The role of Indian Army in the Sixties

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Anupama Nair


I wrote about the history of the Indian Army till Independence. Today I am going to write about the valor and bravery of the Indian Army after Independence. After World War -II, as the Indian Army returned to barracks and took stock of the new situations, the Indian polity and its people strived hard for independence. Various meetings were held between the British Government in India and political leaders, and plans were chalked out for not just independence but also for the division of the Sub-Continent on communal lines into two different countries – India and Pakistan. This theory did not have many takers, especially amongst those people likely to be displaced. As a result, during 1946-47 communal riots and violence of unprecedented proportions swept throughout India.

The partition came into effect on 15 August 1947, when India gained independence. Pakistan declared independence a day earlier. At the time of Independence, the old Indian Army was divided between Pakistan and India. The active strength of the Army along with countrywide movable and immovable assets was shared under a complicated scheme, supervised by the British in the form of a Supreme Headquarters.

Instead of large-scale celebrations of Independence after 200 years from the British, it was riots and mass killing of the Hindus and Sikhs by the Muslims in Punjab, Sindh and Bengal that greeted us. I remember my late Dadu telling me of the “azadi ki jashn in Lahore on 15th August and then the massacre of Hindus and Sikhs. It also led to acute suffering and misery of the displaced people, apart from colossal loss of precious human lives and destruction of property due to communal riots. The level of violence had reached civil war proportions and had to be contained rapidly. Was it was a grave price to pay for India’s independence? The Armed Forces of both India and Pakistan “provided yeoman service in stopping further bloodshed and ensuring smooth exchange of service personnel opting for either India or Pakistan. However, 1 million Hindus, and Sikhs lost their lives in the carnage created by the Muslims.

Soon after Independence, Pakistan waged a war in 1947-48. In, 1947 when India was partitioned, Maharaja Hari Singh, the Hindu ruler of Muslim dominated Kashmir, dreamt of the Independent State of Kashmir. However, the partition riots broke out in Kashmir in September 1947 and sensing it as an opportunity, Pakistan sent the Pakistani tribal armies to Kashmir which got into fifteen miles from the state’s capital, Srinagar. A frightened Maharaja asked India to help, however, India asked him to sign the Instrument of accession to India. Maharaja Hari Singh signed it and Sheikh Abdullah the leader of the National Conference of Kashmir assented, India accepted the merger of  Jammu and Kashmir to India. Finally, India sent its forces to Kashmir while Pakistan sent military aid to troopers aiding Azad Kashmir.

The Indo-Pakistan War ended in a stalemate because PM Nehru of India pursued the idealistic path of using diplomatic means through the newly created United Nations Organization to try and force Pakistan to withdraw its irregular forces from Jammu and Kashmir. Also, UNSC resolutions 39 and 47 were not in India’s favor and Pakistan refused to abide by these resolutions. Still Pakistan owns a part of Kashmir called ‘Pakistan occupied Kashmir’. Major Somnath, was awarded the first ever Param Vir Chakra for his valor in the War.

While the British and French surrendered their colonial possessions in India gracefully, the Portuguese, however continued to refuse to hand their territory of Goa, Daman and Diu on India's western coast. Despite polite and repeated political and diplomatic reminders that the concept of European powers holding on to their overseas colonies was no longer existing, Portugal refused to yield for a full 14 years after independence.

After giving a final ultimatum to lay down arms and surrender to Indian authorities, and when this was not heeded by the Portuguese, the Indian Government took recourse to limited military action. While Indian operations in Daman and Diu met with stiff resistance before they were captured by the Indian army, the Goa operations were much easier. The multi-pronged Indian offensive launched by the seventeen Infantry Division, had a psychological impact on the defending forces, who realized the futility of offering prolonged resistance. The Portuguese soon surrendered Goa, Daman and Diu came into the India, thus ending a 400-year-old Portuguese hold on these colonies on Indian shore. Goa Liberation Day is celebrated on 19th December 1961.

After this victory, soon we faced an attack by the Chinese. A disputed Himalayan border was the main cause of the war between the two countries. There had been a series of violent border combats between the two countries after the Tibetan uprising of 1952, when India granted asylum to the Dalai Lama. India followed a defensive Forward Policy from 1960 to hinder Chinese military patrols and logistics, which it placed outposts along the border, including several north of the McMahon Line (the eastern portion of the Line of Actual Control) that was claimed by China in 1959.

China retaliated after India rejected the proposed Chinese diplomatic settlements throughout 1960–1962, with China recommencing previously-banned ‘forward patrols’ in the Ladakh region from 30 April 1962. China finally abandoned all attempts of peaceful resolution on 20 October 1962, invading disputed territory along the 3,225 KM long Himalayan border in Ladakh and across the McMahon Line. Chinese troops advanced over Indian forces Rezang La in Chushul in the western border, as well as Tawang in the eastern border. The war ended when China declared a ceasefire on 20 November 1962, and simultaneously announced its withdrawal to its “Line of Actual Control”.

Not long after Pakistan which was emboldened by the Indo-Chinese War sought a military solution of the Kashmir problem. US had helped Pakistan in modernizing their army, only added to the arrogance of Pakistan. By 1965, she had been able to acquire an edge over India in armor, artillery and air-power. This sense of superiority prompted her to attack Kashmir in 1965. It was a three-phased program. In the first phase the India’s capacity to react was tested in the Rann of Kutch. In the second phase trouble was provoked in Kashmir to weaken the Indian hold. In the third phase an attempt was made to bottle up the Indian Army in Kashmir by sealing the supply line in Chhamb-Jaurian sector of Jammu.

In the 1965 War, Pakistan suffered heavily in men and material in spite of her superiority in arms and equipment. It is estimated that Pak Army lost 5988 soldiers and many more were wounded. India lost 2735 brave soldiers and 8225 were wounded. Finally, a cease-fire was agreed upon with effect from 23rd  September 1965 with the efforts of UN. The Tashkent Declaration and the subsequent agreement between the two countries led to the disengagement of forces and their withdrawal to positions occupied by them before 5th  August 1965. This restored peace in the sub-continent for some time.

(Dedicated to Indian Army archives and my late Dadu Rajendar Singh)



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