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.