New Delhi, Aug.13 : August 15 is an occasion for stock taking. The nation looks back at its achievements, mistakes and looks forward to the tasks ahead on Independence Day.
It is an appropriate occasion to look at the country's Armed Forces, how they have grown and looked after the defence of the country, and how they are preparing themselves for the challenges ahead. The Army, in particular, has a long history.
Very few in the country are aware of the origin and growth of the Indian Army It has grown from a force of sepoys that served the East India Company from 1600. The traders of the Company employed them to protect their establishments. By the end of the Century they acquired the island of Bombay, Fort St. George at Madras and Fort William at Calcutta.
The forces were reconstituted as the Presidency Armies of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. In 1748, they were amalgamated under Major Stringer Lawrence who became the commander-in-chief of all the Company's forces in India. Soon the Presidency Armies were reorganized with the induction of British Officers. The sepoys continued to help their masters to extend their territory in different regions of India.
The major challenge that the East India Company faced was in 1857, during the first War of Independence or the 'Sepoy Mutiny'. For the first time the sepoys became conscious that they belonged to one country. The British succeeded in putting down the rebellion. Those who rebelled were disbanded and the rest were brought under the British Crown.
The East India Company was abolished and Queen Victoria took over the rule of territories in India. A Viceroy was appointed in India. British officers were given the Queen's Commission, and the Indians the Viceroy's Commission, later known as Junior Commissioned Officers. .
The Army participated in various campaigns in Africa, the Middle East, Tibet and other parts of the world. A major challenge presented itself during the First World War. The British Indian Army fought in various theatres of war in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
According to official figures, 36,596 Indian soldiers died during World War I and 70,000 were wounded. They won 16 Victoria Crosses and 90 Military Crosses. The fighting qualities of the Indian Army was accepted the world over.
More important, the soldiers from different parts of India fought together as 'Indians".
Following demands from Indian leaders, the British agreed to Indianise selected units of the Indian Army and also induct Indians in the officer ranks. To start with 20 seats were reserved for Indians at the Military College in Sandhurst. Those who passed out became King's Commissioned Indian Officers.
The demand for Indianisation of the officer cadre Army was taken up by Indian leaders, particularly, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Madan Mohan Malaviya and Motilal Nehru It was agreed to establish the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun in 1932 and in 1934 the first batch of Indians was commissioned.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, national leaders were not in favour of Indians participating, but the British went ahead. Army units were inducted in all theatres of war. The number of Indians enrolled in the Army in September 1945 was 2, 647, 017 and they fought in different theatres in Libya, Tunisia, Italy, Iraq and in the jungles of Burma, Malaya and the Far East.
The Second World War also proved the ability of the Indian Officers to lead in operations and forged a link between them and their soldiers. A strong sense of patriotism gathered momentum with the formation of the Indian National Army, led by Subash Chandra Bose.
When the British decided to leave India after the country was partitioned, the Army too was divided between India and Pakistan. The Indian Army had to face challenges in maintaining law and order and evacuate refugees.
The tasks mostly fell on the Indian Officers. The British officers were keen on returning to England and the Indian officers were given the option of going to Pakistan if they chose. The first batch of British Officers left for England on August 7, 1947 and the last batch in February 1948.
The role played by the Indian Army during the difficult days of Partition earned the confidence, even the gratitude of the nation.
In the midst of managing the refugee evacuation, the India Army had to rush to Jammu and Kashmir following the invasion of the State by Pakistan, ostensibly by tribals. The Jammu and Kashmir state forces were unable to fight the invaders and asked for Indian assistance. On the State acceding to India, the first contingent of the Indian Army was flown to Srinagar on October 27.
The Indian Officers led by the then Lieutenant General K.M. Cariappa, who took over as the GOC-n-C, Western Command on January 26, 1948, were able to frustrate the attempt of Pakistan to annex Jammu and Kashmir. They even had to confront obstacles put in their way by the remnants of British officers in the Indian Army. By the end of 1948, the Srinagar Division led by Maj.-Gen. K.S. Thimayya and the Jammu Division led by Maj. Gen. Atma Singh were in a position to clear the State of invaders both in the Muzaffarabad and Poonch- Rajouri sectors
General Thimayya also had the unique distinction of taking tanks atop the Zoji-la where Pakistani forces had established themselves. After clearing the area, the Army was in a position to move to Dras and Kargil. The Indian Air Force flew the Army contingent to Leh, which led to the securing of Ladakh
The story would have been different if a cease-fire had not come into force - and that too as per the complaint lodged in the United Nations by India.
The Indian Army also played a notable role in the consolidation of the country. The challenge posed by the Nizam of Hyderabad was cleared by police action in September 1949. The Indian Army entered the State on September 13, and in a matter of four days the Razakars had melted away and the State joined the Indian Union. The liberation of Goa had to wait for over a decade. .
During the six decades after Independence, the Indian Army has had to face many challenges. The first major challenge was the Chinese invasion in 1962. The Government of India had brushed aside the view of the Army headed by General K.S. Thimayya, that the Chinese posed a threat to India. The reverses suffered during the war demoralized the Army.
The northern border continues to be sensitive, the border dispute with China has not been resolved, and India is continuing its talks with China.
Pakistan invaded India in 1965 first by carrying out a trial run in Kutch, following it up with another version of 'tribal infiltration' in 1965. The war that followed saw the Indian Army in occupation of parts of Pakistan, but India vacated them following a peace agreement concluded in Tashkent.
Another war with Pakistan followed after the crackdown by the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan in 1971 and arrival in India of over a million refugees. India won a decisive victory and 93,000 soldiers of the Pakistan Army surrendered after a brief 12-day war.
Pakistan has continued to maintain an adversarial relationship with India. It promoted a low-intensity conflict in Punjab in the eighties but failed. The next target was Jammu and Kashmir where it promoted insurgency in the late eighties. The Army had to fight the proxy war, which commenced in 1989. Jammu and Kashmir has not yet recovered fully even to this day.
Having failed in the proxy-war, an attempt was made by Pakistan to cut off Kargil and Ladakh in 1999 by occupying the heights in Dras along the Srinagar -Leh highway, ostensibly by Jehadis. In the operations that followed it was proved that units of the Northern Light Infantry were deployed. Pakistan Army had to vacate the posts.
The Army continues to maintain vigil both along the Line of Control and in sensitive areas of Jammu and Kashmir. The expectation is that it will have to continue to shoulder this responsibility for the foreseeable future.
India's adversaries are using terrorism as a weapon to weaken the country. Will the Army be involved in fighting terrorism?
Over the years the character of the Army has changed. Today, the officers belong to all parts of the country and not from chosen families alone. The Army cantonments, which used to be isolated areas, as the colonial power wanted those in uniform to be away from the civilian population, are now virtually integrated with the rest of the country.
Today the Armed Forces of India have been modernized and the process of modernization is continuing. The Army, Navy and the Air Force are functioning in a coordinated manner and an integrated headquarters is in position in the Ministry of Defence. The effort is to ensure that the Armed Forces will have the weapons and equipment necessary to face the tasks ahead of them
The Army has displayed unity in diversity, faced all challenges and come out successful, be it a war or a proxy war. Tomorrow it may have to face the challenge of terrorism. y I.Ramamohan Rao