Telugu filmmaker Sankalp Reddy is all set to release India’s first underwater film depicting a lesser known naval war India and Pakistan engaged in. “The Ghazi Attack”, made originally in Telugu, stars Rana Daggubati as the lead while Amitabh Bachchan has lent his voice for the Hindi version. It explores a rarely spoken about event, part of the 1971 war when the navies of India and Pakistan took on each other. The course of events which began with Pakistan’s naval forces sending submarine PNS Ghazi around the Indian subcontinent with the motive of sinking India’s aircraft carrier HMS Vikrant, ended in the mysterious sinking of the Pakistani submarine and thus giving India a strong lead in the war.
The sinking of the Ghazi in mysterious circumstances has been a contentious issue ever since. On the one hand Indian naval authorities claim that the submarine sunk due to their operations. On the other hand though Pakistani authorities are of the opinion that the Ghazi had sunk prior to Indian intervention, in all probability due to technical errors and that Indian naval powers had nothing to do with the sinking. While the real reason for the sinking of PNS Ghazi still remains contestable, for India, the episode marked a significant moment in the Bangladesh Liberation war. Sankalp Reddy’s film is about celebrating the fearless patriotism of the Indian Navy that managed to break the confidence of Pakistani defense forces.
The underwater war
East Pakistan’s struggle to break away from Pakistan because of their different linguistic identity came to a boil by 1971 when refugees started flowing into India at an unprecedented rate and it was considered necessary for the Indian military to step in on the side of the Bengalis. Consequently, the Indian aircraft carrier HMS Vikrant was shifted from the western fleet at Bombay to the eastern fleet at Vishakhapatnam. The deployment of Vikrant in the eastern fleet made it necessary for West Pakistan to rethink its naval strategies in a way that could destroy the Indian aircraft carrier.
The Pakistani side considered the destruction of Vikrant an unavoidable necessity for winning the war. However, a plan to sink Vikrant meant that they needed to deploy a submarine that could go all around the Indian subcontinent. After much planning it was decided that the only ship that could be efficiently deployed in the distant waters of Bay of Bengal was the World War II veteran PNS Ghazi. Before being part of the Pakistani navy, the Ghazi was part of the US navy and had been deployed during the Second World War. The fact that the Ghazi’s equipment was old and deteriorating was sidestepped. The Ghazi, it was noted would bring down the Indian naval forces with ease and break the confidence of the Indian military. Writing about the war in his book, Major General Fazal Muqeem Khan says that “The plan had all the ingredients of daring and surprise which are essential for success in a situation tilted heavily in favour of the enemy.” On November 14, the Ghazi set sail from Karachi.
However, the Indian naval command had already predicted the deployment of PNS Ghazi and prioritised the protection of its most important ship in every way possible. What followed was a tightly knit, thoroughly planned out trick that would deceive the Pakistani side into believing that they were indeed headed to destroy Vikrant. First, they decided to send off Vikrant to a point that was far enough from the Eastern fleet for the Pakistani ships to effectively combat. Second, sufficient steps were taken to make Pakistani authorities falsely believe that Vikrant was headed to the Madras coast. The submarine INS Rajput was deployed by the Indian side to destroy Ghazi.
As expected by the Indian naval authorities, Pakistani spies had fallen prey to the planned deception and the Ghazi was headed to the Madras coast in anticipation of the Vikrant. As the Ghazi went about looking for Vikrant, INS Rajput set off on December 4. The events of the day remain hazy even now. Whatever be the exact sequence of events, the result was the mysterious sinking of the Ghazi and the war tilting in favour of India.
The India-Pakistan debate on the sinking of Ghazi
As per Indian naval authorities, the Ghazi’s sinking was definitely the result of Indian combat. Post midnight INS Rajput was on its way close to where the Pakistani submarine was anticipated to be. On intercepting some form of disturbance in the waters, Captain Inder Singh assumed that a submarine was diving and dropped two depth charges before moving ahead. Moments later a loud explosion was heard at the spot. Investigations carried out at the spot for the next couple of days managed to get some evidence of the fact that the Ghazi had indeed been wrecked and as per the Indian version of events it was Captain Inder Singh’s charges that led to the destruction. The fate of Ghazi was announced by Indian authorities on December 9.
Pakistan, however, has consistently refused to admit India’s role in the sinking of Ghazi. As per their records, the Ghazi had sunk in much before the Indian navy had made its way close to the submarine. The claim technical glitches in the Pakistani vessel led to an explosion and its consequent destruction.
An independent testimony of the fate of Ghazi has also been offered by an Egyptian navy officer who claimed that the Indian ship had not left harbour when the explosion that led to Ghazi’s destruction took place.
While the events leading to Ghazi’s sinking remains debatable, it is true that the crushing of the vessel was crucial to India’s success in the 1971 war. Scheduled to release on February 17, Sankalp Reddy’s film will be the first instance when the attack on PNS Ghazi would be celebrated on the silver screen.