16-19 December are dates which need to be embossed in Gold to solemnize the peace-oriented might of our Armed Forces.
New Delhi: Sunday last, Covid did not deter Europe from commemorating the 77th anniversary of D-Day, the 1944 landing of Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy in France, which turned the tide in the Second World War. It was a subdued celebration; with Covid protocol—but remembrance of national pride was not marred. The British component of these forces had a good sprinkling of Indian soldiers. The heroics of Indian pilots of Royal Indian Air Force on D-Day have been immortalised in a memorial in an air force base in Kent, UK. The Indian combatants of the two World Wars have remained largely unsung, though even Winston Churchill, his pathological apathy for India notwithstanding, had feted their “unsurpassed bravery”. Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck, the last British chief of the Indian Army, recorded that the British could not have won the wars but for the bravery of the Indian troops. The arch at New Delhi’s India Gate lists some of these brave men. After NDA came to power a memorial has been built near India Gate which commemorates all those who died in the service of India till date.
Europe and the United States observe D-Day (6 June), VE Day (8 May: the day Germany surrendered in 1945) and even Armistice Day (11 November: the day in 1918 when Allies signed armistice at Versailles, ending the First World War). These days are observed with pride. India liberated Goa from the Portuguese, ending 451 years of European rule, through joint Army-Air Force-Naval action on 19 December 1961. Portugal was a NATO power and India took a calculated risk—the UN debates which preceded the Liberation had seen the West stand with Turkey, Pakistan in supporting Portugal. US delegate Adlai Stevenson had been stern: but as in 1971,wheh the presence of the US 7th Fleet in Indian Ocean could not deter the liberation of Bangladesh (16 December) India stood firm and achieved its target. The 60th anniversary of Goa and 50th anniversary of Bangladesh fall in coming December—it may be appropriate to hold nation-wide commemoration as a run-up to India’s 75th year of Independence, in 2022.
With the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff and the setting up of the Department of Military Affairs, separate from the original Ministry of Defence, some changes have been brought about in India’s military outlook. The colonial era marching tunes and some archaic European mess codes have been slowly eased out, heralding “Indianisation”. The “Make in India” programme in defence production has added to this sheen—India is now planning its own production lines in fighter jets, submarines, artillery and tanks—hitherto sourced primarily through imports (which gave grist to Jaguar, HDW and Bofors allegations).
India had inherited a stable defence production base from the British and in the late 1960s and 1970s achieved self-sufficiency in small arms and developed its own artillery and mechanised cavalry ,but in the past few decades a slump occurred and India became the world’s largest importer of armaments. Slack production lines at home combined with possibly the lucre of commission-earnings by decision makers contributed to the decline. Correctives are being put in place now, though the pace of “Indianisation” is following what economists mock as “Hindu rate of growth”.
India’s triumph in 1961 and again 1971 has to be viewed in the backdrop of the defeat of Porus in the hands of Greek invader Alexander in 326 BC—thereafter India was subjected to incessant invasions. Indian rulers did not have expansionist plans beyond the subcontinent. Today India has earned a name for itself in UN Peace Keeping operations, which take Indian troops to troubled spots across the globe under the UN flag. Sri Krishna’s Gita sermon “paritranaye sadhunam; vinashay ch dushkritam” (defend the good and destroy evil), which is incorporated in Indian Ordnance Factories’ motto, has been the guiding beacon of India’s defence policy. In 1971, history was created when India withdrew its troops soon after liberating Bangladesh. US troops are even today stationed in Germany, Japan, though not as occupation forces. Erstwhile USSR occupied East Europe between 1945-90. UK, France had a finger in the German pie for the same period. India not only withdrew troops but accorded protection and honour to 90,000 Pakistani personnel who surrendered with the fall of East Pakistan.
On D-Day, 1944, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt had lauded the Allied troops: “They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate”. In Goa 1961 and Bangladesh 1971, India soldiers did exactly that. A grand commemoration of these anniversaries between 16-19 December may be an appropriate way to herald the 75th anniversary of India that is Bharat in 2022.