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    Pvt firms can directly propose to make military weapons now

    Tribune News Service

    New Delhi, January 17The private industry that can make a product, equipment or weapon to be used by armed forces can now just send in proposal suo-moto and not wait to be invited to send in a proposal.Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has changed the norms that enable greater participation of the industry in acquisition of defence equipment. This process will greatly help in substituting imported equipment and promote innovative solutions.This will amend the ‘Make Procedure’ in Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP)-2016 and allow direct proposals from builders instead of the existing systems of the MoD sending out a Request for Information (RFI) that generally goes to integrator or the big established players.The industry, start-ups or individuals can suggest their projects, as per a list put out by the armed forces, especially among those items which are currently being imported. The industry or start-up sending the proposal can also have foreign tie-up to the tune of 49 per cent foreign holding, however, but at least 40 per cent of the content has to be Indian made.The suggesting industry will continue to have full intellectual property rights (IPR), the government can take controlling rights only in rare and specified circumstances involving national security.There will be no limit to the number of industries who may respond to the Expression of Interest for development of the prototype subject to meeting the minimum qualification criteria. The design and development time of 12 to 30 weeks will be granted to industry to offer the prototypes. There is no limit to the number of industry players who may show interest and offer prototype.After this selection, a commercial request for proposal will be issued. The industry which wins the bid is assured of an order.


    Should ex-Prez, PM get govt houses, asks SC

    Tribune News Service

    New Delhi, January 17Should former Presidents, Prime Ministers, Governors and Chief Ministers be given government bungalows for accommodation?The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought to know the views of the Centre and states on the suggestions made by senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, who is assisting the court as amicus curiae in a case against such a law in Uttar Pradesh.In his submission before the top court, Subramanium had on January 4 suggested that the UP law was arbitrary and liable to be struck down. Ministers who demitted office did not require public property. “A large number of bungalows have also been given to trusts,” he had submitted.Subramanium had said if the court wanted to expand the scope of the PIL, then it will have to hear the states and the Centre.However, instead of issuing formal notice to the government, a Bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi on Wednesday asked Subramanium to give copies of his suggestions to Attorney General KK Venugopal and Advocates General of states, having laws similar to the one in Uttar Pradesh, which is under challenge. It posted the matter for further hearing on March 13.The Bench is seized of a PIL filed by Lok Prahari, an NGO, challenging the 2016 amendments to the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous) Provisions Act, 1981, during the then Akhilesh Singh Yadav government.The amendment was introduced following the top court’s August 1, 2016, verdict ordering eviction of official bungalows allotted to six former chief ministers of the state in two months after it concluded that the 1997 rules on allotment brought in by the state government were in contravention of the existing UP Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1981.The UP Government had earlier defended it saying the facility given to former CMs was in line with similar facility given to former Presidents, PMs and Vice Presidents.


    No danger of war with India, says Pak PM

    NEWDELHI: Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has said there is no danger of a war with India though both countries should ensure there is no escalation of the situation along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir.

    Abbasi, who was chosen as the premier by the ruling PML-N after the Supreme Court ousted Nawaz Sharif last year, also ruled out the possibility of action against Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed, saying there were no cases against him in Pakistan.

    “I don’t think there is a danger of war, at least from our side, it isn’t there. Pakistan has never taken unilateral action, we have always demonstrated responsibility,” Abbasi said in an interview with Geo News channel that was aired on Tuesday night.

    Responding to a question on the Indian Army chief’s remarks about calling Pakistan’s “nuclear bluff” and possible cross-border operations, Abbasi said: “The Indian Army chief will not speak in favour of us. It is a fact that Pakistan has nuclear capability and we have demonstrated it, and there is need for India to understand that (when) there are violations of the LoC, these things will not go without retaliation.

    Referring to the Indian army chief’s remarks, he said, “If they believe on the other side there will be some political benefits and they keep making statements, as their military leadership has done, this has never been good for peace.”

    Asked why no action was taken against Saeed despite pressure from India and the US, Abbasi said: “There is no case against Hafiz Saeed sab in Pakistan. If there was a case, action would be taken. This is an issue that comes to the fore repeatedly but there is no truth in it.”

    Abbasi also said there has been no change in Pakistan’s stance that Kashmir remains the “core issue” with India. “We have always said the doors are open for talks but in a dignified and respectable manner, in which there can be meaningful dialogue without compromising on the core issue of Kashmir,” he said.


    Army job aspirants hijack train, rlys yet to take action

    TROUBLE Candidates allegedly misbehaved during trip

    BHOPAL: Candidates appearing for the army recruitment drive in Gwalior for the past week have hijacked a train, misbehaved with passengers, vandalised railway property and are also travelling for free, railway officials said. But, no action has been taken against them as railways feared that it will create law and order problem.

    HT FILE■ Around 60,000 candidates are taking part in the army recruitment from January 8 to 22, and most of them are travelling by train.The recruitment drive is taking place from January 8 to 22, in which approximately 60,000 candidates are participating, and most of them are travelling by train. Maximum trouble was reported from Guna-Gwalior section on the first day of the drive when the railways appeared illprepared for the sudden influx of thousands of candidates.

    On January 11, hundreds of candidates boarded the train meant for passengers of Mukhya Mantri Teerth Darshan Yojna, which was going from Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh to Rameshwaram. When the train entered Guna station, the candidates barged into it and forced the driver to take the train back to Shivpuri, about 100km north. Railway officials said the candidates wanted to take it to Gwalior, but the RPF used mild force to get the train vacated in Shivpuri.

    IA Suddiqui, public relation officer, West Central Railways, said, “When the candidates were forced to vacate at Shivpuri, all of them fled from the spot, so no FIR was registered. Our main aim was to ensure the train started back on its route and there was no law and order problem.”

    The railways’ problems did not end there as candidates entered into most of the other trains travelling on the route without ticket and even occupied the women’s and AC coaches, creating ruckus. Other passengers were outnumbered and, in most cases, there were too few security men to control the situation, officials said.

    Siddiqui said, “It was very difficult for the RPF to control so many people. It is true that they even occupied AC coaches, but tackling them with brute force would have created an ugly situation as there were too many of them and we had to think of the passengers’ safety.”

    A resident of Shivpuri, Sunita Agrawal, 42, was travelling alone in the Indore-Amritsar Express. “When the train reached Guna, a large number of young boys entered the coach. The train was jam-packed. They were laughing, abusing and misbehaving with passengers but we were helpless. My two-hour journey to Shivpuri was horrible,” she said.

    Direct Army Recruitment, Gwalior, director, Col Manish Chaturvedi said they had written to the railways to introduce some trains especially for the candidates but the request was not looked into. “It is the duty of district administration to make all the arrangements. They invite us to organise the rally. We had written to the railways to run special trains for 15 days so that passengers of other trains don’t have to face trouble. But railways didn’t do anything,” Chaturvedi said.

    On why the railway did not run special trains, Siddiqui said, “Due to some communication problem, it could not be worked out …”

    However, other railway officials said running a train with 18 bogies costs between ~4.5 to ~6 lakh per day.

    “The army told us to take money from the candidates. But it is a normal practice of candidates appearing for such exams not to purchase tickets, and we too look the other way as most candidates are poor,” a railway official said, requesting anonymity. A district administration official, however, blamed both railways and army for the chaos, saying no prior necessary arrangements were made. “Guna is not well connected with Gwalior.

    When the army and Railways knew that thousands of candidates would be travelling every day, they should have made necessary arrangements,” said a district administration officer.


    Give special training, fixed tenure to IAS officers: Ex-CAG Vinod Rai

    Give special training, fixed tenure to IAS officers: Ex-CAG Vinod Rai
    Former CAG Vinod Rai. File photo

    Singapore, January 17

    Former Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) Vinod Rai has suggested that the IAS officers should be given training in specialised areas, like infrastructure and education, have a fixed tenure of three years and not be replaced frequently to allow them to deliver in the country’s progress.

    He also said that the Indian civil service still attracts the “very best” of the people as it provides them “substantial” opportunities that have opened up within the country.

    “I make a strong recommendation that there is a strong need to train civil servants in specialised areas, which are among other sectors of the economy which require specialised civil servants,” Rai said while responding to a question after delivering a lecture on “The Indian Civil Service: Has it Delivered?” at the Singapore’s Institute of South Asian Studies on Tuesday.

    Rai is a distinguished visiting research fellow of the Institute and a former IAS officer who served as the 11th CAG of India, between January 2008 and May 2013.

    He was appointed as the interim president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) by the Supreme Court of India in January last year.

    “Specialise the civil servants, give them a tenure of at least three years and stop their frequent replacements.

    “Frequent replacements of civil servants, as it has been happening, affect their performance as they do not have enough time to settle into a job,” Rai said.

    Replying to another question, the former CAG said that what the civil service is expected to deliver today is far more complex than it was earlier. “Sixty years ago was very fundamental.”

    The former CAG also said the Indian civil service is definitely attracting talent which is, if not the best, is the very best or near the very best today.

    This is because the opportunities that have opened up within the country are “very substantial”, he pointed.

    Noting that the 2016 batch of civil servants had 11 people from the prestigious Indian Institute of Management (IIM), he said, “They must have been the best for getting into IIM. It (civil service) still attract the best”.

    Rai also said that if given an opportunity, he would join the civil service, as it gives fulfilment in serving and not the compensation or distraction of political interference in bureaucracy. PTI


    Adopt humane approach: CM to Army At Unified HQ meeting, stresses increased community policing to improve situation

    Adopt humane approach: CM to Army
    Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti during the Unified Headquarters meeting in Jammu. Tribune photo

    Tribune News Service

    Jammu, January 16

    Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti today chaired a meeting of the Unified Headquarters (UHQ) to discuss and review the security situation in the state.The Chief Minister exhorted that a “humane” approach can yield better results in winning over the youth and widening the peace constituency. The Army said they were of the same view and that their restraint and humane approach was unmatched.The Army said it would not allow any let up in its anti-terror operations in the state as eliminating terrorism was their prime task and it maintained that it had “suffered casualties because of its restrained approach.”It said the elimination of terrorists becomes necessary when they refused to surrender. The instances when militants were given option to surrender were cited at the meeting, including the one in case of hardcore Lashkar militant Dujana in south Kashmir. It maintained that its role here was to protect the people and that’s why there was a fight against terrorists.Sources present at the meet said the Army was candid in telling that it respected human rights and had exercised maximum restraint at times against provocation by militants and stone-throwers. “One has to be in our situation to feel and understand that how much restraint is exercised by soldiers when bullets and stones are targeted at us,” a source told The Tribune.Instances were cited when soldiers were killed and wounded and people helped in enabling terrorists in escaping, it was the restraint of the Army that averted a bad situation.Mehbooba said the need of the hour was to engage meaningfully with the people, particularly youth, so that they were able to contribute to society and its welfare. She stressed on increased community policing activities and enhanced outreach by the administration.The meeting discussed the overall security scenario in the state and also discussed security for the upcoming panchayat elections. Security agencies had assured the CM that tight security would be provided for the panchayat elections, said sources.The meeting was attended by Chief Secretary BB Vyas, GoC-in-C, Northern Command, Lt Gen Devraj Anbu, Principal Secretary, Home, RK Goyal, GoC of 9 Corps Lt Gen YVK Menon, GoC of 14 Corps Lt Gen SK Upadhaya, GoC of 15 Corps Lt Gen JS Sandhu, GoC of 16 Corps Lt Gen Saranjeet Singh, Director General of Police SP Vaid, Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Rohit Kansal, ADGP AG Mir and Muneer Ahmad Khan, ADGP, CRPF, Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Baseer Ahmad Khan and other senior officers.


    Oli’s second coming By Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh

    Khadga Prasad Oli will return to power as the 11th Prime Minister of the ‘Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal’ since the abolishment of the Shah-monarchy in 2008. The veteran leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) or CPN UML, was earlier Prime Minister of Nepal from Oct 2015 to August 2016, besides having been previously Nepal’s foreign minister (2006-07) and home minister (1994-95).

    In the elections in November-December 2017, the ‘Left Alliance’ of the two principal Communist parties, Oli’s CPN-UML and Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s CPN (Maoist-Centre), won a joint victory in the bicameral legislature (House of Representatives and National Assembly) and in the state assemblies. These elections were closely watched by both Delhi and Beijing as, for once, a stable leadership was expected in Kathmandu given the restraining clauses that have come into play after the adoption of the new constitution in 2015.

    The landlocked Himalayan country, flanked by competing geopolitical rivals China and India, will inevitably witness hectic pitching for influence and strategic sweepstakes. The centrist Nepali Congress was perceived to be pro-India, whereas the nationalistic, rejectionist and assertive tenor of the ‘Left alliance’ was believed to be the preferred dispensation of the Chinese. Therefore, for India, the challenge of handling and managing Oli in his second coming as prime minister.

    ‘Dhruba’, as Oli was known in his younger days, was a precocious chess player and given to writing fiery nationalistic poems – both early indicators of his proclivity and dexterity in the rumble-tumble of Nepalese politics, which has evolved from the absolutism of the monarchy era, the anarchical spirit accompanying the Communist/Maoist resistance to, finally, reconciliation and adapting to the democratic framework and the geopolitical opportunities of today.

    Oli’s baptism into the violent communist resistance in 1966 saw him rise quickly within the ranks and play a leadership role in the infamous Jhapa rebellion that saw the beheadings of feudal landlords, which ultimately put Oli behind bars for 14 years. The providential timing of his release coincided with the greenshoots of the democratic movement in Nepal, and Oli was poised to take the centre stage in Nepalese politics, first as the central committee member of CPM-ML and then as the founding chairman of Prajatantrik Rashtriya Yuwa Sangh.

    The roller-coaster ride of Nepalese politics soon saw Oli become prime minister in Oct 2015, supported – incredibly – by the royalist and pro-monarchy Rashtryia Prajatantra Party and the Madhesi Rights Forum-Democratic, besides the Maoists and 13 other smaller parties.

    Ironically, it was the Maoists who pulled the rug from under Oli’s feet in less than 10 months, only for the two to soon join hands and form the ‘Left Alliance’. The intra-Left intrigues notwithstanding, Oli has firmly established his personal credentials as the leading voice against the centrist Nepali Congress, taking an ultra-nationalist and unsubtly anti-India stand (and by default, pro-China), aided by popular perceptions of Delhi’s hand in the debilitating and humiliating economic blockade of 2015.

    Oli, the Machiavellian politician, had been quick to nail his political stance to the powerful and restive emotions of ‘national pride’ to establish the damaging perception that the Nepali Congress was hand-in-glove with Delhi, and posited his own proximity and preference with the ever-willing Beijing as a credible alternative. The unsavoury term ‘foreign hand’ in Kathmandu, has acquired an unmistakable Indian context and the inherent message in the optics of the prime minister-in-waiting making a surprise visit to the Chinese trade and transit point in Rasuwagahdi, makes Delhi wary of Oli’s second coming.

    Traditionally, the first international visit by every Nepalese prime minister has been to India. Oli’s move to visit Rasuwagahdi-Kerung on the Nepal-China border, which is symbolically seen as an alternative to Birgunj on the Nepal-India border, holds vivid portents of Oli’s ‘balanced’ foreign policy!

    Beyond the political tactics of pitchforking China into the Indo-Nepalese realm, the reality is that over two-thirds of Nepal’s trade is still with India. With life-sustaining imports a staggering nine-times that of exports, the Chinese are still far from offering a viable and sustainable option to that of India. Oli, the quintessential politician would know the limits and consequences of pandering to the Chinese beyond a point (for example, the fate of neighbouring Tibet and, more recently, Bhutan). Similarly, Delhi, too, must understand the sensitivities of ‘big-brother’ perceptions and those of interference in the internal affairs of Nepal. Unlike the expansionist agenda of China, there is much in common and comfort in dealing with India – the civilisational, cultural and fraternal connect that has overridden many challenges in Indo- Nepal relations since Independence.

    Beyond economics and diplomacy, the emotive umbilical cord of the irrepressible Nepali Gorkhas in the Indian armed forces is the best example of Indo-Nepal trust and faith in each other. Befittingly, the serving and the previous chief of the Indian Army have been proud Gorkha officers – with the incumbent General Bipin Rawat hailing from 5/11 Gorkha Rifles, which is primarily composed of Rais, Limbus and Sunuwars from Nepal. General Rawat is a second generation Gorkha officer. His father Lt Gen L S Rawat was also from the Gorkhas. This, besides the reciprocal dignity of freely allowing citizens to travel between the two nations, is unparalleled among Asian countries.

    Oli does have a certain ideological and political agenda that needs to be recognised and accommodated with care, dignity and requisite investments. The wounds of his first innings are still fresh and Delhi must tread carefully to address the same, whilst explaining in no uncertain terms the futility of overplaying the Chinese card, given its track record in the neighbourhood and globally. Nepal is truly a ‘natural’ ally of India from all possible angles, and Oli, a thoroughbred politician, should know that and benefit from it.

    (The writer is a former Lt Gen in the Indian Army and former Lt-Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Puducherry)


    The 4th Indian Infantry Division: ‘One Of The Greatest Fighting Formations In Military History’

    Indian soldiers operating a Bren Gun, a standard Light Machine Gun used by Commonwealth Troops, Egypt 1941. (<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bren_light_machine_gun#/media/File:Anti-aircraft_BrenGun.jpg">Wikipedia</a>)Indian soldiers operating a Bren Gun, a standard Light Machine Gun used by Commonwealth Troops, Egypt 1941. (Wikipedia)
    Snapshot
    • An acceptance of our men who went to war for the Raj could perhaps offer a solution to the bitter ideological battles we face today.

      The recognition that we as a people have a history of and a reputation for combat that is matched by few others in the world could ironically be the way forward to peace.

    There is a famous anecdote that veteran soldiers tell about the Indian Army. During the days of the North African campaign during the Second World War, if you walked into the bar of the famous Shepheard’s hotel in Cairo, the barman always asked you which division you belonged to. If you answered Fourth Indian Division, you got a free drink on the house. The story might be apocryphal, but it illuminates a long forgotten bit of our own past – the glorious story of the Fourth Indian Division – widely regarded as one of the “greatest fighting formations in military history”.

    The Prelude

    The modern Indian Army as we know it owes its origin to the British Raj. It was not a force conceived to fight an all out overseas war but rather meant to be more of a policing force to keep the turbulent subjects of the Raj under check, while also keeping an eye out over the North West Frontier at Russian machinations. Even as late as the end of the First World War, Britain envisaged the North West Frontier with Afghanistan, and Bolshevist Russia beyond, as the major threat to India and hence the training and strategic planning of the Indian Army focused on deployment in this region rather than for any major global conflict. No one then could have foreseen another world war looming in the near future. But such are the ways of men and nations, that the crises of the future can seldom be foretold. When the World War Two broke out in 1939, the Indian Army found itself under-equipped, untrained and grossly unprepared to tackle the challenges posed by professional, highly trained and highly mechanised armies fielded by Germany and Italy.

    Despite the well renowned courage and valour of the Indians, it was becoming apparent to British military planners that wars were no longer about just the human factor. The 1920s and 1930s had seen rapid advances in all spheres of industry and technology, and the Germans in particular were at the forefront of building the military-industrial complex. On the other hand, the lack of modernisation in the Indian Army was woeful. Britain had spent considerable expenses on modernising its own army to keep up with developments in Europe, acquiring tanks, anti aircraft guns and mechanising almost its entire cavalry from being horse mounted. By comparison, the Indian cavalry still remained horse mounted and its artillery guns were still mule drawn, and it possessed no anti-tank or anti-aircraft weapons. Such a force was to be pitted against state-of-art German Panzer tanks and Italian guns in North Africa.

    Contrary to popular belief, the martial races theory was not what always determined recruitment to the British Army. The War was like a beast hungry for human blood and it devoured men like a forest fire devours dead grass. The British empire stretched to its limits in fighting wars on three fronts – Europe, North Africa and the Far East – needed men to feed its war machinery and these men came from India irrespective of their caste, region or religion. Against the highly mechanised forces of the Germans, men were like cannon fodder and the British could not afford to be choosy in whom they recruited. So, the martial races theory went for a toss as soon as the war began. Division sized Indian Army units had mixed composition from the various Indian regiments.

    Thus while it is difficult to ascertain the exact regiment wise make up of the Fourth Indian Infantry Division, we know from various despatches and records that almost all the ethnicities of the Indian sub-continent were represented in it – Sikhs, Dogras, Rajputs, Pathans, Balochis, Marathas, Bengalis, Tamils, Garhwalis, Gurkhas – all fought shoulder to shoulder, distinguishing themselves in a far away land. Further, nearly a third of its strength was also provided by British troops. The fact that such a varied body of men so different in race, religion and language could fight as one, stood testimony to the time honoured traditions of the Indian Army and the superior soldierly qualities of the Indians.

    The War In North Africa

    As soon as the War broke out in Europe, the well prepared German Army drove through France like a hot knife through butter. By 1940 all French resistance had collapsed and the Germans now stood eyeball-to-eyeball against the British nation. A threatened Britain drew all her best forces for the defence of her homeland, leaving the defence of her vast and strung out empire to the Indian Army. With France under Axis occupation, Italy now focused its attention towards British possessions in North Africa.

    Map of the Western Desert Campaign. (Wikipedia)Map of the Western Desert Campaign. (Wikipedia)

    In the Western Desert, the British were in control of Egypt while the Italians ruled over Libya and Ethiopia. The North African Campaign began in August 1940 when Mussolini ordered the Italian forces based in Libya to invade Egypt. A further strategic objective of the Italian push into Egypt was to capture the Suez Canal – the crucial nerve centre of global shipping in those days. Whoever controlled the Suez controlled the lucrative shipping routes to the east, and since most of Britain’s empire lay to the east of the Suez, it could not afford to lose it. All that stood between Mussolini and the Suez Canal was a few British and Australian troops and the hastily assembled, poorly equipped Indian Army.

    The Fourth Indian Infantry Division was the first formation to leave India for overseas service in Second World War, with the first tranche arriving in Egypt in August 1939. Its divisional insignia was a diving red eagle on a black patch, and its divisional motto was Jo Hukam – That Which Is Ordered Shall Be Accomplished – a motto which it was to live up to in all except its final and most tragic mission, where the famous Red Eagle was to fail miserably. But that comes later.

    Soldiers of the Fourth Indian Division decorate the side of their lorry with the words: “From Khyber Pass to Hellfire Pass”. Hellfire Pass was the&nbsp; nickname for the strategic Al-Halfaaya Pass in Egypt which the Indians tried to wrest from the Germans.Soldiers of the Fourth Indian Division decorate the side of their lorry with the words: “From Khyber Pass to Hellfire Pass”. Hellfire Pass was the  nickname for the strategic Al-Halfaaya Pass in Egypt which the Indians tried to wrest from the Germans.

    As the war raged on, the Fourth Indian Infantry Division came to be the most experienced division in the Middle East, with British Army commanders repeatedly falling back on the ‘Red Eagle’ for critical missions. The British forces in the region consisted primarily of the Western Desert Force under the Middle East Command led by General Archibald Wavell (later to be Viceroy of India). The Western Desert Force in turn was comprised of the Fourth Indian Infantry Division and the British Seventh Armoured Division – totaling 36,000 soldiers and 65 tanks in all. This force was to face the brunt of Mussolini’s 10th Army comprising of 1,50,000 infantry, 1600 guns, 600 tankettes (small tanks the size of a car used mostly by the Italian army) and 331 aircraft. At the outset, the odds seemed astronomical. The Indian and British soldiers were outnumbered almost five to one while lacking in artillery, armoured and air support as well. But it was precisely in fighting such incredible odds that the Fourth Indian Infantry Division earned its legendary reputation as one of the greatest fighting forces ever known in history.

    The Desert Fox vs The Sepoy – The Defeat of Erwin Rommel

    Subedar Ricchpal RamSubedar Ricchpal Ram

    Nicknamed Operation Compass, the mission to drive the Italians out of North Africa lasted from December 1940 till February 1941. In February 1941, the division saw itself engaged in a bitter battle with the Italians in the town of Keren in Eritrea, located at the eastern edge of North Africa. Being their last foothold on the continent, the Italians fought furiously. It was here that Subedar Ricchpal Ram of the 4/6th Rajputana Rifles won the Victoria Cross, leading a gallant charge on the Italian positions despite being grievously wounded and having his foot blown off. So fierce was the battle of Keren, and such was the valour of Fourth Indian Division that once the battle was won, geographical features in East Africa were named after regiments of the Indian Army – Sikh Spur, Rajputana Ridge and so on.

    By the time the Fourth Indian Division was done with its work in the Western Desert , it had stopped the Italian advance dead in its tracks, bringing the formidable 10th Army to its knees and forcing it to surrender. The exploits of the Fourth Indian Division led Anthony Eden, later to be the British PM, to exclaim, “never before has so much been surrendered by so many to so few”.

    The following winter the Fourth Indian Division distinguished itself in Operation Crusader in which the German forces were led by none other than the famous Erwin Rommel – known as the Desert Fox – and his AfrikaKorps that was till then considered invincible. Rommel’s reputation as a commander was legendary and added to the technological and numerical superiority of the Axis forces, the result of the confrontation looked like a foregone conclusion. But once the Indians entered the battle, all strategic calculations of the enemy went for a toss. A British officer described the soldiers of the Fourth Indian Division fighting fearlessly against numerically superior German forces thus :

    After a while I saw the platoon advancing across the valley, turn west across a road, then in open formation return to attack another strongly held feature. I could not stop them…all we could do was provide supporting fire. What a sight! Twenty Five men attacking a high hill studded with enemy trenches…the enemy..300 or more of them..threw down their arms and surrendered to 25 men.”

    An Indian soldier of the Fourth Indian Division in a armoured vehicle with a bandolier around his neck in Egypt, 1941.An Indian soldier of the Fourth Indian Division in a armoured vehicle with a bandolier around his neck in Egypt, 1941.

    Such intrepid heroism was to become the hallmark of the Fourth Indian Division as it stunned the enemy by its sheer fearlessness. Operation Crusader was the first victory, albeit a narrow one, by the British forces over the German ground forces in the Second World War, and more importantly the myth of invincibility of Rommel’s AfrikaKorps was forever shattered by the indomitable Indian sepoy. Rommel’s AfrikaKorps finally surrendered on 11 May 1943 to Lt Col C J Showers of the 1 Battalion, 2nd Gurkha Regiment, thus ending the war in North Africa for good. It’s work in North Africa completed the Red Eagle was then deployed to Syria. Later in 1944 they saw action in Italy where they fought at the famous battle of Monte Cassino along with the newly arrived American troops.

    The Red Eagle saw its last major action of the Second World War when it was transferred to Greece which was then in the throes of a civil war. As the Germans withdrew from Greece, it became the battleground for the new war that was to engulf our world for the next 50 years – the Cold War. Soviet backed Leftist guerillas got embroiled in a bitter conflict with the American and British backed Greek government army. The Fourth Indian Division was involved in maintaining order during the bloody conflict which was in effect the first major conflict of the Cold War.

    The Partition Of Punjab – The Fall From Grace Of The Red Eagle

    By 1946 the Second World War was well and over but events in India had taken a precipitous turn. Imminent British withdrawal from India threatened to plunge the subcontinent into a whirlpool of violence. In particular Punjab, which had provided the bulk of recruits to the British war effort was now convulsed with a wave of violence as the newly returned soldiers who had not a few years ago fought shoulder to shoulder as brothers in arms now turned against each other in a frenzy of communal violence. The Fourth Indian Division was once again pressed into service, this time rechristened as the Punjab Boundary Force and tasked with stemming the communal violence in Punjab. However for the first time in its glorious history, the famous Red Eagle was to fail in its mission.

    It’s by now legendary divisional motto of Jo Hukum – That Which is Ordered Shall be Accomplished – which it had lived up to throughout the deadliest conflict in human history was for the first, and the last time to fail. Where it had once fought insurmountable odds against the white man in Europe and in Africa, the Fourth Indian Division proved incapable of stemming the madness that had consumed its own people. The riots in Punjab, often led by disbanded army men who used tactics learned in the Army to organise genocidal violence, showed no sign of abating. As a result the Punjab Boundary Force was ignominiously disbanded soon after. With Partition, the Fourth Indian was divided, like many other British army divisions between India and Pakistan. Fifteen Battalions of the Fourth Indian Infantry Division were apportioned to India while 10 went to Pakistan where its remnants served with distinction.

    Field Marshal Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army and later Viceroy of India summed up the achievement of the Red Eagle:

    “…. The Fourth Indian Division will surely go down as one of the greatest fighting formations in military history: to be spoken of with such as The Tenth Legion, The Light Division of the Peninsular War, Napoleon’s Old Guard….A mere summary of its record is impressive: in five years it fought nine campaigns, traveled more than 15,000 miles, suffered over 25,000 casualties, captured upwards of 150,000 prisoners…. Its campaigns include the great victory of Sidi Barrani,…a gallant costly assault at Cassino against defences even more formidable than at Keren…the successful breaching of the Gothic Line….The Fourth Division has a claim on history even beyond its fighting capabilities…. and its commanders will always salute one of the greatest bands of fighting men who have ever served together in this troubled world of wars and warriors.” (Das:380)

    The British Indian Army – A Conflicted Legacy Of Heroism And Valour

    As a nation we are yet to come to terms with our men who went to war for the British. Nationalism all over the Third World were shaped to a large extent by their opposition to colonial ‘other’. The presence in this narrative of a large body of men who went to war for the supposed oppressor acts like a non-sequitur, disrupting the neatly drawn contours of the nationalist narrative. What does one make of these men who fought heroically in places far and wide, who carried proudly the name of the Indian nation where it was never known, but drew their pay from the hated colonial master? For the Indian national movement this posed a tricky question.

    In the years immediately following Independence, this question was dealt with by shoving it under the carpet. In the utopian Nehruvian worldview, there were to be no more wars and hence the inconvenient question of accommodating the mercenary-warriors of yore was best left unattended. All of a sudden the millions of Indian soldiers who fought heroically in the two World Wars found themselves on the wrong side of history, their stories destined to be forgotten for forever. It took almost half a century, four full blown wars with our new neighbours, and efforts by academic movements such as the Subaltern Studies group and various oral history projects to once again bring to the centre the question of soldiers of the British Indian Army and their place in the national imagination. The debate is now slowly moving from the academic to the popular realm, as shown by the outcry over Dunkirk, and the sudden flux of historical works relating to the Indian contribution to the two World Wars.

    The presence of Bose as a towering figure in Indian nationalistic pantheon further complicates the picture. Bose was a man who raised his own ‘Indian’ Army and joined hands with the Nazis against the British. The Indian National Army was promptly accommodated in the national narrative and accorded the status of heroes. However, the placement of a national hero on the same plane as a genocidal dictator sat uneasily, while leaving the question of the British Indian Army still unanswered. These unresolved conflicts deeply polarised the Indian psyche paving the way for ideological conflicts of the future.

    These mercenaries of the Raj also complicate the Gandhian conception of Indians as a peace loving nation that was to form the bedrock of the Gandhi-Nehruvian ‘idea of India’. This was a conception that outraged the Hindu far right and perhaps led to the birth of a militant Hindu nationalism whose entire raison d’etre seemed to be to disprove the Gandhian pacifist conception of Indian history. Both the Gandhian notion and its reactionary far-right counter, in fact, arose because each completely chose to ignore the reality.

    Perhaps, because, each was born out of elite politics removed from the ground realities, neither cared to factor in the ubiquitous peasant-soldier in its ideological calculations. That the British were able to raise the largest volunteer army ever raised in the history of mankind from India speaks volumes about the martial culture of the land. Soldiering has throughout Indian history been viewed as a right and honourable profession. The British soon realised that such a cultural predisposition to war, violence, and soldiering made Indians among the finest soldiers on earth, and used the knowledge to build their empire on the shoulders of the humble sepoy.

    The Mahatma on the other hand, for all his love for the masses, failed to account for the millions of Indians who relied on violence for a living, and excelled at it. Professional soldiers and trained killers, these were men, who took their pay from the British, did what they were told to, and were proud of it. As the historian Raghu Karnad puts it – “the Indian army was a body of professional soldiers trained to uphold the illegal occupation of not just their own land but of others as well”.

    The image of the disciplined professional soldier fighting in the deserts, jungles, trenches, and quietly accepting death over dishonor contrasted sharply with the kurta and corduroy clad men sitting in ornate chambers and plotting their sinister schemes to divide a nation in their lust for power. Today, we would know exactly which side we would root for in such a picture. In the turbulent 30s and 40s though, such an image only served to confound the neat narratives that all stakeholders in the political game were trying to construct. Since no one could make any sense of him, nor assign to him an easily recognisable label of hero or anti-hero, the soldier who went to war was thus relegated to a vacuum of the national imagination where he has been forced to remain till this day.

    An acceptance of our men who went to war for the Raj could perhaps offer a solution to the bitter ideological battles we face today. We need to reconcile ourselves to the complex web of loyalties that define the nature of human interactions, and which are impossible to bracket into simple nationalistic binaries. Inherent to such reconciliation is the idea that the sepoy could draw his pay from the white man and yet have his heart beat for an independent Indian nation. The recognition that we as a people have a history of and a reputation for combat that is matched by few others in the world could ironically be the way forward to peace. These were our men, and these are our histories. It is time we own up to them.