INDIAN ARMY AFTER INDEPENDENCE
BY MAJOR K.C. PRAVAL
FRANKFORT, IL, LANCER PUBLISHERS LLC 2012
There are very few books about the modern Indian Army. That is, the Indian Army that existed since independence. Anyone searching for books about the Indian military would find books about the British Raj or about the British Indian Army during World War II. Nevertheless, the book, Indian Army After Independence, is a good book that covers this often forgotten era of military history. Unlike other books on the subject, this was one of a few written by a former officer of the Indian Army. Major K.C. Parval wrote this book in the early 1980s under the guidance of his mentor, General T.N. Raina (former Chief of the Army Staff). The intent of the author was to document a history of the Indian Army from a modern perspective, (and from the viewpoint of a serving officer as well) . Because the author passed away back in 1986, this work covers the period from 1947 to the Indo-Pak War of 1971. Not only does it covers the wars with neighboring countries (i.e. Pakistan and China), it also covers the various military interventions ranging from the Congo to Korea, and from Goa to Hyderabad. As per the author, this work was to be considered a sequel to a book covering the early history of the Indian Army. The book, A Matter of Honour, by Philip Mason laid the foundation Indian Military History covering from the earliest history of the Sepoy Regiments raised in Madras to the end of the Second World War. However, that would be a another review of another book for another time. Here is a brief examination of what Major Praval’s book has to offer.
For starters, he covers the First Indo-Pak War of 1947. The unfortunate part of India’s Independence was the fact that the entire subcontinent was partitioned into two nations at three places. Pakistan was broken into two pieces (East and West) off both sides of Greater India. This partition was the result of communal riots between predominately Hindu and Muslims (not to mentioned the Sikhs of the Punjab as well). Interfaith communities that lived in relative peace and tranquility for centuries were torn apart by political forces of competing nationalist movements. The political factors contributing to this violence was more complicated that just competition between Congress Party and the Muslim League. Hindu Nationalist Groups as well were factors that culminated into the First Indo-Pak War.
What was interesting was that the British were very much caught in the middle of this war. Many officers of the newly formed Pakistan Army, were British on (on loan from the British Army – called secondment). Nevertheless, the war ended in a stalemate, only to be resumed again in 1965, and again in 1971.
In addition to the Indo-Pak wars, India had to contend with another great-power rival, China. The Sino-Indian War of 1962 was a case in how naïve Nehru’s foreign policy (i.e. the Hindi Chini Bai Bai – India and China are Friends) became a slogan of cynicism after the her defeat at the hands of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army. What makes this book unique among other military history books is that Praval does not go into recriminations about the reasons for defeat. He soberly explains the causes of defeat due to a lack of preparation, and miscalculation in light of the Tibetan crisis that proceeded it. In addition, Praval listed the many hazards of fighting in the high altitude regions of the Sino-Indian Border where many troops did not have proper clothing, nor were acclimated to the thin atmosphere of the region. In contrast, the PLA were not only well prepared in terms of individual clothing and equipment, they have also taken the pains of investing in roads and airfields in order to supply their army at such a remote, desolate region.
As a result, the Indian Army in the mid-sixties took steps at reform. Barely three years later, they were embroiled in another war with Pakistan. What was unique about this war was that it was portrayed as a contest between high tech weapons vs. leadership and the “human element”. That is the leaders of Pakistani army, equipped with the latest tanks (e.g. the M47 Patton) were confident to face an Indian army equipped with the old Sherman, and a handful of the relatively new Centurion tank. However, the battle of Asal Uttar was a case of where leadership and training gave Indian tankers the edge over superior Pakistani weapons. For the reader not familiar, the battle of Asal Uttar was fought in wester border between India and Pakistan from 8 to 10 September, 1965. It was considered to be one of the largest tank battles fought since the Second World War (135 Indian tanks vs Pakistan’s 220). It was a decisive victory for India, yet it only sowed the seeds for the next war.
That next war was the Indo-Pak War of 1971. This was more popularly known as the Bangladeshi War of Independence. Before 1971, Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan. Although the Bangladeshis were predominately Muslims like their western counterparts, they were not treated equally by their masters in Islamabad. Differences in language and culture led to antagonisms, and ultimately to agitation for independence by the Bangladeshis. Unfortunately the military leadership governing East Pakistan resorted to a wholesale, violent crackdown provoking a large scale refugee crisis into neighboring India. These tensions ultimately led to war, but Praval took time to illustrate the civil military relationship between Indra Ghandi (India’s female PM) and Chief of Staff General Sam Manekshaw. General Manekshaw blunt but honest advice to the Prime Minister on what it would take to win a war with Pakistan had ruffled quite a few feathers amongst Gandhi and some of her ministers, yet this was an example of moral courage necessary for a military professional. Gandhi wanted to go war with Pakistan in order to resolve the refugee crisis spilling over to West Bengal, but Manekshaw cautioned that to go to war before the monsson season, and with an Indian Army lacking the necessary equipment and logistics required to win, would only “guarantee 100% defeat” at the hands of the Pakistanis. Manekshaw even offered to resign for offering such a blunt assessment. Fortunately for Manekshaw (and for India), Gandhi relented, and gave her Army Chief the necessary authority and support required for the army to prepare for war with Pakistan.
The results of that preparation was India’s greatest military over Pakistan to date. East Pakistan became Bangladesh, and the Indian Army felt redeemed from the major setback it felt at the hands of the Chinese back in 1962. Operations in Bangladesh alone was great example of how careful planning and bold use of maneuver war could outfight and defeat an enemy considered the stronger power.
As mentioned previously, the Indian Army has also been involved in operations other than war since her independence in 1947. From Operations in the Belgian Congo to the Gaza Strip, to caring for POW in Korea to liberating the Portuguese Enclave of Goa, India’s army has racked up an impressive array of professional credentials. Throughout his book, Praval harped on two themes that come to mind. One was the emphasis on military professionalism that served as a key to her military success. That is, the dedication to the profession of arms without petty politics that would undermine it. The other was the many examples of courage and gallantry exhibited by the Indian Soldier. Throughout his book, Praval provided many examples of individual courage (both moral as well as physical) highlighting India’s Profession of Arms.
As for the book, it is worth reading for anyone wanting a good basic book about the Indian Army. The only limitation one would find is the quality of paper printed on (almost like newsprint), and the lack of detailed, colored maps. Nevertheless, Praval does provide good Order of Battle tables and an index of acronyms as well. Overall it was a well written, throughly informative book which gives great credit to Major Praval, and the Indian Army as well.