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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.