Military & Aerospace

1965: Assessment of Chief of the Army Staff
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Issue Book Excerpt: In the Line of Duty | Date : 27 Jan , 2018

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I feel an assessment of the then Chief of the Army Staff, General Chowdhary, is called for.

I will be the first to admit that he had a very sharp brain, and could speak and write well, in English. His greatest failing was that he had an exalted opinion of himself. ‘He often passed smart alec remarks and doubted the intelligence of everyone (around him. As a soldier, I regret to say, he left much to be desired.

How else can you explain that throughout the duration of the War with Pakistan, he visited my Headquarters only thrice, that is on the 10th, the 14th and the 20th of September. And yet, on the early morning of the 23rd of September, soon after the cease-fire was announced, he was the first one to go to the Ichhogil Canal, with a photographer, and have his photograph taken for the press? Subsequently, to prove that he had participated fully in the War he had a book written by a well-known journalist which was completely fictitious.

During the war, I believe, General Chowdhary used to issue handouts about what was happening in the war without ever having visited the frontline.

During the war, I believe, General Chowdhary used to issue handouts about what was happening in the war without ever having visited the frontline. Every evening, he would ring me up, and my set reply was: “nothing to worry about; all is well”. Once he suggested to me that he was not getting enough information, and that he, therefore, proposed to send two Lieutenant Colonels from his Headquarters to the Front Formations to get the latest news.

I challenged him that if he did that, I would put those Officers under arrest. He could get all the information he needed from my Headquarters, besides which, of course, he was free to go anywhere in the front, himself. I am sure, my Headquarters were sending Situation Reports to his Headquarters regularly. His problem was his huge ego. He considered himself a world authority on Armour, and I used to argue with him that though I could not claim to be an authority on Armour, I knew what it could do- and what it could not do; and that was enough from my point of View.

It may be reiterated that despite my regular pleas that any reserve forces to be committed against Sialkot must be launched from the area of Gurdaspur, so that initially they would be available to me as a reserve on the Punjab front, in case something went wrong there, General Chowdhary raised these reserve forces as I Corps, under Pat Dunn, and decided to launch them against Sialkot from Samba area, leaving me without any reserves on the Punjab front. And, as I have mentioned somewhere earlier, I was not told anything about these plans, nor even invited to the co-ordinating conference at which these plans were made. And yet, before their launching, I Corps was handed over to me for the conduct of the operations!

Since he had nothing else to do, General Chowdhary, as Chief of the Army Staff, without consulting me, started writing citations for senior officers – Army and Corps Commanders – with a view to giving them the award of Padma Bhushan. He had arranged with the Defence Minister, Mr Chavan, that he himself would be awarded the Padma Vibhushan.

One day, he rang me up to say that he was recommending senior officers – that is Army and Corps Commanders – for the award of Padma Bhushan, but in the list he had left out Kashmir Katoch whom he had originally been very fond of. You may remember that Kashmir Katoch, General Officer Commanding, XV Corps, would ring him up directly, for instructions, at the early stages of the Operations, by-passing me, his Army Commander, until I put my foot down. During the operations, he had somehow fallen out of favour with General Chowdhary; who did not wish to recommend him for the award.

I made it quite clear to him that if he was recommending PatDunn’s name for the award, then he could not leave out Kashmir Katoch, because, according to my assessment, Kashmir Katoch had done better than Pat Dunn. Since I refused to budge on the matter, he relented, and finally included Kashmir Katoch’s name also for the award.

I made it quite clear to him (the then Defence Minister) that General Chowdhary had hardly taken any part in the fighting and did not deserve to be awarded a Padma Vibhushan.

I was intensely worked up over the whole affair of the awards, and sought an interview with the Defence Minister, Mr Chavan, to discuss the matter. I made it quite clear to him that General Chowdhary had hardly taken any part in the fighting and did not deserve to be awarded a Padma Vibhushan.

He told me that in his case the award was only of symbolic value; and tried to mollify me by saying that the Government of India was considering me for a special award, and, had besides, decided to give me the rank of a full General. Mr Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then Prime Minister, died in Tashkent, soon thereafter, as did Mr Chavan, so nothing came of the special awards that I had been promised though I was given the Padma Vibhushan after retirement. This is what they call the luck of the draw!

The main reason why such large numbers of armed intruders were able to infiltrate, almost unnoticed, so far behind into the interior of Jammu and Kashmir and achieve a certain amount of success in destroying bridges and ambushing vehicle-convoys, was due to the fact that the various agencies responsible for dealing with such contingencies such as the Army Intelligence, the State Militia battalions, the Armed Police battalions, the Jammu and Kashmir Police, and so on, were not under one unified command.

They had their respective ‘Empires’, and many of them were not willing to accept any help, guidance or direction from the Army. Even those, who were deployed for the defence of the cease-fire line, did not fall fully within the purview of the regional military commanders. The result was that the channel of command, military decisions, and more particularly, the acquisition and dissemination of information, was actually tenuous, circuitous and generally too long to fructify. Besides, there were’ the inevitable professional jealousies among these agencies which detracted from the smooth and harmonious functioning of defence arrangements in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Through the inter-cession of the United Nations Organisation, the 1965 War with Pakistan, came to an end at midnight, 22nd September, 1965. After dark on the 22nd of September, with the advent of the cease-fire, the Pakistani side fired off all the ammunition left over with them, and there was a tremendous din. What is more, the Pakistani Forces occupied all the areas in the no-man’s land adjacent to the Front. I had warned the Corps Commanders concerned about this, but, it seems, they did nothing to prevent it. This is where we always lose out; while we play ‘fair’, Pakistan’s attitude is entirely different.

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20 thoughts on “1965: Assessment of Chief of the Army Staff

  1. A great commander can also have small minds. Need not have to criticise his own Chief. He has not explained in both of his books why did he send 4 SIKH for a wild goose chase for paltan’s glory which became a disaster, just before the Saragarhi Day. Yesterday Pak Tribune has published some photographs of 65 war which prominently displays Sikh POWs running three leg race.He sacked 10 out of 24 brigade commanders participating in the war. Similarly 4 and 10 Div GOC s were sacked. People may ask what was Harbaksh doing before the war. He has uncharitable remarks about 15, 11 and 1 Corps commanders. He blames his own COS for IAF’s fail;ure of CAS. He sent msgs through his ADC about the problem of CAS to his own COS! Why could not he take charge of 1 Corps operations when it was floundering. tHIS IS NOT A GOOD THING AS A LEADER.
    He remains an outstanding military commander. But he is human being with all frailties. We should leave it at that.

  2. Everything said to eulogise the General needs to be checked and rechecked!

    The good general had propensity to claim kudos for effort of others and brush under carpet his own shortcomings. A great weakness known to many. Read book by his COS, Maj Gen Jogindar Singh for an objective opinion and perspective.

  3. Gen Chaudhuri was exceptional only in his ego, his opinion, his sense of resentment and jealousy, his unfairness, his method of capricious behavior, and unwarranted retaliation against good people whose only flaw was not to lick his boots. As a COAS, he was an utter failure who neglected most arms except the armoured corps. He was jealous of successful and other brilliant people. As a personal leader, he was wanting in traits.

  4. Both generals highly overrated. Critically study and analyse their professional paths and military strategy skills or battles/operations they planned and executed! There is nothing much to write home about.
    They have been BUILT UP into military legends by vested interests and sects, for reasons other than military profession.

  5. Whether in a jungle or in a cage. Tiger is a Tiger, so was Gen. Harbaksh Singh.
    Had he become the Army chief, today the army would have been with different military values.
    Truly speaking he should have been the first FM of the Indian army.

  6. AS THE WESTERN ARMY COMMANDER OF THE WESTERN COMMAND AT SHIMLA WITH HALF A MILLION INDIAN TROOPS UNDER HIS COMMAND FIGHTING FROM KASHMIR TO RAJASTHAN THE C-IN C RESOURCES WERE STRETCHED , COMMUNICATIONS OUTDATED AND JEALOUSIES GALORE . THE EXALTED POSITION OF C-IN-C WESTERN COMMAND MADE ONE MORE POWERFUL THAN THE CHIEF OF ARMY STAFF SITTING WITH BABUS IN DELHI . DIFFERENCE OF OPINIONS WERE EXPLOITED THEN BY THE BABUS AND HAVE OVER A PERIOD OF TIME WEAKENED THE ARMED FORCES LEADERSHIP TO SUCH LEVELS WITH A VICE LIKE GRIP THAT MODERN DAY GENERALS IN 2015 ARE REDUCED TO PETTY COCKS FIGHTING IT OUT . THE DEVIOUS BABUS HAVE REDUCED THE GENERALS TO THE LEVEL OF STREET FIGHTING PANDUS . THE MODERN DAY GENERALS HAVE PLENTY TO THINK AND REFROM IF THEY ARE NOT TO BE LED BY SCRUFF OF THEIR COLLARS TO FULFILL THE POLITCAN BABUS AGENDA AS SEEN BY THE
    POOR UTTERANCES OF GENERALS IN KASHMIR TYING THE HANDS OF SOLDERS OFFICERS AT THE FOREFRONT AND LEADING TO DEATHS IN TERROR ATTACKS . C-IN -CS DESRVING TO BE CHIEFS WERE MANY AND WILL STILL REMAIN SO BUT THE CHIEF IS SELECTED BY THE GOVT OF THE DAY AS PER ITS OWN WISHES AND THAT IS HOW IT SHALL REMAIN .

  7. I strongly concur that Gen Chowdhury was a crap shoot. Too many accounts speak of his false ego, vindictive retaliation, and poor espirit de corps. “He strutted like a peacock.” He was no-good as chief, and hurt his senior generals more than help them. He was a petty man; and his sharp brain was misapplied rather than used constructively. If he hadn’t existed at all, the Indian army would have been better off under all odds.

  8. The irony of war are the lessons learnt, as they are never really learnt. Soldiers who bleed are in most cases those put there to ‘manage’ the mess made by someone else-generally the leaders: political as well as military. In his own way, the General is justified in berating South Block as more than the western front, that was another direction the personality conflict extended. Unfortunate state of affairs which are as important today, if not more important than the tactical lessons learnt from the war

  9. This is just one-sided attack. Gen Chowdhury is no more there to give his version of events for a rebuttal…. “I will be the first to admit that he had a very sharp brain, and could speak and write well, in English …. Since he had nothing else to do, General Chowdhary, as Chief of the Army Staff, without consulting me, started writing citations for senior officers – Army and Corps Commanders ” – this is just a cheap shot. …….”The main reason why such large numbers of armed intruders were able to infiltrate, almost unnoticed, so far behind into the interior of Jammu and Kashmir and achieve a certain amount of success in destroying bridges and ambushing vehicle-convoys, was due to the fact that … there were’ the inevitable professional jealousies among these agencies which detracted from the smooth and harmonious functioning of defence arrangements in the State of Jammu and Kashmir” – I fail to see what Gen Chowdhury had to do with this. It seems that the Lt Gen was bitter that he was surpassed by Manekshaw for the selection of Chief of the Army, may be due to Gen Chowdhury’s expert advice to the Government in that process.

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