My father used to always tell me how when he was a Gentlemen Cadet as part of the Third Regular Course in the Indian Military Academy during partition all the Cadets were summoned by the then Commandant Brigadier AB Barltrop, OBE, MC to the Ante Room and were asked whether they would like to remain in India or be sent to Pakistan.
The time to decide was a matter of hours and young men in their teens without access to any sort of communications had to make this decision. Though the officers were given a choice it was broadly mandated that all Hindu and Sikh Gentleman Cadets were to remain in India and all Muslims belonging to Pakistan were to remain in Pakistan, the Muslim Cadets from India were free to choose their country of residence and the Christian and Parsi Cadets could opt for any country.
As the story goes
The history of the Third Course is closely linked with Partition. They had reported to the Academy on 20 January 1947 and were in the Academy during the division of India. Just down the road from IMA in Prem Nagar there was a camp of about 10,000 Sikh and Hindu refugees from Pakistan.
Soon after Independence, anti-Muslim riots began in Dehra Dun and the IMA suddenly found itself involved in preserving internal security. Brigadier Timick Lal of the Second Course now in his nineties clearly remembers being involved in patrolling on foot and in Bren gun carriers, carrying out ambushes, from August to September 1947 as a Cadet.
In fact, in an Address to the Academy on 30 September 1947, the Commandant had stated;” it is unusual to say the least of it, for a Military Academy to be reorganized into a formation Headquarter at short notice and for its cadets to be involved in maintenance of law and order”.
During partition all the Cadets were summoned by the then Commandant Brigadier AB Barltrop, OBE, MC to the Ante Room and were asked whether they would like to remain in India or be sent to Pakistan. The time to decide was a matter of hours and young men in their teens without access to any sort of communications had to make this decision.
By October 1947, life in the Academy returned to normal. Some cadets had opted for Pakistan but were to leave only after completing their course. The British officers were making plans for their repatriation. But it seemed that the Pakistani government had made representations to General Auchinleck regarding the safety of its cadets at the IMA. There was the possibility of hostilities breaking out between the two countries, and the Pakistani authorities felt they could no longer leave them at Dehra Dun. Auchinleck could not deny their request.
The transfer of the officers and cadets to Pakistan remained cloaked in secrecy until the last minute. As per Colonel Girdhari Singh, who wrote about the incident on the Golden Jubilee of the Third Course; ‘the cadets were watching a hockey match when Brigadier AB Barltrop, the Commandant, entered the field from the goal end and signalled to the umpire, Major AJ ) Wilson, the Adjutant to see him.
The partition and more
All the cadets knew at once that all was not well. It was in the evening on 14 October 1947, when the cadets were ushered into an ante room in the Kingsley Block and told of the plan’.
It was apparently met with stunned silence as it involved separation of course mates and colleagues. Eight hours later, after midnight, the Pakistani contingent moved out of the IMA gates in Dehra Dun with a few belongings (the rest were sent on later) and drove to an air base near Saharanpur where Dakotas of the 31 Squadron of the Royal Air Force flew them to Lahore. The move plan given out was that they were to move via Mohand Pass but the convoy moved via Timli Pass and each vehicle had an armed escort of Indian Cadets.
The parting was hurried but emotional. Some cadets had tears in their eyes at they bid farewell, there were exchange of gifts, borrowing of suitcases and promises to keep in touch. Sadly, this never materialised as the two countries would soon be at war. The departure of 67 cadets 66 Muslims and one Christian of Third Course was carried out with such secrecy that the next morning the bearers were surprised to see their Gentlemen Cadets missing.
The parting was hurried but emotional. Some cadets had tears in their eyes at they bid farewell, there were exchange of gifts, borrowing of suitcases and promises to keep in touch. Sadly, this never materialised as the two countries would soon be at war.
Soon after in November, Brigadier (later Major General) Thakur Mahadeo Singh, DSO, was appointed the first Indian Commandant of the Academy. His son Lieutenant General Aditya Singh later rose to become an Army Commander. Captain (later Lieutenant General) SP Malhotra took over as the first Indian Adjutant of the Academy.
The Second and Third Courses have a unique history and the stories told by their officers go beyond personal recollections and experiences. They are historical anecdotes.
The Second and Third Course who were undergoing training during partition were shaped by historical events in which it could not help but be immersed. They were part of the process of the ‘Indianisation’ of the Army post partition. The Third Course was the smallest batch ever to graduate from the IMA because of Partition. The uniqueness of the course is also seen in its truncated duration: it was cut short from two years to twenty-one months in response to urgent military needs of the country and a shortfall of officers in the Army.
Trouble on the northern borders and a shortfall of Army officers resulted in the Indian government pushing for the Third Course to be commissioned even earlier than December 1948. A compromise date was reached, and 185 cadets passed out of the IMA on 12 September 1948 with the sword of Honour being awarded to the Academy Under Officer (later Major General) Narinder Singh.
The numbers would have been larger, but sixty-seven of their course mates had opted for Pakistan and finished their training at the newly created Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) in Kakul. To make the occasion truly memorable, the salute at the passing out parade was taken by Sardar Baldev Singh, the first Defence Minister of India.
Back to work
Most of the newly commissioned officers went straight into action as they immediately joined battalions and regiments at the front line. Those in the Infantry were sent to Kashmir. Those in the Armoured Corps saw action in Operation Polo for the liberation of Hyderabad. Moreover, while still in training they were deployed for patrolling and suppression of violent activities.
As cadets they even provided escorts and guides right up to Delhi. Indeed, the IMA is believed to be the only military academy in the world that has used its cadets for maintaining internal security.
What no doubt stands out is the manner in which the Armed Forces carried out this most delicate task with precision and planning even in the most difficult times such as partition.
As regards Second Course; 249 of them had joined the Academy on 08 August 1946, brimming with confidence and hope. This was soon after the end of the Second World War in 1945. Independence was on the horizon so these were to be the leaders of a free India and were filled with patriotic zeal.
On October 14, 1947, towards the end of their course, 45 cadets left for Pakistan. As per Lieutenant General Sushil Kumar in his book ‘Jawan to General’; “soon after their arrival at Chakala the Pakistani Cadets were ‘commissioned’ on 20 October 1947 and sent to their respective Regiments”. Hence the course passed out on 21 December 1947 with 189 Indian Gentlemen Cadets being commissioned as Second Lieutenants during a sparkling passing out parade, for the first time under the tricolour of independent India.
Brigadier AB Barltrop had urged when he announced the partition of the IMA in a Special Order of the Day dated October 14, 1947. ‘Those cadet and staff who remain at the IMA have the onerous task of consolidating the conditions and traditions of the Academy, which is to serve the Dominion of India. See to it that your work, conduct and discipline are worthy of the nation of which you are privileged to serve’.
The commissioning of these batches of cadets, the Second and Third Regular Course IMA coincided with the division of the erstwhile centuries-old proud British Indian Army and the birth of the Indian Army of independent India. The remarkable precision and intricate movements in the drill square continued with the soldierly carriage and smart turnout of cadets at their passing out parades.
Both batches set very high standards of achievement. Twelve officers of Second Course them attaining the ranks of Lieutenant General and five Army Commanders which is exceptional, including Lieutenant General HC Dutta, Lieutenant General Bhupinder Singh, Lieutenant General GS Rawat, Lieutenant General ML Chibber, and Lieutenant General Chiman Singh while Lieutenant General RK Jasbir Singh was the Military Secretary and twenty became Major Generals and twenty-six Brigadiers. The Sword of Honour was awarded to Senior Under Officer Harbhajan Singh.
The remarkable precision and intricate movements in the drill square continued with the soldierly carriage and smart turnout of cadets at their passing out parades.
The Third Course has done its alma mater proud, producing twelve Lieutenant Generals, and twenty-two Major Generals, ten Param Vishisht Seva Medals, five Mahavir Chakras (one posthumous) and one Padma Shree; Major Krishna Chandra Johrey, IAS. There have been two Army Commanders, Lieutenant General Hridaya Kaul and Lieutenant General Ranjit Singh Dyal who was also Lieutenant Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and two Commandants of the IMA; Lieutenant General Matthew Thomas, and Lieutenant General Surjit Singh Brar.
The MVC awardees include Lieutenant Colonel NN Khanna of 2 SIKH who laid down his life while capturing ‘Raja Post in the Poonch Sector in 1965 after which his troops stated ”Raja jitta the Raja ditta”. Major (later Lieutenant General) Ranjit Singh Dyal of 1 PARA who captured the strategically important Haji Pir Pass in 1965, Lieutenant Colonel Desmond Hadye of 3 JAT who crossed the Ichogil Canal in the Lahore Sector in 1965 during the battle of Dograi.
Brigadier (later Lieutenant General K Gauri Shankar who led his brigade to capture Dera Baba Nanak in 1971 and Brigadier Mohindar Lal Whig who was commanding the Kargil Brigade in 1971 and captured Pakistani posts overlooking Kargil and attacked at an altitude of over 12,000 feet. Incidentally his son Major Mohit Whig who joined his father’s battalion 2/5 GORKHA RIFLES was killed in the Kashmir Valley in 1997.
The cadets of Third Course who left for Pakistan formed the First Course of the PMA. Gentleman Cadet No 391 at the IMA, who became Cadet No 1 at the PMA, Rahim Uddin Khan, rose to the rank of General and became Joint Chief of Staff in Pakistan from 1984 to 1987 and was also Governor of Baluchistan and Sindh. Lieutenant General Saeed Qadir became a Minister and a Senator while Captain Shakir Ullah Durrani became the Governor of Islamabad.
The Pakistani officers who were Instructors who also left also had successful careers. They included Captain Tikka Khan a Platoon Commander who became the Chief of the Pakistan Army and Major M Attiqur Rahman who was a highly respected Company Commander became the Governor of Punjab.
These two courses were witness to the complete process of independence. The distinguished record, leadership qualities and high standards of valour and service set by them have been worthy of emulation. What is more important is that as the first batches of new officers the Second and Third Courses they made significant contributions in all the appointments they held laying the traditions, values and foundation of a modern and apolitical Army.
–A version of this story appeared on www.tribuneindia.com