Last week Kolkatta observed the 110th Birth Anniversary of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerji.
Addressing a packed auditorium of invitees to the Kolkatta University Institute, General S.K. Sinha, former Governor, Jammu and Kashmir State, recalled how shortly after independence India had to confront a very difficult situation in the State. In October 1947, Pakistan organized a clandestine invasion of the State by a force composed of Pathan tribesmen, ex-servicemen and soldiers ‘on leave’.
This precipitated the First Indo-Pak war after the two countries became independent. This was a really strange war. A very bright Foreign Service Officer Chandrashekhar Dasgupta who has served as India’s Ambassador to China from 1993-96 has written an excellent book on this Kashmir invasion titled “War and Diplomacy in Kashmir, 1947-48” in which he describes this war as “unique in the annals of modern warfare”.
“It was a war”, he writes, “in which both the opposing armies were led by nationals of a third country. British generals commanded the armies of the newly independent states of India and Pakistan. In India, moreover, the Defence Committee of the Cabinet was chaired by Lord Mountbatten, not Prime Minister Nehru. Thus the course and outcome of the Indo-Pakistan conflict cannot be explained simply in terms of the political objectives and military capabilities of the antagonists. A crucial determinant was the role of the British officers at the helm of the two armies and, in the case of India, the British Governor-General, Lord Mountbatten”.
Three top British Generals were serving in the Indian Army after August 1947. All of them got connected with the operation in Kashmir – Lockhart as Army Chief from 15 August, 1947, to 31 December, 1947, Boucher as Army Chief from 1 January, 1948 to 14 January, 1949, and Russell as Army Commander from August 1947 to 19 January 1948 when he was succeeded by Cariappa.
Throughout the period that Russell was Army Commander, S. K. Sinha, as Major, was General Staff Office Operations.
Of the above three British officers Lockhart proved disloyal to India, and had to be removed. Dudley Russell, in contrast, was very loyal. Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India on the afternoon of 26 October, 1947. Russell told Sinha that there being an embargo on British officers serving either India or Pakistan from entering the Kashmir theatre Major Sinha as the only Indian officer in the region would have to conduct the operations.
For the airlift of troops from Delhi to Srinagar, Sinha was told on the first day only six Dakotas would be available. From the following day fifty civilian Dakotas of private airlines – mostly with European pilots – would be available. The airlift would have to be completed in fifteen days as Srinagar airfield would become unusable after that because of snowfall.
In his Kolkata speech, Gen.Sinha said that it was nothing less than a miracle to do as many as 800 Dakotas sorties at such short notice.
Lord Mountbatten has recorded: “In my long experience of war I have not come across another such massive airlift carried out so successfully.”
As a serving officer in the army at the time of independence, Gen Sinha was able to explain to me very clearly how disparate the situation was in the Army at that time as between British officers and Indian officers. Indian officers, he told me, lacked the seniority and professional experience of the British officers.
The highest rank held by Indian officers was of Brigadier. There were six officers in the rank of Brigadier including Cariappa on 14 August 1947. Among these six, there was only one Muslim officer, Akbar Khan. As for officers in lower ranks, Sinha said, we were about thirty to forty in the rank of Colonel and Lt. Colonel
Gen. Sinha said: On the first day when we landed at Srinagar we were only 300 strong, and the enemy indulging in rapine and plunder in Baramulla about 1000 strong.
By November 7, Gen. Sinha said, India’s strength had increased substantially. So we were able to win a decisive victory. Baramulla was liberated and we advanced sixty miles to Uri where the valley ends and a gorge along the Jhelum starts to Muzaffarabad.
At this point, Gen. Sinha told the Kolkatta gathering, we received orders to cease fire and to halt the advance to Muzaffarabad. Our British Commander Russell was surprised by the orders. He felt we were losing a golden opportunity. He was of the view that the Indian forces should advance to Muzaffarabad and seal the border by securing the two bridges at Kohala and Domel. Sealing the entry points into Kashmir, he opined, would also relieve the pressure on the besieged forces in Poonch . Russell however, was overruled. The senior British officers in Delhi as also Lord Mountbatten, we gathered, did not want the Indian Army to get directly involved in fighting the Pakistan Army, which this advance to the border would certainly entail. It was argued that hitherto the confrontation was mainly with the tribal raiders. The argument did not have much merit. Everyone knew that Pakistani soldiers dressed in civilian clothes were in action along with the tribesmen, and all were functioning under direct command of the Pakistani army General, Akbar Khan.
Let not the Congress Party try to find scapegoats for the latest Mumbai outrage. The common man must be feeling amazed to read the Maharashtra Chief Minister blaming the blasts on the NCP just because the Home Portfolio in the State is with the Party.
The Union Home Minister himself has absolved R.R. Patil of blame when he asserted that there had been no intelligence failure, which meant that the local police set up was not at fault.
But is it not surprising that in case of the spectrum scam, even though three Ministers, all belonging to the same alliance partner, have had to be removed and later jailed, the DMK is being fondly protected by New Delhi on the plea of coalition dharma.
So far as the Mumbai killings are concerned, you can blame neither the Chief Minister nor the Home Minister of the State. It is New Delhi that is squarely responsible.
Both the P.M. and the Congress President must realise that unless GOI’s terror policy changes radically, such incidents will continue to recur.
17 July, 2011