1971 in history

What was the world like in the year of my birth?

1971 was an interesting year in history. Unemployment and unrest were on the rise in India and the Naxalite movement was gathering momentum. Mrinal Sen even made a film in ’72 about that turbulent time called ‘Calcutta 71’. For one person at least, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, ’71 should be the most important year in her life as she pulled off a marquee win over Pakistan in a two-week war that resulted in the formation of a new country, Bangladesh. M.F. Hussain portrayed her as Durga and the country bestowed the Bharat Ratna on her. She was 54. In 1971, the Indian President was V.V Giri whose former avatars included Kerala Governor and Vice-President of India. The state Chief Minister was CPI’s C. Achutha Menon. The governor for the record was a V. Viswanathan.

In Uganda Idi Amin engineered a coup and deposed President Milton Obote. Amin’s nightmarish reign was to last until he was driven out by neighboring Tanzania’s forces in ’79. USA continued the Vietnam War (and it was to last two more years). The US President was Richard Nixon, the only one to resign from office in disgrace, which he did when facing possible impeachment in the Watergate scandal. India signed a 20 year friendship treaty with the Soviet Union led by Leonid Brezhnev. A Civil war raged in Cambodia where Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge struck terror. German Chancellor Willy Brandt won the Nobel Prize for Peace while the prize for Literature went to Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. For a delightful film featuring this much-loved poet one can watch Michael Radford’s Il Postino (The Postman).

Talking of films the major Hollywood movies released that year include Fiddler On The Roof, The French Connection, Diamonds Are Forever (Sean Connery as James Bond), Carnal Knowledge (Jack Nicholson), A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick), Bananas (Woody Allen) and The Big Boss (from Bruce Lee, who was to die two years later at the age of 33). Hindi films of that year include Anand, Guddi, Amar Prem and Hare Rama Hare Krishna. Rajesh Khanna was the leading icon. In Tamil, Shivaji Ganesan’s Thenum Paalum and MGR’s Rikshawkaran were the highlights. MGR was given National Best Actor award in ’72 for this role, a decision that had less to do with acting and more to do with his party AIADMK allying with the ruling Congress (I). The noted Malayalam movies were കുട്യേടത്തി  by P.N. Menon (based on a MT short story), ഉമ്മാച്ചു by P. Bhaskaran (based on the Uroob novel), പൂമ്പാറ്റ  (featuring an eight year old Sridevi), Kunchacko’s  പഞ്ചവന്‍കാട് and K.S. Sethumadhavan’s അനുഭവങ്ങള്‍ പാളിച്ചകള്‍. Mammootty is said to have made an uncredited appearance in one scene in this movie. It is more famous as the last film of Sathyan. In the story his Chellappan character is hanged for a crime. Old timers say that soon after the last scene they showed footage of Sathyan’s actual funeral procession on screen. Sathyan posthumously won the state award for കരകാണാക്കടല്‍ that year. Early in his career he was a teacher at St. Joseph’s school. 

The first ever one day international cricket match was played between England and Australia at Melbourne Cricket Ground in Jan ’71. Australia won by 5 wickets. India won an away Test series for the first time under captain Ajit Wadekar. They beat both West Indies and England 1-0. Sunil Manohar Gavaskar, who was to set many records, made his Test debut in March. In Boxing, heavyweight champion Joe Frazier defeated Muhammed Ali in a fight dubbed as the ‘Fight of The Century’. Tennis in 1971 was Aussie dominated. Evonne Goolagong of Australia beat Margaret Court of Australia (who had won all the Grand Slams in ’70) to lift the Wimbledon shield for women. Evonne who thus became the first aboriginal to win the title also walked away with the French Open crown that year.  Among men Australian John Newcombe beat American Stan Smith in the final.

Poeple born in 1971 include Priyanka Gandhi, NDTV anchor Barkha Dutt, director Sophia Copolla, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Nepal’s Prince Dipendra (who shot dead his whole family and himself in 2001), actors Chris Tucker and Sacha Baron Cohen, singers Ricky Martin and Snoop Dogg, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, tennis legend Pete Sampras, cyclist Lance Armstrong and cricketer Adam Gilchrist. Singer Jim Morrison of The Doors was found dead in his bathtub in Paris. Other demises include jazz legend Louis Armstrong and photographer Margaret Bourke White who took the last living snaps of Mahatma Gandhi for Life magazine.

Email originated in ’71. In Massachusetts, USA, a computer engineer named Ray Tomlinson sent the first electronic mail message to a machine one metre away. The word ’email’ was not used until eleven years later though.

In 1971 Nelson Mandela was in prison. In fact he stayed there even when we matriculated in ’86 and was not released until another six years passed. Pratibha Patil was Deputy Minister in the Maharashtra cabinet of Vasantrao Naik and Manmohan Singh was Economic Advisor in the Ministry of Foreign Trade. Narendra Modi worked in his uncle’s canteen at the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation. Pinarayi Vijayan was a 26 year old MLA from Koothuparamba while Oomen Chandy was a 28 year old MLA from Puthuppally.  P. Sathasivam, present Kerala Governor and former Chief Justice of India, had not yet enrolled as an advocate. Barak Obama was 10.

In 1971, the Headmaster of St Joseph’s school was Father Kuncheria. The Headmistress of Holy Angels’ Convent was Sister Mary Xavier who had been in that post since 1937.

 About the 1971 Indo-Pak War: After Partition East Bengal became East Pakistan and western Punjab became West Pakistan. Pakistan was therefore one country separated in two halves by India. The Western half harbored a Big Brother attitude to its poorer Eastern half. In 1971 the East’s Awami League led by Sheikh Mujib-ur Rehman secured a majority in the Parliament of Pakistan. He staked his claim to form government with the President of Pakistan, Yahya Khan. But Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the leader of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), refused to yield the Prime Ministership. The President called in the military, dominated by West Pakistanis, to suppress growing dissent. What followed was one of the biggest criminal onslaughts in history, perpetrated by the West on the East and led by Gen Tikka Khan. There was arson, looting and rape. The number of rapes committed by West Pakistani soldiers was more than 2, 00,000. Mujib was arrested. A government in exile was formed by East Pakistanis under Zia-ur-Rehman. Mukti Bahini unit was formed to liberate the East.  1,00,00,000 refugees flowed to India via West Bengal, Bihar and Assam. On 27 March 1971 Indira Gandhi announced India’s support to the people of East Pakistan. War was declared and fought over a fortnight in December. Gen Sam Manekshaw who was to be India’s first Field Marshall commanded the troops. Pakistan was led by Gen Abdul Hamid Khan. Nixon in support of Pakistan sent USS Enterprise (called Seventh Fleet) into the Bay of Bengal. The Soviet Union promised to send a nuclear submarine if the US ship reached Indian waters. On 16 Dec 1971, the instrument of surrender of Pakistan was signed by Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, General Officer Commanding-in-chief of Eastern Command of the Indian Army and Lt Gen A.A.K. Niazi, Commander of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan. East Pakistan was liberated and became a new, free country Bangladesh with Dacca as the capital. Mujib-ur Rehman, affectionately called Bangabandhu, became the country’s first Prime Minister and later President and ruled till his assassination in ’75. His daughter Sheikh Hasina Wajid who along with her sister Rehana had escaped the massacre of the family as they were in West Germany at the time, is active in politics since ‘81 and is the present PM of that country. 


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