Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Indian soldier who dies for you

The Asian Age Aug 15th, 2010 - Kamal Davar.
During the 175 years of British rule in India, many pan-India institutions were created by the British to serve their imperial interests in the subcontinent. These included the railways, police, the revenue, postal and telegraph departments, a sound judicial system, roads and bridges linking ports to the hinterland and, above all, the Indian Army, both for enforcing their writ within India and for operations in their overseas territories.
Nearly 1.3 million Indian soldiers served in World War I (1914-1918) and over 2.58 million Indian soldiers fought for the Allies in World War II (1939-1945). During the latter period, under the leadership of the legendary Subhash Chandra Bose, an Indian National Army (INA) comprising deserters from the British Indian Army, was formed to fight the British to hasten the Independence of India. The INA, however, had no impact apart from cautioning the British Raj and re-kindling national awakening among some youth in India. But it is interesting to note that the decline of the British empire commenced with the Independence of India and its forfeiture and subsequent division of the formidable British Indian Army into the Indian and Pakistan armies.
Homogenous units, some of them nearly 150-years-old, were bifurcated with Hindu and Sikh- majority units coming to India and Muslim troops dispatched to Pakistan. Little did these troops, who had lived and fought together for decades, know that Partition of India would soon, and thence frequently, bring to battle old comrades.
British Viceroy Lord Wavell, prior to handing over charge in March 1947, outlined the centrality of the Indian Army to the about-to-be-formed new Indian nation-state in his farewell speech: “I believe that the stability of the Indian Army may perhaps be the deciding factor in the future of India”.
The significance of the Indian Army (used generically to include the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy) and its contribution to the sacred concept of Indian nationhood cannot and must never be diluted. For all Indians, except a few cynics, the Indian armed forces symbolise not just blood and guts, fidelity and honour, but also “Loyalty unto Death” to the nation.
Since Independence, the Indian Army has been involved in four wars against Pakistan and one with China in 1962, apart from other major operations like Operation Cactus Lily in April 1965 against Pakistan, Operation Meghdoot in 1986-88 in aid of Sri Lanka, Operation Prakaram (massive mobilisation against Pakistan after the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001) and various counterinsurgency operations within the country. The 1971 operations against Pakistan, leading to the liberation of Bangladesh, will remain one of the major historic military victories in the annals of warfare.
Apart from active conflicts, the Indian Army has also rendered matchless service in humanitarian activities during various natural calamities in the country, like currently in Leh. Its services in various United Nations peacekeeping missions has won it accolades all across the world.
Immediately after Independence, the existence of the powerful Indian Army was a potent contributor in all but three states joining India of their own accord. The state of Hyderabad, under the rule of the Nizam, refused to join. In September 1948, the government ordered the Indian Army which launched Operation Polo led by Maj. Gen. J.N. Chaudhuri (later to be Army Chief) to secure the state. It took the Army just five days to amalgamate the state to the Indian Union. The tiny state of Junagadh too fell in line. However, the reluctance of Maharaja Hari Singh of the strategic state of Jammu and Kashmir to decide whether to join India or Pakistan led to Pakistan Army regulars and tribals invading parts of Kashmir to annex the state by force. As soon as the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession, Indian troops were airlifted to Srinagar airport. It was at Badgam, a few miles from the Srinagar airport, that the hastily-airlifted Maj. Somnath Sharma of 4 Kumaon became free India’s first Param Vir Chakra winner. The last wireless message of this daring soldier to his brigade commander was “…enemy are only 50 yards from us — we are heavily outnumbered. We are under devastating fire. I shall not withdraw but will fight to the last man and last round”. Three days later the badly mutilated body of this valiant soldier, alongwith bodies of his men, was found. It was identified only because of some pages of the Gita he used to keep in his pocket. The exemplary valour and sacrifice of these soldiers saved the Kashmir Valley from falling into Pakistan’s hands. The Pakistanis known for their unsoldierly traits, in similar fashion during the Kargil War in 1999 in the Ladakh sector, brutally tortured the young Lt. Hanifuddin before killing him. On the other hand, when the Pakistanis refused to take over their own dead soldiers’ bodies, the Indian Army gave them a proper burial with full religious rites.
Can anyone forget the valiant Kumaoni company led by Maj. Shaitan Singh at Rezang La in eastern Ladakh in 1962 fighting against Chinese hordes in far greater numbers — the entire company of over a 100 men fought to the last man. Similar valour was displayed by the resolute Sikh platoon under Subedar Jogindar Singh at Bumla during the same 1962 operations.
There are countless such soldiers in Indian Army’s battle histories. The nation must never forget the supreme sacrifice of thousands of others who have shed their blood for the nation’s integrity. India is powerful and resilient enough not to succumb to pressure from any quarter, for the last bastion of the state is always at the nation’s beck and call and will never be found wanting to confront any challenge to India.
Lt Gen Kamal Davar (Retd) was the founder Director-General of the Defence Intelligence Agency
The Indian soldier who dies for you

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