In­dian Army through the Ages – A Bird’s-Eye View

The trans­for­ma­tion of the In­dian mil­i­tary for the fu­ture, through tech­no­log­i­cal im­prove­ments cou­pled with in­no­va­tive op­er­a­tional art will give In­dia a dis­tinct ad­van­tage over its po­ten­tial ad­ver­saries, which is vi­tal for pre­serv­ing In­dia’s sovereignty and

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Lt Gen­eral (Retd) V.K. Kapoor

The trans­for­ma­tion of the In­dian mil­i­tary for the fu­ture, through tech­no­log­i­cal im­prove­ments cou­pled with in­no­va­tive op­er­a­tional art will give In­dia a dis­tinct ad­van­tage over its po­ten­tial ad­ver­saries, which is vi­tal for pre­serv­ing In­dia’s sovereignty and fur­ther­ing its na­tional in­ter­ests.

THE BRI­TISH ERA OF the In­dian Army lasted for about 200 years. Ma­jor Stringer Lawrence was the first Army of­fi­cer ap­pointed Com­man­der-in-Chief of all the East In­dia Com­pany’s forces in 1752. He can thus be deemed as the Fa­ther of the In­dian Army. The forces then com­prised Euro­peans re­cruited from Eng­land or lo­cally and In­dian aux­il­iaries. Th­ese In­di­ans were armed with their own weapons, wore their own dress and were com­manded by their own of­fi­cers.

The events of 1857 are too well known to be re­counted in any de­tail in this brief fo­cus on the In­dian Army. A Royal Com­mis­sion ap­pointed in July 1858 sug­gested that the Army in In­dia be com­prised mainly of In­dian troops with a pro­por­tion of In­dian to Bri­tish be­ing 2:1. By 1863, the ac­tual num­bers were 3,15,500 In­dian and 38,000 Bri­tish troops. Step by step the three Pres­i­dency Ar­mies were amal­ga­mated which was com­pleted by 1895.

With the over­all con­trol of the In­dian Em­pire be­ing vested in the Crown, the im­pe­rial strat­egy for the de­fence of In­dia en­vis­aged a wide cor­don san­i­taire to give depth to this jewel in the crown. Afghanistan, Ti­bet and Burma were the im­me­di­ate buf­fers while the global dom­i­nance of the Bri­tish Navy of the time al­lowed them even fur­ther out­posts like Hong Kong, Sin­ga­pore, Aden and Cyprus in the Mediter­ranean Sea. Pax Bri­tan­nica was at its zenith and the core was cen­tred on In­dia.

The Era of the World Wars

The fi­nal shape and pro­fes­sional re­struc­tur­ing of the In­dian Army was car­ried out prior to World War I un­der Gen­eral Herbert Kitch­ener, the Com­man­der-in-Chief in In­dia from 1902. Dur­ing this pe­riod, due to a clash be­tween him and Viceroy Lord Ge­orge Cur­zon over the per­ceived or­gan­i­sa­tional du­al­ity of con­trol of the Mil­i­tary in In­dia, the Viceroy re­signed. This is­sue has had a sig­nif­i­cantly neg­a­tive ef­fect on the higher de­fence con­trol mech­a­nism that evolved af­ter in­de­pen­dence and which leaves the ser­vice chiefs out­side the gov­ern­men­tal de­ci­sion-mak­ing fo­rums. To this day this as­pect re­mains an In­dian weak­ness.

In World War I, more than one mil­lion In­dian sol­diers served over­seas. The Army ex­panded from 2,39,511 in 1914 to 14,40,428 per­son­nel by 1919. While there were no com­mis­sioned In­dian of­fi­cers in the Army, the In­dian Army fought in all ma­jor the­atres in­clud­ing France Gal­lipoli, Me­sopotamia, Egypt and Pales­tine.

When Poland was attacked by Ger­many on Septem­ber 1, 1939, Bri­tain de­clared war against Ger­many on Septem­ber 3, 1939. The Viceroy de­clared In­dia at War on the same day. World War II had started. Congress gov­ern­ments in power in eight prov­inces re­signed as they had not been con­sulted at all and de­clared that they would not co­op­er­ate with the gov­ern­ment. This was not due to any love for Nazi Ger­many but as a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple. At the start of the World War II, the In­dian Army had a strength of 1,94,373 per­son­nel which was a lit­tle more than the strength avail­able at the start of World War I. The mod­erni­sa­tion planned in 1938 had yet to start. The In­dian Army was not in­tended to fight over­seas but only pro­tect In­dia’s bor­ders and nearby ar­eas. How­ever, be­fore the war ended, the In­dian Army had ex­panded to strength of over 20,00,000 men and en­gaged in op­er­a­tions stretch­ing from Hong Kong to Italy. In the re-con­quest of Burma, it pro­vided the bulk of forces and played im­por­tant roles in the cam­paigns in North Africa and Italy. Nearly 63,000 awards were earned by the In­dian Army in World War II. Awards for gal­lantry alone to­talled ap­prox­i­mately 4,800. They in­cluded 31 Vic­to­ria Crosses, four Ge­orge Crosses, 252 Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Or­ders, 347 In­dian Or­ders of Merit and 1,311 Mil­i­tary Crosses.

In­de­pen­dence and Par­ti­tion

Among the fac­tors that led to in­de­pen­dence, a ma­jor fac­tor was the for­ma­tion of In­dian Na­tional Army (INA) by the In­dian pris­on­ers of war. About 20,000 of­fi­cers and men joined the INA. The Bri­tish were stunned at the de­fec­tion of of­fi­cers. They re­alised that they could not rely on the In­dian Army to put down a move­ment for in­de­pen­dence. This was re­in­forced by the mu­tinies in the Royal In­dian Air Force in Jan­uary 1946 and an even more wide­spread one in Fe­bru­ary 1946, in the Royal In­dian Navy. It was ac­knowl­edged that In­dia could not be held by force of arms and this was a ma­jor fac­tor in the Bri­tish de­ci­sion to grant in­de­pen­dence.

It was agreed that by Au­gust 15, 1947, In­dia and Pak­istan should have ef­fec­tive forces, mainly non-Mus­lims and Mus­lims un­der their re­spec­tive con­trol. A large part of the Army had mixed classes and in­volved a ma­jor re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of prac­ti­cally all units. The Navy and the Air Force did not pose a se­ri­ous prob­lem due to their small size. An Armed Forces Re­con­sti­tu­tion Com­mit­tee un­der Field Mar­shal Auchin­leck was set to di­vide the units and stores in the ra­tio of two to one be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan re­spec­tively. Mus­lims from In­dia and nonMus­lims from Pak­istan could elect which do­min­ion they would serve.

The tragedy of par­ti­tion is a story which de­serves sep­a­rate cov­er­age. The mis­ery of par­ti­tion and Pun­jab mi­gra­tion could have been less­ened had Lord Mount­bat­ten been a wiser man and not rushed in­de­pen­dence and de­layed the an­nounce­ment of the bound­ary award. Out of about 14 mil­lion peo­ple in­volved in mi­gra­tion, it is es­ti­mated that more than half a mil­lion died in the vi­o­lence that erupted on both sides.

The strain on the troops of the old In­dian Army with the emo­tional stress of com­mu­nal dif­fer­ences, per­sonal tragedies and daily ex­po­sure to heartrend­ing scenes of mur­ders, rapes and other bru­tal­i­ties, brought their dis­ci­pline to a break­ing point, but it sur­vived be­cause of its lead­er­ship. It

De­fence of a na­tion and de­vel­op­ment are com­ple­men­tary. If In­dia as­pires to be a re­gional/ global eco­nomic power, its mil­i­tary power must re­flect that de­sire through its abil­ity to pro­tect its in­ter­ests.

was the great­est test of the old In­dian Army which it passed with fly­ing colours un­der the most ad­verse cir­cum­stances.

Op­er­a­tion Gul­marg

Op­er­a­tion Gul­marg, which was a de­lib­er­ately planned op­er­a­tion by Pak­istan, aimed at the an­nex­a­tion of Jammu and Kash­mir. Ac­cord­ing to its leader Colonel Ak­bar Khan of Pak­istan Army, its plan­ning was done in Au­gust 1947. In­dian Army’s op­er­a­tions in J&K and the achieve­ment of the In­dian Army un­der its own of­fi­cers de­spite lo­gis­ti­cal con­straints, daunt­ing ter­rain and sever­ity of cli­mate is a proud trib­ute to its lead­er­ship, fight­ing spirit and pa­tri­otic fer­vour of all ranks. They un­der­took a task al­lot­ted to them as a sa­cred mis­sion to be ful­filled, what­ever the cost.

Post-In­de­pen­dence In­dian Army

The strength of the In­dian Army in Au­gust 1947 was 4,00,000, but the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship was keen to re­duce the strength to save de­fence ex­pen­di­ture and hence it was de­cided to bring down the strength of the Army to 2,00,000 af­ter the J&K op­er­a­tions which would in­volve the dis­band­ment of many units. A new Ter­ri­to­rial Army Act was passed in 1948 and in­fantry and ar­tillery units with a nu­cleus of reg­u­lar of­fi­cers were raised in 1949. Many other changes oc­curred dur­ing the pe­riod 1948-60. The des­ig­na­tion of Com­man­der-in-Chief ceased to be in use from 1955 and the three Chiefs (Army, Navy and the Air Force) were made equal and in­de­pen­dently re­spon­si­ble for their re­spec­tive ser­vice. Ev­ery func­tion of the de­fence ser­vices was du­pli­cated in the Min­istry of De­fence where civil­ian bu­reau­crats not only en­sured fi­nan­cial and ad­min­is­tra­tive con­trol but also grad­u­ally took over the de­ci­sion-mak­ing pow­ers of the de­fence ser­vices. The stand­ing of the mil­i­tary reached an all-time low dur­ing the time of V.K. Kr­ishna Menon as De­fence Min­is­ter when de­ci­sions con­cern­ing mat­ters of ma­jor mil­i­tary im­por­tance were taken with­out con­sul­ta­tion of the con­cerned ser­vice.

Prime Min­is­ter Jawa­har­lal Nehru’s bias against the mil­i­tary was well known in the ser­vices. The clear­est ex­am­ple of this is when Gen­eral K.M. Cari­appa out­lined his plan for the se­cu­rity of North East Fron­tier Agency (NEFA), af­ter China had oc­cu­pied Ti­bet; Nehru flared up and thump­ing the ta­ble said, “It is not the busi­ness of the Com­man­der-in­Chief (C-in-C) to tell the Prime Min­is­ter who is go­ing to at­tack us where. You mind only Kash­mir and Pak­istan.” Nehru con­tin­ued to ap­pease the Chi­nese and the un­timely death of Sar­dar Val­lab­hb­hai Pa­tel took away all op­po­si­tion to Nehru’s views. The Sino-In­dian War of 1962 and the na­tional hu­mil­i­a­tion was the re­sult of this pol­icy and the bias against the mil­i­tary. The mil­i­tary also failed by ac­qui­esc­ing to a pol­icy they knew to be mil­i­tar­ily and po­lit­i­cally un­sound.

The Pe­riod 1961 to 1971

The pe­riod 1961 to 1971 was one of the most trau­matic pe­ri­ods of the In­dian Army. The de­feat in 1962 shook the foun­da­tion of the na­tion and the armed forces. The Army be­gan to in­tro­spect to over­come its weak­nesses. The

1965 war helped the Army redeem it­self but re­vealed em­bar­rass­ing weak­nesses in its equip­ment and its train­ing and even lead­er­ship at var­i­ous lev­els. Th­ese two wars spurred the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship to mod­ernise and ex­pand the ser­vices. As 1970 came to a close, the In­dian Army was now ready to face new chal­lenges emerg­ing on the hori­zon.

The 1971 war re­sulted in cre­ation of a new na­tion, Bangladesh, and a de­ci­sive mil­i­tary vic­tory in which 93,000 pris­on­ers of war were taken. While many books have been writ­ten to de­scribe each bat­tle in de­tail, it is the spirit of the sol­diery dur­ing this cam­paign that de­serves men­tion. In the words of Syd­ney Schan­berg of the New York Times, who ac­com­pa­nied In­dian troops in two sec­tors: “I don’t like sit­ting around prais­ing ar­mies. I don’t like ar­mies be­cause ar­mies mean wars – and I don’t like wars. But this [the In­dian] Army was some­thing… They were great all the way. There was never a black mark… I lived with the of­fi­cers and I walked, rode with the jawans – and they were all great.… And they were the most per­fect gen­tle­men—I have never seen them do a wrong thing—not even when they just saw how bes­tial the enemy had been.”

The Pe­riod from 1971 to 1998

The pe­riod af­ter 1971 war saw the steady mod­erni­sa­tion of the In­dian Army with new equip­ment for mod­ern wars. The Ex­perts Com­mit­tee un­der the Chair­man­ship of Lt Gen­eral K.V. Kr­ishna Rao sub­mit­ted its re­port in 1976. Some of its ma­jor rec­om­men­da­tions started get­ting im­ple­mented in the 1980s. The ex­pan­sion of mech­a­nised forces was achieved as a re­sult of this re­port.

On April 13, 1984, 34 sol­diers of the In­dian Army were landed by 17 sor­ties of he­li­copters at a point three kilo­me­ters short of Bi­la­fond La, a pass on the Soltaro ridge, west of Si­achen glacier. The sol­diers oc­cu­pied the pass. This was the open­ing move in what is re­ferred to as the Si­achen con­flict be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan which con­tin­ues till date. This pe­riod also saw the Army as­sault on the Golden Tem­ple on the night of June 5-6, 1984, at Am­rit­sar, to clear the com­plex of the mil­i­tants who had based them­selves in the tem­ple. The op­er­a­tion was code named ‘Blue Star’. By the first light of June 7, 1984, the Golden Tem­ple com­plex had been cleared of mil­i­tants but it left in its af­ter­math a wave of an­guish and anger among the Sikh com­mu­nity and the na­tion faced the as­sas­si­na­tion of the then Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi by her Sikh guards.

The pe­riod July 1987-March 1990 saw the In­dian Army fight Tamil mil­i­tants in Sri Lanka with one hand tied be­hind their back. The In­dian Peace Keep­ing Force (IPKF) moved to Sri Lanka to carry out peace­keep­ing du­ties as gen­er­ally as­signed dur­ing the UN op­er­a­tions and to sep­a­rate the war­ring fac­tions i.e. Lib­er­a­tion Tigers of Tamil Ee­lam (LTTE) and Sri Lankan armed forces but ended up en­forc­ing peace and con­duct­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions against LTTE. What the In­dian Army achieved is best de­scribed in the words of Ra­jan Wi­jer­a­trie, at one time the Min­is­ter of State for De­fence in Sri Lankan Gov­ern­ment. He is re­ported to have said, “The IPKF had vir­tu­ally fin­ished them off. They were gasp­ing for breath in the jun­gles. It was we who pro­vided that oxy­gen to them.” This summed up what IPKF had achieved be­fore de-in­duc­tion.

Dur­ing the 1980s, the In­dian Army also con­ducted the op­er­a­tion in Mal­dives to pre­vent mer­ce­nar­ies from over­throw­ing the Gov­ern­ment of Mal­dives and while it did not in­volve much fight­ing, it demon­strated to the world the speed and ef­fi­ciency with which the In­dian armed forces could re­act. This pe­riod (1989 on­wards) also saw the start of the ter­ror­ism and in­sur­gency in Kash­mir and de­ploy­ment of ad­di­tional troops in J&K.

Kargil War (May-July 1999)

The Kargil sec­tor is 168 km along the line of con­trol (LOC), stretch­ing from Kaobal Gali in the west to Chor­bat La in the east. The sec­tor was vast with the line of con­trol run­ning along the wa­ter­shed along heights 4,000-5,000 me­tres high. The frontage and the na­ture of ter­rain en­sured large gaps be­tween de­fended ar­eas. The de­ploy­ment in­cluded one in­fantry bat­tal­ion at Dras; two in­fantry bat­tal­ions and a Bor­der Se­cu­rity Force (BSF) bat­tal­ion cov­er­ing Kargil and Chor­bat La was held by Ladakh Scouts. As indi­ca­tions of Pak­istani in­tru­sion came in on May 3, 1999, it be­came clear that armed in­trud­ers had oc­cu­pied heights in the gaps be­tween all de­fended ar­eas in the sec­tor. It be­came ap­par­ent that In­dia was fac­ing an at­tempt by Pak­istan to change the LoC us­ing its reg­u­lar troops. The com­pla­cency of the lo­cal Army for­ma­tions in not con­duct­ing even rou­tine sur­veil­lance in the win­ter months, stood out. Hav­ing been sur­prised, the ini­tial re­ac­tions were un­sat­is­fac­tory lead­ing to poorly planned pa­trols and at­tacks. While th­ese did fix the enemy, suc­cess came their way only when the whole act was put to­gether. Air and ar­tillery (155mm How­itzers) was em­ployed with dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect to al­low the In­dian sol­dier, the in­fantry­man to live up to his rep­u­ta­tion of for­ti­tude un­der ad­ver­sity and courage and de­ter­mi­na­tion in the at­tack.

Op­er­a­tion Parakram

Op­er­a­tion Parakram, which means val­our, was a mo­men­tous event which could have un­leashed a ma­jor war on the sub­con­ti­nent. It in­volved a mas­sive build-up the In­dian Army or­dered in the wake of the De­cem­ber 13, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tack on the Par­lia­ment House. This 10-month-long mo­bil­i­sa­tion from Jan­uary to Oc­to­ber 2002, along the bor­der with Pak­istan gen­er­ated high lev­els of ten­sion in the re­la­tions be­tween the two South Asian neigh­bours, and raised the prospects of a ma­jor war. The op­er­a­tion was a ma­jor ef­fort in co­er­cive diplo­macy by New Delhi, in the wake of the ter­ror­ist at­tacks on the In­dian Par­lia­ment, and while the gov­ern­ment claims that their strate­gic ob­jec­tives were met by mere pos­tur­ing which avoided a war, mil­i­tary an­a­lysts are of the view that gains were not com­men­su­rate to the mam­moth ex­er­cise in co­er­cive diplo­macy by In­dia. How­ever, it led to some pos­i­tive changes in In­dia’s mil­i­tary doc­trine and it has­tened mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion to­gether with or­gan­i­sa­tional changes.

The Way Ahead

In­dian Army as it moves through the first quar­ter of the 21st cen­tury, is likely to face four types of chal­lenges and threats in­clud­ing tra­di­tional threats, con­tem­po­rary threats in the form of ter­ror­ism, in­ter­nal chal­lenges and con­tin­gency threats. In essence, In­dia faces a far greater threat than any other coun­try in the world be­cause of a highly volatile strate­gic neigh­bour­hood. More­over, with In­dia’s vi­brant eco­nomic growth, it would nat­u­rally have to as­sume ad­di­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity as a sta­bil­is­ing force in the re­gion. It is en­cour­ag­ing to note that In­dia’s se­cu­rity con­cerns have, for the first time, con­verged with in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity con­cerns which makes global com­mu­nity un­der­stand the need for In­dia to de­velop and mod­ernise its mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties. De­fence of a na­tion and de­vel­op­ment are com­ple­men­tary. If In­dia as­pires to be a re­gional/global eco­nomic power, its mil­i­tary power must re­flect that de­sire through its abil­ity to pro­tect its in­ter­ests. In this con­text, the trans­for­ma­tion of the In­dian mil­i­tary for the fu­ture, through tech­no­log­i­cal im­prove­ments cou­pled with in­no­va­tive op­er­a­tional art will give In­dia a dis­tinct ad­van­tage over its po­ten­tial ad­ver­saries, which is vi­tal for pre­serv­ing In­dia’s sovereignty and fur­ther­ing its na­tional in­ter­ests. How­ever, it is most un­for­tu­nate that the present United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance Gov­ern­ment has been ne­glect­ful of its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties re­gard­ing the mod­erni­sa­tion of the armed forces and our ad­ver­saries are likely to take full ad­van­tage of our weak­nesses. Na­tional se­cu­rity stands im­per­illed.


Ex­er­cise Vi­jayee Bhava in progress


Spe­cial Forces in a mock drill

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