April 28, 2014

The plight of India’s sword arm

Punjab’s contribution to the Indian Army has always been out of all proportion to its share of the country’s population
At the beginning of World War II, it was 55% with Punjabis accounting for some 45% of the officer corps. With Partition and the continued downsizing of the state this proportion was bound to come down but still remained higher than other states. The decision of the government to link recruitment to population in the late seventies brought it down further. The number of Punjabis in infantry, armour and artillery remained constant but came down in other arms, services and combat units which adopted the new all-India all-class pattern of recruitment. But the cream of Punjab’s rural youth still aspired to a career in the armed forces.
Recent interactions with officers in the recruiting organisation and regimental centres revealed a very disturbing trend. Earlier, Punjabis took pride in the fact that for every vacancy in the army there were more than a thousand able-bodied applicants. In recent years, while the number of aspirants remained more or less steady those able to get through the not very gruelling physical tests became less and less. The menace of drugs is largely to blame for the declining physical standards among young men. This needs to be tackled on a war footing. Punjab’s veteran community played a vital if unsung role in eradicating terrorism in the nineties. The authorities must enlist ex-servicemen’s help in the fight to save India’s sword arm from being weakened.
What was the reasoning behind Sam Manekshaw’s refusal to blindly obey the operational directive given to him in April 1971 to initiate immediate operations in East Pakistan?
He argued firstly that the time simply wasn’t right. The monsoon was about to break in the east which would’ve made warlike activity extremely difficult if not impossible.
Then again, the passes on the northern frontier were still open risking intervention by the Chinese. Better to wait for winter to preclude aggressive movement from that direction as well as provide dry terrain suitable for campaigning. The logistical support to the formations tasked for the offensive into East Pakistan needed shoring up, infrastructure had to be built up, supplies and stores had to be dumped. The road network along the borders so necessary for induction of troops and maintenance of forces needed to be vastly improved. New roads had to be built.
Manekshaw had no inhibitions in admitting to debilitating shortages in weapons, equipment, ammunition and stores which had to be made up before undertaking any offensives. Time was required to move strike formations to their operational locations ensuring that they had the much needed material support to put their plans into effect.
These formations needed road, rail and air transport to move most of which had to be mobilised from civil resources. It was a gigantic task. A shrewd reason advanced by Manekshaw for delaying the operation was that wheat harvesting was on in Punjab. Military activity would hamper the harvest, destroy crops as well as taking away rail transport needed to move the wheat leading to shortages.
Sam’s detailed reasoning helped the political executive recognise the realities of the situation. His strength of character and undoubted rapport with the Prime Minister ensured that his point of view prevailed.

Hindustan times

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