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HindustanTimes Fri,24 Oct 2014

Old soldiers' code of honour

Mandeep Singh Bajwa   January 08, 2013
First Published: 10:32 IST(8/1/2013) | Last Updated: 10:33 IST(8/1/2013)

I'm talking about the time when generals sought to display their prowess on the battlefield and not in the courts of law and their closest advisers were their chiefs of staff or principal general staff officers and not crooked lawyers, yellow journalists or venal politicians.

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In the late 1948, when it became clear to the Indian leadership that General Sir Roy Boucher, the British C-in-C of the Indian Army had prior knowledge of the Pakistani-sponsored tribal invasion of Kashmir and, moreover, did not have his full heart in promoting Indian interests it was decided at the highest level that one of the eligible Indian senior officers be appointed in his place. In the order of seniority, these were Generals KM Cariappa, Rajendra Sinhji and Nathu Singh, all GOCs-in-C of Commands.

The political leadership wasn't inclined to appoint Cariappa, whom they considered Anglicised and pro-British. The political leadership was a bit unsure of itself, slightly diffident about dealing with the military because of lack of experience. Anyway, Sardar Patel took upon himself to sound out the trio and recommend a suitable Chief.

He spoke to Rajendra Sinhji, then GOC-in-C, Southern Command, about taking over as Chief. Rajendra Sinhji replied that since this was the first time an Army Chief was to be appointed in free India, the Cabinet must necessarily go by seniority, i.e., Cariappa should be appointed. If the government was very keen to appoint him, General Rajendra Sinhji said, he was still available after the expiry of Cariappa's term. Nathu Singh, then commanding the Eastern Command, when offered the C-in-C's job, also advised that Cariappa should be appointed as he was the seniormost. Thus, it came to pass that Cariappa, GOC-in-C, Western Command, was appointed and took over as the first Indian C-in-C on 15th January, 1949, a day celebrated as Army Day.

He belied all apprehensions about his suitability and presided over the transition of the Indian Army from an instrument of colonial power to a truly national force. Such were the men who laid the foundations of today's Army - men whose conduct was always bound by a rigid code of honour and honed by their experience and values. Cut to today's cut throat competition, deadly intrigue and back-stabbing on the issue of succession and one realises how times and men have changed!

Training the Mukti Bahini
It was clear in the beginning of April 1971 that no offensive could be launched in East Pakistan before December for a variety of reasons. An interim resistance movement had to be launched to keep the Pakistanis off-balance as well as offer some proof to the Bengalis that India was seized of their plight. An organisation was set up, headed by Maj Gen OS Kalkat to train, organise, equip, arm and launch what came to be known as the Mukti Bahini under the code name of Operation Jackpot.

Brigadier Sant Singh from Panjgrain, district Faridkot, was posted as commander of the sector dealing with operations in Mymensingh and Tangail districts, located contiguously at Tura in Meghalaya. His formation, 'F' Sector, trained 15,000 freedom fighters in basic military skills, including demolition, throwing grenades and laying mines.

Operations were launched to deny surface communications and disperse Pakistani forces. The functioning of offices and schools was stopped; the Deputy Commissioner's office disrupted by getting a young boy to throw a grenade in his court. The civil administration was totally paralysed; Phulpur sub-division was declared an area liberated of Pakistani control. The Mukti Bahini's highly motivated and patriotic cadres dominated the area, forcing the Pakistanis to break up their troops into penny-packets in order to engage them.

Brigadier Sant Singh a redoubtable infantryman, played a leading role in the success of his Sector and the Mukti Bahini units it controlled. Already decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra for his leadership while commanding 5 Sikh Light Infantry in 1965 war, he was awarded a bar to the MVC for his role in securing Mymensingh and Madhopur during the war itself, an episode that deserves a separate article in itself.

A regrettable occurrence
The ugly incident involving a Major of 1 Army Headquarters Signal Regiment and Mrs Bharati Singh, wife of General VK Singh, the recently retired Army Chief has left a bad taste. Where's the legendary grace, sophistication and finesse usually displayed by the Army and those associated with it, like the officers' families? The episode has all the hallmarks of an event involving lack of poise and low-level politicking, something not associated with the armed forces.

Where are the Cariappas, Nathu Singhs, Maneckshaws, Bhagats and Hanut Singhs of today? I for one am filled with a great sense of despondency at the seeming deterioration in soldierly values. It's not too late in the day, however, to make a return to the qualities one normally associates with the men in uniform.

Would like to hear from families with three or more generations of unbroken military service.

You may write in at msbajwa@gmail.com or call on 093161-35343.

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