A Brief History of Indian Army – Post Independence

The Sino-Indian War of 1962 and the national humiliation was the result of the policy of appeasement of the Chinese and the bias against the military. The military also failed by acquiescing to a policy they knew to be militarily and politically unsound.

Issue: 6 / 2017By Lt General V.K. Kapoor (Retd)Photo(s): By Indian Army
Indian Army soldiers fly the Indian flag from a peak in Drass after it was recaptured by Indian troops during the first week of July 1999.

Post Independent, Indian Army (IA)

Strength of the Indian Army in August 1947 was 4,00,000 but the political leadership was keen to reduce the strength to save defence expenditure and hence it was decided to bring down the strength of the Army to 2,00,000 after the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Operations which would involve the disbandment of many units. A new Territorial Army Act was passed in 1948 and infantry and artillery units with a nucleous of regular officers were raised in 1949. Many other changes occurred during the period from 1948 to 1960. The designation of Commander-in-Chief ceased to be in use from 1955 and the three Chiefs (Army, Navy and the Air Force) were made equal and independently responsible for their respective service. Every function of the Defence Services was duplicated in the Ministry of Defence where civilian bureaucrats not only ensured financial and administrative control but also gradually took over the decision making powers of the defence services. The standing of the military reached an all time low during the time of Krishna Menon as defence minister when decisions concerning matters of major military importance were taken without consultation of the concerned service.

Nehru’s Bias Against the Military

Nehru’s bias against the military was well known in the Services. The clearest example of this is when Cariappa outlined his plan for the security of NEFA, after China had occupied Tibet, Nehru flared up and thumping the table said “It is not the business of the C-in-C to tell the Prime Minister who is going to attack us where. You mind only Kashmir and Pakistan.” Nehru continued to appease the Chinese and the untimely death of Sardar Patel took away all opposition to Nehru’s views. The Sino-Indian War of 1962 and the national humiliation was the result of this policy and the bias against the military. The military also failed by acquiescing to a policy they knew to be militarily and politically unsound.

From Trauma to Victory - Period 1961 to 1971

The period 1961 to 1971 was one of the most traumatic periods of the Indian Army. The defeat in 1962 shook the foundation of the nation and the armed forces. The army began to introspect to overcome its weaknesses. The 1965 war helped the army to redeem itself but revealed embarrassing weaknesses in its equipment and its training and even leadership at various levels. These two wars spurred the political leadership to modernize and expand the services. As 1970 came to a close, the Indian Army was now ready to face new challenges emerging on the horizon.

1971 War resulted in creation of a new nation - Bangladesh and a decisive military victory in which 93,000 prisoners of war were taken. While many books have been written to describe each battle in detail, it is the spirit of the soldiery during this campaign that deserves mention. In the words of Sydney Schanberg of New York Times, who accompanied Indian troops in two sectors – ‘I don’t like sitting around praising armies. I don’t like armies because armies mean wars – and I don’t like wars. But this (the Indian) army was something..... They were great all the way. There was never a black markā€¦. I lived with the officers and I walked, rode with the jawans – and they were all great ... And they were the most perfect gentlemen- I have never seen them do a wrong thing – not even when they just saw how bestial the ‘enemy had been.”

Steady Modernisation – Period From 1971 to 1998

The period after 1971 War saw the steady modernisation of the Indian Army with new equipment for modern wars. The Expert Committee under the Chairmanship of Lt General K.V. Krishna Rao submitted its report in 1976. Some of its major recommendations started getting implemented in the eighties. The expansion of mechanized forces was achieved as a result of this report.

On April 13, 1984, 34 soldiers of the Indian Army were landed by 17 sorties of helicopters at a point three kilometers short of Bilafond La, a pass on the Soltaro ridge, West of Siachen glacier. The soldiers occupied the pass. This was the opening move in what is referred to as the Siachen conflict between India & Pakistan which continues till date. This period also saw the Army operation in the Golden Temple on night June 5 to 6, 1984 at Amritsar to clear the complex of the militants who had based themselves in the temple. The Operation was code named ‘Blue Star’ By the first light of June 7, 1984, the Golden Temple complex had been cleared of militants but it left, in its aftermath, a wave of anguish and anger among the Sikh community and the nation faced the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh guards.

Sri Lanka Operations

The period July 1987 to March 1990 saw the Indian Army fight Tamil militants in Sri Lanka with one hand tied behind their back. Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) moved to Sri Lanka to carry out Peacekeeping duties as generally assigned during UN operations and to separate the warring factions ie Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and Sri Lankan armed forces but ended up enforcing peace and conducting military operations against LTTE. What the Indian Army achieved is best described in the words of Rajan Wijeratrie, at one time the state minister of Defence in Sri Lankan Government. He is reported to have said, “The IPKF had virtually finished them off. They were gasping for breath in the jungles. It was we who provided that oxygen to them.” This summed up what IPKF had achieved before de-induction.


On November 3, 1988, the Indian Army launched the operation in Maldives to prevent mercenaries from overthrowing the Government of Maldives and while it did not involve much fighting, it demonstrated to the World the speed and efficiency with which the Indian Armed Forces could react. This period (1989 onwards) also saw the start of the terrorism and insurgency in Kashmir and deployment of additional troops in J&K.

Kargil War (May-July 1999)

Kargil Sector is 168 kms along the line of control (LOC) stretching from Kaobal gali in the west to Chorbat La in the east. The sector was vast and the line of control runs along the watershed along heights 4,000 to 5,000 metres high. The frontage and the nature of terrain ensured large gaps between defended areas. The deployment included one infantry battalion at Dras; two infantry battalions and a BSF battalion covering Kargil while Chorbat La was held by Ladakh Scouts. As indications of Pakistani intrusions came in starting from May 3, 1999, it became clear that armed intruders had occupied heights in the gaps between all defended areas in the Sector. It was established that India was facing an attempt by the Pakistan to change the LoC using its regular troops. The complacency of the local army formations in not conducting even routine surveillance in the winter months stood out. Having been surprised the initial reactions were unsatisfactory leading to poorly planned patrols and attacks. While these did fix the enemy, success came their way only when the whole act was put together. Air and artillery (155mm Howitzers) was employed with devastating effect to allow the Indian Soldier, the infantryman to live up to his reputation of fortitude under adversity and courage and determination in the attack.

Operation Parakaram

Operation Parakram, which means ‘valour’ was a momentous event which could have unleashed a major war on the sub-continent. It involved a massive build-up Indian Army ordered in the wake of the December 13, 2001, terrorist attack on Parliament House. This 10-month-long mobilisation from January to October 2002, along the border with Pakistan generated high levels of tension in the relations between the two South Asian neighbours, and raised the prospects of a major war. The operation was a major effort in coercive diplomacy by New Delhi, in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, and while the Government claims that their strategic objectives were met by mere posturing which avoided a war, military analysts are of the view that gains were not commensurate to the mammoth exercise in coercive diplomacy by India. However, it led to some positive changes in India’s military doctrine and it hastened military modernisation together with organizational changes.

Army’s Equipment and Modernisation Schemes

The decade of governance of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA I & II from 2004 to 2014) regimes saw complete apathy and collapse of defence modernisation. This era has severely degraded the war fighting capabilities of the Indian Army. The army’s ‘critical shortages’ and obsolescence of its current equipment include night fighting aids, 155mm artillery howitzers, light utility helicopters, attack helicopters, air defence assets, various categories of ammunition, anti-tank and AD missile systems, close quarter battle (CQB) carbines, assault rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles, anti-material rifles, and other urgently needed weapons and equipment by the Special Forces.

Adding to the existing shortages is the new raising of the mountain strike corps for our Eastern theatre, which is expected to reduce the army’s reserve stocks called “War Wastage Reserves” in terms of equipment and munitions further. The present government is trying to ameliorate the difficulties being faced by the army but nearly three decades or more of neglect and the poor performance of UPA Government of a force of the size of Indian Army cannot be undone in a short time frame because when voids and obsolescence start increasing year after year the situation gets out of control and directly impacts the combat efficiency of the army. However even the present government with good intentions, in its past three years has not been able to produce any results on the ground. While the shortages and gaps in modernisation continue, some of the ongoing programmes like the tenders for the procurement of assault rifles, light machine guns, carbines, and anti-tank missiles have been cancelled. Battle Management System being developed indigenously, which was showing promise is recommended to be annulled for inexplicable reasons. At this rate the army modernisation will remain in a poor state for the foreseeable future, in an era when the nation faces a two front conventional war threat in addition to the challenges of counter insurgency/counter-terrorism in the Western and in the Northeastern regions of India . So far, while many new schemes have been announced and sanctions given in respect of artillery, air defence and small arms, no noticeable changes have occurred on the ground.

Terrorism Fomented by Pakistan

The threat of terrorism from Pakistan has not diminished. Pakistan sponsored terror groups struck five times during the 2015-2016. First, attack took place in Gurdaspur District of Punjab on July 27, 2015, wherein seven persons were killed and 19 injured. Three terrorists were also killed. The second attack was on January 2, 2016, by a heavily armed group attacking Pathankot Air Force Station. Five attackers and six security forces personnel were killed during the operations. This was followed by another terrorist attack in Pampore in which a bus carrying over 40 CRPF officers, killing eight officers and injuring over 20 others critically. In the ensuing gun battle, two of the militants were killed. The fourth major incident took place in the early hours of September 18, 2016, when four terrorists from Pakistan struck a brigade headquarters administrative base at Uri and killed 17 unarmed and unsuspecting soldiers in their tents, the nation’s anger at this dastardly act was visible and perceptible. The riposte from Indian Army came 10 days later and on the night of September 28-29, when Indian Army’s Special Forces struck at seven launch pads of the terrorists across the line of control along a frontage of about 200 km in two different Corps Zones thus achieving complete surprise over the Pakistani military establishment and inflicted considerable casualties on the terrorists and military personnel in the area. This action by itself proved to be a manifestation of the new aggressive strategy of the government of India to deal with the ‘proxy war’ waged by Pakistan against India since 1989.

Mere promises and tall claims is not going to help the nation build a worthwhile military capability in the form of a deterrence, which is vital in order to avoid wars and if compelled to go to war then we must be in a position to win the war

On November 29, 2016, a fifth attack by three terrorists from Pakistan breached the army base in Nagrota near Jammu in police uniforms and attacked the 166 Field Regiment, an artillery unit. It was two young majors in their early 30s that fought them – and ultimately died in the line of duty. Majors Gosavi Kunal Mannadir and Akshay Girish Kumar led Quick Response Teams, each with about 15 men, to counter the terrorists, of whom three were killed after a five-hour gun battle. Five soldiers and two officers of the army died in this operation.

Following the terror strikes, a range of themes highlighting issues of strategic handling of such situations, types of forces to be employed and their command and control, border guarding, perimetre defences, use of technology, ability of local police to follow up the specific intelligence inputs to intercept the terrorists before the strike and the lack of community involvement were widely debated in the media and among the security experts. Hopefully, lessons were learnt!

Summer of 2016 also saw an unprecedented unrest in Kashmir. It refers to a series of violent protests in the Kashmir Valley aided and supported by Pakistan and consequent action by Police and CAPFs (Central Armed Police Forces) resulting in many deaths and injuries. Situation turned ugly following killing in an encounter of Burhan Wani, a terrorist commander of Hizbul Mujahedeen on July 8, 2016. Protests started in all ten districts of the Kashmir Valley. The protests lasted more than 120 days and were halted when the demonetisation of the currency was announced on November 8, indicating once again that the unrest was being fuelled by money being pumped in from across the border in Pakistan to pay the stone pelters involved in the unrest.

While 2016 was believed to be the most violent year in the recent times, 2017 seems to have surpassed with more incidents of violence. In his statement before the upper house of Parliament. Minister of State for Home Hasnraj Gangaram Ahir, said that about 184 incidents of terror were reported from Jammu and Kashmir till the end of July 2017. There were about 155 incidents last year during the same period. According to the state police, for the first time in seven years, the number of terrorists killed in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir has crossed 200 till November 30, 2017.

The Way Forward

Indian Army is likely to face four types of threats and challenges in the future including traditional threats from China and Pakistan; contemporary threats in the form of terrorism; internal challenges; and out of area contingency threats. This implies that India faces a two front threat as far as conventional conflicts are concerned and these may be large scale conflicts or even border wars under the nuclear shadow. The other challenges are in the form of international terrorism, and home grown insurgencies aided and abetted by some of its neighbours, and out of area challenges whose contours are hazy at present. Many feel that conventional conflicts in the present circumstances when the region has become nuclearised are unlikely, however can Kargil type border wars be precluded, considering that we have unresolved borders in the form of Line of Control with Pakistan and the Line of Actual Control with China? Is there an assurance that the border wars will not escalate to larger conflicts involving more than one sector facing two different adversaries on two widely separated fronts? Hence the element of strategic uncertainty is introduced in to the entire operational planning which has a direct impact on overall force levels and capability build up. One fact which is undeniable is that should there be another war it will be of ‘Hybrid’ nature and it may involve fighting the enemy simultaneously on two fronts, in varying terrain, at the borders, while simultaneously countering terrorism and/or insurgency in the hinterland. There are a large number of studies that have been done in the Army in this context and these can be updated and fruitfully utilized to get an insight into the operational preparedness and budgetary support required.

The time has come for the government to seriously consider the transformation of the Indian military for the future, through technological improvements coupled with new joint operational doctrines and innovative Operational Art along with joint operational training which should give India a distinct advantage over its potential adversaries, which is vital for preserving India’s sovereignty and furthering its national interests.

Following the establishment of the Modi government with the strongest mandate ever, a lot was expected by the armed forces regarding the hastening of the modernisation process. However the expected change has so far not manifested itself on the ground and the army is the worst off as far as the modernization is concerned because it needs replacements for nearly every weapon and equipment that it currently has in its inventory starting from assault rifle to the artillery and air defence weapons, night fighting equipment, surveillance devices, and a new helicopter fleet comprising various categories of helicopters, just to name a few. It seems that our government machinery is constantly in the election mode with political leaders are more keen to retain their political edge with scant regard for the worsening national security scenario and the urgent need to modernise the armed forces. Our procurement procedures despite DPP 2016 continue to be cumbersome. Thus no worthwhile upgrade of weapons and equipment has taken place in the last two decades or more.

The Government has notified the strategic partnership policy focusing on selecting an Indian strategic partner for all major defence procurements by the Government in key segments like helicopters, submarines, armoured fighting vehicles etc. This policy is an integral step towards indigenisation and capability development. It would not be an exaggeration to say that, if properly implemented, the policy may result in revolutionary changes in domestic defence production and the creation of an ecosystem for defence manufacturing. However the progress on the ground is excruciatingly slow.

In the current state of army’s modernisation it would be difficult to envisage accomplishment and success in future wars. Mere promises and tall claims is not going to help the nation build a worthwhile military capability in the form of a deterrence, which is vital in order to avoid wars and if compelled to go to war then we must be in a position to win the war.