Military & Aerospace

The pitfalls in evolution of Indian Army-III
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The troops on both sides were tired of continuous engagement, their commanders were weary of fruitless struggle, and the administrators feared that reserves would touch rock bottom. All awaited the ceasefire expectantly and were glad when it became effective.

There was much controversy in the services about the Air Force’s propriety in taking over guided missiles, and Kumaramangalam was blamed for surrendering the artillery’s prerogative to control these weapons without putting up a fight. Plans were drawn up to install a foolproof radar system to cover the entire border against Pakistan, and to create a troposcatter communications network to provide instant warning of developing air threats. The air defence artillery complement was mainly drawn from the Territorial Army, especially for the defence of airfields and for other communication-zone tasks.

In 1965, luckily for Chaudhuri, Pakistan’s little incursion in the Kutch region had allowed mobilisation of the TA before the main round.1 Otherwise, the inordinate time taken for mobilisation would have caught the Indian Army unprepared for air defence of vulnerable areas. As a result of this experience, it was decided to keep one battery per air defence regiment on a permanent footing so that at least partial cover was available for all vulnerable points at short notice. Accepting the need to replace the outmoded L-60 air defence gun, the latest version of the L-70 was procured with allied radar systems to equip a few units, while facilities were established to produce them indigenously under licence. The pace was set to replace the entire L-60 inventory, at least in the priority areas, over a period of time.

There was much delay on the part of the Government in naming Kumaramangalam’s successor. It was not till March 1969, that the then Lt Gen SHFJ Manekshaw, MC, Army Commander Eastern Command, was nominated to take his place.2 It was then rumoured that the inner cabinet favoured the other contender, Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, but eventually the Prime Minister’s views prevailed. History proved her right in this decision. With Manekshaw’s appointment, a new chapter opened in the history of the Indian Army. He was the first Indian Commissioned Officer (ICO) to head the service after almost two decades of KCIO’s rule. He was trained in India and brought up in true Indian traditions, and by virtue of holding responsible appointments on various rungs of the military hierarchy he had painstakingly prepared himself for the job. He had carefully watched the growth of the Indian Army, assessed its strength and weaknesses objectively, made close contact with its leaders, and chartered for himself a course which would bring back the glory that rightfully belonged to it. His knowledge of men and matters was astute, and he knew how to mould both to the best advantage in achieving his aims. His sense of priorities in tackling problems was excellent.

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From the time of independence, politician and bureaucrat have been asserting the supremacy of the civilian over the military. The constitutional position was well understood by both sides, but as a hangover of the resentment against the British military past the civilian tried to rub this in crudely, and in a rather humiliating way. The status of the Army officer in the official order of precedence was lower than that of his civilian equivalent, his pay was reduced far below the level of’ the civilian rates, and housing and schooling conditions and other basic amenities were poor, giving the general impression that there was a deliberate attempt to “discipline” the soldier by virtually rubbing his nose in the dirt.

Book_India_wars_sinceThere was no real need to do so as the docile KCIO was ready to acquiesce and play the role of faithful servant so long as his personal interests were not touched. When HM Patel was Defence Secretary, he exploited the soldier’s weaknesses to emphasise civilian supremacy in tangible terms without a word of protest from the soldiery. In fact, career-conscious general officers had sold the Army to the civil servant, and an astute politician like Krishna Menon had enjoyed the fruits of complete subservience. More so when surrounded by military dictatorships in the neighbouring countries, the subserviant military ensured Nehru’s continued hold on power.


  1. Asian Recorder, Vol XI, No 25, “Indo-Pakistan Fight in Rann of Kutch—a Narrative,” p. 6509.
  2. Asian Recorder, Vol XV, No 16, “Chief of the Army Staff,” p. 8875.

Although the debacle in NEFA highlighted the importance of the soldier and some attention began to be paid to sharpening his sword, soon things were allowed to slide backwards through the reassertion of civil power. Manekshaw had observed this game at close quarters and was intent to restore the military’s lost prestige. He knew his tenure was short and that if he wanted to leave his mark he had to act fast. Three years were not enough to make up for the two decades of neglect, but he was going to have a good try. This turned him into a man in a hurry. It became a crusade for him.

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His first priority was improving the lot of the soldier. From the time of independence, two-thirds of the fighting strength of the Army was committed in the field, either holding the cease-fire line in Jammu and Kashmir or facing the Chinese in the Himalayas, or engaged in counterinsurgency operations in Nagaland and Mizoram. As a result, the soldier was separated from his family most of the time. And when his turn came to be posted to a so-called peace station the amenities in the way of accommodation, schooling and other facilities fell woefully short of his entitlements.

When HM Patel was Defence Secretary, he exploited the soldiers weaknesses to emphasise civilian supremacy in tangible terms without a word of protest from the soldiery.

Under the British, most cantonments were sited in NWFP and Punjab for strategic reasons, and most of them went to Pakistan on the partition of the country. The Indian share of cantonments lay so far from the newly created border between India and Pakistan that the time taken to concentrate troops in the region forbade making full use of them. The cantonments closer to the border got inevitably congested, overtaxing the facilities available, and those in the hinterland could only be used for training and quartering troops not initially required in battle.

Earlier, in Jammu and Kashmir, and later in the wake of the Chinese invasion of NEFA, the whole Himalayan border became alive and areas hitherto completely underdeveloped had to be shaped to house troops in the areas with minimal infrastructure or none at all. With progressively increasing military commitments on the ceasefire line in Jammu and Kashmir, in the Himalayas, and in the counterinsurgency operations in Nagaland and Mizoram, the Army steadily expanded, and its housing needs grew manifold in areas where a start had to be made from scratch.

With the limited funds available to the Army, priority went to expansion and re-equipping, and very little margin was left for accommodation and allied facilities. As a result, cantonments in the newly developed military areas were haphazardly planned shanty towns built piecemeal without any attention to overall growth according to a. master plan. These habitations lacked central services in the way of electricity, water and sewage among other things. The old accommodation was falling apart because of overcrowding and lack of proper maintenance. Most of the funds allotted for the purpose went to support Military Engineering Services establishments and very little went into actual maintenance work. It was quite common to find part of a unit in barracks and the rest under canvas in the same compound.

Manekshaw had observed this game at close quarters and was intent to restore the militarys lost prestige.

Amenities like fans, flyproofing of cookhouses and dining halls, waterborne sanitation, running water in bathrooms and so on fell far short of actual requirements. There was an acute shortage of married accommodation both for officers and other ranks. There were long peace station waiting lists, and in his stay at such a station a soldier hardly got to live with his family more than a year or so before his turn for field service came again.

This was hard for the man in uniform, but doubly so for his family because the result was an unsettled life. With rapid socioeconomic changes in the mainstream of national life, it was becoming increasingly difficult for families to stay with their parents or parents-in-law in the long absences of the breadwinner on active duty. A growing need was therefore felt for providing some accommodation to separated families. But because of an acute lack of finances, indecision on firm key locations of formations, and a poor sense of priorities Manekshaw’s predecessors had left the problem unsolved, hoping it would solve itself with the passage of time.

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The new Chief set about his task with missionary zeal. He pressed the Government for larger funds, got the key location plans finalized, organized machinery for proper cantonment planning, campagined vigorously for amenities and insisted that these be procured post-haste. He visited each formation, and if funds allocated had not been judiciously spent and the entitlements provisioned before he arrived the station commander and his administrative staff were hauled over the coals.

Book_India_wars_sinceNothing, however small, escaped his notice. He insisted on proper town planning, with all the civic amenities provided to the troops and their families alike. Each cantonment was to have its own shopping centre, school, cinema, club, swimming pool, sports ground and so on. Where, due to lack of space, expansion sideways was not feasible, he went in for vertical growth in the form of multistoried buildings. He insisted on long-term housing plans for the Army and got them implemented in his tenure. By the end of it, the building programme was well on the way, and if only his successors can keep it going the problem will be solved in the next ten or 15 years.

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