Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)
This article is published in ‘Samman’ which is being released on 14 Jan on the occasion of the Veterans Day 2023. It is a tribute to the Indian Army, all the veterans and serving personnel who have contributed to building India into a power of consequence.
Happy Pongal, Bihu, Sankranti, Lohri and more to every one…however to me …most importantly it is Veterans Day. Happy Veterans Day to all my colleagues who donned the uniform or are in it now.
Nation building has many facets. It starts with the formation of a nation as it happened with India in 1947. Thereafter, it graduates to the homogenisation and consolidation of the nation to enable its progress as an entity. Nation building is also the process of unification of people within our boundaries and ensure sovereignty, integrity and political stability of the country. It is also the process whereby people of diverse origins, histories, languages, cultures and religions who make India are held together as equals under the Constitution and its legal framework. Nation building promotes a conscious sense of belonging and being proudly committed to the country despite India’s huge diversity. It ensures that people of different caste creed and religion, together build a common history and identity of being an Indian. It also involves building an integrated national economy and provision of infrastructure, education, scientific, technological and medical systems to promote the welfare of people. Nation building is a continuous process and can never be lost sight of.
Ever since India gained Independence, the Indian Army has been pivotal in most key aspects of nation building without much fanfare. As India grows to be a power of consequence in the comity of nations, the role of the Army in nation building will gain further importance and relevance as challenges unfold ahead. It is not out of place to suggest that the image of India as a global power will depend upon how we as a people evolve into the future. The Indian Army has a major role in building this future. The role of the Indian Army in nation building must be seen through a larger prism and beyond merely defending the nation from external aggression.
The Indian Army played a key formative role when a new-born India was still under consolidation. When the Britishers left, India had to suffer the mayhem, massacres and mass migration of people in Punjab and Bengal. It was the Army which rose to the occasion to usher in some order to regulate the migration and ease the pain of partition. It reduced the number of casualties which could have otherwise become exponential. Soon after that, the Army swung into action to assist the Government in persuading the 600 odd princely states to join the Union of India by threat or treat. Prominent amongst them were Junagadh and Hyderabad. This consolidative process continued well into the 60’s till Goa was liberated by force. It finally culminated when Sikkim merged with India and the Army was there to guard the new borders. Very importantly, the Army also thwarted the invasion of J&K by Pakistan in 1947-48. The Pakistan Army, aided and abetted by tribals and razakers were stopped at the gates of Srinagar by the Indian Army. In the following decades, the Indian Army played a protective role in repulsing Pakistan’s repeated attempts to wrest Kashmir or parts of it by force in 1965, 1971 and 1999. In 1962, an ill equipped and poorly supported Indian Army suffered a debacle. After that, it has kept China at bay. A befitting reply was given to China in 1967 at Natu La in Sikkim. Thereafter, attempts to change the status quo along the LAC unilaterally by China by force were halted in their tracks during the Doklam crisis in 2017 and in Eastern Ladakh in 2020. The Indian Army has been a critical factor in the formation, consolidation and protection of India as it exists today. It remains a guarantor of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation from external aggression.
Besides protecting India from external aggression, the Indian Army has played a crucial role in quelling the various insurgencies, militances, anti-national and secessionist movements which have plagued India especially in Kashmir, North Eastern States and Punjab. Many of these insurgencies have been violent and often abetted by Pakistan and China as part of their proxy/gray zone/hybrid wars with India. In quelling and controlling these movements, the Indian Army has ensured that these states remain an integral part of India. In almost all cases, the Indian Army has ensured that the writ of the Government of India runs in these areas at all times. It has also assisted the Central and State Governments in maintaining or restoring law and order, protecting the people and state property. In critical states like Assam, Punjab, J&K, Manipur and Mizoram, the Indian Army has been instrumental in restoration of democratic processes to ensure that the idea of India is not diluted and that alienation does not set in amongst the population. Most importantly, the Army has taken development and progress to these corners of India so that people in these areas benefit from all national policies and programs of upliftment. The Army continues to play its integrative role in building India into a strong nation.
The Constitution of India is the bedrock on which the nation is built and has progressed since Independence. There have been situations when it has been challenged and under strain for extended periods. At each instance, when the Constitution has been threatened, the Indian Army has upheld it. This must be seen in two contexts. Firstly, in many instances and places, the Indian Army has repeatedly restored and rebuilt democracy by enabling elections to be conducted in a free and fair manner so that people have been able to exercise their franchise without fear or favor. In doing so, people’s faith in the Constitution has been revived and held firm to build a strong and democratic India. Very importantly, the Indian Army has stayed always within the bounds of the Constitution even when the democratic processes were diluted or weakened by political forces. Unlike our neighbors, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Indian Army has ensured that India is built into a strong nation by upholding the constitution and ensuring that the due democratic processes are allowed to function. This has been an invaluable contribution of the Indian Army in building the nation.
India is a diverse country with people from all walks of life. They follow different religions, cultures and speak a multitude of languages. The Indian Army has a place for all of them irrespective of their background. Every Indian has equal opportunity to join the Army and serve the nation with pride. This is a practice followed since independence. Over the years, the Army has been a great social equalizer and uplifter. It has been a shining example of national integration. It embodies the spirit of the Constitution in toto. It has welded people from different walks of life into a disciplined team which operates as one unit through focused training, skill development, empowerment, and hard work. It is the true representative of the idea of India. Over the years, the Indian Army has also earned the trust of the nation in this role. Everyone considers our Armed Forces to be the best and most reliable service in the country. The Indian Army has fully repaid the trust reposed in it by not only defending our borders but by coming to the aid of people during their hour of need during riots, strikes, calamities, disturbances and natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, accidents and so on. The Indian Army has not only aided by saving lives and invaluable government property during such circumstances but has also assisted in rebuilding lives of affected people and restoring essential services in affected areas even if it means rebuilding them. The soldier is loved and respected by the people and is largely an inspirational figure. Every soldier who exits service, contributes to building the civil society and development of the nation with the skills acquired during service. The Indian Army contributes to nation building not only when its soldiers are in service but also through its veterans.
The Indian Army has played a huge part in building the technological strength of the nation. With every new weapon system which is designed, developed, and introduced into the Army, the technological strength of India has improved. Many breakthroughs have occurred in cutting edge technologies due to the participation of the Indian Army at grassroot level in developing them. Our capability in missile and rocket development is just one example. It is also to note that the Indian Army is supported by a vast system of defense research and production. This system contributes immensely to India’s comprehensive national power. With the advent of AI, cyber, space, nuclear, three D printing and additive manufacturing technologies, the role of the Indian Army in nation building is only set to increase. In future the Indian Army will even be expected to rise to the challenges posed by climate change to India.
The Indian Army has not only excelled in roles, tasks, and duties within India but also in international situations. The Indian Army is highly sought and remains one of the largest contributors to United Nations in peace keeping roles. The UN has placed great trust in India across four continents — Africa, Asia, Europe and South America in countries as diverse as Korea, Congo, Kampuchea, Lebanon, Eritrea, Nicaragua, Bosnia-Herzegovina and more. This is largely due to the fact the Indian Army is seen as a professional force capable of achieving goals set for it even under trying conditions. At another level, the Army has been instrumental in creating Bangladesh in 1971 by defeating Pakistan in a fourteen-day blitzkrieg. The victory in 1971 war gave a long-time peace dividend, due to which India has built itself into a strong nation. The role of Indian Army in restoring the government in Maldives is also well documented. Besides this, many nations want their officers and soldiers to be trained in various institutions of the Indian Army and want to carry out exercises with it. It is a huge international acknowledgement of a professional force. Very importantly, soldiers of the Indian Army have also excelled in the field of international sport and have brought laurels to the nation by winning medals in Olympic, Asian and Commonwealth games. Overall, the highly professional Indian Army has enhanced the international image of the nation considerably over years.
As India rises to be a power of consequence and assumes centrality in world affairs, the role of the Indian Army will become even more pronounced. The military will have to play a greater role in projecting India on the world stage. The role of Indian Army in carrying out military diplomacy in national interests will increase. The Army’s role in strengthening global and international partnerships will become critical. It will also have a greater role in protecting the global commons, preventing drug trafficking and combating piracy. The Indian Army along with the other services will have to be prepared to be first responders in humanitarian assistance and disaster management. The Indian army has a proud reputation heritage in these fields which it will keep up in the best traditions of the Service in this field of nation building.
Last but not the least one should not forget the role of the Indian soldier in nation building. The courageous, hardworking, humble and frugal Indian soldier has been a symbol of unflinching devotion to duty. His scrupulous honesty, truly secular and completely apolitical nature has contributed immensely to nation building. Through the past seventy five years, he has stood sentinel in blazing heat, dust storms, hail, sleet, snow, icy blizzards and pouring rain over India’s borders whether they are in the high Himalayas or the Thar deserts or the jungles of the North East. His indomitable spirit has provided India with a ‘kavach’ which has allowed it to grow. He has been a role model for every Indian to emulate. He is loved and respected by every Indian. He represents the idea of India.
The Indian Army Soldier is a true nation builder second to none.
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