Dubbed "Scrupulously apolitical" the Indian army's greatest achievement since Independence is undoubtedly its monumental contribution to keeping the Indian nation united, despite strong fissiparous tendencies, strident religious fundamentalism, ethnic dissonance and externally aided insurgencies.
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. 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 before getting back to the business of demanding either autonomy or independence. While in almost each case the army succeeded in providing the right security environment that is essential for a negotiated peace settlement, peace continued to elude the people for various reasons.
In Punjab, 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 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
Even as the situation in Punjab was coming under control, the demand for azadi reared its ugly head in the Kashmir valley in 1989-90 and a new wave of Pakistan-sponsored 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, hard core militant groups are yet to throw in the towel as they are still being provided financial, military and material support by their foreign masters in Pakistan who are getting increasingly desperate to gain some ground quickly.
Contrary to the canard spread by Pakistan, not more than approximately 120,000 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 the army’s training and preparation for war. Yet, it was realised that though internal security is basically a state government and ministry of Home Affairs responsibility, the state police 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 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.
By being at the forefront of United Nations peacekeeping operations worldwide for 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, 1992Z94: 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 under way 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 Namibia in 1989-90, when he was in his 70s.
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, 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.
The large-scale construction of border roads by the army has led to the development of far-flung and remote under-developed parts of the country. Army outposts have often provided canteen services to the inhabitants of remote villages. Very often the unit bania acts as the resident grocer for a cluster of villages, which have no access to a market. Army medical teams have been providing medical assistance and treatment to the inhabitants of remote localities on an ongoing basis.
Dubbed “scrupulously apolitical” the Indian army’s greatest achievement since Independence is undoubtedly 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, to disarm mutinying armed constabularies and state police forces and for many other allied tasks when the civil administration had failed to stem the rot, the army has always acted firmly but fairly. The army’s unimpeachable impartiality has led to success in these endeavours and has earned for it the trust and admiration of a grateful nation as a steadfast defender of the supremacy of the Constitution of India. Unlike in some neighbouring countries, the Indian army has been a real champion of democracy.
With its diverse multi-religious, multi-lingual and multicultural composition, the Indian army is a shining example of the national goal of achieving “unity in diversity”. The army is also an exemplary proponent of the power of positive secularism, as all ranks not only tolerate each other’s 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. The serving jawans proceeding to their villages on leave also carry the same message with them. 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 southern Asian region, it is clear that 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. Army men 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 gallant men and women of the Indian army have maintained a steady vigil over the nation’s frontiers for over 50 long years. THe gallant jawans have suffered many hardships, borne numerous privations; they have been often lonesome, but they have never complained. A few millions have given the best years of their youth for our tomorrows. Many thousands have made the supreme sacrifice and a few hundred continue to do so every year.
Each generation of Indian citizens must ensure that those sacrifices are not In vain. With the support of the whole nation solidly behind it, as witnessed during the Kargil conflict, the Indian army will doubtlessly continue to stand firm as a central pillar of the nation’s future.