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Warriors On The Front


The Chinese aggression was undoubtedly a debacle for the nation and the Indian Army but individual soldiers and officers fought bravely and their course - mates led from the front in many areas, recalls former Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi at the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Indian Military Academy, Dehradun.

olden jubilees are both fun and nostalgic and when it was the boisterous 27th Course celebrating it, there was more to it than a mere meeting of the comrades who had fought and given their best to secure the country. We re-lived our experiences in the intervening half a century, with stories and experiences many of which were awe inspiring, but which were narrated with little emotion, playing down any personal daredevilry and giving all kudos to the brave jawans. This was in the best traditions of the code of the Indian Army, which continues to be proudly sustained and nurtured. The month of June in Northern India is well known for its heat and dust. The enervating climate tends to sap ones energy. However, Dehradun, nestled in the foothills of the Shivalik Ranges was not so bad back in the early Sixties. Global warming had not been heard of and the hill effect did wonders in keeping the temperatures down. Not that it would have affected the enthusiasm of the Gentlemen Cadets of the 27th Course, as they were scheduled to pass out on 11 June 1961. Rehearsals for the Passing Out Parade (POP), the biggest and most important event in the busy calendar of every term of six months duration, had started in late April and their frequency and intensity was increasing as the big day approached. Much was happening off the drill square too. Anticipation and despondency jostled for space in everyones mind and could be palpably felt everywhere. Everyone was

ruminating about how he had fared, where one stood in the merit, and what regiment he was getting. The instructors were keeping the cards close to their chests, so the suspense continued. Above all, there was the Chetwode Hall during a passing out parade nagging doubt shoulders would droop slightly with the about the post-POP life when the weight of the lone star of a second lieutenant, or a one pip wonder as was The earlier the colloquial expression. Yet, there was Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai phase pride at ones achievement of having had ended and ours was the reached so far despite the tough training and many ups and downs. first course with enhanced The reader may well ask what was so numbers. We could sense special about this particular course, as many earlier courses had passed out that we would inevitably before us and many more would do so get involved in active in subsequent years. There were many operations sooner than reasons, but mention of just two would suffice. The first was the worsening later. This was welcome, security situation on the northern as we saw it as an borders. The earlier Hindi-Chini-BhaiBhai phase had ended and ours was the opportunity to prove first course with enhanced numbers. ourselves. In our hearts of We could sense that we would hearts, we did have that inevitably get involved in active operations sooner than later. This was nagging suspicion of what welcome, as we saw it as an opportunity we call the fear of the to prove ourselves. In our hearts of hearts, we did have that nagging unknown in the army, but it suspicion of what we call the fear of the was taken in ones stride. unknown in the army, but it was taken

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in ones stride. We had no inkling about the second reason as it was still in the future. It emerged later, on the day of the actual POP, when we were rained out! Thereafter, we were known throughout the army as the course which never entered the hallowed precincts of the Chetwode Hall during their passing out parade! Everyone in IMA was caught unawares, although the army is well known for covering all bulk were at Premnagar, the traditional abode of the IMA since its inception. I was part of the Clement Town battalion in Naushera Company and we were in temporary barrack type accommodation, while the rest of our course mates were ensconced at Premnagar. One drawback for us was that for all POP rehearsals, we had to get up earlier than usual and travel in open trucks to Premnagar, while our colleagues enjoyed the luxury of an extra 30 minutes of sleep. You may well ask why the open trucks? The reason was that we had to travel standing up so as not to spoil the creases of our trousers, lest we present a slovenly appearance! Eventually the big day came and we were turned out in our best uniforms. We formed up for the parade in our respective company formations, turned out in our best uniforms, with all brass items shining to perfection and boots and belts polished as never before. The parade was being reviewed by Lt Gen LP (Bogey) Sen, GOC-in-C Eastern Command, a highly decorated and a very well regarded military leader. The spectator stands in front of us were full and we did savour the colourful extravaganza before us, while we waited for the reviewing officer. The reviewing officer was received

A parade in torrential rain by the commandant, Brigadier Nanavati, while the buglers sounded the fanfare. The first sound of thunder was drowned by the words of command of the parade commander, but we heard it quite clearly. Optimists as we were, we welcomed it as a good omen, as even the Gods seemed to have taken cognizance of the big day. The euphoria however was shortlived as it started pouring as soon as the reviewing officer commenced his inspection. The gabardine service dress of General Sen was soon soaked as were our uniforms, but not a soul moved or wiped the raindrops! With the intensity of the rain increasing, the parade was called off and we were marched out of the drill square, without the presentations of the sword of honour or other medals. What bothered us for a while though was that we had been unable to take that final step through the central door of the Chetwode Hall. The awards were later presented during the pipping ceremony at the Nizam Pavilion in the evening. It was half a century of reminiscences that awaited us when we met for the Golden Jubilee celebrations in mid-June at Dehradun. Besides the nostalgia, the icing on the cake was that our course presented a silver bust of Major Som Nath Sharma, the first Param Vir Chakra (the highest gallantry award of the nation) recipient to our alma mater - IMA, to perpetuate the memory of the saviour of Srinagar in 1947, as well the memory of our course. l

Saviour Major Som Nath Sharma contingencies. To the best of my knowledge, no other course has been rained out after that day! Many of our course mates did fight in the conflict with China in 1962 and many sacrificed their lives and limbs up in the formidable Himalayas. The conflict was undoubtedly a debacle for the nation and the Indian Army but individual soldiers and officers fought bravely and our course mates led from the front in many areas. Prior to 1962, some of us were blooded in Operation Vijay, when the military was tasked to get rid of the Portuguese by force of arms. We had only six months of service when we carried out this task successfully. Ours was also the first course that saw the commencement of expansion in the intake at IMA. As infrastructure was still to come up, our course was split in two parts, with some of us located at Clement Town, while the

Besides the nostalgia, the icing on the cake was that our course presented a silver bust of Major Som Nath Sharma, the first Param Vir Chakra recipient to our alma mater - IMA, to perpetuate the memory of the saviour of Srinagar in 1947, as well the memory of our course

July 2011 Power Politics 36