Mohanlal Bhaskar alias Mohammed Aslam's undercover identity was blown by a double agent. He was caught and imprisoned in Pakistan from 1967 to 1974).
He and dozens of fellow Indian spies were swapped with Pakistani spies soon after the ice-breaking Simla Accord signed by Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in July 1972.
Bhaskar's mission was to gather intelligence on Pakistan's nuclear programme.He witnessed the India-Pakistan war in December 1971 from his cell in Mianwali jail as history unfolded when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was brought there and had his grave dug, at least four times, and then quickly refilled.
Possibly the book, 'An Indian Spy in Pakistan', written by Mohanlal Bhaskar in Hindi and translated by Jai Ratan, is the only eyewitness narrative on Bangladesh's independence leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman which unfolded in Mianwali Jail.
He exhaustively writes two separate chapters. One on'Turmoil in Bangladesh' and another on 'Sheikh Mujib in Mianwali Jail'.
"According to the news that had reached us, Sheikh Mujib was supposed to be in the Lyallpur Jail. The winter had just started. A helicopter landed one night in our jail compound. We couldn't see who had got down from it, for our cells were locked at that time. In the morning we [learned] that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had been brought to Mianwali […] the Lyallpur Jail."
It is presumed Mujib was brought to Mianwali Jail in early September 1971, according to Bhaskar. Sadly, the Indian spy, for reasons unknown, did not mention any date behind the events he has mentioned.
As soon as Sheikh Mujib's arrival was confirmed by prisoners, some soldiers of the East Bengal Regiment planned to dig a tunnel in the jail to smuggle him away from there, according to Bhaskar.
The attempt proved abortive as Mujib was lodged in the female ward of Mianwali Jail. The female inmates had hurriedly been shifted to another barracks.
The Indian prisoners were also shifted to barrack number 10 and the female ward was right behind their barracks.
Unfortunately, neither the Bangalee soldiers nor the Indian spies could have a glimpse of the stalwart politician. He was kept under heavy military guard.
Well, a Bangalee cook had been deployed to cook Mujib's preferred menu – fish and rice.
The following morning, when news of the Sheikh's arrival spread in the jail the Pathan prisoners climbed up the roof of the jail barracks and shouted expletives at the Sheikh.
Armed guards quickly climbed on to the roof of the female ward and fired six rounds in the air, which terrified the Pathans.
The Jail Superintendent on a routine round of the barracks informed the prisoners that Mujibur Rahman had been brought to Mianwali Jail to be hanged.
This news triggered sadness among the Indian and Bengal Regiment prisoners but caused a ripple of happiness among Pakistani prisoners and they cried 'Ya Ali!'.
Bhaskar recalls that, unfortunately, he could not meet the "great hero, known as the Lion of Bengal who had awakened the hungry and oppressed people of East Bengal...".
Whenever the Indian prisoners went to collect food rations, they met Mujib's cook but could not have a word with him as he was escorted by military guards.His cook was very devoted to him.
The ration clerk would ask the cook, "How's he faring?" The defiant cook would reply that Sheikh Shaheb was in fine health and with a sound mind and would keep fighting for the rights of the Bangalees till his last breath.
One day, the deputy superintendent called the eight Indian prisoners languishing in condemned cells.
He notes: "We were marched out and halted in front of the female ward where Sheikh Mujib was imprisoned. We were not told what was required of us nor did we care to find out. We were happy in the thought that we may yet be able to have a fleeting glimpse of the Sheikh. But to our chagrin, even the wooden gate leading to his barred cell had been closed."
The senior jail officer ordered them to dig an eight feet long, four feet wide and four feet deep trench and specified the exact spot where the trench was to be dug.
"We immediately guessed that Sheikh Mujib was scheduled to be hanged that night and we were digging a grave to bury his dead body. Short of asking a question which we were reluctant to do, we had no way of confirming our suspicion," he writes.
The grave was ready by nine and the prisoners returned to their cells. They waited with bated breath for the ominous news of Mujib's execution. "Our ears were all along attuned to the "house of death' but nothing happened throughout the night; everything was so quiet and still."
Bhaskar realised that the decision to hang Bangabandhu had been deferred. In the morning when the cells were unlocked, they heard some people saying that Sheikh Mujib was still alive.
There were also rumours that poison had been injected into his body, putting him to eternal sleep, after which he had been buried in the grave dug the previous evening.
In the morning when the Indian prisoners went to the ration godown for collecting their quota, they saw Sheikh Mujib's cook waiting there to get milk, tea and sugar for his morning tea.
It was indeed a relief for them, for "it meant that he was still alive."
They heard a rumour that on the night scheduled for the Sheikh's execution Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had sought an audience with President Yahya Khan and had advised him not to execute him.
He [Bhutto] impressed upon the President that if he [Mujib] was executed the Bangalees in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) would not sit idle. The Pakistani forces stationed in East Pakistan right from the highest officer down to a soldier would become the target of the wrath of the Bangalee guerrillas. Yahya Khan on second thought decided to halt Mujib's execution.
The next day, the prisoners were again called out and asked to fill in the trench dug the previous day. "But our happiness was short-lived."
Fifteen days later, they were again called out and asked to dig a similar trench. Again, Sheikh Mujib was not hanged. This process was repeated three times and every time his hanging was deferred.
For the fourth time, Sheikh Mujib was saved from walking to the gallows. In this manner, Sheikh Mujib stayed for four months in the Mianwali Jail.
Finally, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in early January released Bangabandhu, who was to return in triumph to Bangladesh.
Even now, the days of Sheikh Mujib in Mianwali Jail remains a nightmare. Time and again they [the Pakistan authorities] would prepare the noose for his neck and dig a grave. But he did not die at the hands of his enemies.
Regrettably, he died at the hands of his "own people whom he called his children." Nobody could believe that the same people for whom he had made such huge sacrifices and suffered imprisonment and political harassment would assassinate him," laments Bhaskar.
(Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at <email@example.com>; Twitter @saleemsamad) ***