I was posted to the newly designated Mechanised Infantry Regimental Centre (MIRC) in Sep 1980. The Centre had already come into being as a fledgling Training Centre in April 1979, just a year previous, trying to find its mobile ‘feet’. Initially, the 12 Infantry Battalions that formed its core, were technically and tactically trained by the Armoured Corps Centre & School, but for all other purposes were actually administered, organised, and given infantry training by their Parent Regimental Centres. This was not conducive to peace-time training, nor fulfilled the visualisation for an integrated mobile battle. Too many Centres were involved for this concept to succeed. It was therefore decided to consolidate, organise, and imbibe the Technical and Tactical Philosophy for mechanised training through a Centre that would coordinate, impart training, and administer these 12 Infantry Battalions. It would also have to plan for the future expansion of the Regiment. The Mechanised Infantry Centre thus came into being on 02 April 1979.
Gen K Sundarji, PVSM then GOC 33 Corps was appointed the Colonel of The Mechanised Infantry Regiment. Then Gen KV Krishna Rao, PVSM, COAS together with Gen K Sundarji, had grasped the tactical necessity of a separate Arm of Infantry that could be speedily conveyed into battle, to fight alongside Armoured Forces. This strategic/tactical philosophy was the basis for centralised training and cooperation with the Armoured Corps. How effectively this could be accomplished depended on the ‘mind-set’ of entrenched establishments to include all parent Regimental Centres.
Close support infantry were initially carried grasping the protrusions of the tank to a disembarking area from where they had to ‘follow-up’ on their feet to ‘mop-up’ the enemy overrun by armour; a time consuming and un-professional, vulnerable effort, with all the dangers that it involved. This was the mindset of infantry and armour. It required to be radically changed. The TOPAS Armoured personnel Carrier (APC), introduced in the 1960’s, and held with Infantry units was not considered suitable for implementation of this battle philosophy. It did not fulfil the immediate close cooperation required with armoured forces; it was merely an upgrade, with respect to time, and surprise. In a high intensity battle the TOPAS APC only provided speed of movement, as close as possible to armoured forces, but it lacked the protection and fighting capability that infantry required in mechanised warfare.
Modern armies had sophisticated Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICV’s) that fulfilled their aims for a mobile and nuclear battlefield, but our concept depended on economic constraints, and availability of a suitable tracked vehicles that would be the next tactical step to infantry and armour integration in our Army.
Simultaneously with this concept, there was a herculean task of raising and development of the MIRC. Planning at the highest level was initiated, to produce the BMP Russian ICV at Medak in South India. The MIRC was to concentrate on Organisation and Training for this well-armed and protected ICV. It presupposed that such an armoured vehicles required technical expertise, personal tactical skills, and a sophisticated training institution that imparted these mental and physical essentials, similar to the training in the ACC&S.
The choice of Ahmednagar was a decision by Gen Sundarji. The proximity of the MIRC to the ACC&S, a functional armoured training institution, was necessary, and would help us tide over our ‘teething’ problems of organisation, cooperation and technical skills.
Considerable Defence land was readily available in the Remount Depot on the Solapur Road. The Remount Depot was initially a training centre for the erstwhile Horse Cavalry for WW 1, and subsequently for training requirements of the 61st Cavalry. It became an ideal location for the Raising needs of the MIRC. However, it had no basic infrastructure as the Remount Depot catered for only horses and mules. Brig M K Menon, Grenadiers, was chosen as the first Commandant. Gen Sundarji personally selected him as they must have been, I discovered later, close associates in uniform. The close friendship between the two must have originated in an Officers Mess, because they were as ‘thick as thieves’ when it came to drinking. After quite a few drinks they would roll on the carpet blind-folded, playing a Game – ‘Moriarty, where are you’ – and at the sound of ‘Moriarity, here I am’, a rolled up newspaper in one hand would take a swipe at the sound from where the voice came. Good fun, to see two senior officers well intoxicated, playing games. It probably encouraged frankness in our dealings and opinions as subordinate staff.
Our first Officers Mess was established in two Store Tents with the absolute basics for ‘dining and wineing’. Hav Bajrang, from the Grenadiers, had been specially chosen by Brig Menon as the first Mess Hav. He was very efficient and ran the Mess as effectively as he could with whatever was at hand. Hav Bajrang, after his retirement, paid many visits to the Centre. He passed away in 2013. He was a tall tough Jat Rajput, fair in complexion, with the minimum educational requirements for calculating our Mess Bills. In terms of Regimental History, he was an institution in the Centre. Whatever we had in respect of Mess Property was generally a contribution from our 12 Units and also their Regimental Centres Our Officers Mess graduated thereafter to a Hutment located in the near vicinity. It had to be inaugurated by the COAS, and I was instructed by the Commandant, then Brig Tilak Raj, that it must have some semblance of a lawn, so overnight we dispatched groups of men to uproot tufts of mud and grass from the local stream beds and lay them out. It was then levelled with a Roller. It looked a well-manicured lawn by evening for the Mess function. That same building became the Library in years to come.
Brig Menon was stout, possibly 5’8” tall, a thin moustache on a dark round face. His eyes were generally bleary. He took his appointment very seriously. He was always gruff in the Office, and delegation was not his official characteristic for decision making. He had a good rapport with the Commandant ACC&S, Gen Baman Irani, who I think was his Coursemate.
I remember on one occasion, barely one month into my posting, I was quite unsympathetic with the Commandant ACC&S at a Station Headquarters Conference, on a point of disagreement for married accommodation for our officers, and vehicles, for our local administration. This was conveyed to Brig Menon even before I reached the MIRC after the Station Meeting. There followed a ‘dressing down’ where I was instructed in cold indifference never to be rude to Gen ‘Baman,’ his close friend.
I was barely a few months into my appointment, when Brig Menon’s letter of Resignation, that had been submitted months earlier, had been accepted. Gen Sundarji had tried to persuade him to take it back, but he was adamant. He had mentioned to me that he had accepted a job in civil life that he found it difficult to refuse. Brig Menon was an extremely honest man. Very industrious, hard on his subordinates, and took no nonsense, and worked day and night. He left his civil job barely a year after retirement. He mentioned to me much later that his Employer was grossly dishonest.
A WORD ABOUT SOME PERSONALITIES; GEN SUNDARJI WAS THE ‘MAN OF VISION’. WERE IT NOT FOR HIS TOWERING PRESENCE IN ARMY HEADQUARTERS THE MIRC COULD NEVER HAVE ACHIEVED THE FOUNDATION THAT WAS LAID BY ALL OF US. HE ENSURED ITS FUTURE DEVELOPMENT, AND WHILE HE WAS ALIVE HE TACTFULLY STONEWALLED ALL OPPOSITION.
Our next Commandant was Brig Tilak Raj, the Gorkha Regt. He had served in the Tactical Wing of the ACC&S as a Lt Col Instructor. He was friendly, affable in his outlook, and carried a Team of professionally interested Officers. He took his appointment very sincerely and left no stone unturned to advance the development of the MIRC. On one occasion he mentioned to me that Gen K V Krishna Rao had promised all funds necessary to establish temporary accommodation to house our recruits that numbered some six thousand who were in tents. I advised him against it as once temporary hutments were built they would encroach on our requirements of Permanent Accommodation in a KLP.
We therefore decided that all of us would remain in Tentage accommodation, and remain on the goodwill of the ACC&S, Sub-Area, and Area, for Officers accommodation, and Transport, for our daily functions. The Commandant decided on a Store Tent for his family; I was already allotted two EPIPs for my family, and the remainder a combination of EPIPs and 180 lb tents. Toilets were in 180/40 lb tents. There were no cars, motor cycles in those days, so we got around in one ton, three ton, and water trucks if we had to travel as far as the ACC&S. The Commandant had a Jeep, otherwise we had a sprinkling of transport, and hundreds of tents collected from Sub Area/Area/ Command for our Administration.
There was only one road in the Remount Depot. We developed all others by driving an APC through tall grass that enveloped the entire campus. Brig Menon and a small team were the initial landscape artists. Many more landscape artists came on the scene later, as the Centre developed. Living in tents was enjoyable despite the slush when it rained, and the numerous snakes that found their way into tents, despite the traditional snake trench.
The closeness between families developed a familiar and friendly relationship that made our working hours pleasurable and fruitful. The KLP was our most important task; and for this, we had Maj RC Sharma and Vadivelu together with Khorana the Adjutant as a Team with me, to complete it at the earliest. Plenty of adjustments and corrections were necessary, together with visits by the Commandant to Army Headquarters. There was no looking back after its acceptance. During this hectic activity we had many visits from the hierarchy in the Army.
The Commandant Brig Tilak Raj, insisted that our Office Block and Officers Mess must be imposing Buildings that generated appreciation and awe in its structure. But the E-in-C, and the MES authorities failed to realise the need for a change from authorised MES architectural Drawings. If it were not for Gen Sundarji we would have been saddled with the ‘accepted’ MES designs. The Centre Administrative Office Block, the Sundarji Officers Mess, and Avantika, are some of the buildings that did not observe Regulations of the MES. During the development of the MIRC, I had suggested to the Commandants ACC&S, and MIRC that a scheme to incorporate all the unutilised land between Darewadi and the Auto Regt Gate (Tank Museum crossing) be considered for acquisition for possibly an Officers/JCOs/OR Housing. This suggestion possibly faded into insignificance before the main task of a KLP and training areas. Another scheme that was shelved, for reasons of paucity of water, was a Floatation Tank/Artificial lake by blocking the stream at nearby Tukarwadi village. Eventually some floatation was practiced at the Mula Dam some 40 kms distant.
Some accommodation for Officers was eventually allotted by Station HQ after a year. The Commandant was given a good Bungalow on East Ridge Road (subsequently designated as MIRC Commandant Residence), and I was given a Captains House on/near Roberts Road. Despite my name appearing at the top of the Station HQ list – the good Bungalows were automatically put down as ‘MES repairs”. Nevertheless, we had a very happy tenure in that Captains House. I had to give a Certificate to Station HQ that I will not shift my Capt’s accommodation in the future, if a Colonels residence became vacant.
Our recruit strength was very high, perhaps 8000 or more and yet I cannot recall any serious outbreak of any epidemic, despite the fact that our recruits were all accommodated in 180 lb tents; Deep Trench latrines were some distance away; Langars were also make-shift in nature. Company offices were generally located in hutments existing. The present Guest Room complex of Astha, Mahima and Garima was the office complex including the Commandants Office; my Office was where the present Gym is located. All other HQ Staff offices were in the same hutment. Our Parade Ground developed well, and was one of the first Projects. Our Out-door Cinema was the personal responsibility of Maj Acharya (1 Jat), who did most of his Staff College study there, supervising the unloading of numerous truckloads of solid stone. The Quarter Guard was in the hutment near Gate No 1. Subsequently, years later, this became the Gymnasium. All these were later developed by successive Commandant’s who worked to fulfil the KLP aims, and also the future development of the Centre.
A word about some personalities; Gen Sundarji was the ‘Man of Vision’. Were it not for his towering presence in Army Headquarters the MIRC could never have achieved the foundation that was laid by all of us. He ensured its future development, and while he was alive he tactfully stonewalled all opposition. Perspective Plans at Army HQ ensured expansion. I have a feeling that, to further the expansion of the Mechanised Corps (against this opposition), he induced The Brigade of Guards Col of The Regt, Lt Gen Ashok Handu, to Mechanise all Guards Battalions. This may be an afterthought, but when I was DG Mechanised Forces, many years after the demise of Gen Sundarji, I saw the trend (possibly aim) to break-up the Mechanised Infantry Regiment. Plans were afoot at the highest level to break-up the Mechanised Infantry, sending them back to their parent Centres, and take over the MIRC complex.
During my tenure as the Deputy to Brig Tilak Raj, I had a fair amount of interaction with Mrs Sundarji that continued till my retirement and a much beyond. She was another towering personality, with an independent mind and forceful character. Perhaps she demonstrated some stern qualities with the Ladies of the Centre (quite obviously they were afraid of her), but she was a most charming lady, though difficult most of the time. She was proud, stubborn and self-willed on most occasions. I met her on several occasions later on in Service. I admire her. She still is, and always will be an excellent Regimental Lady.
The Centre Sub Maj Gurung was from Gorkhas. He had a gigantic task for discipline, and administration at the working level. He fulfilled his responsibility well. He was a boxer of Army repute and took a keen interest on training the Boxing Team. I met him many years after his retirement in Dehra Dun when we met by chance when he was training the prospective boxers of the Gorkha Centre.
My posting to an Infantry Brigade came two years after my MIRC tenure. Our Officers, without exception, were a formidable Team of professionals that worked for the future generation of Mechanised Officers. Under the stewardship, guidance, and motivation, of successive Commandants we have developed MIRC into a premier Institution. Consolidation, and all that it entails in future planning, is now our future Aim.