"A Prime Minister To Remember" | DOWN THE MEMORY LANE
Admiral Sushil Kumar in his book, highlights the key defence related decisions taken by former Prime Minister of India Late Atal Bihari Vajpayee; writes Anil Bhat
India’s post-Independence history, which is still not taught in schools and colleges, presents classic examples of how civil-military relations have impacted on the country’s security, integrity and it’s standing in the world. It has been proved how good civil-military relations have resulted in victory in wars and vice-versa. It is this aspect that makes this book important and welcome.
Of India’s many misfortunes, the first was that after many centuries of being attacked, marauded, pillaged, converted and ruled over, Independence came with the unprecedented ordeal of Partition planned by the British. Straddled by newly formed West Pakistan and erstwhile East Pakistan, as well as another huge potentially hostile neighbor, China, it was a crucial stage for assessing, taking some hard decisions and formulating policies to keep India secure and integrated and also make it strong and prosperous. However, that was not to be, as some of Independent India’s top political founders made a very poor start by failing to be conscious about extents of India’s vast land and sea boundaries, being ignorant in assessing the threats of its hostile neighbours Pakistan and China. Failing to realize the importance of military muscle and the timely use of adequate/appropriate force.
In dealing with Pakistan during the first war it perpetrated immediately after independence (1947-48), no aggressive use of made of the Air force, or the navy. Indian Army was quite capable of wresting the part of Kashmir grabbed but Nehru’s blunder of referring the matter to United Nations has made India pay dearly in the blood of its troops till date.
During the second India-Pakistan war in 1965, while Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri took the advice of the Army’s top leadership and proved to be assertive, the politico-bureaucratic establishment was still, as this writer has often stated, “sea-blind and land-locked”. The navy was completely kept out of the operational loop and the
then naval chief ironically visited the operational area as an observer, even as Pakistan navy made an ineffective attempt.
Till the Kargil war in 1999, apart from Mr. Shastri, the only other leader who was exceptionally assertiveness against external attacks, was Mrs. Indira Gandhi. The result was a well-planned operation on two major fronts, with, for the first time, very effective use of the navy resulting in not only Pakistan’s defeat yet again, but also the liberation of Bangladesh.
It is in context of these instances that Admiral Kumar’s book emerges as important and a much-needed reference piece. Because it reveals how a statesman-like Prime Minister of a large complex country like India took pains to gain knowledge about and insights into its huge and diverse armed forces by regularly interacting with the three Services Chiefs-surprisingly more as an eager listener- and then became
decisive without delay on courses of action and in sanctioning the employment of the forces appropriately and optimally.
Pakistan was heavily criticised by other countries for instigating the war. The battles were fought at heights where only seasoned troops could survive. Moreover, while Pak army had initially denied the involvement of its troops in the intrusion, two soldiers being awarded the Nishan-E-Haider (Pakistan’s highest military honour) and 90 more soldiers also given gallantry awards, most of them posthumously, confirmed Pakistan’s role in the misadventure. India also released taped phone conversations between the Army Chief and a senior Pakistani general where the latter is recorded saying: “the scruff of the militants’ necks is in our hands”.
If Kargil was Mr Vajpayee’s finest hour, it was also a feather in Admiral Sushil Kumar’s cap. By sending ships of the Eastern Naval Command to join the fleet of the Western Naval Command in the Northern Arabian Sea, the Indian Navy blockaded Pakistani ports, primarily Karachi, cutting off supply routes and began aggressive patrols and threatened to cut Pakistan’s sea trade. This exploited Pakistan’s dependence on sea-based oil and trade flows. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif disclosed that Pakistan was left with a just small amount of fuel to sustain a full-fledged war only for six days.”
The book also highlight’s Mr Vajpayee’s effective role in dealing with China, Pakistani terrorist attack on Parliament, deciding on not committing troops on the ground in Afghanistan/in a non UN operation, involvement in the Maldives and holding the first International Fleet Review just after the earthquake in Gujarat.
The last section of the book includes some delightful anecdotes from the Admiral’s life. The book is a must-read for all politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats, services and security fraternities, scholars and students. For the general public, it will be enjoyable and informative.