Indian army’s role in nation building

Military Yearbook | Aug 5, 2004

Besides ensuring a nation's territorial integrity and making a substantial contribution to national security, every young nation's army has a major role to play in nation building. For over fifty years since independence, the Indian Army has been in the forefront as the guarantor of the nation's freedom against external aggression, along with the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force.

Besides ensuring a nation’s territorial integrity and making a substantial contribution to national security, every young nation’s army has a major role to play in nation building. The Indian Army has been no exception. Ever since independence, the Army has been involved in multiple insurgencies and “militancies” with fissiparous tendencies and has participated vigorously in stemming the rot and stabilising the situation. It has also extended the reach of the state to inaccessible areas and, through egalitarian recruitment policies and secular conduct, contributed immensely to national integration. It could be said that the Indian Army’s march through the first hall century since independence has been a long “Knit India” campaign. For over fifty years since independence, the Indian Army has been in the forefront as the guarantor of the nation’s freedom against external aggression, along with the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. It has been the primary force engaged in keeping the nation together in the face of internal discord, communal disharmony and fissiparous tendencies.


Ever since Pakistani Razakars and regular troops poured across the borders of J&K in October 1947, Indias territorial integrity nas os 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, Indias first Home Minister, in merging 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 © 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 and carried away by its own rhetoric of Ahimsa and Panchsheel, independent India’s leadership neglected the development and modernisation of the Army, secure in the belie! that a politico-diplomatic response was adequate to meet the threats and challenges to national security, Unprepared to execute Pandit Nehru’s hastily conceived “forward policy”, the Indian Army suffered a crushing blow at the hands of Chinese in 1962.
However, it is not so well known that individual units mostly fought with spirit and determination in the face of daunting odds. While the Army took the rap for the nation’s worst ever humiliation, with hindsight, the blame must be laid squarely on the national leadership’s inept higher direction of war, unpardonable inability to accept professional military advice and its myopic vision of the inter-play between national security and foreign policy. Due to some phantom tears, the Indian Air Force was not even allowed to take part in the war! Perhaps the whole truth will emerge only when the Henderson Brooks-Prem Bhagat Report on the Himalayan Blunder is finally de-classified.

Two Wars

The post -1962 period was marked by a rapid expansion of the Army primarily tor the defence of the Himalayan frontiers. However, the next major threat came from Pakistan in the west. Armed with new Patton tanks and Sabre jets from the United States. Pakistan launched a series of operations in the Rann of Kutch in April-May, Operation Gibraltar in Kashmir in August and Operation Grand Slam in the Akhnoor-Jammu area in September 1965. 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. At the strategic level, the 1965 war was a stalemate as the Kashmir issue remained unsettled.
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 crackdown in East Pakistan led to the exodus of almost ten million refugees to India and sowed he seeds of another war. The 14-day war, which Pakistan started on 3 December 1971, resulted in the emergence of Bangladesh.
In a well planned and meticulously executed lightning campaign in some of the most easily defensible riverine terrain in the world, Eastern Command’ multi-pronged offensive spear-heads contained and bypassed well-fortified defences. They caused a mental paralysis by operating deep inside the enemy’s rear areas and quickly broke the Pakistani commanders’ will to fight resulting m the surrender of Lt Gen A. A. K, Niazi and over 90,000 Pakistani soldiers. With this victory, the Indian Army finally overcame the trauma of its defeat at the hands of the Chinese in 1962.
In the summer of 1999, militants supported by Pakistan intruded across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir JS) in the Kargil sector with a view to interdicting the Srinagar-Leh road and opening a new front for infiltration across the Zoya Pass that divides Kashmir Valley and Ladakh. The Indian Army immediately undertook operations to evict the infiltrators and by mid-July 1999, the intrusions into territory on the Indian side of the LoC had been undone. This victory was only the latest success of the Indian Army in guarding India’s national security interests.


The ethnic conflict between the Tamilians and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka finally 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. Initially, the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was successful in maintaining peace without the use of force. However, when the LTTE violated the terms of the Accord, there was no option but to resort to military action. The LTTE guerrillas proved to be a determined and well motivated force. Though they suffered many tactical defeats and numerous casualties, the jungles of Vavuniya and Trincomalee provided them safe sanctuaries in which to rest, recoup and refit before launching still more raids and ambushes. At the insistence of President Premdasa. the IPKF retumed home in March 1990. Whether the IPKF made a substantial contribution to the achievement of India’s foreign policy objectives shall remain a debatable point. That individual soldiers and units performed heroically on foreign soil under extremely unfavourable conditions, including restrictions on the use of force. shall never be in doubt.
India’s other overseas intervention in the 1980s was more successful. The legitimately elected government of President Gayoom of Maldives was overthrown in a mercenary-led coup in November 1988. Flying in from over 2,500 kilometers away at Agra, Indian paratroopers secured the international airport at Hulale and the capital Male in a surgical strike which caught the coup leaders completely unawared and unprepared. With this one swift tri-service operation, India signaled the nation’s emergence as the pre-eminent power in the southern Asian and northern Indian Ocean region.

Manning the LoC

Normally a nations international borders are managed by para-military and police forces during peacetime. However, India’ disputed borders with Pakistan in J&K and with China along the Himalayas are managed primarily by the Army. Along the LoC there has been an eyeball-to-eyeball standoff between the Indian and Pakistani armies since the 1947-48 conflict. Exchanges of small arms and medium machine gun (MMG) fire are an almost daily occurrence. On occasions, even artillery duels have lasted from a week to ten days. Many of the posts are in high altitude areas, ‘above 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) height, in some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world. The jawans live in bunkers under primitive conditions and usually only the most basic amenities are available. During heavy snowfalls and after avalanches, some of the pickets remain cut off for many months. Casualties have to be carried on stretchers to the nearest helipads and then flown out when the weather conditions permit. To maintain a high state of morale under such trying conditions, very high skills of leadership and man-management are required.

Stand-Off in Siachen

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. Since 1984, the Indian and Pakistani armies have been fighting at Siachen — (average height 5,000 meters or 16,500 feet), the highest battlefield in the world. Unlike the LoC where there is still some restraint, Siachen is an active battle zone. Artillery duels are commonplace and short-range missiles and rocket launchers are employed frequently by both the sides. Incidents of hand-to-hand fighting, though infrequent, cannot be ruled out as attacks are still launched to gain tactical advantage. However, survival against the elements is a.greater concern. Besides advanced mountaineering skills, a stint at Siachen Glacier requires outstanding physical endurance, steely mental resolve, an indomitable spirit and raw courage. U there is one bilateral problem between India and Pakistan that needs early resolution. it is that of Siachen and the other glaciers of the Karakoram Range.

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 Army. Though various accords and cease-fire agreements were signed over the years, these interludes were used by the insurgent groups to regroup and re-arm themselves. While in almost each case the Army succeeded in providing the security environment essential for a negotiated settlement, peace continues to elude the people for various reasons.
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. However, the people of Punjab did not support the demand for Khalistan and the movement never went beyond the pale of — terrorism. The Army was once again called out in the early 1990s to assist the civil administration to effectively control the internal security situation in conjunction with the Punjab Police. The Army’s operations, limited mainly to counter-infiltration, domination of the countryside and patrolling at night, and were eminently successful.
Even as the situation in Punjab was coming under control, the demand for azadi reared its head in the Kashmir Valley in 1989-90 and a new wave of militancy gathered momentum. The Army was deployed in large numbers to combat this new “proxy war” from across the western borders and largely succeeded in restoring a semblance of normalcy. Over a decade later, though the people are tired and an elected government is in power, the hard-core militant groups are yet to throw in the towel as they are still being provided financial, military and material support from across the border. In fact, especially after the 1999 Kargil conflict, the militancy in J&K has passed completely into the hands of foreign mercenary terrorists, most of them from Pakistan.
Contrary to the propaganda to the contrary, not more than approximately 1,20,000 combat personnel have been engaged in counter-Insurgency operations at any one time. It was appreciated by the Army leadership that it would not be possible to sustain .this level of involvement over a long duration, as it would hamper its preparation for war. It was realised that though internal security is basically a state government and Ministry of Home Affairs responsibility, the state and central police and para-military forces could not be expected to counter foreign-sponsored, well trained militants, armed with sophisticated weapons and state-of-the-art communications equipment without army help. There was a need 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.

Peacekeeping Operations

By being at the forefront, of United Nations (UN) peacekeeping © operations worldwide tor almost 50 years, the Indian Army has contributed immensely to advancing India’s foreign policy goals. Major missions in which Indian troops participated were in Korea, 1953-54, Vietnam, 1954-70; Gaza, 1956-67; Congo (Zaire), 1960-64: Cambodia, 1992-93; Mozambique, 1992-94: Somalia, 1993-94: Angola, 1994-97: Rwanda, 1995-96: and, Sierra Leone, 1998-2000.
At present, a battalion group from India is deployed in UNIFIL, Lebanon and preparations are underway to despatch a battalion to the Congo. Besides infantry battalions, artillery, engineers, signals and medical units and logistics personnel have participated in UN missions and the Army has contributed a large number of military observers to missions in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Several Indian Generals have served with distinction as Force Commanders of UN missions in Korea, Gaza, Congo (Zaire), Cyprus, Yemen, Namibia and Yugoslavia. Maj General Inderjit Rikhye is a well-known UN veteran. The old peace-horse, Lt Gen Dewan Prem Chand, served with distinction as the Force Commander in Cyprus, as a member of the Rhodesia Commission and again as the Force Commander in Namibia in 1989-90 when he was in his 70s.

Aid to Civil Authority

In addition to its employment in counter-insurgency and internal security duties, the Army is frequently called upon to render aid to civil authority. Such assistance includes the maintenance of law and order during communal riots, flood and famine relief, and humanitarian aid during natural calamities such as the frequent cyclones on the Andhra and Orissa coast and the Latur earthquake, and building of bridges and roads during emergencies such as landslides and for occasions like the Kumbh Mela. The Army is often asked to provide essential services when these are disrupted by strikes and bandhs.

Construction of Border Roads

The large-scale construction of border roads by the Army has led to the development of far-flung and remote underdeveloped parts of the country. Army outposts have often provided canteen services to the inhabitants of remote villages. 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. the Army is the only visible face of India.

Contribution to Nation Building

Dubbed “scrupulously apolitical”, the Indian Army’s greatest achievement since independence has undoubtedly been its monumental contribution to keeping the Indian nation united, despite strong fissiparous tendencies, strident religious fundamentalism, ethnic dissonance and externally aided insurgencies. Called out to quell numerous ethnic and communal riots, disarm mutinying armed constabularies and state police forces and for many other allied tasks when the civil administration had failed, the Army has always acted firmly but fairly and always employed the minimum possible force. Its impartiality has earned for it the trust and admiration of the nation as a steadfast defender of the supremacy of the Constitution of India.
With its diverse multi-religious, multilingual and multi-cultural composition, the Indian Army is a shining example of the national goal of achieving “unity in diversity” and an exemplary proponent of positive secularism. All ranks not only tolerate each others 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 corners of the country. The serving jawans proceeding to their villages on leave also carry the same message. 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 South Asia, 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. Armymen 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.
From the blizzard-swept snows of Siachen, through the sharp escarpments of the Himalayan massif, the steaming hot and humid jungles of the Northeast to the shimmering sands of the Thar desert,
the men and women of the Indian Army have maintained a steady vigil over the nations frontiers for over fifty long years. The jawans have suffered many hardships. borne numerous privations, have often felt lonesome, but have never complained. Many thousands have made the supreme sacrifice and a few hundred continue to do so every year. The Indian Army will doubtlessly continue to stand firm as a central pillar of the nation’s future.