The Indian Army: A Brief History
Lt Col A K Sharma (Retd.) ·       

There are several historical works about the Indian Army, but the one captivatingly titled Fidelity and Honour, written by Lt. Gen. Menezes, is the best, though many swear by the one authored by Maj. Praval too. Brig Chandel's Guts & Glory, has also received rave reviews. Now, the CAFHR of the USI has come up with a winner as well. Edited by the intrepid soldier-scholar, Ian Cardozo, the author of the immensely popular Param Vir: Our Heroes In Battle. He has again worked his magic by compiling this brief, yet comprehensive and immensely readable history of the Indian Army - from the 'lal paltan' of the British East India Company to the present day lean and mean fighting machine that it signifies. He has been ably assisted by military personalities, who have gone on to become celebrities in their own right in the publishing world. To name a few, Ashok Verma, author of Kargil: Blood on the Snow;; Ashok Krishna, P R Chari (IPCS), authors of Kargil: The Tables Turned; L S Lehl, author of Victory in Bangladesh, amongst others. Satish Nambiar, V K Singh, Vijay Oberoi have also contributed chapters on their fields of interest and expertise. Col. N Kumar has dealt with the subject of adventure sports.

The book is abound with atypical photocopy prints of documents (for example the 1971 Bangladesh War Dhaka Instrument of Surrender), photographs and plates, and interesting asides. The book also contains interesting stories, like that of Risaldar Major Ganda Singh, Sardar Bahadur, OBI, IOM of 19th Fane's Horse, who saved the life of Sir Robert Sandeham in 1858 near Lucknow, and that of Maj. Gen. Sir Charles MacGregor, the very founder of the USI. The raj-era prints greatly enhance the mystique of the Indian Army's origins. The photograph of the Mutiny Medal for Delhi on the opening page and the black and white copy of a print of the Garhwalis (Or is it the 1st Battalion of Queen Alexandra's Own 3rd Gurkha Rifles in one of the Afghan Campaigns?). Since the picture does not carry a caption, it is unclear to ascertain its identity. Similarly, some of the authors have let parochialism creep into their text as well. This could have been avoided in an otherwise objective narration of events, campaigns and battles. Overall, the book is well researched; the authors have acknowledged the secondary sources with copious endnotes, bibliography and references.

Bereft of any inhibitions, the book delves in all aspects of the Indian Army's evolution and history. Thus, the reader will not find it flinching from dealing with taboo subjects of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, Indian National Army (INA), the Royal Indian Navy mutiny of February 1946 in Bombay and Karachi following the INA trials and the debacle in Kameng. Desertion of Sikh soldiers in the aftermath of Operation Blue Star; sticky counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir have also been covered. Credit has been given to the sister services where ever due, and all the campaigns and wars have been satisfactorily covered in a crisp, concise and clear manner of the military. Ian Cardozo has lucidly written the section dealing with the 1971 War. The BD Op was the crowning glory for Indian Army and has been very appropriately given the title of The Finest Hour - 1971 & the Liberation of Bangladesh.

The Siachen stand-off; Operation Blue Star - the over-supervised and ham-handed storming of the Golden Temple with armoured personnel carriers and tanks against the most basic tenets of military doctrine, on a mere whim of Gen. Sundarji; the barging and bungling in Sri Lanka during Operation Pawan; the hastily patched together Operation Cactus in the Maldives and the 1999 Kargil War are well covered. Operations like Sadbhavna, Ujala and Sahyog, which were aimed only at military-civic action in border areas are included, but rightly given a broad brush by V K Singh, in Times Of Trial. This chapter is as interesting as any other is but, curiously, supported by only a solitary endnote. Operation Vijay, which was the Indian response to Musharraf's Operation Badr, has the column space it merits.

The 1962 conflict has been put in the correct perspective by highlighting individual gallantry in the face of overwhelming odds, along with the doggedness of sub-units like that of C Company of 13 Kumaon at Reazangla that fought to the last man; the 1/8 G R in General Area Pangong Lake, Sapngur Gap and Chushul, and the dogged fight put up by 114 Brigade as a whole. The fierce fighting in the Lohit division has been well documented and actions of units; especially those involved in the fighting in Walong are commended. The responsibility for collapse of the 4th Division in Kameng has been rightly fixed on bumbling commanders, though the Se La action has been depicted in the correct light of the professional stand taken by Brig. Hoshiar Singh, IOM, IDSM, Croix de Guerre with Silver Star.

The 4th (Indian) Division, very fittingly nevertheless, comes in for a lot of praise in another chapter titled, The World Wars And Prelude to Independence. Here, Maj. Gen. V K Singh describes its exploits in the Western Desert when it broke through the German-held Mareth Line, and later, along with the 8th (Indian) Division, as it spearheaded the Allied re-conquest of Italy, in 1943. The vital role of the Indian Army in turning defeat into victory in the Second Burma Campaign is well encapsulated in the same chapter. The Indians won a staggering 29 Victoria Crosses in WW II, out of these 24 Victoria Crosses were for action in Burma itself.

This speaks volumes of the ethos of the Army, which has been brought out very commendably by Cardozo in the chapter titled, Ethos, Values, Training. The WW I campaigns in Gallipoli, Egypt and Palestine, Mesopotamia and East Africa have been covered adequately. The Indian Army's contribution to the UN has been well authored by Satish Nambiar in a separate chapter, nicely rounding off this impressive book.

Sports and adventure are dealt with in a chapter by N Kumar and is replete with achievements of officers and men of the Army in the field of mountaineering. Other sports get a mention only in the passing in comparison, but it was indeed a pleasant surprise to learn that the famous test cricketer Hazare was an Indian Army man and a Colonel to boot too! NDA Cadet Sen Gupta finds mention as well. He was the youngest cricketer ever to face the fearsome pace attack of the West Indies duo of Wesley Hall and Gilchrist in an exhibition match whilst still under training at the Academy. The story of his valiant century is legendary at the NDA, Khadakvasla. N Kumar has clearly missed out the involvement of the Army in the prestigious New Delhi Asian Games. Maj. Gen. O S Bhandari, the then GOC Delhi Area was closely involved in planning, coordination, and execution of this international event. However, the ceremonies associated with the Army, the ceremonial pomp and show, pageantry, panache, the smashing drill and clockwork precision of the parade ground is missing in the book. The lay reader will miss it too, as this is the only visible image of the Army to the public. A few colour plates of the marching contingents of the Republic Day parade on Rajpath, regimental brass bands and pipes and drums in the Beating the Retreat Ceremony on Vijay Chowk, the Wreath Laying on the Amar Jawan Jyoti, the Buglers on the Red Fort and Rajghat would have done the trick. Without these, this book will be little more than a droll recounting of military operations.

One of the chapters takes a peep into the future as well and makes for interesting reading, but whoever heard of crystal gazing in a book on history? It could make way for, in a future edition, for one on epic battles of the Indian Army, and its heroes in battle and celebrities on the sports field. This will go a long way in making this brief history of the Indian Army another step closer "to the Indian citizen", as desired by Lt. Gen. Mathew Thomas, in his Foreword to the book.