Indian Army Ethos: What Separates us from the Rest

Sub Title : The Indian Army is one of the most respected institutions of India

Issues Details : Vol 15 Issue 6 Jan – Feb 2022

Author : Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM** (Retd)

Page No. : 34

Category : Military Affairs

: January 21, 2022

The Indian Army is the finest example of India’s core belief – ‘unity in diversity’. The regimental system represents this with men and women of diverse ethnicities, faiths and linguistic backgrounds living, training, eating, fighting and praying together

The Indian Army remains one of the most respected institutions of India cutting across all segments of society. My heart swells with pride each time someone walks up to me or tells me on the phone that he wishes to thank me for my service. I invariably respond by saying the people of India gave me the opportunity to serve the nation in the finest of institutions they own and I am proud of having given my best to it and in turn to the nation.

What makes the Indian Army unique? I speak regularly at institutions around the country and abroad, at universities, colleges, schools, corporate organisations, think tanks and even social clubs. Everywhere I get most demands to speak on two themes – ‘Transformational Leadership in a Turbulent Environment’ and ‘How the Indian Army converts Mission Impossible, to Mission Possible’. Both themes draw out passion from within because serving the Indian Army is all about wading through turbulent situations to achieve tasks which almost always seem impossible to achieve. It’s not just the question of achieving set out tasks but also creating the right professional environment, providing leadership of a unique kind and bringing about a social atmosphere which will help in achieving the task.

When drive, energy and passion are necessary none can match the spirit of the Indian Army. In 2003 the Army decided to fence the Line of Control (LoC) to prevent infiltration from PoK, a phenomenon which was upsetting the complete mathematics of terror in Kashmir. We were neutralizing hundreds of Pakistani and other terrorists every year but at the end of the calendar year the numbers were more than made up due to infiltration across an open LoC. The Indian Army’s ambushes could counter some infiltrators but the majority still got through. That is when General Nirmal Vij, the Army Chief in 2003, directed that a continuous barbed wire obstacle be constructed through the length of the 771 km long LoC spanning mountain peaks, rivers, nalas, snow-laden slopes and all. Many, including me, thought this was impossible. How could one fence such obnoxious heights? Yet in a matter of fewer than 18 months, we had used the most dynamic leadership and management practices to achieve the task. It became not such a line of barbed wire but a full-fledged obstacle system, replete with the electrification of the wire and lighting along with alarms and signals. When heavy snow would flatten portions of the fence at higher altitude locations in winter the Army was always prepared with additional stores pre-dumped at those altitudes and a few companies of local porters along with engineer task forces, to refurbish the derelict portions before the real infiltration season began. The completion of the construction of the LoC Fence was a masterful achievement of both leadership and management, something the business world needs to study in earnest in its quest to achieve the impossible. The impact of it was that the mathematics of terror reversed to our favour and by 2007 more terrorists were eliminated on an annual basis than the number who could infiltrate thus transforming the proxy conflict in J&K.

Let us turn to Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the world, and a unique Indian Army achievement. Having beaten the Pakistan Army to its occupation by six days, the Indian Army moved on to occupy the Saltoro Ridge with picquets and posts deployed at 20,000 to 22,000 feet. Some of these posts were secured by assault using ice walls to reach them. One of the most complex military logistics systems exists to support the units of the Siachen Brigade. The most valuable commodity here is kerosene oil for heating, warming, drying and cooking. It is dropped by Mi-17 helicopters and also piped through a pipeline to the glacier area. From there it is transported in jerricans by smaller helicopters to the posts on the Saltoro Ridge. Temperatures at the higher posts and even in some of the windblown areas of the lower glacier plummet to as low as ‘minus 50 degrees. It needs a high degree of physical fitness to live and function on the glacier for the designated period of 3-4 months. It’s not just a question of surviving the climatic conditions or the yawning crevasses which widen as the sun climbs higher but also being fit to patrol and fight to win at all times. The avalanches (cascades of rolling snow falling from heights to lower altitudes) from the Saltoro are life-threatening at all times and add to the stress of altitude and lack of oxygen.

Another major achievement of the Indian Army continues to be the progressive saga of professionalism, dedication and courage. In Ladakh in Apr 2020 the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China triggered a standoff at some of the friction points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The PLA has a distinct advantage as the terrain on the other side of the LAC is flat and easy for movement, and for the creation of road infrastructure. 50,000 troops of the PLA which were signalled as having been inducted to Western Tibet for training suddenly changed their intent and deployed threateningly along the friction points making transgressions all over. A clash at Galwan which saw bloodshed was followed by a rapid Indian Army initiative to occupy heights on the Kailash Range to gain equilibrium through quid pro quo operations. However, matching this achievement was the induction of almost 50,000 Indian troops and a huge quantum of armoured vehicles and engineer plant by air and road over the long and treacherous roads from the plains. Creating the infrastructure for men and material to live through the challenging winter of Ladakh was a monumental feat in itself. In many ways the achievement of the Indian Army massively backed by the Indian Air Force is a reflection of the fighting spirit of every Indian citizen. The nation was in the throes of the Coronavirus pandemic, yet it got its act together to meet the challenges of the massive induction of troops and warlike material into one of the world’s most challenging battle zones through some of the most difficult terrain. The ability to rapidly deploy and stay the course through an arduous winter led to the projection that India would not budge and would go to any extent to safeguard its territory. China had to curb its aggressive stance and accept a mutual disengagement. The process is still on even as the second winter is undergone by both sides.

The Indian Army is the finest example of India’s core belief – ‘unity in diversity’. The regimental system represents this with men and women of diverse ethnicities, faiths and linguistic backgrounds living, training, eating, fighting and praying together. I strongly project my own example; a Muslim in a pure Hindu Regiment/Unit having commanded my troops in peace and in operations while receiving their total loyalty. At different ranks, I have inspired my troops on the basis of their faith and prayed with them at the unit temple with a gusto that could match theirs. The reverse is true with pure Muslim sub units commanded by officers of different faiths. This applies to pure Sikh units too but the true iconic status is achieved by the unique ‘Sarv Dharam Sthal’ (all faiths under one roof) where the symbols of all faiths find a place at one spot and under one roof exemplifying the true spirit of India. A few years ago, I wrote in the mainstream media that whenever India loses confidence in itself or its people due to acts of their misdemeanours, all it needs to do is to turn to its Army where inspirational actions continue day in and day out.

Take another example – Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). SOUTH ASIA DEFENCE & STRATEGIC REVIEW Deployed to fight and neutralise proxies infiltrated from across the LoC and defeat the hybrid conflict with sub-conventional at the core of it, the Indian Army is well aware that it’s the people who form the centre of gravity in such a conflict. It launched intense military civic action under Operation Sadbhavna to bring succour to those who could not receive the focus of the state administration due to prevailing conflict conditions. Choosing four basic domains the Indian Army launched school education, medical care, small scale infrastructure and national integration as its core areas of people-centric work. 43 Goodwill Schools exist today as the cynosure of all eyes within the education system, including a school with hostel facilities. Facilities to coach selected students for competitive exams were created and much success was achieved through the iconic programs called ‘Super 30’ and later ‘Super 40’. Public Health Centres were refurbished with medical equipment and medical staff restored in many of them, even as medical camps were conducted in far-flung areas in cooperation with local medical authorities. Cataract operations for veterans were conducted by Indian Army doctors in Cataract Camps. On average annually a hundred or more national integration tours for school children, youth, women and senior citizens are organised, to visit areas of interest that depict India’s progress, cultural integration and technological achievements. Being aware of J&K’s great sporting culture, sports facilities, equipment and even major tournaments were organised with much success. Not too many organisations in uniform look at hybrid conflict in this manner. The Indian Army’s soft power culture for peacekeeping operations has been much appreciated by the United Nations (UN). In various UN operations, the Indian Army’s people-friendly initiatives are usually not only the most innovative but also implemented with military precision and passion. Even in operations involving peacekeeping and peacemaking under the UN flag, the Indian Army has never hesitated to take the lead. Operation Khukhri in Sierre Leone was conducted by 5/8 GR to break a siege by rebel forces. The Indian Battalion (4 Sikh) in Lebanon during the Israel-Lebanon War of 2006, did not withdraw from the combat zone while all other peacekeeping forces disengaged and concentrated away from the border. Due to their high levels of combat skills, leadership, staff training and proficiency in handling logistics Indian Army servicemen are much in demand in the UN fraternity. I recall how in Mozambique I was often stopped in the corridors of the Mission HQ with requests by UN officials to make available an Indian clerk to their office. An Indian clerk from the Indian HQ Company meant that he took over the running of the entire office, including the filing system and drafting of all responses.

Even with the raising of specialised disaster response forces the Army effectively remains the first responder in disaster situations across the mountainous regions because of its deployment. Possessing manpower, skills and diverse equipment the Indian Army never flinches from responding. From earthquakes to flash floods and glacial outbursts, the Army provides succour. This inspires great confidence among the public. The Kedarnath flash flood, the Kerala floods and the recent Chamoli disaster are all prime examples of this. It is almost as if the credo is ‘Hum Hain Na’ (After all we are here). Hence the common resolve to term the Indian Army, the People’s Army.

When it comes to leadership the pre-commissioning academies are centres of excellence in inculcating the Chetwodian resolve – ‘Nation First, Your men next, Yourself last, always and every time’. There cannot be a better message for young leaders who join a profession where part of the oath they take commits them to even sacrifice their life to attain the goal. In 1999 Captain Vikram Batra expressed exactly this sentiment when he refused to allow his Company JCO to go for the last assault on the fact that the latter was married and had a family at home. The valiant officer who was decorated with India’s highest wartime gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra, took upon himself the arduous task of leading the final assault to destroy the last of the enemy bunkers housing an automatic. He was unmarried and wished to avoid causing a tragedy in at least one family. As units climbed to the Kargil heights it was clear to Pakistan that its sneaking efforts to occupy winter vacated posts against all norms of military honour, was not going to be left unpunished. 527 Indian soldiers died to redeem India’s honour. Of these 26 were officers.

So, what goes into transforming the human resources material which willingly comes to the Army? Careful selection of those who have the potential and then the Academies and the Regimental Centres take over, converting the young men and women into soldiers and leaders; citizens apart, for the Nation always and every time. It’s worth a visit to any of these establishments, all centres of excellence, to witness how the raw material is transformed into gold for the Nation.