Forty years after the Bangladesh War, what are the lessons for India to learn? And has it, in its peculiar bumbling way, learnt some of them?

Perhaps it has, although it may not often appear very satisfactory.

Amongst Indian prime ministers, this writer considers Indira Gandhi to be something of an aberration. Given the speed, planning, decision and cunning with which the Bangladesh War was prosecuted, it is doubtful if any of her predecessors (and especially Jawaharlal Nehru) or successors would have done the same thing, and with such despatch.

Indira Gandhi was not entirely triumphant, of course, in 1971. She desisted from breaking up West Pakistan. It was the same order of blunder as Nehru's decision not to permit the army to regain Occupied Kashmir from Pakistani raiders more than two decades earlier. And she listened to her advisers in Simla to not press Z.A.Bhutto to accept the Line of Control as the international border.

But assume that she had forced Bhutto on the issue, and that he had agreed. Once he was back in Pakistan, and all the Pakistani POWs in India had been repatriated, what prevented him from going back on his word or repudiating a signed accord?

After all, he did a near-similar thing. He assured Indira Gandhi he would sell the LoC-as-border idea in Pakistan and return to sign the agreement. Back in Pakistan, he reneged and vowed a thousand-year war against India. India had the coercive instruments but not the instincts to hold him to his assurances.

The point is this. A state has to have a natural texture to be hegemonistic or expansionist. India is not such a state. Indira Gandhi gave India its first decisive military victory in 1971. She did more than any other prime minister to consolidate India's national territories, from Sikkim to its island holdings. She gave the country its deterrent, although it was formalized nearly twenty-five years later. But even she faced the limitations of the Indian state. For example, she did not go with Israeli plans to bombard Pakistan's nascent nuclear facilities.

And Mrs Gandhi's Bangladesh War has not produced the best results. India won the war, so to speak, but lost the peace. There is substantial political opinion in Bangladesh which is anti-India. The Jamaat-e-Islami which collaborated with the Pakistan army genocide against its own people provides the base for anti-India jihadis. India has become a bone of contention between Bangladesh's two leading political parties, and it brings no stability in bilateral relations.

But even as such fallouts of the 1971 war have to be endured, India has settled to an uncomfortable but rather more stable equilibrium than the aftermath of Indira Gandhi's aberrational war gave promise of. A succession of Bangladeshi military dictators sent uneasy signals to India. In comparison, Bangladesh is now a better place to do business.

With the rump state of Pakistan, the situation remains bad but not hopeless, not from the Indian point of view, at any rate, and not in the long-term. Pakistan's hatred of India, exacerbated by the 1971 defeat, is consuming it. It faces the blowback of the terrorism it has periodically unleashed against India.

War with Pakistan is not a solution, unless it provokes one, or sponsors a 26/11-scale terror attack. And whatever else Pakistan's state policy of terrorism has done to relations with India, it has destroyed its ties with Afghanistan and the United States and China is growingly unnerved by it. Inexorably, Pakistan is moving towards international isolation and internal collapse.

This is the opposite of the post-Bangladesh War experience for India. While Indira Gandhi did what she did in 1971, India's reflexive and abiding conservatism in military and foreign affairs since has stood it in good stead. It could have done badly. It could have become a pathological aggressor state like Pakistan. It could have failed like Pakistan. It hasn't.

Conservatism comes naturally to India's political class. Perhaps it is a function of its multi-party democracy and civilian supremacy over the armed forces. While India time and again has displayed the political will to defend its territories ("not an inch of Indian territory" will be ceded), this does not extend to power projection or in its becoming a net provider of security in the region or in the wider world.

Commentators and military analysts can rail against this conservatism. But this is a given. India won't change. There are forever worries that India's increasingly fractional politics will come in the way of its national security. It won't. India may not have long-term defence planning which is a major problem. But it will rapidly unite in the face of external aggression.

Yet, for India, Indira Gandhi and the Bangladesh War will remain exceptions and even aberrations. Forty post-1971 war years give that sturdy impression. India will remain non-aligned and inward-looking. Its abiding focus will be on stability in the region and economic growth. In its own unique way, India will rise to be a great power. And it will be the most peaceful rise of any major power in recent history.