian through and through," he told journalist Aimee Ginsburg in 2012.
It is perhaps Ginsburg who paid Jacob the ultimate tribute, writing in openthemagazine.com in an article titled "The Sun Of His Many Parts" on June 2, 2012: "I first saw Gen Jack Jacob ten years ago, during the Sabbath services at the Judah Hyam synagogue, Delhi's only Jewish temple. When he walked through the door, the (small) sea of congregators parted and an excited hush filled the hall. 'It's Gen Jack Jacob!' the lady next to me, beautiful in her Sabbath salwar of turquoise silk, whispered in my ear. Her husband's back straightened discernibly; 'Gen Jacob is our topmost Jew!' he said.
"Of that long ago evening of prayer, that suddenly upright back is what I remember most. 'People throw around the phrase larger than life," the Israeli ambassador said to me that night. 'Not many people fit the bill. Lt General Jack Jacob is larger than life.' Jacob, a large man with silver hair and posture becoming of his rank, was immaculate in his navy blue suit. Far removed from military affairs and not interested (at the time) in matters of my tribe, I looked, nodded and moved away."
"Years later, environmental and social activists in Goa introduced me to Jacob's remarkable legacy as the state's most effective and beloved (ex) Governor. Later still, the General's autobiography An Odyssey in War and Peace became a bestseller. I wrote to him finally, asking for a series of interviews. Eight minutes later, his reply was in my inbox: 'I am approaching 90. I think I have earned a rest. I intend to now slowly fade away. If you want to write about me, you better be quick. Regards" Ginsburg wrote.