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Book Review:

Military History of India

Jagpal S Tiwana


Amarinder Singh: Lest We Forget, Patiala, Regiment of Ludhiana welfare Association, 1999, pp450, Rs. 1950

You can take Amarinder Singh out of the army, but you cannot take the army out of Amarinder Singh. Amarinder Singh, now the Chief Minister of the Punjab, is a fully trained army officer from the Khadakvasla and Dehra Dun military academies. Gen. Harbakhash Singh discharged him from the army in Aug. 1965 at the request of his father, Maharaja Yadavindra Singh, of Patiala. He was, however, back in the army the next month when war broke out between India and Pakistan. This time he joined as ADC to Gen. Harbakhash Singh, Chief of the Western Command. This offered him an opportunity to watch the war operations of 1965 closely. Though he was again relieved of the army duties as the war ended, his interest in the Indian army continued unabated. The result is  Lest we forget”, a well-researched book covering seven different battles of the three wars India fought, two with Pakistan and one with China, up until 1965.

Amarinder Singh spent four years in collecting data, maps and pictures for this book. The author visited several battlefields with a camera in hand, flew over certain areas in a helicopter, and had group discussions with veterans. The battalions covered were 1 Sikh, The Rajindra Sikhs (1Patiala), 2 Punjab, 13 Kumaon, 2 Sikh (Amarinders’ unit), 1 Para and 3 Jat.

The book pays glowing tributes to the bravery and gallantry of officers, JCO’s and Jawans who faced the hardships and challenges cheerfully and never flinched from service to their country. 1 Sikh saved Srinagar in 1947. Amarinder Singh is all praise for it,  “ By their courage, skill and devotion to duty, they had prevented the city from falling into the hands of the raiders and denied them the airfield….” 1 Sikh was skillfully commanded by Major Harwant Singh MC after it lost its able leader Lt. Col. Dewan Ranjit Rai. 1 Sikh suffered 494 casualties, but 1206 of the enemy were killed with the result that it emerged as the most highly decorated battalion of the war in Kashmir in 1947-48.

Amarinder Singh expresses admiration for The Rajindra Sikhs (1Patiala, a crack regiment of Maharaja Patiala), not because it belonged to his state, but for its acts of bravery and its fighting skills. Gen. K S Thimayya paid them signal honor of recommending that the whole unit should receive a mention in dispatches- a unit citation. Although this proposal was not accepted in New Delhi, it remains the only one of its kind made in any war since Independence. In his moving farewell address, Gen. Thamayya paid the much deserving tribute, “For five months you fought an enemy who outnumbered you three to one… but you carried out the task given to you to my entire satisfaction. You have maintained the dignity and reputation of your ruler, HH the Maharaja, who sent you, and I know he will be proud to hear of your valiant deeds.”

If the deserving soldiers are not befittingly honored and awarded, Amarinder Singh makes it a point to protest.  He justifiably exposes the discriminatory attitude of the Corps Commander, Gen Katoch, towards his 2 Sikh. The 2 Sikh fought gallantly to bring about the fall of Raja in Kashmir. It suffered heavy casualties. Amarinder Singh’s heart bleeds when he writes, “ At Raja in less than three hours, 2 Sikh lost most of its hockey team in addition to eleven Services or Command level athletes…. Perhaps it was their competitive spirit which forced them to the front when the going got tough.” It lost its brave CO Col. NN Khanna.  But their acts of bravery and sacrifice did not get due recognition. Though 36 citations were sent up, Gen. Katoch ignored all except only one. According to Amarinder Singh, Gen Katoch could not tolerate Gen. Harbakhash Singh being made colonel of the Sikh regiment when he wanted it for himself.

Another regiment, which catches his attention for their acts of bravery, is the Kumaon Regiment, which “fought off a Chinese brigade at Rezangla. 110 men of the Company were killed, but not before they had accounted for over 500 of the enemy. Only seven men survived of whom four were wounded….”

Some politicians and army officers came under scathing criticism for their poor vision and selfish motives. Soon after partition in 1947, when Gen. Rob Lockhart asked Nehru for a formal defense policy, Nehru shot back, “ Rubbish, total rubbish. We don’t need a defense policy. Our policy is Ahinsa (non-violence). We see no military threats. As far as I am concerned, you can scrap the army. The police are good enough to meet our security needs”.

Amarinder blames mostly three men, Prime Minister Nehru, Defense Minister Krishna Menon and Gen. B M Kaul, for India’s humiliation in the 1962 war against China. Nehru provoked China with an unfortunate statement. On Oct. 13, when leaving for Ceylon, he stated that the Armed Forces had been ordered to throw the Chinese aggressor out of NEFA.

“Menon was an arrogant self-opinionated man and known to look down his nose at everyone. Small wonder then that he was universally disliked in the armed services…” writes former Captain of the Indian Army, Amarinder Singh. The only officer Menon liked was Gen. B M Kaul who had access to Nehru’s ears and was an arch sycophant. He was promoted out of turn. A new corps – 4 Corps - was created under his command with operational responsibility for NEFA.  The appointment of this inefficient General in place of the straightforward and professional soldier, Gen. Umrao Singh, proved disastrous in the 1962 war. Krishna Menon was asked to resign whereas Nehru as Prime Minister was more responsible for the debacle

In fact, the Congress politicians imbued with Gandhi’s Ahinsa were not suited to administer war efforts. It was a mistake to accept a cease-fire in Kashmir in 1948 against the advice of the army generals who wanted to clear whole of the area now called Azad Kashmir.  The army officers continue to resent the Tashkent Pact of 1965, which returned to Pakistan some of the strategic points, gained in the 1965 war. Had there been no Tashkent Pact, there would have been no Kargil operation of 1999 and no loss of many valuable soldiers. Amarinder Singh takes full notice of the poor political decisions.

The book is not without some oversights and omissions. There is no reference to the 1971 war with Bangla Desh, or any recognition of Gen. Jagjit Singh Arora’s services, though author’s stated aim was to cover 50 years of war history. Though loyal to Gen. Harbakhash Singh as his ADC, Amarinder Singh takes no note of the historic decision of Harbakhash Singh against orders from Delhi to withdraw from Khem Karan sector when Pakistan made advances there with its armed division of Patton tanks. According to Maj. Gen. D.K. Palit, had Gen. Harbakhash Singh carried out the orders, half of the Punjab should have been under Pakistani occupation. Military account of the 1965 war is incomplete without a tribute to Harbakhash Singh on this courageous decision.

There is a small relevant bibliography if a reader wants to go further in this subject, but the bibliography does not have names of publishers and years of publications. Field Marshall Ayub Khan’s “Friends, not Masters” is missing from the list, though Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s, “ The First Round”, is there.

The knowledgeable author lists all necessary details about army life and operation, explains the hierarchy of ranks, but does not tell the layman how the army is organized into platoons, companies, regiments, battalions, brigades, divisions, Corpses or Wings, and what is the strength of each and who could be their commanders.

Over all, Amarinder Singh has done a splendid job. He writes with passion and his grasp of the subject is thorough. It looks as though a military career was his first choice, but for his father who took him out of the army. He is now applying his military bent to removing corruption from the Punjab’s political life as its Chief Minister. How successful he will be as Chief Minister, it is too early to say, but he would have made a great army commander!

He appears to have consulted almost all the available sources on the subject, but with 450 pages, containing 323 memorable photographs, 43 sketches and maps, and a valuable index, it is a heavy book to hold in hand, but not heavy to read. The language is simple and keeps the reader’s interest throughout. There is useful glossary of military terms.

The list price is Rs. 1950, but if you speak to the kind Col. Harwant Singh MC in charge sales, you can get a good discount. A highly commendable gesture of the author is that sale proceeds are donated to The Regiment of Ludhiana Welfare Association, founded by the officers of the 2 Sikh, which was Amarinder Singh’s battalion. This Association looks after the war widows and orphans of the ex-servicemen. Money spent on the book is a donation to a noble cause.

In summary, it is an excellent work, which will serve as a useful textbook for military academies.  It belongs in all homes and libraries where there is an interest in the military history of India.

The book can be ordered from:

Col. Harwant Singh, MC (Retd.)
Senior Vice President
The Regit of Ludhiana Welfare Association
New Motibagh Palace
Patiala, Pb. India 147001

Tel : 0175/220510

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