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When India became independent in 1947, Gandhi’s charisma and his philosophy of Ahimsa (non-violence), imbibed by the Congress Party which assumed power, led some people in authority to believe that India would no longer need an army to defend herself. That bit of myopic wishful thinking ended almost as soon as it had begun, for soon after Independence, India was plunged into its first war with Pakistan, when the Pakistani army, in the guise of armed raiders attacked Jammu and Kashmir in October 1947. That was the first call to duty for the Army in the newly independent India and the men in olive greens came out with flying colours in heroically saving the Valley and pushing back the Pakistani forces to roughly the positions held today by both countries and now called the Line of Control.
Besides fighting the war, the army also escorted convoys of fleeing Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan to India. Many soldiers laid down their lives to protect their brethren from imminent death at the hands of the marauding Muslim mobs in Pakistan. The escorts were small groups, sometimes just 20 to 30 men, but they unflinchingly faced the marauders who were in the thousands and executed what can only be described as the most incredible evacuation in strife-torn areas. And in all this, their personal conduct was unimpeachable.
When the first Indo-Pak war was fought in 1947-48, the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army was General Sir Robert Lockhart who served from 15 July 1947 till the end of the year. He was relieved by another British officer, General Sir Roy Bucher, who in turn served for just over a year and handed over the reins of the Indian Army to Lt Gen KM Cariappa, on 15 January 1949. General Cariappa thus became the first Indian Chief of the Indian Army and to mark this momentous occasion, 15 January is celebrated every year as Army Day. Over the years, the military leadership has honed the Indian Army into a force capable of tackling internal and external threats, out of area contingencies, natural disasters and calamities and of providing aid to the civil authority, when called upon to do so.
In valour, the Indian soldier is second to none—an inheritance from ancient times. In 326 BCE, Alexander, one of the greatest conquerors of all times, after vanquishing the mighty Persian Empire, set his eyes on conquering India. But at the banks of the river Jhelum, he met with the steely resolve of Porus, a minor Indian King, who stopped the mighty emperor in his tracks. That steely resolve is till aglow in today’s Indian Army, which is rightly held in high esteem across the world. But along with courage and valour, the Indian Army is known for its righteous conduct—a tradition carried over from the time of the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Be it the four wars which India has fought—three with Pakistan and one with China, or its continuous engagement in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism (CICT) operations, both within and beyond India’s frontiers, or even the numerous United Nations peacekeeping missions that it has been engaged in, the conduct of the Indian Army has only drawn applause and acclaim across the world. Writing on this aspect of the Indian military standards of ethics after the Liberation War of 1971, the well-known Pulitzer winning journalist, Sydney Schanberg, commented in the New York Times, that “I never saw them do a thing wrong not even when they saw just how bestial the enemy had been.” That one line sums up the high ethical standards of the Indian Army, despite grave provocation by some of its adversaries.
While operating in Sri Lanka in Operation Pawan, the local population reposed total faith and trust in the Indian Army. I had the privilege to serve with my unit for two years conducting CICT operations, and at all times, the Indian troops deployed in Sri Lanka retained the trust of the local Tamil and Sinhala population as well as of the Sri Lankan Government and security forces—A commendable achievement indeed. Is it any surprise then, that despite continuous operations in J&K over the last three decades, the Army is held in the highest esteem amongst the local population in the Union Territory of J&K? The same can be said of the Army’s operations in Punjab and in North East India. Its reputation in the various UN peacekeeping missions it has been engaged in is unmatched and speaks volumes of the Indian soldier.
The Army of today is in many ways different from the Army of yesteryears. It has better firepower and mobility and is well equipped to respond to modern combat requirements , especially in terms of communications and battlefield transparency. But what has not changed is its core characteristics of valour and courage, along with a high sense of moral purpose.
Today, as the nation celebrates the Army Day, the Indian Army continues to maintain a vigil on the borders with both its hostile neighbours, in extremely difficult terrain and weather conditions. The external threats are permanent with perpetual Chinese provocation in Eastern Ladakh and a hostile and belligerent Pakistan not letting up in its proxy terror war against India. But the nation and people are at peace because they have their Army to defend them. A military with a tradition of valour and a very strong moral compass. That is what makes the Indian Army a truly remarkable and unbeatable force.