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ARTICLE : Warriors in the East
Tuesday, 09 April 2013 02:44


Warriors in the East

Adjoining the flowing Hooghly, straddling roughly between two iconic structures, Howrah Bridge andVidyasagar Setu, stands a fortified citadel famously known as 'Fort William' since the latter half of the 18th century, which was once the military headquarters of British India.

Ironically, unlike most forts of yesteryears, Fort William in its present 'avatar' never once stood any siege. Famed cannons that once dotted its ramparts but never once fired, today embellish its historical significance as it houses the present day headquarters of one of Indian Army's sword arm, the Eastern Command.

The pre eminence of Fort William, once the symbol of British military, also did not diminish despite shifting of the capital of British India from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911. The aura of Fort William, still held in awe, is unmatched by any other military formation in the country. With the rising sun as its 'Coat of Arms', Eastern Command's rich and varied history goes back many centuries to the days of the Mughals and the East India Company.

Having played a key part in the process of evolution of the pre and post Independence Indian Army, many illustrious formations such as 4 Corps (raised in May 1942) that fought their way to victory in the Burma Campaign, continue to serve in Eastern Command even today while some others like 15 Corps, have moved to other parts of the country.

Retaining its splendour as the seat of military might, and subsequent to the restructuring and demobilisation of the Indian Army after First World War, Eastern Command was formed on November 1, 1920 in Lucknow (Nainitalbeing its summer HQ). Its territorial jurisdiction extended over Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, Bengal and further east beyond Assam.

Nearly two decades later, the advent of Second World War led to redesignation of Eastern Command as Eastern Army in April 1942, with the additional operational responsibility of the Burma front included. With the creation of 14th Army in October 1943, and with operational responsibility limited up to river Meghna (now in Bangladesh), it reverted back to its earlier status of being Eastern Command and has remained so till date.

At the time of Independence, Eastern Command was located in Ranchi. In 1955, It moved back toLucknow, and eight years later to where it really belonged - Fort William in Calcutta. It has remained in the renamed Kolkata city with territorial jurisdiction signifying multi-faceted operational and administrative challenges.

Conflicts Crises and Glory

Post Independence, the crisis in North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA), the parts of north-eastern India in Arunachal Pradesh as it was then called, in 1962, was to prove a cathartic event in India's history. Valuable politico-military lessons relevant till date were learnt during the crisis. HQs 4 Corps that was disbanded after the Second World War was re-raised at Tezpur, Assam on October 4, 1962.

In 1971, Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, then GOC-in-C, Eastern Command, accepted history's greatest surrender since the end of Second World War. It was indeed  a red-letter day in the history of the Indian Army. The Indian Armed Forces had achieved a stunning and memorable victory, leading to the liberation of Bangladesh. Audacity and speed of operation knocked the adversary off balance.

Over 93,000 personnel of the Pakistan Armed Forces were taken as 'prisoners of war'. The victory epitomised the glory of the Indian Armed Forces, and since then, December 16, the day of 'Instrument of Surrender' was signed by Lt Gen AAK Niazi of Pakistan Army, is celebrated as "Vijay Diwas".

The Vijay Diwas event is celebrated in a big way in Fort William under Eastern Command. Mukti Jodhasand Indian veterans are hosted by Eastern Command on the occasion every year. In the celebrations held in December last, Veer Nari Smt Balamdina Ekka and son Vincent Ekka, family members of the sole Param VirChakra (PVC) recipient in the eastern theatre, martyr Lance Naik Albert Ekka, also graced the event.

Quest for Peace

Since Independence not all crises in the north-eastern region were gnawing threats from adversaries, some of them were from within. The insurgency of Nagaland was the first to begin, setting tone for others in the region to follow. While Nagaland came into being a state in 1963, 8 Mountain Division was raised the same year to counter insurgency in the state.

A Counter Insurgency and Jungle warfare (CIJW) School was established at Vairangte, Mizoram to impart pre-induction training to all the incoming units. Today, it can be mentioned that the CIJW School has become a 'centre of excellence' where foreign troops are regulars, either for training or joint drills, in the global quest for peace against insurgency-related actions.

To counter the growing powerful underground organisations such as the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), HQs 3 Corps was raised in February 1985 to ensure a co-ordinated employment of all troops combating insurgency. Army units have carried out endless cordon and searches of villages, interceptions and raids to maintain a strike rate higher than the insurgent's ability to recoup.

More importantly, formations of Eastern Command have initiated many steps to win the hearts and minds of the people. In December last month, the current GOC-in-C, Lt Gen Dalbir Singh who also previously commanded the 3 Corps, hosted and feted children from the Kuki tribe of Nagas at Fort William during a 'Sadbhavna' excursion for the 30-odd students organised by the Army. It may also be mentioned that similar excursions from Jammu & Kashmir are also routinely hosted here.

The insurgencies in Mizoram and Tripura also ran a similar course. The undercurrents of frustration among the youth in the Mizo Hill Districts were akin to the ones in Nagaland. Relentless operations by the Indian Army quelled Mizo National Front (MNF) activities that had become very hostile. Meanwhile, emergence of Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) activities in Manipur were among the other internal threats that the Army units under Eastern Command had to counter in the quest for peace in the region.

The resentment of the presence of 'foreigners' by ethnic population of Assam beginning with agitations also gave birth to a secessionist organisation who tried to acquire a Robin Hood image, albeit with the knowledge of making improvised explosive devices (IED) and the power of media. The signing of 'Assam Accord' in 1985 did nothing to curb their hostile acts. The Army's efforts in quest for peace has mostly helped peace return to the beleaguered state.

The complexities of insurgency in the north-eastern states notwithstanding, Eastern Command and its formations have dealt with a vitiated internal security situation with a firm yet patient and understanding hand. Restrain and the minimum necessary force was always resorted to only when it was unavoidable. Successive Commanders at all levels have always sought to reduce the Army's presence and primacy so that other organs of the state attend to the root causes of the insurgency.

Golden Milestones

The Eastern Command has been operationally committed since Independence. Their sacrifices have justly earned them many distinctions, honours and awards. General K Cariappa, OBE, who became the first Indian Commander-in-Chief on January 15, 1949 (now celebrated as Army Day), was also the first GOC-in-C of Eastern Command for a short spell after Independence. He was later conferred the rank of a Field Marshal in 1996. Similarly, Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw, MC, who led the Indian Army to victory in 1971 and became India's first Field Marshal in 1975, was yet another of its illustrious Army Commanders.

Besides, the current Chief of the Army Staff, General Bikram Singh  was the Eastern Army Commander, others who preceded him included Generals PP Kumaramanglam, AS Vaidya, VN Sharma and VK Singh.

Paving the Way Onwards

In addition to the complex challenges of national security and land borders with five neighbouring countries, and CI operations in many north-eastern states, Eastern Command will continue to play an important role in the years ahead. It therefore, continues to engage in the dynamic process of preparing to face the future challenges. The external and internal threats demand a high degree of operational readiness and the ability to deliver a decisive response from the formations and units serving under Eastern Command. With a strong dissuasive posture and a restrained minimum force in conjunction with other security forces and the civil administration, the military might of Eastern Command is competent to quell any threats from within.

To forge ahead to effectively face all challenges, the Eastern Command relies on the well-deliberated modernisation programme of the Indian Army that has been further set into motion by the current Army Chief GenBikram Singh. Troops deployed in the north-eastern states are in the process of being equipped with a series of modern weapon systems and force multipliers to enhance their surveillance reach, night fighting capabilities and the quality of fire power.

Eastern Command continues to aspire to contribute its share of effort to nation building activities. Providing aid to civil authority in times of distress, winning the hearts and mind of people by helping them to help themselves, greening of the cantonments and educating troops to protect the ecologically fragile north-eastern region remains one of its key result areas.

Eastern Command is justifiably proud of its glorious past, confident of managing the complex challenges of today with professional élan and looks forward with hope to a promising future. Its glory, like that of the rising sun, shall never diminish. The future will surely witness the high noon of soldiering of the indefatigable 'India's warriors in the east'.