The foundation of the Indian Army was laid by the British by combining in 1748 the “watch and ward” elements the East India Company employed to protect its trading centres. Initially, these elements were organized into battalions, but as trading interests acquired political overtones they grew into commands in the form of presidency units called the Bombay, Madras and Bengal armies.
These armies comprised British and Indian elements, and the role of the Indian battalions was in the beginning to support the British units in spheres of local administration. But as Britain’s expansionist policies needed more and more armed manpower, hard to obtain in the mother country, they reconciled themselves to giving fighting shape to the Indian armies by raising infantry, cavalry and artillery units according to imperial standards.
Between 1799 and 1857, the Indian Army thus organised was fully exploited to further British colonial interests, first by fighting other European powers like the French and the Portuguese with a foothold in the country, and later to crush Indian resistance. Applying the statecraft of divide and rule, the British defeated Tippu Sultan, captured the Karnatak, overran the Maratha Empire, and finally subdued Punjab, the stronghold of the Sikhs and the last region of India to go under.
Throughout this process, Indian was pitted against Indian to further British ambitions. The Indian units of the company’s forces were primarily officered by Britons, and there was a strict policy of segregation between British and native units. Indian personnel were generally treated as an inferior component. It is therefore shameful that some units of the Indian Army even today proudly display battle honours of that time, even though the winning of these battles perpetuated British rule in India and reduced Indians to a century and a half of slaver.The glaring disparities and inequality of treatment, and perhaps an inborn revulsion and self-hatred for fighting against their own people, sparked isolated incidents of revolt, of which what is commonly known as the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857 was the most significant. The British got the message all right as they promptly set about reorganizing their armies in India. The measures adopted included denying artillery to Indians and greater surveillance and checks of other arms.
At the end of the Afghan War of 1878 the British had reached the limits of their territorial conquests and the time had come to consolidate their gains. Military strongholds were accordingly established in the form of cantonments throughout the country to keep an eye on the populace. Some of the earlier ones were at Pune, Kanpur, Jabalpur, Jhansi, Bangalore and Ambala. The three presidency armies were amalgamated to create a homogeneous Indian Army in 1902. Reorganisation of this army to make it a front-rank fighting force on par with European armies was carried out between the years 1903 to 1914 under the direction of Lord Kitchener. The main purpose was to use Indian manpower to safeguard the ever-expanding British interests in the Middle and Far East.
Between 1799 and 1857, the Indian Army thus organised was fully exploited to further British colonial interests, first by fighting other European powers like the French and the Portuguese with a foothold in the country, and later to crush Indian resistance.
In 1914, at the start of World War I, the Indian Army had a strength of 155,000. But as casualties mounted because of the heavy attrition rate of trench warfare more and more volunteer manpower from India was inducted to face German guns in France and elsewhere. At the end of the war the strength of the Indian Army had swelled to 573,000. Casualties suffered were very heavy but remained unpublicized, with a purpose. On the credit side, Indian troops won laurels for their valour in battle by securing 21 Victoria Crosses, the highest British award for bravery in combat. They also gained experience through fighting in every theatre of the war, and better still of fighting side by side with the leading European armies of the time. The Indian soldier won acclaim for his hardihood, ability to subsist on very little, night vision and steadfastness in battle.
The successful conclusion of the 1914-18 war in favour of the Allies and the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East increased British commitments in that region and in the Far East. Exploiting the quality and abundance of manpower available in India, the British strove to shape the Indian Army into an effective instrument of power, but the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s did not allow much scope for improvement. Weaponry and tactical concepts were submerged by British conservatism and thrift.
Clamour for Indianisation of the armed forces was raised in public forums by politically conscious Indians in the late 1920s. Bowing to public demand, a beginning was made by opening the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun to train young Indians for the officer cadre. The Indian Artillery came into being in 1935. The process of Indianisation was hastened by the outbreak of the Second World War. Exploiting India’s vast reservoir of manpower, the British raised an army of considerable strength.
Indian personnel were generally treated as an inferior component.
As the war progressed, the Indian Army came to be ranked as the finest fighting machine of the Allies and won honours both in the western and eastern theatres of war. In the six years from 1939 to 1945, it fought in Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Eritrea, Greece, Hong Kong, Iraq, Italy, Malaya, North Africa, Singapore, Somaliland, Syria. It should be remembered that although Indian troops participated in the two world conflagrations and earlier colonial wars only under the British flag and British leadership the credit for their performance in them should rightfully be theirs.
At the end of the Second World War the Indian Army had a fighting strength of half a million, which was under order of demobilisation for want of a clearer evaluation in Whitehall of the British postwar requirements in Asia. Then came independence, leading to the division of the existing army on a two is to one basis. India’s share came to some 280,000 personnel of all categories, including the Gorkha Rifles under a treaty concluded between India and Nepal in November 1947. The holocaust of partition in Punjab and widespread communal disturbances forbade consideration of long-term planning for the armed forces. This was soon followed by the invasion of Kashmir in October 1947, and India’s decision to come to Maharaja Hari Singh’s aid fully involved the Indian Army, fighting for the first time under Indian leadership, until the ceasefire on 31 December 1948.
Mahatma Gandhi, reflecting the feelings of many of his followers, advocated disbanding the army, an instrument of violence, in one of his prayer meetings. But the military operations in Kashmir, the takeover of the princely states of Hyderabad and Junagadh and the subsequent counterinsurgency operations in the communist stronghold of Telengana brought home the need to maintain the existing strength of the army till the return of normalcy.
The three presidency armies were amalgamated to create a homogeneous Indian Army in 1902.
To meet the temporary requirement of additional manpower, a large number of recently disbanded personnel were recalled and some contingents of state forces were absorbed on loan. A Territorial Army Act was enacted in 1948 to augment armed manpower in times of emergency. This act was blindly modelled on the British pattern without assessment of actual needs in the changed political context of independence. A National Cadet Corps (NCC) to train officer material was also instituted as a successor to the University Officers Training Corps (UOTC).
The return to normalcy after the ceasefire in Kashmir in early 1949 induced the Government to consider the question of size and composition of the peacetime army. This consideration was constantly hampered by politicians who had suffered sometimes at the hands of the army in the freedom struggle, and consequently still harboured resentment against it, and by the civil servants, who to display their supremacy over the defence services suddenly blossomed into armchair strategists with vague conceptions of the problems at hand, and above all by the army hierarchy, which displayed utter bankruptcy of thought and vision required to cope with such problems of far-reaching consequence.
As a result, the politician opted for the development of “the visible instruments of power” in the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy, which took away most of the funds available for defence at the cost of the army. The then Defence Secretary, HM Patel, stated after visiting Canada as the head of an Indian military mission that he was “highly impressed” by the Canadian military system and advocated “a highly mechanized and mobile force” of some 150,000 men capable of rapid expansion in a crisis. This force could be backed by a large reserve of Territorial Army and paramilitary forces. Obviously, Mr Patel did not understand the geopolitical needs of the new India, and fortunately for the army fastmoving events proved him wrong.
On the credit side, Indian troops won laurels for their valour in battle by securing 21 Victoria Crosses, the highest British award for bravery in combat.
The emergence of Communist China in 1950 and its declared intention to re-establish Peking’s hegemony over Tibet, the Korean War and the consequent massive intervention by China, and the Communist insurrections in India and Southeast Asia engendered a different outlook in Indian thinking. Relations with Pakistan continued to deteriorate in this period, leading to communal riots in West Bengal and in East Pakistan, accompanied by inflammatory speeches by both sides.
In one speech, Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan of Pakistan brandished a clenched fist and threatened war with India. This brought the armed forces of the two countries to the international border both in the east and the west. A crisis was eventually averted, but it led President Rajendra Prasad, a confirmed Gandhian, to announce in Parliament that the government could not risk “putting the country in jeopardy at a time when evil forces were endangering its security, both within and outside.”
This prevented an imminent reduction in armed strength, and on the other hand favourable attention began to be paid to replacing obsolete weapons and equipment—but only for the time being. The Nehru-Liaqat talks defused the confrontation between India and Pakistan, and the possibility of the Korean War escalating into a world war also waned. Encouraged by comparative normalcy, Nehru once again spoke of building a relatively small mechanized army instead of a large and ill-equipped “foot force.”
In pursuance of this policy 50,000 men were demobilized initially in early 1951. A further reduction of about 100,000 was scheduled the next year, but this did not take place because of the absence of a corresponding reduction by Pakistan and the start of a gradual Chinese build-up in Tibet. In fact, re-thinking in later years brought about a reinduction of equivalent manpower in 1953 to offset the earlier hasty demobilisation. In that year the Indian Army had a strength of about 350,000 organized into fighting formations of one armoured division, five infantry divisions, one independent armoured brigade and several loose infantry brigades and units.
Exploiting the quality and abundance of manpower available in India, the British strove to shape the Indian Army into an effective instrument of power, but the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s did not allow much scope for improvement.
In addition, the British legacy of territorial military division of the country into areas and subareas was maintained. This was primarily designed as the infrastructure for internal security requirements and absorbed much manpower, quite unnecessarily in the new context. Three infantry divisions manned the ceasefire line in Jammu and Kashmir, but were woefully short of the artillery complement. The armoured division was equipped with Second World War Shermans and the armoured brigade with slow moving Churchills. The concentration of armour was closer to the training areas near Jhansi and Patiala, a few days distant from the operational areas in Punjab.
A corps had been formed in Punjab comprising two divisions worth of formations, with the support of the armoured division in certain contingencies. East Pakistan was looked after by a brigade group located near Calcutta, Kutch by another brigade group at Jamnagar, Rajasthan similarly by a brigade group at Jodhpur. In addition, two infantry brigades were located in the hinterland in Secunderabad and in the Madras-Trivandrum Bangalore complex, and the parabrigade at Agra. Overall, there was a woeful shortage of supporting arms in the form of armour and artillery and engineering and administrative services. The organisations were essentially infantry heavy, and this tilt was eventually to become an Indian trend.
Location of the forces was dictated by the commitment to hold the ceasefire line in Jammu and Kashmir, reassurance to the border states regarding their security from external attack, and the desire to make use of the existing cantonments as well as to provide indirectly reserves for internal security. This posture ensured the minimum movement for deployment in war as the theatre of decision still remained in the northwest. Although the size and shape of the Army in 1953-56 remained fairly static, an effort was made to reorganize the brigades employed in counterinsurgency operations in Nagaland into a division, and the Bengal area, already holding three brigade groups under command, was converted into a division.
Efforts were also made to raise some new artillery units to make up existing shortages, but paucity of equipment forbade this to the desired extent. The government turned a deaf ear to proposals for refurbishing the Indian Army, nor was this put forcefully by a succession of ineffective chiefs. But not for long, as the arming of Pakistan in 1956 under the military aid programme of the United States influenced Nehru to change his attitude, and Gen K S Thimayya’s appointment as Chief of Army Staff brought the problem to the fore. A search was soon instituted for suitable tanks and other weaponry and equipment to replace the obsolete inventory the Army held.
The deteriorating relations between the Chinese and the Dalai Lama, the discovery of the encroachment on Indian territory by the Chinese in Aksai Chin in Ladakh, skirmishes with the Chinese on the Uttar Pradesh-Tibet border, and the reported build-up of the Chinese in Tibet for a tight hold on that territory, brought home the imperative need for reviewing the defence requirements of the Himalayan border. The struggle which went on in this regard between Thimayya, Menon and Nehru has been well publicized by various told and untold stories and needs no repetition.
Clamour for Indianisation of the armed forces was raised in public forums by politically conscious Indians in the late 1920s.
All that can be said here is that Nehru refused to heed Army advice and firmly believed that the top brass were conjuring up the Chinese bogey to get their demands through. Nehru was convinced that there would be no war with a friendly China, till the day of awakening when the Chinese eventually struck. But within the existing resources some adjustments were made to meet the Chinese threat. One division from Punjab was shifted to NEFA, a brigade group from the hinterland to Siliguri for operational responsibility in Sikkim and Bhutan, and another to the UP-Tibet border.
A start was made to create a suitable infrastructure in Ladakh to enabie raising the existing battalion strength to a brigade group. The Leh and Chushul airstrips were therefore recommissioned on a priority basis. As the Himalayan border areas were completely underdeveloped in the matter of communications, any sizable induction without a matching air supply was impossible. Deployment of troops was perforce confined to the foothills, with strong reconnaissance parties exploring the border. A programme of large scale development of strategic roads in the border areas was undertaken on an emergency basis while some lip service began to be paid to the special considerations of mountain warfare.
With the materialisation of American military aid to Pakistan inquiries were made about the availability of modern tanks in the US and elsewhere, and the possibility was explored of their manufacture in India according to foreign design under licence. Eventually, 200 heavy Centurion tanks were procured from Britain in 1956-57, and 150 AMX light tanks from France in 1957-58. It was finally decided to accept an offer from Vickers Armstrong of Britain to set up a factory to build medium tanks of Chieftain design, suitably modified for Indian conditions, as a long-term measure. The life of the vehicle fleet of Second World War vintage was lengthened by reconditioning some 20,000 of them by procuring spares specially manufactured by a Canadian firm in 1957-58.
To meet the requirements of light and medium vehicles, licensed production was started for the manufacture of Nissan patrol jeeps and one-ton trucks of Japanese design in 1959-61, and later of Shaktiman three-tonners in collaboration with MAN of West Germany. In small arms, it was decided to replace the .303 rifle, the Army’s standard infantry weapon in two world wars, with the Ishapur rifle indigenously produced but closely resembling the Belgian FN design. Its production had just commenced when the Chinese invasion came.
A proposal for replacing the mortars in use with the French Brand was shelved on the ground that it was too expensive, and the Finnish Tempela manufactured by Israel under licence was rejected for political reasons. Instead, reliance was placed on indigenous development. The same old story was repeated in artillery when a proposal for replacement of the 3.7 howitzer and the 25-pounder field gun, both old vintage weapons, was mooted. The need for a mountain gun for the Himalayan border was stressed, but Menon, then Defence Minister, gave this a low priority and ordered the Defence Research Organisation to design a model for manufacture in India.Persistent attempts by the Army to replace obsolescent weapons and equipment was thwarted on one excuse or other. Brig Y B Gulati, then Director of Weapons and Equipment, saw the spectre of defeat in battle because of this callous neglect of proposals for re-equipment. In his patriotic zeal he addressed Nehru over the heads of his Army superiors, stressing the harmful effects of inaction and its consequences in war and pleading for his personal intervention. Nehru passed Gulati’s letter on to Menon, who asked the Chief to take suitable action against the writer for violating official channels of correspondence. Gulati was admonished by his superiors, and later retired prematurely. Such was the mood of the time.
Mahatma Gandhi, reflecting the feelings of many of his followers, advocated disbanding the army, an instrument of violence, in one of his prayer meetings.
The chronic shortage of officers persisted. By 1960, there was a shortfall of some 3,000 officers in the authorised complement. Combat units had between 12 and 15 officers against an authoisation of 28 to 30. This shortage was further aggravated by the expansion programme of 1959 to make up the formations inducted into the Himalayan border areas. The release of Second World War veterans who had reached super-annuation added to the problem. The period 1956-69 also saw the disappearance of the non-commissioned officer (NCO) cadre with battle experience. The stringent rules for promotion framed on the pattern of the British Army after independence precluded combat personnel with a rural background and poor education from promotion. As a result shortages appeared in the NCO cadre too.
To make amends, the intake of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) was increased 50 per cent and the standards were lowered for entry to the National Defence Academy (NDA). A large number of sainik (soldier) schools were opened all over the country offering the equivalent of a public school education to boys from families with small incomes willing to enter the services. The quota of intake from other ranks was liberalized. The Cadet College at Nowgong was reactivated to groom selected NCOs to compete for entry to IMA. The disparity in the response from the various states was very wide, North India contributing nearly 75 per cent of the officers.
After independence, recruitment to the Army was opened to all qualified persons irrespective of class, caste and creed. “Mixed” recruitment, as prevailed in the Second World War in the case of artillery, signals, administrative and other ancillary and supporting arms and services continued, and new raisings of the Brigade of Guards and the Parachute Regiment were organised as mixed units. Otherwise, there was not much change in the character, organisation and general outlook of the Army.
The class composition of the infantry regiments remained unaltered for the sake of esprit de corps and the peculiar social patterns of India. Thus “non-martial” races were represented in the other arms and services, the frontline infantry and cavalry units continued to be dominated by “martial” races of the north and northwest-Sikhs, Jats, Dogras, Rajputs, Garhwalis and Gorkhas. India’s largest minority community, the Muslims, contributed only a few thousands or so.
On the whole, traditional British influences continued to prevail. In fact, the overzealous “brown sahibs” in the King’s Commissioned Indian Officer (KCIO) now in power made the Army more British in outlook than even the British themselves. A wide range of colourful uniforms to suit different occasions, spit and polish, dinner nights in officers’ messes, drinking toasts, celebrations proudly displaying battle honours won fighting against their countrymen in the service of the British, were carried to such ridiculous extremes that one senior British officer on a visit to India remarked: “Surely you are more British than we are at the moment.”
This consideration was constantly hampered by politicians who had suffered sometimes at the hands of the army in the freedom struggle, and consequently still harboured resentment against it, and by the civil servants, who to display their supremacy over the defence services suddenly blossomed into armchair strategists with vague conceptions of the problems at hand, and above all by the army hierarchy, which displayed utter bankruptcy of thought and vision required to cope with such problems of far-reaching consequence.
A comparative lull in military commitments after the Jammu and Kashmir operations induced a felling of complacency in the hierarchy. Lack of vision and dearth of desire to improve matters prevailed, and the officer class remained content with routine, wearing the halo of rank secured quite undeservedly. Little was done in the way of long-term planning to work out the size and shape of army required to meet the looming threats or tactical concepts to suit Indian strategic needs, or training for the tasks ahead. The Army was being groomed more and more for ceremonial functions than for the business of war.
Consistent with Nehru’s neutralist policies, it was called upon to go abroad on peacekeeping missions under the United Nations Charter. India was initially represented in the UN forces in Korea by one field ambulance on a mission of mercy so as not offend the Chinese and the Russians and yet side with the Americans. Later, Indian contingents went to Korea, Indochina, Gaza, Cyprus, Yemen and the Congo, where their conduct, turnout and discipline were deservedly appreciated. This image of international policemen won acclaim abroad, and at home there were frequent calls to meet the requirements of aiding the civil authorities to combat flood and drought, as also control riots and communal disturbances.
Counterinsurgency operations in Nagaland remained a constant commitment without achieving much success. The only sizable military operation launched in this period involving use of the three services was against the Portuguese enclaves of Goa, Daman and Diu on 17 December 1961.1 One division and an independent brigade group were used against an opposition of no more than a battalion group or so to ensure success. Preparation of the operation reportedly took about a month, and the movement of troops to their launching sites paralysed civil railway traffic to the extent that some mills in Ahmedabad had to be closed temporarily because coal was lacking. All roads leading to Goa were choked with columns of artillery, trucks, and tank transporters, leaving no room for other traffic.
It was said that lack of coordination between the services led to our aircraft engaging Army columns and naval ships. Logistically, some of our troops went without rations for 48 hours because of a breakdown in the supply system in a two-day operation. These shortcomings were brought to the notice of the authorities concerned, but very little corrective action resulted. As later events revealed to Nehru’s horror, the Army’s effectiveness as a fighting force was marginal.
The reasons for the politicians’ antipathy to the Army were not far to seek. The emergence of military dictatorships in neighbouring countries and the advice of the chief of Indian intelligence had put caution in Nehru’s mind about strengthening a monster which might swallow him one day. Efforts were made at the political level to keep the Army weak by starving it of good leadership and modern weaponry and equipment. Dissension was created in the higher command to spark disunity and infighting. The Lok Sahayak Sena (National Volunteer Force) was established in 1955,2 outside the control of the military with the declared aim of reducing dependence on the standing Army, with little realisation that a half-trained peasant militia could in no way be a credible substitute for or a check on a regular modern army.
As a result, the politician opted for the development of “the visible instruments of power” in the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy, which took away most of the funds available for defence at the cost of the army.
Nehru’s successors however continued the efforts to create such a force in the garb of paramilitary organisations to counter any Army intentions of grabbing power on a flimsy belief. Such fears were unfounded, but they were unfortunately fanned continuously by vested interests for selfish reasons. This unpatriotic behaviour thwarted the growth of the Army.
In the sphere of organizing formations and units, with the exception of chipping and chopping establishments here and there for a few men and some items of equipment, there was no change in the basic Second World War organisations inherited from the British. But an academic interest was maintained in changes being effected in Western armies, and also in the US sponsored Pakistani Army. There was talk of going in for brigade groups in preference to the orthodox divisional organisation, but this proposal froze at the stage of discussion. Except for very minor changes in establishments, necessitated by either paucity or introduction of new equipment, things remained as antiquated as inherited.
The need was felt for specialized units and formations for operations in the mountainous and jungle terrain of the Himalayan region, especially after the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1950-51. The proposal was mooted in the form of a Himalayan border defence requirements study carried out under the chairmanship of Lt Gen Kulwant Singh. He recommended that a start should be made in raising or reorganizing an experimental formation or units for effective surveillance of the border. This proposal was however pigeonholed because interest in it was lacking at the political level.
Gen Thimayya also felt the necessity to evolve a doctrine embracing concepts, techniques and drills to fight the Chinese in the Himalayas and proposed the issue of a training manual in this regard. Material was to be drawn from the British and American experience of fighting the Chinese in Korea. On learning of this project, Nehru intervened and stymied it. Later, Maj Gen PS Bhagat, then Director of Military Intelligence, educated the Army about the characteristics of the Chinese soldier, their organisations, their tactics, their equipment and their logistics in the garb of an exercise enemy called Chandal Forces.
This was a courageous and purposeful attempt to circumvent a shortsighted government directive. Bhagat was to suffer for this patriotic contribution at the hands of Nehru’s daughter much later. Any suggestion for preparing for this contingency was scoffed at by politician and bureaucrat alike. Nehru was convinced that a Chinese threat in the Himalayan region was very remote, and he considered any anticipatory action on the part of India would be tantamount to provoking China, a situation he wanted to avoid at all costs. This rigidity on the part of Nehru and his advisers however started softening after the Chinese encroachment in Aksai Chin, especially after its revelation to Parliament.
Thimayya was permitted to make a long desired study of Italian Alpine troops in the Mont Blanc area on the invitation of the Government of Italy. On his return, he submitted a report recommending that some mountain divisions should be raised, and he suggested how they should be organized, trained and equipped. He conceived the deployment of lightly equipped and mobile screens near the border, backed by strong defences of conventional forces based on roadheads where superior strength could be brought to bear on the aggressor, who was facing difficulties created by indifferent communications.This proposal was also rejected outright for reasons which had lost their relevance with the shift in China’s Himalayan policy. Ever anxious for a peaceful settlement with Peking, Nehru turned down the proposal with the excuse of not overburdening the national economy with unproductive defence expenditure. In spite of this rebuff, Thimayya went ahead with establishing facilities in the shape of a high-altitude warfare school in March 1962.
The class composition of the infantry regiments remained unaltered for the sake of esprit de corps and the peculiar social patterns of India.
To muffle the constant conflict between the Army hierarchy and the Government on the requirements of the Army, Nehru brought in the pliable Lt Gen PN Thapar as Chief of Army Staff in preference to the more competent and war-tried Lt Gen SPP Thorat, DSO, who was unceremoniously retired. But the real power behind the throne was Lt Gen BM Kaul, Nehru’s own man, nicknamed the Politician’s General. Thimayya, on whom the Army had set its hopes, was as a result rendered ineffective. The professional stature and the popularity he enjoyed in the Army, and also in the country at large, was proving an embarassment to the Nehru-Menon combination.
On the eve of the border conflict in October 1962, the Army was about 550,000 strong, comprizing nine infantry and one armoured divisions, an independent armoured brigade and a parachute brigade, with some loose infantry brigades and battalions. This regular force was theoretically backed by a reserve of 250,000 officers and men serving on seven-year engagement, but out of them no more than 30,000 could be counted as frontline reinforcements. There were large numbers of Central Reserve Police and other paramilitary forces with hardly any war potential. The Territorial Army consisted of 180 units with an actual strength of 419,580 which would take months to mobilize. The Lok Sahayak Sena of some 619,000 existed only on paper.
In concept, organisation, establishment, turnout, traditions, the Indian Army “continued to reflect its development as an adjunct to the imperial British military system.” As brought out earlier, Army weapons and ancillary equipment dated back to the second World War and even earlier. Signal communication equipment was also of the same age and functioned sluggishly even in stabilized conditions. Operational contingency planning catered for meeting the Pakistani threat against Kashmir, Punjab and Rajasthan with precautionary measures against East Pakistan, and to counter the contingencies of Chinese attacks in Ladakh, Sikkim and NEFA, but without matching preparations.
The Army was adequately prepared for conventional operations against the Pakistan Army, similarly organized, but of less strength. The Army was ill prepared to fight in the Himalayas. Neither was there sufficient strength nor means available to induct it in times of need. The infrastructure to support large scale inductions was woefully deficient, and so was the development of roads and tracks. The Army was half-heartedly equipped and trained for action on the plains, but was not attuned to the requirements of mountain warfare against a tough opponent like the Chinese.
A comparative lull in military commitments after the Jammu and Kashmir operations induced a felling of complacency in the hierarchy.
Above all, the politicians’ antipathy to the services, the country’s “pacific image” in international affairs and infighting among the generals had eroded its will to fight over the years. The fiasco it suffered in the Chinese invasion in 1962,was the result of years of neglect by the politicians, compounded manifold by the bankruptcy of the higher Army leadership. But the humiliation the nation suffered at the hands of the Chinese opened a new chapter for the services, ushering in a period of serious development.
In the wake of its humiliation, the nation clamoured for punishment of those guilty of neglecting the country’s defence. Krishna Menon became the first target. Initially, Nehru came out in his defence, but bowed later to popular demand. Within a day, Menon was downgraded to the portfolio of defence production and was eased out of the cabinet soon after.2 So vociferous and antagonistic was public opinion that at one time even Nehru felt insecure. Y.B. Chavan, the energetic Chief Minister of Maharashtra and a much younger man, was brought in as Menon’s replacement.3
The nation was appeased for the time being, and all attention was concentrated on improving India’s war potential in the shortest time possible. Before the Chinese unilateral declaration of ceasefire Nehru had appealed to all nations, including the US and Britain, to come to India’s aid.4 The appeal was favourably responded to and urgently required arms, ammunition, telecommunication and snow equipment and other war material, mostly from Western countries, were flown in. Highpowered American and British military missions were established in India to co-ordinate the massive flow of supplies and generally advise the Indian higher command on combating the Chinese menace.
Major changes in the Indian military hierarchy followed. Lt Gen “Muchu” Chaudhuri, who was on the verge of retirement, was hurriedly brought into replace “the puppet chief” Thapar,5 and Nehru’s crony Kaul’s resignation was accepted. Manekshaw, whom Kaul once plotted to throw out of the Army, took over the troubled front. Kaul made an unceremonious exit from a badly blemished career. Chaudhuri had an onerous task in undoing all that had gone wrong since independence, and to do so fast enough to meet a renewed threat if China, despite pressure from the Colombo powers, decided to violate the ceasefire. In Pakistan, Bhutto was needling Ayub for not exploiting India’s difficulties to grab Kashmir and settle other outstanding issues.
India had almost bared the entire Punjab to reinforce the east against the Chinese with three divisions. It was India’s good fortune that Ayub failed to act, otherwise the war might well have ended in a bigger debacle on both fronts. At the bidding of the Western powers, the Kashmir issue was reviewed with a view to arriving at a mutually acceptable settlement.6 but Sardar Swaran Singh’s incessant talking without yielding an inch in negotiations with Bhutto staved off a crisis for India and enabled it to regain a military balance in the west. Although no more than one division came in contact with the advancing Chinese, the gloom of defeat enveloped the entire army. Demoralisation, aggravated by self-realisation of inadequacy, was rife and the soldier looked for a redeemer like the rest of the populace.
- Asian Recorder, Vol VIII, No 50, “Chinese Army Disposition,” p. 4930.
- Asian Recorder, Vol VIII, No 49, “Mr V.K.K. Menon Resigns as Defence Minister,” p. 4926.
- Ibid, p. 4927.
- Asian Recorder, Vol VIII, No 48, “Arms from USA and Britain,” p. 4915.
- Asian Recorder, Vol VIII, No 50, “New Chief of Army Staff,” p. 4931.
- Asian Recorder, Vol VIII, No 33, “Security Council Debate on Kashmir Issue,” p. 4734.