Saturday, December 23, 2006

Clearinghouse: 1965 war report

In 1992, an official "History of the 1965 Indo-Pak War" was published by the Ministry of Defence. It is a surprisingly candid account of the conduct of the war and the mistakes made by both sides, all the more surprisingly because such analyses are rare to come across even in mainstream media, let alone a government-commissioned study.

I first stumbled upon the report about a year back on bharat-rakshak.com which had borrowed it from Times of India. The report is sheer delight for military buffs but it is also interesting (and, I daresay, essential) reading for any Indian with a national/political conscience. Admittedly, apart from the initial and concluding chapters which deal with the build-up to the war and diplomacy that sealed its end, the report is a lengthy technical account of nearly all the battles that took place in the war which might put some off. There are detailed descriptions of tactical manoeuvers that defined the various battles in the war, of how many companies of 3 Sikh or 5/6 Gurkha captured so-and-so Tekri and with how many casualties, and so on.

One interesting episode is the conditions that led to the formation of the 'Meghdoot force' by Lt Col Megh Singh, the first commando unit of the modern Indian army. This unit led to the genesis of Special Forces in the Indian army, through the legendary 9 Para commando batallion of the Parachute Regiment. Today the army boasts of 7 such SF batallions.

Because of the lack of good maps, the report is painful reading unless you grew up in Chhamb sector of J&K and know it like the back of your hand (I wasnt, so didnt). When I first read the report, I resolved to make a set of read-along illustrations to go with it, but I was in school then and the idea never materialized. It still hasnt, but as a first step, I have consolidated the report and uploaded it in a standard format (the bharat-rakshak upload is in a strange format). Here it is, enjoy!

Chapters 1 to 4 (6.34 MB)
Chapters 5 to 8 (8.25 MB)
Chapters 9 to 14 (7.73 MB)

While on the subject: One of the most striking things I noticed after I started living in the US is the high level of martialness present in everyday society. One frequently sees cars with 'veteran' number plates or POW/MIA (prisoner-of-war/missing-in-action) empathy stickers, a large number of high schools and universities have ROTC (reserve officers training corps) programs, there are special previledges for active servicemen and veterans in nearly all workplaces, there is a plethora of military lingo embedded in everyday vocabulary (AWOL, FUBAR, grunt, ASAP), and servicemen are easy to find (my classmate in graduate school was a serving soldier just back from Iraq, one of my senior colleague was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam).

In contrast, the martialness of society in India is very many notches below. While I wish that India never aspire for the same level as that of the US (with the associated aggression and violence), I certainly do think that Indians in general should advance a couple of notches up - to expand their limited repertoire of military references to beyond Kargil, Siachen, LOC, and the regular great-army chest-beating rhetoric. One way to 'support our troops' would be to remain better informed about things that affect them. Your moral compass may be pointing the other way, but given the geo-political realities, being militarily aware is as much as a necessary evil as, say, driving a (always polluting, to some degree) vehicle so you can go earn your daily bread.

One of the things I fancy is that every individual should adopt a military regiment as a 'home regiment', just like you might have a favorite sports team that you call your own. The regiments of the Indian army are normally created along lines of regional, religious, or social identities, and have very colorful histories, legends and lores attached to them, so one shouldnt have a problem finding a regiment to adopt. There can be a commercial side to this affair in the form of regimental t-shirts, mugs, screensavers, flags etc, but the main objective is to support it, in spirit, by staying informed.

During the period I lived in Mewad, I had shifted my loyalties to the Mewad Bhil Corps, a force comprised of Mewad/Vagad tribals originally raised by the British in the 1800s to suppress local unrest and later incorporated as a paramilitary force in independent Rajasthan; I even realized my relationship by visiting the MBC HQ in Kherwada. But now, over time and distance, I have returned to where I had come from - the Maratha Light Infantry. And with General JJ Singh taking over as Army Chief in 2004 and becoming the first Maratha Light officer to do so, I have had no reason to regret my deserting the ranks of MBC!

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