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Indian Army’s Stellar Role in Nation Building

 

 
 
By Brig Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd) Published: January 2013
 
 
 
   

New Delhi. Besides ensuring a nation’s territorial integrity and making a substantial contribution to national security, every young nation’s army has a major role to play in nation building. The Indian Army has been no exception.

 

Ever since independence, the Army has been involved in helping sort out multiple insurgencies, terrorism, fissiparous tendencies and has participated vigorously in stemming the rot and stabilizing the situation. It has also extended the reach of the state to inaccessible areas and, through egalitarian recruitment policies and secular conduct, it has contributed immensely to nation-building and national integration.

It could be said that the Indian Army’s march through the first half century since independence has been a long “Knit India” campaign.

For over 50 years since independence, the Indian Army has been at the forefront as the guarantor of the nation’s freedom against external aggression, along with the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force, and as the primary force engaged in keeping the nation together in the face of internal discord, communal disharmony and fissiparous tendencies.

Consolidation

Also, ever since Pakistani Razakars and regular troops infiltrated and poured across the borders of J&K in October 1947, with rape, torture and loot as their weapons of choice, India’s territorial integrity has never been free of threat and India’s security environment has continually remained in a state of flux.

Besides the inconclusive operations in Kashmir in 1947-48, in the early years after independence, the Army assisted Sardar Patel , India ’s Iron Man and first Home Minister, in consolidating some of the recalcitrant Princely states with the Indian Union. In Junagadh, a simple brigade-level demonstration of strength achieved the desired results. The Nizam of Hyderabad dallied for one year and an armoured division had to finally undertake a 100-hour operation to settle matters in September 1948. When the Government of Portugal had failed to see reason for 14 years, in a swift offensive in 1961, the Army liberated Goa, Daman and Diu and finally rid the nation of foreign colonisers.

Basking in the afterglow of a successful non-violent struggle for independence, independent India's political leadership however neglected the development and modernisation of the Army, secure in the belief that a politico-diplomatic response was adequate to meet the threats and challenges to national security. Unprepared to execute the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s hastily conceived “forward policy”, the Indian Army suffered a crushing blow at the hands of China’s invading hordes in 1962.

Nonetheless – and it is not so well known – individual units of the Army fought with spirit and determination in the face of daunting odds.

Two Wars with Pakistan

The post-1962 period was marked by rapid expansion of the Army, primarily for the defence of the Himalayan frontiers.

The next major threat came from Pakistan in the west. Armed to the teeth with shining new Patton tanks and F 86 Sabre jets from the United States, Pakistan launched a series of misadventures in 1965 beginning with the Rann of Kutch in April-May, Operation Gibraltar in Kashmir in August and Operation Grand Slam in the Akhnoor-Jammu area in September.

The Mujahids of Gibraltar Force were quickly rounded up in Kashmir, Grand Slam was checkmated near Chhamb and Lt Gen Harbakhsh Singh's three-pronged offensive into West Pakistan achieved major breakthroughs. In the largest tank-versus-tank battle since World War II, Pakistan’s famous Patton tanks met fiery ends in a border village of Punjab, where the remnants of Pakistani armour can still be seen.

Six years later, Pakistan President General Yahya Khan’s refusal to install Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s legitimately elected Awami League government and his army’s brutal crackdown in East Pakistan, led to the exodus of 10 million refugees to India and sowed the seeds of another war.

The 14-day war, which Pakistan started on 3 December 1971 by launching air attacks, resulted in a grand Indian victory and the emergence of Bangladesh. On 14 December 1971, Lt Gen JS Aurora, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command and Bangladesh Forces, accepted one of history’s greatest surrenders. Lt Gen AAK Niazi and over 93,000 Pakistani soldiers laid down their arms in Dhaka.

Once again, the Pakistan army engineered intrusions across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in the Kargil sector in the summer of 1999 with a view to interdicting the Srinagar-Leh road and opening a new front for infiltration across the Zojila Pass that divides Kashmir Valley and Ladakh. In the first week of July 1999, the Indian Tricolour was hoisted on Tiger Hill and soon fluttered atop many other peaks in the high Himalayas of Kargil district after a truly heroic effort.

Interventions and Border Management

The ethnic conflict between the Tamilians and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka sucked in India when, in response to a request from President Jayawerdene, the Indian Army was deployed in Sri Lanka to implement the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987.

The Army was called upon once again to intervene in the Maldives in the 1988 at the request of its President who was facing a coup threat.

Besides these, units of the Army have served with distinction in various United Nations peacekeeping operations. With these, India has signaled the nation’s emergence as a pre- eminent power in the southern Asian and northern Indian Ocean region.

Normally a nation’s international borders are managed by paramilitary and police forces during peacetime.

India’s disputed borders in the Himalayas with Pakistan in J&K and at places with China are managed by the Army. Along the LoC in J&K, there has been an eyeball-to-eyeball standoff between the Indian and Pakistani armies since the 1947-48 conflict.

Since 1984, the Indian and Pakistani armies have been fighting at Siachen (average height 5,000 metres or 16,500 feet), the highest battlefield in the world. The Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) on the Saltoro ridge west of the Siachen Glacier is an un-demarcated continuation of the LoC beyond the famous map reference NJ 9842.

Siachen was an active battle zone till November 2003. Artillery duels were commonplace and short-range missiles and rocket launchers were employed frequently by both the sides.

Maintaining Internal Security

The Indian Army has been engaged in internal security and counter-insurgency operations in the country almost throughout the post-independence period. The armed insurrections supported by various foreign powers in almost all the northeastern states since the early 1950s were successfully fought by the army and the Assam Rifles that is officered by the Army.

In Punjab, after the Pakistan-supported militancy had continued to fester for many years, the Army was employed as a force of the last resort to flush out Bhindranwale’s armed followers from the holy precincts of the Golden Temple in June 1984. Though the operation was successful, the militants soon re-grouped in Pakistan and unleashed a reign of terror on communal lines.

Later, as the situation in Punjab stabilized, Pakistan-prompted discontent reared its ugly head in the Kashmir Valley in 1989-90 and a new wave of Pakistan-sponsored militancy gathered momentum in the form of Proxy War. The Army was deployed in large numbers to combat this new weapon from across the western borders and largely succeeded in restoring a semblance of normalcy.

A need was felt for a national-level counter-insurgency force with the Army's ethos and leadership and, hence, the Rashtriya Rifles force was raised in the early-to-mid 1990s.

Contribution to Nation Building

Dubbed “scrupulously apolitical”, the Indian Army’s greatest achievement since independence is undoubtedly its monumental contribution to keeping the Indian nation united, despite fissiparous tendencies, strident religious fundamentalism, ethnic dissonance and externally aided insurgencies.

Called out to quell numerous ethnic and communal riots, to disarm mutinying armed constabularies and state police forces and for many other allied tasks when the civil administration had failed to stem the rot, the Army has always acted firmly but fairly and always employed the minimum possible force.

The Army’s unimpeachable impartiality has led to success in these endeavours and has earned for it the trust and admiration of a grateful nation as a steadfast defender of the supremacy of the Constitution of India.

The large-scale construction of border roads by the army has led to the development of far-flung and remote under-developed parts of the country.

Army outposts have often provided canteen services to the inhabitants of remote villages. Very often the unit canteen acts as the resident grocer for a cluster of villages, which have no access to a market. Army medical teams have been providing medical assistance and treatment to the inhabitants of remote localities on an ongoing basis.

Indeed, for numerous citizens of India residing in the country’s remote frontiers, the Indian Army is the only contact with the administration. In these outposts of the nation, Ahe army is the flag bearer – the only visible face of India.

With its diverse multi-religious, multi-lingual and multi-cultural composition, the Indian Army is a shining example of the national goal of achieving “unity in diversity”.

The Army is also an exemplary proponent of the power of positive secularism, as all ranks not only tolerate and support each other’s religion but also actively participate in all the rituals and celebrations in a spirit of genuine reverence.

Hundreds of thousands of ex-servicemen have spread the Army ethos of secularism, tolerance, moral uprightness and selfless discipline in all the corners of the country. The serving jawans proceeding to their villages on leave also carry the same message with them. It would not be an exaggeration to state that the Indian Army has been a major force for national integration and has knit India together better than any other organ of the state.

Today, when the nation is at peace, the Army continues to fight a war – even though it is only a proxy war and not a full blown conventional war.

In the vitiated security environment within the country and in the southern Asian region, it is clear that the Army will continue to play a dominant part in the affairs of the nation. It is up to the present and future leaders of India to ensure that this great national institution remains in fine fettle.

Army men take pride in their calling and engage themselves wholeheartedly in the pursuit of professional excellence so that they can serve their country with honour. Passionately patriotic, with an apolitical and secular ethos, the Indian Army is without doubt a strong and unyielding bastion for national unity and integrity.

The author is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst.

 
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