Defence

Governance : My days in the Army

[The Madras Regiment is India’s oldest Infantry. Before entering the IAS, I had the privilege if serving in the 17th Battalion of this Regiment popularly called Satrah Khatras. Last week (21 to 24 February, 2018) the Battalion celebrated its Platinum Jubilee at Bhuj, Gujarat. This is the piece written by me on that occasion recounting my days with the unit]

by Major M.G. Devasahayam IAS (Retd)

I was commissioned in the Indian Army on the Republic Day (26 January) of 1964 from Officer’s Training School, Poona and joined 17th Battalion, The Madras Regiment, stationed at Misamari near the foothills of NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) in mid-February. I left the battalion on 24th June 1968 and joined the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) at the National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie on 02 July, 1968. In all I spent less than four and a half years of active service in the battalion.

Yet, during this short period I had gone through all the field duties that an Infantry officer was expected to perform in a fulltime career. These include Internal Security in the plains of Assam (1964) and Tamil Nadu (1965), war in the Thar Desert (1965), war-exercise in the Little Rann (1966) and Counter-Insurgency operations in Naga Hills (1967-68). I would narrate these experiences.

1. Internal Security in the Plains

My innings in the ‘Khatras’ commenced with a 16-day Long Range Patrol (LRP) in NEFA virtually retracing the route taken by the Chinese invading army in 1962. The over 150-mile LRP covered thick jungles, steep heights, deep ravines and fast rapids most of them infested with leeches and snakes of all sizes and shapes. In the process our section of 10 men came in touch with raw nature and stark naked aboriginal tribal people-men and women!

Within days of my return from LRP the battalion was put on Internal Security (IS) duty to counter the situation created by the large influx of refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) into Assam. A contingent under the command of Major PA Jonas with myself as his 2 i/c set off on a reconnaissance mission primarily to locate a place for the battalion to camp. This took us to the banks of Brahmaputra covering Gauhati, Dhubri, Goalpara and Panchratna. We decided on a site near the Panchratna Ferry Harbour because that was the only open ground in the midst of dense bamboo forests. Besides, the site nestled between the mighty river and a nearby sprawling lake, was very picturesque.

Soon the battalion moved in to set up camp. For the innovative ‘Thambis’ it was fast work and fun. They spread into the nearby bamboo forest and chopped of as many ‘hollow-sticks’ as they wanted. The rest was ‘construction’ work. Within hours a full camp came up comprising of tents, bamboo shacks and fencing. CO had a nice little cottage and every officer had a tent with a bamboo cot. There was also an ‘Officer’s Mess’. The days were spent on orientation exercise for men and liaison work with civil authorities. There was also occasional patrolling to show our presence. Night was mostly spent in boozing and sleeping.

Then it happened. It was raining cats and dogs one day and it continued into the night. I went to bed late, rather tired. When I woke up early next morning I found my bed floating in about 3 ft. water. It took a few minutes for me to realise what was happening. Due to incessant rain the lake had overflown and water was gushing towards the river. But for the flaps of my tent which had been tied securely I along with the cot would have floated into Brahmaputra in my sleep!

I could hear lot of activity and jumped out of bed and hurried outside. The entire battalion camp was a vast sheet of flowing water. What had saved us from the river was the earth bund on the river bank. Since the level of the ‘bund’ was higher than the camp site, the water was taking a diversion to flow into the river further down. This gave us enough time to save the camp. But the very experience and the prospect of floating into the torrential Brahmaputra was itself chilling.

In Assam, IS duty was more of a recce and preventive action and there was no specific or direct assignment or engagement in aid of civil authority. But in Tamil Nadu it was very different.

Moving out from Panchratna we spent a few months at Topojuli surrounded by scenic tea estates. From there the battalion relocated to Madhukarai near Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu-then Madras State) towards the end of I964. We settled in to the peace time rote of morning PT, drill, training, sports, eating and some outing. This peaceful and tranquil atmosphere was rudely disturbed on 11 February, 1965. I had taken the battalion football team to the Coimbatore Air Force Station in the evening for a friendly match in which we won. On our return in a one-tonner, our route was blocked and we had to take a long detour to Madhukarai. On reaching I found that the battalion was on ‘stand-to’ ready to move at short notice. Enquiry revealed that the week-long anti-Hindi violence in Tamil Nadu had escalated and gone out of control of the police and district administration.  Since Coimbatore and Salem districts were worst affected, Army had been requisitioned to bring the situation under control.

Late in the night CO, Lt. Col. V. Balachandra addressed the officers and we set forth to our assigned destination immediately. I was attached to the Delta Company commanded by Captain RB Singh and our destination was Tiruchengode in Salem district. We reached there around 2.30 am and drove straight to the Sub-Collector’s Office. Ensconced there were Salem District Collector A. Padmanabhan IAS and the DIG, Police (Coimbatore Range) EL Stracey IPS both tense and trepid. They explained how serious the situation and how timely our arrival was. The previous day morning a violent crowd had set ablaze a police jeep killing all the four policemen including a Sub-Inspector. In the resultant police firing 12 people were dead with many more injured. The dead bodies were lying in the hospital morgue. A much larger and more infuriated crowd had encircled the Sub-Collector’s Office wherein the District Collector and DIG, Police were trapped. After continuously pelting stones the crowd had dispersed shouting that they will come back again early morning, set fire to the building and kill all occupants. No wonder there was fear pervading.

As soon as the briefing finished the DIG bolted saying: “Boys, I am off. Now it is yours and the Collector’s (also District Magistrate) baby. I must reach Coimbatore in one piece along with my small contingent of Malabar Special Police (MSP). All the best.” With the departure of MSP, the local police had lost all effectiveness. DM therefore formally handed over the situation to the Army under Section 130 of the Criminal Procedure Code to bring it under control ‘using as little force and doing as little injury to person and property as possible.’

We moved fast. RB and myself decided on the psychological strategy of raw show of force. So before first-light three contingents of about 30 men each were loudly charging the arterial roads leading to Sub-Collector’s Office with unsheathed bayonets menacingly gleaming. Soon the news spread like wild fire that military (Pattalam in colloquial Tamil) has come and they will only shoot to kill. The situation was quickly subdued and hardly any one came out on the streets. Some men who tried to come out were pulled back by their womenfolk.

Taking advantage of the prevailing calm Collector decided to take out the dead bodies from the morgue and cremate them in the early afternoon. He wanted us to do it, but we refused saying it is the job of the police and we will closely watch the situation. Convoy with 4 police vehicles preceded the truck carrying the dead bodies followed be 3 more police vans. All policemen were armed to the teeth. 60 of our men sat in two police vans at the tail end. Collector refused to sit with the Police and instead came and sat with me in the last vehicle. There were over 10,000 crowd assembled in the cremation ground.

On the convoy reaching the cremation ground and seeing only police there was some movement and commotion in the crowd. But when they sighted the Olive-Green uniforms at the tail end the crowd calmed. Cremation went off smoothly and the crowd dispersed peacefully. Collector heaved a huge sigh of relief, showered us with thanks, got into his car and rushed off to Salem without taking back the situation from the Army.

We stayed in Tiruchengode for few more days to watch and then hand back the situation to civil authorities. But some unscrupulous policemen, taking advantage of the sense of fear among the public because of military presence, started committing excesses. One local Police Inspector went to the extent of resorting to extortion misusing the Army name. When I came to know of this I walked into the Police Station and confronted him in front of the constables. He did not deny it and instead challenged me to report to whomsoever I wanted. Toning down my temper with difficulty I told him that if he repeats this I will not report to anybody, but will strip him naked and parade him in public. That had the desired effect.

This incident went viral among the public and substantially enhanced the reputation of the Army in general and Madras Regiment in particular. So, when our Company departed Tiruchengode after a week, almost the entire town turned out to cheer us and bid adieu!

PS: On 12th February as we were engaged in Tiruchengode, situation flared up in Pollachi near Coimbatore in the morning with arson and loot. One Company under Captain Satyapal, which was rushed there from Madhukarai in the afternoon, got caught in the midst of intense violence, stone throwing and arson. This forced him to order firing without warning resulting in 10 deaths with several injured. Since the contingent had LMGs with them news spread across the state and the country that troops of the Madras Regiment had gunned down civilian protestors. This caused acute embarrassment to the battalion and the CO was hard put to explain to the Government and Army HQ. But on the plus side this brought the violence in the state to a quick halt.

2. War in the Desert
The Rajasthan sector is the least acknowledged among the theatres of war. At the commencement of the 1965 war, border states of Rajasthan and Gujarat were divided into two sectors of operation. Rajasthan fell between two stools, being the responsibility of different formations—Delhi Area and Southern Command.

The 11 Infantry Division prosecuted the war in Rajasthan (Barmer) sector. Its track record was bizarre. This formation had been freshly raised in April 1965 in the Himachal hills as a Mountaineering Division. In July, it was converted to an Infantry Division, relocated at Ahmedabad and within weeks sent to war in Pakistan’s Thar Desert. Troops in the division, commanded by Major General N.C. Rawlley, had no desert warfare training, no desert gear, no combat vehicles, no artillery, no armour and no air support. 17 Madras Regiment, in which I was a second lieutenant, was part of this division.

At the start of the war, 17 Madras was in the peace station of Madukkarai in Tamil Nadu and was rushed to Ahmedabad. When the movement took place, I was at the School of Signals, Mhow, undergoing the Regimental Signalling Officer’s Course. The course was wound up and I rushed to the battalion camping at Ahmedabad.

Just before I reached there, the battalion had left for the battle zone. When the unit moved into the battle zone, they had no air, anti-aircraft, tank or artillery cover. As the troops were alighting from the train at the Uttarlai station near Barmer, Pakistan Air Force planes returning from a bombing mission to Jodhpur spotted them. What followed was intense straffing in broad daylight. The battalion was shattered even before they commenced operation.

Instead of applying the balm and facilitating the unit to pull together, Gen Rawlley acted as a mercenary and ordered the battalion to be cannibalised. One rifle company and mortar platoon were detached from 17 Madras and attached to a different regiment. Another company was deployed to defend the small border town of Gadra, which was captured earlier. Balance of the battalion formed part of the brigade group and advanced against heavy odds with unaccustomed weapons, alongside unknown troops in unfamiliar terrain without a battle plan. Yet they did well and secured the strategic Dali village on the Barmer-Gadra-Hyderabad (Sindh) axis.

As they were digging in to form firm base for further advance, came the ruthless counter attack from Pakistani forces. The battle was fierce with several fatal casualties. The remnant of the battalion retreated to Jesse-Ka-Par; some jawans sneaked through and landed at Gadra Road railway station. This infuriated Rawlley and the perverse general condemned the ‘Madrasi’ soldiers as cowards, stripped the commanding officer of his command and confined him to the rear-base at Barmer.

This left the battalion without a commanding officer. The second-in-command, being a low medical category major, was incapable of combat. Officers senior to me were holding their own companies tight and in fighting form. So, the onerous responsibility of mobilising the dispersed soldiers into a fighting force fell upon me.

I along with a small team quickly put together a company-plus at Gadra. We reached Jesse-Ke-Par early September 24, this time with artillery support. As we were forming up to launch an offensive to recapture Dali, news of ceasefire reached us. Since the momentum could not be contained, we attacked and captured strategic points of Kinra and Point-413 and halted.

The battalion then settled down on the dreary sand dunes 25 km inside Pakistan, with their forces just across the dune. Soon we were joined by Lt Col T. Sudarsanam, a dynamic commanding officer, and things started moving. Being the only officer in the battalion trained in signals and 81mm mortar, I was put in charge of support company, commanding mortar, signals and MMG platoons. We were in open wilderness with sky above and sand below and some make-shift bunkers to keep our equipment. Climate was extreme; we lived on one water-bottle a day and when we were out on reconnaissance patrol survived on watermelons sprouting from creepers. In the trenches, boredom was broken by intermittent exchange of artillery and mortar fire, which promptly got reported to UN peace-keepers!

Meanwhile, I happened to visit Bombay briefly on duty. Walking around Marine Drive, I found the city full of vibrancy and its youth living with abandon, blissfully uncaring of what was happening on the borders. This touched a chord in me and I scribbled this lyric to salute The Solitary Soldier:

“Look yonder, what you see,
Under the shade of the farthest tree;
It’s a soldier standing on duty,
Guarding the land of immortal beauty.
      Standing solo in the thick of the night,
      His mind hovers around his heart’s delight;
      Sweet thoughts fill his heart,
      As he dreams of his beloved sweetheart.
Looking up he sees the stars,
Shining smartly from skies afar;
Drops of tears trickle down his eyes,
Touching his heart heaving up a sigh.
      Are these tears of lament or joy?
      What is in the mind of this youthful boy?
      Passing the prime of flowery youth,
      Guarding the land of Freedom and Truth.
Answer he mutters softly aside,
These are tears of supreme pride;
For it is great to give one’s life,
To save the nation of war and strife.
      And so, it goes in the ‘Book of Gold,’
      The pain and pride of the soldier untold;
      Pain he forgets, but the pride is his bounty,
      For it is glory to die doing one’s duty.”

This is the motto of Indian Army’s oldest Infantry—the Madras Regiment. This also is every soldier’s honour in the midst of all-pervading dishonesty!

2 A: Outside the war, two blood-curling experiences in the desert:
First one. Since the new CO wanted to build the battalion back into a great fighting machine he wanted to have a good reserve of ammunition and I was put on that duty. One afternoon I proceeded to the Brigade HQ at Gadra City, located about 25 km away with many sand dunes en route. And so, my jeep got bogged down at several places. By the time I reached the Ammunition Depot, it was dark. The JCO in charge of the Depot declined to issue ammunition in the night without orders from Brigade DQ. So, I proceeded to the DQ’s bunker by foot. I was struggling in the darkness since the bunkers were well camouflaged with bushes all around.

All of a sudden barely inches from me I saw a gleaming bayonet and the sentry behind the rifle mutely shouting– ‘tham, kaun jatha hai’. I quickly recovered and said ‘dost’. He gave the first part of the password and I should respond with the second part to prove that I was ‘dost’. To my utter consternation I realised that in my hurry I had not ascertained that night’s password and I mumbled something and fumbled. The no-nonsense sentry ordered ‘haath oopar karo’ and I instantly obeyed. From the feeble light and his tone, I could sense that the sentry was a Gurkha soldier. He cocked the rifle, unlocked the safety catch and was about to press the trigger when I suddenly realised I had my Officer’s ID card in my pocket and told him so. Something in my words or my ‘Madrasi’ accent must have led the sentry to feel that after all I was not a Pakistani.

Without moving his finger from the trigger, he shouted for the Guard Commander, a Naik who was in the nearby bush. He came to me took out the ID and checked it under torchlight immediately coming to attention and apologising for the incident. The sentry also lowered the rifle and stood to attention. Heaving a huge sigh of relief, I complimented them for their sense of duty. The Naik escorted me to the DQ’s bunker. I got the required permission, rushed to the Ammunition Depot got the supply and returned to the battalion around midnight.

The second incident was also equally blood-chilling though not concerning weapons or ammunition. One morning I along with my Company Subedar and 3 men was going in a jeep to the forward post of Delta Company at Jesse-Ki-Par commanded by Major Udhe Singh. The track was sandy and undulating. All of a sudden, the driver stopped the jeep and with terror in his eyes pointed towards his left. What we saw sent shivers down our spine. Barely about 15 yards away two deadly desert cobras (male and female) were mating in bliss, standing tall intertwined and interlocked with their hoods swinging in unison. We were extremely nervous and did not know what to do. The engine was still running.

I quietly picked up my SAF Carbine, silently fixed the magazine, cocked the gun and took aim. I was a good shot with a sten-gun and at 15 yards the target was tempting. But before I pulled the trigger, the elderly Subedar put his hands on my shoulders and stopped me. He also did not allow the driver to switch off the engine. We all sat still as if in a trance. After about ten minutes, having enjoyed their ecstasy, the snakes unlocked, fell to the ground and slid away into the bushes. We also came out of our trance and drove away in a hurry.

And then the Subedar explained his action. He said even the best shot could have got only one snake at a time and with their hoods swaying chance of a complete miss was there. In both the event the repercussions could have been disastrous and deadly. Even the switching off of the engine could have disturbed the rhythm of the cobras. I wondered at the earthy wisdom of the Subedar and silently thanked him.

3. War-exercise in the Rann

On disengagement from Pakistani territory, the battalion moved to Jamnagar, a so-called peace station, in December 1965. Divisional Commander Major General NC Rawlley had not forgiven the ‘desert fiasco’ which was his own making. But, being a true sadist, he wanted to teach our battalion a bitter lesson. So, in the hot summer of 1966 we were ordered to move to the Little Rann of Kutch for a ‘war-exercise’ with a schedule so excruciating and tortuous as to boggle one’s mind. Even now I sometimes wonder as to how we bore such extreme physical agony and torment. During the entire period of over three months I would not have slept for more than one night in a week and that too from midnight to first-light.

It was all forced route march during day and night, long patrolling, attack-defence-retreat exercises, mock raids, competition, weapon training and battle inoculation, all jumbled up together. On one occasion we were continuously on the march for 3 days and nights with a strenuous work out in the wilderness. One virtually became a mental wreck after such tormenting exhaustion.

Such exhaustion led to some strange episodes, one of which need narration. One night we were marching on an attack manoeuvre. Battalion was moving in a box formation with the HQ and Support Company in the middle. Since the Rann was totally barren devoid of any vegetation or landmark we kept direction by Compass orientation. I was at the tail and every one of us was weary and tired. Suddenly I found Captain VC Kurian, Adjutant swaying to the left and moving away from the column. Initially I thought that he was out to take a pee. But when I saw him going on and on I rushed up to check. To my utter amusement and consternation, I found Kurian in deep sleep just walking where his legs took him. I shook him and dragged him back to the main column!

The agony in the Rann had its light moments also. Once the battalion was in ‘defence’ in one of the ‘Bets’, the few odd high-grounds which are like islands in the vast barren expanse of the Rann. Keeping direction was very difficult because of the absence of tracks and landmarks. It was more so in the nights and the moon, stars and compass bearings were the only guides and one had to be well trained to use these effectively. Besides, there were many dangerous ‘quick-sands’ that could swallow-up even big trucks. So, navigating the Rann was a specialist and risky affair and our battalion Quartermaster, the elderly Captain D. Subbanna was not trained.

When we were ‘in-defence’ exercise lighting of fire was prohibited even during the day. Food was to be cooked at the rear echelon of the battalion on land fringe of the Rann and to be delivered to the troops by the Quartermaster. On the first evening of the exercise we were waiting hungry for the cooked food to arrive from the base. When we saw no trace of it till late in the night we ate our dry ration and went to sleep. Next day shortly after first-light we saw the one-tonner arriving with Captain Subbanna looking haggard and confused. He had actually set forth with food from the base the previous evening at 6.00 pm and got lost. He kept on going around and halted at midnight in utter desperation. When he got up before day break, to his utter surprise he found himself barely 100 yards from where he had started. He quickly picked up a guide with compass and reached the ‘battalion-in-defence’ about 5/6 kms away!

There was an important incident concerning Rawlley which was both amusing and satisfying. All of us in the battalion felt the unnecessary cruelty that the General was exhibiting towards the ‘Madrasis’. Being one of them I felt the humiliation even more so. Rawlley had the habit of projecting himself as a courageous man and us as cowards. Being GoC he had his way. It was during the battle inoculation exercise that I got the opportunity to show him his place.

Battle inoculation is a risky ‘in-attack’ exercise wherein soldiers would run, walk, crouch and crawl through a broken ground under intense rifle, machine gun and mortar fire with real ammunition. It was a test of courage under fire and one percent casualty was permissible. Being the Signal cum Mortar Officer I was directing the 81mm mortar (six of them) fire from my observation post. The Command bunker was at my far left from where the CO and other senior Officers were observing the exercise. Under my command the mortar shells were falling around pre-fixed targets about 300 to 400 yards from the command bunker. Safety distance of 81mm shells was 100 yards.

As I was scanning the area with binoculars I saw Rawlley arriving at the Command Bunker and standing on top of it instead of going inside to observe the exercise. This was my chance and I had full confidence in the men firing the mortar. I quietly picked up the wireless microphone and ordered the mortar crew to drop 100, left 3 degrees and fire. Within seconds 6 shells dropped with a thud about 100 yards from the Command Bunker. I was watching and everyone dived for their life and the fastest was the General. He had really kissed the dust.

Before anyone could realise what was happening the mortars were back on their original target and firing. I could see Rawlley and others getting up dusting themselves and quickly getting inside the bunker. The General could not do anything because all this was part of the exercise and he had violated the manual by standing outside. Later the CO was furious at me and asked for an explanation. When I told him what my real intention was he just smiled discreetly and let the matter pass!

4. Counter-insurgency in the Hills

On return to Jamnagar from Rann of Kutch I took the IAS & Allied Services written examination at the Ahmedabad centre in October 1967. Soon thereafter we packed bags and went to Nagaland in the midst of high-intensive hostile activities by the underground army there with overt and covert assistance from Pakistan and China. The most dangerous of these was ‘hostile’ contingents going to China via Burma carrying arms and ammunition obtained from East Pakistan to get trained in guerrilla warfare and returning with highly sophisticated Chinese weapons and armaments.

On reaching Kohima the battalion was ‘received’ by none other than the ‘cannibalisation specialist’ Major General Rawlley who in the meantime had taken over as GoC, 8 Mountain Division located at Chakabama. After a meaningless pontification by the General, wherein he virtually insulted the ‘Madrasis’, Alpha Company which I was commanding went straight to the forward post of Pogoboto.

In this assignment I worked closely with the genial Brigade Commander Shamsher Singh Malhotra. Under his command Alpha Company along with half Assam Rifles battalion undertook massive combing operations to flush out the ‘hostiles’. Couple of times we got on their trail but their main columns eluded us. We had some skirmishes with the hostiles, but not intense. During that time, I was briefly at Lumding with a Platoon to prepare the jungles for the Brigade level “battalion-in-defence” exercise. It was during this time I received the field promotion of Major.

4 A: Operation ‘Metikumi Heights’-Exposing Pakistan
In December we were heli-lifted to Kanjankukki, an Assam Rifles post (vacated) very near the Indo-Burma border. After spending a few days there we spread out. One Platoon was located right at the border. One Platoon was patrolling the probable underground Army route to Burma. I with the 3rd Platoon was lying in ambush in the deep jungle right above the Metikumi village overlooking the mule-path and crossing through which the underground army men used to go to Burma en route to China. From our commanding position we could observe the activities in the village.

After couple of days of watching I observed an odd pattern of activity in most of the afternoons along with sound of some sort of wailing. On closer look through binoculars, I saw movements that looked like funeral procession carrying a small body. I got curious and asked Subedar Balakrishnan to find out. What he came back and told was shocking. On average 2 to 3 children were dying every week due to some disease about which the villagers had no clue. Immediately Medical Havaldar was sent to the village along with armed escort to find out and do the needful. He came back late in the afternoon to report that the disease was acute dysentery and he has given tablets to all the affected children.

The effect was swift. From next day on there was no death. The village elders assembled and after lot of deliberation came up to our hideout seeking a meeting with me. They thanked me profusely and requested me to visit the village for a feast. I said I will come on Christmas Day. That day there was joy in the village. After a ceremonial bath they put on their best dress. A group of young boys and girls sang songs, danced and came up to escort me and others. Feasting went on till late in the night. As a finale the village Gaonbura (chieftain) wrapped me in a specially made tribal shawl symbolic of making me a honourary member of their Pochuri tribe!

In the third week of January 1968 I received the call from Union Public Service Commission for the viva voce on 10th February. This was conveyed to me on wireless by the battalion Head Clerk from the Zakhama base in an excited voice. This was followed by a wireless message. Immediately I applied for two week’s leave starting from 1st February. Lt. Col. Sudarsanam having been transferred out Major MS Hundal was officiating CO. In an act of pettiness my leave was refused and through wireless message I was given a patrolling assignment during this very period. I was crestfallen and called up Major DB White, Second-in-Command with my grievance. He was furious and ordered me to ignore Hundal’s message, get back to Kanjankukki and proceed to Kohima/Delhi immediately via Jessami by-passing the Battalion HQ at Meluri.

After celebrating Republic Day on 26 January, 1968 in Metikumi village, we broke camp and returned to the Kanjankukki Post. From there I proceeded to New Delhi and did the viva voce all in two weeks and came back this time to the Battalion Headquarters at Meluri. In the next few days Alpha Company was called to Meluri for taking up patrolling and ambush duties. Shortly thereafter Major Hundal was posted out and Major White became the officiating CO.

Early morning on 15 March, I along with 10 men had gone out on an important and strenuous mission to reconnoitre an underground Naga camp sited about 15 miles away from Meluri with the intention of attacking and destroying it later. We returned to base around 7.00 pm, tired and fatigued by the near 30-mile trek over hills and mountains. At the gate I got the message that I should see the CO in his office pronto.

During the day Major White had received information that about 60 fully armed underground Nagas had moved into Metikumi village the previous evening. They were on their way to China and would be moving out by first-light the next day. Orders from Division/Brigade Headquarters was to attack and shatter them that very night with least casualty (no killing) and capture of maximum men and weapons.

As I entered his office, Major White was engrossed with a map on his table looking pensive and disturbed. Conversation between us was crisp and sharp and went somewhat like this:

Major White: Deva, you with your men should immediately proceed to Metikumi, attack and disperse the hostile contingent of about 60 armed men camping there tonight itself…

Me: Sir, My Company only has 35 men at base. You say armed hostiles are 60 in number. How can I attack them with this small force?…

Major White: I know the problem. All I can do is to give you 12 men with a JCO from the Support Company. You have to accomplish the task with this force…

Me: Sir, the basic rule in attack is a 3 to 1 force. Besides Metikumi is at a sharp incline and we have to climb up almost vertically making us a convenient target for the hostiles to shoot and kill. You have given me a near-impossible task…

Major White: That is precisely why I picked you up Deva. I know you will accomplish it though you are very tired from your recce mission…

Me (now virtually shut-up): Sir, are there any specific instructions as to the conduct of the assault?…

Major White: Nothing specific. You know the lay of the land and the troops. I leave the entire operation to you. Only one thing. I don’t want any dead bodies…Only captives and weapons…Now get out and get going…

Within hours of the order the Alpha ‘company’ of 47 men got moving and reached the Jessami point on the Meluri-Pfutzero-Kohima road around midnight in two vehicles. From there to Metikumi was about 7/8 miles of tough hilly terrain with a rivulet (about 50 feet wide and 5 feet deep) which normally would have taken about 30 minutes for our contingent to cross. And we had about 4 hours before first-light. To our misfortune, due to heavy rain in the catchment area the rivulet was high and flowing fast and it took us more than an hour to complete the crossing.

Originally, I had planned to climb and reach the FUP before first-light with the full contingent and launch the assault with extended formation after taking brief rest. Now we did not have the time and I had to think fast and alter the strategy. Immediately on crossing the rivulet I dispatched two sections-one with 7 men under Subedar Balakrishnan and one with 5 men under Havaldar Natarajan-on the right and left flank respectively with orders to move fast and take positions to give covering fire for the main assault and also to block any escape route.

Burdened by wet clothes, the main force climbed up as fast as possible, but by the time we reached the FUP the day was already dawning and the flanking detachments were yet to reach their destination. To make things worse two men from the village were coming down the path probably for morning ablutions. The moment they saw us they turned and ran up towards the village. We could neither shoot them for fear of warning the hostile army nor delay the assault. Within seconds we got into extended formation and after informing the detachments over wireless commenced our assault.

By the time we reached the village the hostiles had been alerted and they were running helter-skelter. But some of them got into position quickly and fired at us with rifles and Medium Machine Gun. This forced us to open up with heavy fire including Light Machine Gun.  The flanking detachments also opened fire from wherever they were. This added to the confusion with the hostiles getting terrified from the firing coming from three sides. Many of them escaped into the jungles from the fourth side. Had we desired so we could have killed many of them, but my orders were specific-no dead bodies!  However, some hostiles, having been cornered put up their hands and surrendered.

While all this was going on I noticed machine gun fire coming from one of the huts. There were two doors to the hut located at opposite directions and bullets were coming through these doors alternately. Taking two men with me I stormed into the hut by kicking one door open. As extreme luck would have it, we found two hostiles firing the MMG with their back to us aiming at the opposite door. Had it been the other way-round all three of us would have been shot through the chest. It did not take much time to overpower the hostiles and capture them along with the MMG.

Everything was over by 6.00 am and the villagers who had run away and hiding in the jungles started coming back. I was furious that the villagers, who had just couple of months earlier honoured me now giving shelter to the hardcore hostiles against the promises they had made to me. The normal punishment for such betrayal was burning down the entire village and I was considering this while Naib-Subedar Sankunny started preparations. It was then that the Gaonbura and few elders who had not deserted the village but were in hiding came out and pleaded for mercy. Their version that the hostiles took over the village by force sounded plausible. So, the village was spared with a stern warning.

The operation was swift and successful. Quick reflexes, strategic thinking and surprise move were the reasons for success. As to the score of captured hostiles and weapons it would be proper to quote verbatim from the 17 Madras Regiment News Letter dated 27 August, 1968:

“You will be glad to know that on the plus side of things we have had one major involvement in which we came out decidedly on top. We therefor take our hats off to young Deva’s ‘A’ Company for bringing off a splendid surprise attack after a gruelling approach march and for capturing the handsome bag mentioned below”:

(a) Personnel:
Misguided Indians (euphemism for hostiles taken as prisoners) – 9
(b)Arms and Equipment

Serial NoCategoryQuantity
1MMG with spare barrel (Chezk)1
2Rifle No: 4, Mark I4
3SMC Mark III1
4Rocket Launcher 3.5 m (Pak)1
5Grenade 36 HE2
651 mm Mark II Bombs1
7RL Rockets3
8BDR139
9CTN75
109 mm rounds27
11Mags Sten2
12Mags MMG3
13Bayonets No: 4 Mark I8

When we returned to the Meluri base with the capture, battalion was agog with excitement. Senior men who had served in Nagaland earlier were of the opinion that this was perhaps the most daring and outstanding of all operations in the state since ceasefire. Next day Adjutant, Captain K. Radhakrishnan told me that some of us were being recommended for gallantry awards – myself for Ashoka Chakra, Class I (now Ashoka Chakra), Subedar Balakrishnan and Havaldar Natarajan for Ashoka Chakra, Class II (now Kirti Chakra) and Major DB White for Ashoka Chakra, Class III (now Shaurya Chakra).

After a fortnight or so I learnt that the Divisional HQ functioned like a petty accountant seeking explanation from the battalion as to why so much small ammunition had been fired when there was neither any death nor casualty. We had only obeyed the orders-no killing, only capture of ‘hostiles’ and weapons and had taken great risks in doing so. Some rapid firing of small ammunition was a necessity.

Despite this meanness Rawlley claimed this Operation as his success in exposing the ‘Pakistani’ hand in Nagaland and scored several brownie points. So be it!

4 B: Assault on ‘Ziphu Peak’- Indicting China
Few days after the Metikumi operation we attacked and destroyed the underground Naga Army camp which I had reconnaitered earlier. This having been accomplished I along with Alpha Company went back to Kanjankukki. Around the middle of May 1968, Captain Radhakrishnan called me on the wireless to convey the news that I had been selected for IAS, IPS and Allied Services. Few days later the official communication and the appointment orders for IAS came with the advice to await joining instructions. There was great joy in the Unit. Thambis laid out a Barakhana and farewell in typical style. Having been dined out I came down to Jessami and temporarily took charge of the ongoing work of setting up the Battalion HQ there while awaiting joining instructions.

It was in these circumstances that on 1st June 1968 officiating CO, Major TP Biswas (cleared for promotion, awaiting orders) was summoned by the Div HQ at Chakabama for an emergency conference. En route he and Intelligence Officer Captain AK Aggarwal dropped in at Jessami for a chat. The message received from the Division was serious enough to put the Alpha and Delta Company (at Meluri) on Red Alert, to be ready to move in an hour’s notice. Both the Companies were on their way and would be reaching Jessami any time. On getting a clear picture at Chakabama both companies would be given orders to reach there in quick time. Before leaving Major Biswas told me that since for all intents and purposes I was a civilian now I am free to opt out of this possibly ‘dangerous’ operation.

By evening both the Companies arrived, Delta commanded by Major SB Wadke and Alpha without a Company Commander. Major Wadke and some Officers and JCOs told me that the impending Operation appears to be very dangerous and that it would be foolish on my part to participate. I weighed the pros and cons and concluded that though I have received the appointment order for IAS and has been dined out from the Company I continued to be an Army Officer and technically Alpha Company Commander. It will be rank cowardice on my part to cry off when the Company perhaps was going into a potentially dangerous Operation. So, ignoring all advise I decided to take command of the Company.

In the early morning of 3rd June, we got the wireless message to report to the Div HQ forthwith. We got moving immediately and on the way at Pfutzero came across a landslide that delayed us a bit. We reached Chakabama around 3.00 pm and immediately went in search of Major Biswas. We could not find him in any of the Officer’s Mess. Duty Officer also had no clue. After about an hour of search we located him inside a rickety bamboo hut. He took us to the Sand Model and explained about the physical features of the nearby terrain repeatedly mentioning a Naga hideout at Jotsoma in the Ziphu Peak, the highest in Nagaland. He had only a faint idea of the nature of the intended Operation and said that the Divisional Commander would be giving the final briefing next day at 11.00 am at the same venue and only then we will know. Nevertheless, Major Biswas was looking tense and from his body language I could discern that he had a certain sense of premonition.

Next day (4th June) at 11.00 am, the Sand Model Room was overflowing with OG. Officers of two battalions of Assam Rifles, one battalion of Bihar Regiment, and two Company plus of 17 Madras were present along with Brigade and Div HQ Officers. In walked Major General Navin Chand Rawlley, GoC, 8 Mountain Division with his effeminate looking ADC in tow. G-I (Intelligence) of the Division described the terrain and then Rawlley took over.

He said that a large contingent of Naga hostiles who had returned from China well trained and armed with latest Chinese weapons have set up camp in the jungles of Jotsoma on the slopes of Ziphu range. The task was to attack the camp and capture all the hostiles. Two battalions of Assam Rifles would be deployed as stops and Infantry troops (one battalion of Bihar Regiment, and two Company plus of 17 Madras) would be the assault force. Indeed, a massive force of 3000 men!

Then came Rawlley’s orders which a General in his senses will never do. He squirmed like a crooner and directed that since the kidnapped daughter of the underground leader AZ Phizo was suspected to be in the camp and no harm should come to her the assault force should not use area weapons like Mortars and carryout the task only with small arms. This gutless General was willing to put at grave risk lives of hundreds of real fighting men to prevent the remote possibility of collateral damage to one mystical woman! He continued to rant and concluded saying that the troops were to move that night. ‘Stops’ will take position by early next morning and the assault force would by-pass the Naga camp using the rivulet below and launch the assault before first-light on 6th June. The briefing session ended like a ‘Mela’.

An Operation of this nature could not have been planned in a more chaotic and confused manner. Instead of swift and effective action by commando trained troops Rawlley had again opted for a jamboree-type operation with a cannibalised force of assorted troops, a strategy that had miserably failed in the 1965 Indo-Pak War. To cap it all the basic element of surprise was lost. Perhaps even before the briefing ended the ‘hostile’ leadership would have known of our plan and line of action. This thought gained credence among the Officers because of the common belief that the General’s gigolo ADC had girlfriends who were conduit to the Naga underground. The Operation therefore was destined to disaster even before it started.

Around midnight of 4/5 June the ‘large army’ assembled and started the march. The General was only briefly seen. Around first-light on 5th Assam Rifle contingents fell out one by one to man the ‘Stops’. The regular Army columns descended the slopes to reach the rivulet along with we were to march and climb up to the FUP for launching the assault. The jungles were dense with thick undergrowth. It was raining heavily and continuously. We inched forward by cutting trail and practically crawling. The average rate of advance was not more than a few hundred yards per hour. It was well past midday when we reached the rivulet. After a brief rest we walked upstream right through the middle of the rivulet. Water was cold and the flow was fast. Because of continuous rains, the water level was also rising steadily.

The stones and boulders were full of moss and very slippery resulting in almost everyone slipping and falling. On occasions rifles and ammunition fell in the waters and we had to stop to search and retrieve them before moving further. As it turned out, the briefing about the terrain that we received at the Sand Model had no relationship to what existed on the ground. And so, at first-light on 6th June, the time set for the assault we were still struggling up the rivulet in miserable condition. All contacts were off and we could not raise any station on our wireless sets. We marched the whole day and night and only by first-light on 7th June we started the climb to reach the FUP for the final assault, a full 24 hours behind schedule. The battle order was Bihar battalion in the front, followed by Wadke’s Delta Company and then Major Biswas’s Battalion HQ with my Alpha Company bringing up the rear.

Obviously, the General got worked up and had decided to write us off.  As we were climbing up on the incline in single-line formation towards the FUP we heard heavy firing at a distance. Under the General’s orders Assam Rifles had opened fire on the ‘hostile’ camp. Men in the ‘underground’ contingent were all packed up and ready since they had prior information. They moved down towards the direction in which we were climbing up. Nothing could be more tempting target for them. And so, they set up a perfect ambush.

By the time they set up the ambush columns of Bihar battalion had passed through and it was the 17 Madras troops that got caught. Major Biswas and Captain Aggarwal with their Section were about 50 yards from me. But they were not visible since Alpha Company was negotiating the bend which they had just passed. It was then that all hell broke loose. The firing from hostiles was so intense and severe that for a few seconds we did not realise what was happening. We could not see anyone because of the thick jungles and undergrowth.

We hit the ground and our machine gun returned fire. I could hear Delta Company’s LMG also opening up. I along with my boys were perched precariously on a steep slope with hardly any bush to hold on to. Machine gun and rifle fire were inter-spread with grenade blasts. As the firing was raging I grasped the wireless set and tried raising Biswas. Wireless operator Lance Naik Sasidaran and I were lying with our bodies touching. Suddenly there was a grenade blast right in front of us and I found myself thrust back and saw blood oozing from my thighs, left shoulder and right forearm. Right knee of Sasidaran was blown off. The thrust of the grenade blast made me slip down a bit since I had nothing to hold on. The grenade blast was followed by heavy firing from both sides.

As I was contemplating regrouping and frontal assault I heard fast/running footsteps and concluded that having done the damage the ‘hostile’ contingent was escaping. So, collecting a few of the nearby men, some of whom were also injured, we gave a chase to the fleeing hostiles. There was brief and sharp exchange of fire. But the hostiles were so fleet-footed and fast they quickly vanished in to the jungles. We gave chase up to the rivulet and then halted.

We were a party of about a dozen. Without any first aid and carrying our wounds we walked through thick jungles under heavy and incessant rains. The nights of 7/8 and 8/9 June were spent under the sky without any shelter. Sans food, sans medicine and without any wireless contact we moved on and on with only our sense of the jungle to guide us. Adding to our misery were the leeches sucking away whatever blood left in us!

Then on the 9th afternoon as we came into the open my Regimental Signal Officer’s training came in handy and I could establish wireless contact with the Div HQ, with the GoC himself taking the voice call. We were given route and directions to proceed to the junction near the ‘famous’ Konoma village, the birth place of two top and ferocious Naga underground leaders-Phizo and ‘General’ Mowu Angami.

Early morning on 10th we reached the junction from where we were picked by an Ambulance and taken straight to the Kohima Military Hospital. We had become a sight to the hospital staff who swarmed in to have a glance at us. We were admitted in various wards depending on the gravity of our wounds. Fortunately, though I had multiple injuries they were not of serious nature.

It was at the hospital that I came to know of the full outcome of the Naga ambush and it was very tragic. In all 25 of our best men had died including Officiating CO, Major Biswas. The dead included my wireless operator Sasidaran and the hilarious Naik Sambandan who was considered King of Satire. Many more were injured. Aggarwal had narrowly escaped. I also learned that some ‘hostiles’ were captured and good number of Chinese weapons and ammunition as well as certain incriminating documents establishing Chinese role were recovered from the ambush area and the camp.

While so, this is the official story put out obviously at the behest of General Rawlley who had managed to impress BK Nehru, then Governor of Assam & Nagaland and cousin brother of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Let me reproduce it verbatim:

       “The Underground’s gun-running with China started in November 1966. Pakistan’s help had been substantial, and yet the rebels found it necessary to turn in another direction due to several factors….

        The first gang to China, about three hundred strong, was led by Thinusehe and Muivah. It crossed the Tuensang border in November 1966 and returned in January 1968, laden with arms, ammunition and other equipment. The gang was dispersed in the Angami, Chakhesang and Ao areas. About two hundred and fifteen of them set up a camp in deep jungle near Jotsoma (on the Ziphu Peak). Here they were joined by other Naga Army personnel, and a regular training camp was started.

       The Government’s policy hitherto had been to intercept the incoming or outgoing gangs outside the area covered by suspension of operations, or in the three-mile belt along the international border where the Security Forces’ right to patrol was recognised. The Underground, on the other hand, moved about with arms and in uniform with impunity, collected taxes and recruited men brazenly, and imported arms from abroad without any compunction. It was very obvious that the Underground were abusing the provisions of operations agreement to regroup their ranks and build up their fighting potential in preparation for a showdown.

         A more positive approach was called for on the part of Government in the circumstances. This new approach was ushered in by BK Nehru who took charge of the office of Governor of Nagaland on April 18, 1968. One of the ablest Governors in the country, his tenure witnessed a metamorphosis in the situation in Nagaland. Under his tutelage Government took cognizance of any camps established by the Underground

after the cessation of hostilities, and asserted its right to seize arms imported by the Underground from abroad.

        The GOC, 8 Mountain Division at this time was Major-General N C Rawlley a man of inexhaustible energy, indomitable will and the unflinching determination he brought to bear on the job in hand were the need of the hour. The Underground were made to realize for the first time since the restoration of peace, that they could not violate the agreement and get away with it in the manner they liked. The Jotsoma camp, whose strength had swelled to about four hundred and fifty, was raided by the Security Forces in the early hours of June 7, 1968. The Underground hide-out was surrounded. This in itself was no mean achievement in an area where it is difficult to distinguish friend from foe, and where intelligence about the movements of the Security Forces more often than not reaches the Underground in advance.

         In this particular case, Major General Rawlley marched his troops through an unfrequented, though very difficult, track. While the cordon was still being laid, one of the hostiles going from the camp to another village saw the Security Forces and rushed back to alert the camp. In the next two hours, before the engagement really began, the Underground hurriedly packed their weapons, and the hard core including Thinusehe and Muivah sneaked out.

         One Company of the Security Forces led by Major Biswas meanwhile walked into an ambush. They were sprayed with bullets and a number of them, including Major Biswas, fell. A fierce encounter followed on the precipitous heights. Sporadic fighting continued on June 8 and 9. Security Forces captured twenty-five ‘hostiles’ together with a large quantity of Chinese arms and ammunition. Equipment seized included 60 mm mortars, 7.62 mm self-loading rifles with folding bayonets, sten-guns and .303 rifles. In addition, a number of documents, papers and diaries, giving conclusive evidence of underground’s collusion with China, were also seized which gave incontrovertible evidence of the Underground’s collusion with China and proof of China’s interference in the country’s internal affairs.

On June 19, 1968, the Chinese Charge d’ Affaires was summoned to the External Affairs Ministry and given a strongly worded Note, charging Peking of complicity in abetting subversive elements in Nagaland in flagrant violation of all canons of international behaviour It was said that the Government of India had “concrete and irrefutable proof” that arms and other equipment manufactured in the People’s Republic of China had been surreptitiously smuggled into Indian territory, and that the Chinese Government was ”master-minding this covert scheme in order to stir lawlessness against the legally constituted authority in India.” The Note warned the Chinese Government that they would be entirely responsible for the consequences of their interference in the internal affairs of the country.

         The Peace Observers (in Nagaland) held an emergency session in Kohima on June 14-15, 1968, and issued a statement indicting the Underground: “The Peace Observers Group have seen the arms, ammunition and equipment of Chinese origin and we also perused diaries and note-books relating to military training and political indoctrination of Naga Army personnel in China that were recovered in the recent clash, which show that several men have returned from China after military training and with arms and therefore, have infringed the terms of the ceasefire agreement, in this respect.”

[Source: Book- INDIA—THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE. Link:
https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.123995/2015.123995.Nagaland_djvu.txt]

While Rawlley was enacting this ‘public relations cum diplomatic coup’ loaded with lies and emerging as a great leader, I was in the hospital. During this period, I received instructions to join the National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie on 2nd July. Rawlley did come to look me up in the hospital, but he just breezed past. He was as tight-arsed and constipated as he always was. He did not even express lip sympathy. Though the Operation was over on 7th the debriefing was delayed and scheduled for 21st June so that I could participate. I did not know why my presence was so important!

After 12 days of hospitalisation I was discharged on 21st June. Major Wadke and Captain Aggarwal picked me up and from there and we went straight to the debriefing session at the Divisional Headquarters. Sand Model Room was full. After the preliminaries the great General walked in and spoke for a few minutes and then asked each Commander-participant in the Operation to give their individual assessment. He started from the right and I was standing on his left. Most of them blabbered incoherently, complimenting the General for the success of the Operation and his great ‘leadership’. When it came to Wadke, even before he started to speak Rawlley pounced on him virtually calling him a deserter and coward. Wadke was stunned and could manage to mouth only some excuses.

Then it was my turn. I briefly explained the nature of the ambush, intensity of ‘enemy fire’, the tough terrain we were negotiating, restriction on area weapons, the faulty briefing we had received resulting in the extraordinary delay, the sudden opening up of fire by the Assam Rifles, total lack of surprise and the huge advantages thus gained by the ‘hostile’ contingent and the massacre that followed. Before I proceeded further General stopped me with a caustic comment that the ‘ambush’ was nothing and that we had not shown enough courage and guts. To rub it in he then tried to explain as to how he would have handled the ambush. I could not take it anymore. Looking straight into his eyes I said: “Sir, you are lecturing on the Sand Model…I am telling what actually happened on the ground…” It took a few seconds for everyone to understand what I implied and when they did there was stunned silence.

I could see the General’s face turn purple and then pale. He abruptly dismissed the assembly saying the debriefing was over and trooped out looking tense. Wadke dragged me out of the Sand Model Room saying that we should get out of Chakabama before the General realised his humiliation and acted nasty. We ran to our one-tonner and reached the Zakhama Rear Base soon thereafter.

Next day (22nd) I went to see Brigadier Malhotra to say good-bye. He already knew about my IAS appointment and had also heard what happened at the debriefing. He asked me as to what my plans were. I told him that since I have ten days to join in Mussoorie I will go to Jessami where the Battalion HQ was, spend a few days and then proceed to Delhi en route to Mussoorie. He looked at me with a worried face and told me to leave Nagaland as swiftly as possible. When asked why, he reluctantly said that General Rawlley had telephoned him to say that something should be done to discipline the ‘dark, lean major’ of the Madras Regiment. Having understood what Rawlley meant Brigadier had warded him off saying: “The ‘dark, lean major’ is now an IAS officer and nothing could be done. Besides, he knows the truth about the Jotsomo operation.”

Yet the Brigadier was apprehensive and advised me to get out fast since the GoC could find some devious way to obstruct/damage me by even getting me detained. He himself checked up and said the next convoy from Kohima to Dimapur was at 8.00 am on 24th. I got the clue and decided to take that convoy. Message went to Jessami and an Officer contingent came from there to ‘dine’ me out from Zakhama on 23rd night in typical hard-core Infantry style. I was made to drink seven (one each for my colleagues present in the party-luckily only seven) full glasses of pure cocktail (two ounce each of plain rum, whiskey, gin and brandy). I left the party barely in one piece.

Early 24th morning I was on my way to Kohima. All the men present at the Zakhama base lined up to bid me farewell. It was indeed a very touching experience. I reached Kohima at 7.00 am and had about an hour before the convoy started. As is my wont whenever I was in Kohima, I drove up to the famous War Cemetery built around the ‘Tennis Court’ where the decisive Battle of Kohima was fought during World War II. Since I was bidding farewell to arms the occasion was more befitting.

I strolled around the mini-graves with my head bent and then came and stood still before the immortal words carved in stone: “When you go home, tell them of us and say-For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.” What moves me more than these stirring words is the excruciatingly agonising short epitaph ingrained on many graves, “Known unto God” meaning that the soldiers lying there were ‘nameless’.

Thus, refurbished I joined the convoy and proceeded to Dimapur. At the Transit Camp there I ran into Lt. Col. NG Muttalick, on his way to Jessami to take command of 17 Madras. We had a warm exchange and he was magnanimous enough to delay his journey to Jessami to see me off at the Railway Station.

5. The Finale

I reached Delhi via Calcutta on 27th. After spending few days at Meerut with my former colleague Captain Narayanan I landed at the Dehra Dun bus station on the morning of 2nd July. Looking around I found two individuals with fairly large baggage and guessed they were IAS probationers. We got together, hired a cab and landed at the Academy at Mussoorie, hailed as the ‘Queen of Hills’ around noon. I was impressed with the vintage buildings which had once housed the exclusive British Charleville Hotel where “Indians and Dogs” were not allowed which now houses the elite Academy that trains India’s top Civil Servants! The enchanting mountains, verdant landscape and salubrious weather were captivating.

Quite a change from the hot and hostile hills of Nagaland and the transition from hard core Infantry of the Indian Army to the civilian cadre of Indian Administrative Service!

As for Rawlley, he was the blue-eyed-boy of General (Field Marshall) Sam Manekshaw and with the support of BK Nehru became the Eastern Army Commander putting himself on line to become Chief of Army Staff (CoAS). But he could not reach the top when in 1975 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi superseded him and appointed her co-Kashmiri, General TN Raina as CoAS. During that year Emergency was declared and as District Magistrate of Chandigarh and custodian-in-jail of Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), the ‘Enemy No: 1 of the State’, I had ringside view of the happenings in Delhi.

Fortuitously for India, Mrs. Gandhi’s gamble failed and Raina remained resolutely non-political and stood by the honour, dignity and military independence of the Indian Army by choosing to be loyal to the constitution instead of bowing to her and her son Sanjay Gandhi’s wish to stick to power. That was how we had free and fair elections in 1977 leading to the defeat of Indira Gandhi and India returning to democracy. Had she opted for Rawlley instead. Who knows? But then, God’s ways are different from that of man or woman!gfiles end logo

Governance / Defence / Memoir

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