A SECOND DAWN
Lt Gen (Retd) S K Sinha
I belong to a vanishing generation which witnessed the dawn of 15 August 1947 from close quarters. I had a grandstand view of events in Delhi, from a key junior appointment in Military Operations Directorate at South Block, dealing with internal security. I had to shoulder great responsibility much beyond my ability, knowledge and experience. The sudden departure of senior and experienced British officers had led to this situation for Indian officers of my generation in the Army. Before Independence, the Indian Army had over 80 per cent British officers with no Indian in the rank of a General officer, half a dozen Brigadiers and a few Colonels and Lt Cols.
After the Great Calcutta Killings of August 1946, communal violence with increasing intensity spread all over North India. This reached a crescendo after 3 June 1947, when Partition was announced. Mass migration of minorities from both Pakistan and India commenced. Millions got killed and millions uprooted. The civil administration in Delhi and Punjab had collapsed. The Army became the mainstay of the Government to restore order. The departing Viceroy Lord Wavell in his farewell address on 21 March 1947 had said, “I believe the stability of the Indian Army may perhaps be the deciding factor in the future of India.” Lakhs of Muslim refugees had concentrated in Delhi. They were living in make shift refugee camps in the then open space between Red Fort and Yamuna as also between Purana Qilla and the river. These camps had to be protected from marauding mobs. These hapless refugees used to be put in jam packed special trains with some sitting on the roof of compartments. The Army had to provide escorts for the refugee trains going to Pakistan. All normal passenger and goods movement in Punjab were suspended to provide rolling stock for refugee movement. Providing protection of miles long foot columns of refugees trudging to Pakistan was almost an impossible task. Chaos and violence reigned all over. In Delhi Army officers had to be in uniform armed with pistols all the time. We got food packed in Girls Colleges by girl volunteer students for minority refugee foot columns in Pakistan. These were picked up by the Army and dropped over these moving columns in Pakistan. Our Military Evacuation Organisation at Lahore arranged for evacuation of non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan by road and in Air Force planes returning after food drops. The Army established a staging tented camp for 5 lakh non Muslim refugees from Pakistan at Kurukshetra. The civil administration dispersed them to areas in Punjab and outside. They were allotted places vacated by Muslim refugees who had left for Pakistan. All these were gigantic tasks and we had to work round the clock. It was indeed an irony that British officers could travel all over Delhi and Punjab unarmed as there was no threat of their being attacked, while Indian officers, both Muslims and non-Muslims, had to remain armed with their pistols all the time. We had a division worth of troops deployed in and around Delhi.
I may mention an incident of those times to show how disturbed the situation was in Delhi. One afternoon, I was in the Operations Room when Mr Dundas, the Defence Secretary came in looking agitated. A senior ICS officer, he had opted to go as Defence Secretary in Pakistan. He said that a mob of shouting Hindus and Sikhs with mashals in their hands was assembling near the hutments with the intention of burning the documents, office equipment, furniture etc packed and stacked to be sent to Pakistan. General Lentaign, our Director asked me to pick up two or three armed Defence Security soldiers at the gate below and disperse the mob. He also said that he would imstruct Delhi to send a mobile armed patrol to the spot. I rushed to the hutments as instructed. Dundas accompanied me. On reaching the spot I got my men to fire warning shots in the air and the mob dispersed. Soon a mobile patrol also arrived and we positioned an armed picket there. Much later, those hutments were demolished. The Sena Bhavan has come up at that site.
On midnight 14/15 August I heard Jawaharlal Nehru’s soul stirring Tryst with Destiny speech in the Parliament on the radio. India had at last become free. I was overwhelmed with emotion. The much cherished Dawn had arrived.
In the morning I saw the Union Jack was no longer flying over North Block, South Block and the Parliament House. I was thrilled to see our National Flag proudly fluttering in their place. A ceremonial parade was to be held near India Gate. We cordoned the whole area and tight security arrangements were made. Large crowds assembled on both sides of Kingsway (now Raj Path). Mountbatten and Nehru dove in State in the Viceroy’s open horse carriage escorted by the Viceroy’s Bodyguard. The jubilant crowd was shouting Pandit Nehru Ki Jai, Pandit Mountbatten Ki Jai. Mountbatten and Nehru mounted the saluting dais. The over enthusiastic crowd broke the cordon and began milling all round the troops formed up for the parade and near the saluting dais. The Parade could not be held. The Band played the National Anthem and gun salute firing in the distance could be heard. Mountbatten and Nehru jointly unfurled the national flag. Mountbatten is reported to have remarked that this was the best military parade he had seen!
By middle October 1947 the situation was limping back to near normal when a storm broke out in Kashmir. Pakistan Army invaded Kashmir with Maj Gen Akbar Khan commanding the invading forces. They comprised a mix of Pakistan Army personnel in civilian clothes and tribal raiders. In three days the Pakistan Forces were in Baramulla after overrunning the heroic resistance put up by Maharaja’s small army. The Maharaja and the civil administration abandoned Srinagar and fled to Jammu. Srinagar was without any defence. The Maharaja acceded to India on 26 October. We received orders late that afternoon to rescue Srinagar. On 27 October only six Dakotas were available. From next day some forty private airlines Dakotas with European pilots were be mobilised for us.. I recall landing at Srinagar grass airfield with only 300 troops on 27 October 1947, when the enemy at Baramulla was 10,000 strong. They were indulging in raping and plunder of the most brutal nature. This gave us time to feverishly build up of our military strength in Srinagar. The forty Dakotas were now each doing two sorties a day from Safdarganj airport to Srinagar. I saw a rare wave of patriotism and determination in all ranks of the Army to give of our best, no matter the odds and difficulties. We were for the first time fighting a war for Independent India under Indian military leadership in the field. We ultimately decisively defeated the enemy in the battle of Shelatang on the outskirts of Srinagar on 7 November 1947 and cleared Srinagar Valley despite all odds.
I have mentioned all these details to highlight the conditions of unprecedented violence and chaos we faced in the wake of the great Dawn of our Independence and after. Winston Churchill had said, “India is merely a geographical expression. It is no more a single country than the Equator.” Prophets of Gloom maintained that India being a multi lingual, multi ethnic and multi religious behemoth will not be able to hold together. They were proved wrong. India not only held together but turned out to be the only successful democracy in the Third World on the three continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America. John Kenneth Galbraith the US Ambassador to India referred to Indian democracy as a functioning anarchy.
The two decades of the Nehru era followed by a few months of Lal Bahadur Shastri at the helm, were a glorious era for India despite the unfortunate Himalayan debacle of 1962 in the closing years of Nehru’s life, being a big setback. Our national honour was soon vindicated in 1965 and in 1967 Artillery duel started by China in Sikkim, the latter had a bitter experience. Despite military and economic weakness during the Nehru era, India emerged a major international power on the basis of her moral strength . Our political leaders at the Centre and in States were very capable men of impeccable integrity, who had made great personal sacrifice during the freedom struggle.
Indira Gandhi became a great war leader. Defying the US and China, the two powerful patrons of Pakistan, she inflicted a crushing defeat on Pakistan in the Bangladesh War of 1971. This was India’s finest hour. India had not won such a glorious and decisive victory in the past millennium and more. However, she was responsible for decline in moral values in public life and undermining democracy. She once remarked that her father was a saint who had strayed into politics, implying that values did not matter with her. She also once remarked that corruption was an international phenomenon. This virtually gave license to this evil in public life. The maladies of rampant corruption and dynastic rule reached mind boggling dimensions during UPA- 2 regime. Churchill’s remarks about India like Equator not being a country was proved wrong after Independence, but now his very derogatory remarks about Indian political leaders with very few exceptions, started having a ring of truth. He had said, “Power will go into the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low caliber and men of straw. They will have sweet tongue and silly hearts. They will fight among themselves for power and India will be lost to political squabbles.” By 2014 the common man in India was totally disillusioned, disgusted with rampant corruption at all levels and in every sphere eating into the vitals of the Nation. He was groaning under rising prices for long. We had a failing economy with little hope of things improving. On top of all this, the country had been reduced to being a feudal democracy with dynastic rule. Arrogance of power and poor leadership of the rulers and their lackeys had promoted what Mahatma Gandhi once called, slave mentality in the administration. There was also a paralysis of governance. Narendra Modi with a reputation of impeccable integrity and dedication having a record of providing good governance in his State swept the polls with his mass appeal through his unmatchable oratory that swayed the masses. A tsunami struck the Grand Old Party (UPA) which was reduced to a pitiable 44 members in the Lok Sabha. The aura of the Dynasty was in shatters. Giving a call for “Congress Mukt Bharat” Narendra Modi has come to power with a thumping majority. The dimensions of his huge victory were perhaps not anticipated by him, his party, his opponents or any political analyst.
I have lived to see a Second Dawn. The dawn of 15 August 47 was drenched in communal violence and chaos all round. I was then a small cog in the wheel of the establishment. On 26 May 2014, as a bystander I avidly saw the new Dawn on the TV. The unique swearing in ceremony of Narendra Modi and his Council of Ministers was an unprecedented world event. Heads of State of adjacent countries attended the function including the Prime Minister of Pakistan with whom we have been on cold war punctuated by three hot wars and continuing low intensity conflict. Over 4000 eminent personalities of the country in different walks of life were at the function. 15 August 1947 heralded the dawn of freedom from foreign rule after several centuries. 26 May 2014 has generated much hope and enthusiasm for the future, emerging from a long era of despair and darkness.
Modi’s path breaking foreign policy initiatives towards neighbouring countries are welcome development and so has his reaching out to countries in the East, up to Japan and South Korea. This should break China’s String of Pearl Strategy. He interacted with much aplomb at the Heads of State meeting at BRICS in Brazil at which it was decided to set up BRICS Development Bank. Foreign powers including the US have been too keen to invite Modi. Things have come a long way from the time the US had denied visa to him. After addressing the UN General Assembly in September, he will be visiting Washington on the invitation of President Obama. All this augurs well for the future.
In the past few weeks welcome initiatives have been taken to meet India’s gigantic problems for her billion population. Funds have been allotted for 24x7 electricity in every house Swatch Bharat program, Namami Ganga clean Ganga project, infrastructure development and so on. Measures have been taken to provide decisive and effective governance. The Chalta Hai approach among the bureaucracy at the Centre has been changed to a disciplined and dedicated approach, abandoning lethargy. The old environment and style of working appears to have changed overnight.
Modi’s inclusive development agenda as against the divisive secularism of the previous regime provides a breath of fresh air. So far, all the initiatives taken by him hold great hope for the coming of Achche Din. As an old army veteran it gives me great satisfaction to see efforts to remove the UPA Government’s neglect of national security and of the military. Allocation of funds to procure modern weapons, doubling military strength on the Northern border, infrastructure development in that area, settling people in vacant land space near the border, increasing FDI to 49 per cent in defence production, promoting indigenous defence industry with private sector participation and so on. Private sector has been asked to produce light transport aircraft replacing AVROs, 32 light utility helicopters and small combat naval vessels. No doubt we need to develop cordial relations and mutually beneficial economic ties with our neighbours but this should be from a position of military strength.
The long pestering personnel problem of one rank one pension has been suitably addressed. One thousand crores has been allocated for this in the current budget. The bureaucracy has been directed to ensure military participation in decision making. Service Chiefs have will now have periodic direct access to the Prime Minister as in Western democracies. It is significant that after a long time the practice of the Prime Minister giving a farewell dinner to a retiring Army Chief has been revived. This raises hope of the long awaited appointment of CDS like in all democracies, will become a reality in the near future. Yet another consideration shown for the military is to allot 100 crores for a National War Memorial around the India Gate complex New Delhi. For political and bureaucratic reasons this project initiated over six decades ago had been hanging fire. Funds for these projects have been allotted. Work on them are likely to start soon.
We have a large aspirational young generation among our people who are in a hurry to receive the benefits of better life. The promises held out must be fulfilled soon. The burning issue of rising prices which affects all must be tackled at top priority and. so should improving the quality of life for the people and reducing/removing unemployment. Narendra Modi does not have the magic wand of Ali Baba to overnight bring down food prices and provide other promised facilities. Yet every effort should be made to show tangible improvements within a short time frame. Electoral promises have to be delivered.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We as a nation perhaps have a weakness for sycophancy because of having been ruled by foreigners for a millennium in medieval and early modern period. Mahatma Gandhi had called this slave mentality. Girilal Jain the Editor of Times of India had rightly said that Sycophants have destroyed Empires and Emperors. The UPA Government became a victim of sycophancy of its courtiers. Modi Government must guard against this pitfall.
I conclude with full confidence that various measures being taken by the new Government holds much promise of its delivering on its election promises. Hopefully, the second dawn that I have the good fortune to see, would usher in a glorious future providing India a rightful place in the comity of Nations and she becoming a leading world class democracy and economic power.