Infantry is the ultimate story of grit, guts and glory, the Prima Donna in all military campaigns since inception of warfare and in our environment it can achieve any task that is given to it. Incontrovertibly, Infantry is the predominant arm and nothing on land is achievable without the ‘Boots on Ground’. The Indian Infantry has over 26 Regiments, with each regiment comprising of numerous battalions. Every battalion has its own ethos and composition, with some battalions having mixed composition and some based on fixed class composition. Each regiment has its own battle cry and motto but all are ready to kill the enemy to defend the sovereignty of the nation and all are trained to uphold the spirit of ‘Naam-Namak-Nishan’. It has thus rightly been said that, ‘There are only two kinds of people that understand Infantry, Infantryman and the enemy. Everyone else has a second opinion.’
The Infantryman is the embodiment of fighting spirit and courage under fire and is the cutting edge of battle and with unblemished loyalty, he is the custodian of Peace. Little wonder then, that of 28 Chiefs, 17 have been from Infantry. I was commissioned into 4 KUMAON and stayed in the battalion for twenty years before moving out to command Rashtriya Rifles and 11 KUMAON. 4 KUMAON has a very rich heritage and a long cherished history and was one of the first battalions to be Indianised pre- Independence and that in just ten years of my commissioning the battalion was celebrating its bicentenary. When I joined the battalion, there were troops that had fought the 1965 war, 1971 war and were in Gaza prior to the 1962 war. There were officers, JCOs and jawans who had been awarded Vir Chakras, Sena Medals and numerous Mention in Despatches. The battalion was inducted in the first wave to Srinagar in 1947 with the legendary Major Somnath Sharma who was awarded the first PVC (Posthumously), for the defence of the Srinagar airfield and what with two consecutive COAS’s from the battalion, one really had to be up and about, failing which Quarter Guard trips at night were the order of the day.
To uphold the honour of the battalion which had produced two Chiefs, Gen. Shrinagesh and Gen. Thimayya was indeed a tall order. The JCOs and NCOs were entrusted to teach the weaponry to Young Officers, who were groomed by the senior subalterns. Officers’ Mess was full of silver and one had to memorise the history of every silver piece and be a member of monthly stock taking board to ensure no silver piece was missing.
Those were the days when it was difficult to ask for leave. If one did a good job, training or winning a professional competition, a break by the magnanimous 2IC could be granted, with a rider to read a recommended book and to submit book review on arrival. As soon as one left the 2ICs office, the PRI clerk either handed over a book or gave a small letter with the name of the book to be procured for the library and book review for the same to be submitted immediately on rejoining. Along with leave certificate came the Mess Bill to be cleared before departure which necessitated running to the battalion Sethji with a cheque book and in return for the post dated cheque, he gave cash to clear the mess bill and some pocket money for the journey. It was this grooming that forced us to be financially prudent at the young age of 21. To be professionally competent, we had to live up to the high ideals of the battalion and the regiment’s motto —‘Valour Triumphs’. This meant that one had to be a step ahead of the men you commanded in terms of physical fitness, sports and military knowledge. Now, when I look back on those days, I realise that this training was what made us officers deserving of respect—a respect we get both inside and outside the regiment, even after retirement.
I retired as DG Infantry, a post once occupied by IC-1, an officer from the Battalion, Maj Gen K. Bhagwati Singh, whose son later became the Chief of the Naval Staff. If that was not enough, the last day in office as DG Infantry it was indeed touching as it ended with wreath laying for the cremation of Maj Gen Kale, Ex DG Infantry, whose son was my class mate in school. I consider it my good fortune that as luck would have it, the last official residence I occupied in Lutyens Delhi was opposite the school that I had started my schooling from ‘The Air Force Bal Bharati School,’Lodi Road. I really could not have asked for more!
Every regiment, every battalion of the Infantry has unique traditions and all for a reason—to motivate the soldier to take pride in his unit and be willing to sacrifice his life should the need arise, with unflinching loyalty and with full faith in the leadership. That is why, the unit is not just a group of men but a family. The camaraderie and the strong bonds of yesteryears are reflected when the units celebrate their raising days, and such occasions are really a treat to witness.
These ruthless and resilient ‘Green Berets’, as the Infantry is referred to, are deployed opposite our adversaries to ensure peace and tranquility along the borders. There are, as we know, four kinds of challenges that as a country we face. Firstly, the conventional war on one front/two front. Secondly, a high intensity, limited/ localised confrontation under a nuclear shadow. Thirdly, internal threat, supported by our adversaries or otherwise and fourthly, out of area contingencies.
Besides the daily patrolling, the acid test of an Infantry man is to stay alert and to stay alive. Whatever be the threat, as Infantrymen we must train ourselves for the worst case scenario and be able to adapt to whatever situation comes our way. It is important to be correctly equipped to fight modern wars, but it is equally important to achieve high levels of training efficiency on each and every piece of equipment and on the weapons authorised. This training must be so thorough that the man becomes inseparable from his weapon and equipment, else the equipment issued will only be a weight being carried.
Modern wars require the ability to fight both by day and by night and in all weather and in all terrain conditions. To enable the infantryman to do his task, he needs communication tools for short range communication, GPS to accurately determine his location and that of the enemy, a reliable small arms system, night vision devices, anti tank launchers, computers and battle awareness devices, radars, UAVs etc. It is important that the soldier is provided with such systems and also that he is trained to a very high level of proficiency in their use, otherwise sophisticated equipment will be of little use in winning battles. Here, we can give the analogy of the ubiquitous mobile phone. If we have a mobile phone which has many features and applications, but we are adept at using the phone only for talking with another person, then the same job can be done with a low end mobile, instead of upper end equipment. That is why, when the new equipment to the infantry will shortly be introduced, in terms of the new assault rifle, carbine, LMG, fire and forget missiles, new helmets and bullet proof jackets (BPJs) and good communication and Surveillance devices, the infantryman will be a force to reckon with, but only if he has the skill sets to exploit to the full, the equipment made available to him.
The Infantryman in our context is required to operate in multiple terrain conditions to include high altitudes and extremely hazardous mountainous terrain. Here, we must remember that some fundamentals, irrespective of the modernisation which will sharpen and enhance his skills, cannot be ignored. These fundamentals are that the Infantry soldier must be physically fit and fully acclimatised to fight in high altitudes. He must be a sharp shooter, be frugal in his habits, be able to move with ease during day and night, he must know the terrain like the back of his palm and be able to rough it out with his colleagues. He must also be a master of the modern gadgetry and learn to conserve batteries and be able to dig down deep and withstand extreme shelling for at least seven days. Such mental conditioning will ensure credible deterrence of our nation vis a vis our adversaries which are armed to the teeth. Aggressive defence with ability to dominate the area of interest and operate in small teams and remain extremely self motivated and connected under most adverse circumstances is the need of the hour.
We have heard on numerous occasions of ‘Chinese response with Chinese characteristics’. Similarly, we must exploit the Indian characteristics of our strong regimental traditions of ‘Izzat’ and allot areas of responsibilities (AOR) based on ‘sons of soil’ concept, exploiting the inherent strength of our soldiers and not restrict ourselves to tenure based postings. Imagine a scenario where Ladakh Scouts, JAK RIF and Dogras are all allotted an AOR in J&K. Similarly, Arunachal Scouts, Sikkim Scouts, Dogra Scouts, Kumaon Scouts, Garhwal Scouts, all with their affiliated regiments, with proper checks and balances are deployed along the LAC. Similarly, other regiments, can be deployed, based on their inherent strength, to be guardians of the LOC. This could perhaps lead to better border management and reduction of transgressions taking the shape of an ugly face off and a reduction in cease fire violations along the LOC or IB.
Innovativeness by the hierarchy to prevent complacency setting in would have to be factored in such deployments. The welfare of troops and of the officers would need addressing, as most have got used to the present arrangement and change is resisted. The local population both men and women staying along the LAC/LOC/IB may be co-opted by enrolling them as TA personnel with its characteristics of embodiment and disembodiment and not on permanent basis Additional source of income in difficult areas and being Sons of Soil, they will act as eyes and ears and would have strong reasons to defend their area. With good means of communication and user friendly devices available, these local TA personnel, properly monitored, will become ‘force multipliers’. The Home and Hearth Battalions and the Ecological Battalions are doing a wonderful job; national security and not job security should drive these organisations. Incorporation of ITBP and allotting specific AOR to each service and no ambiguity in command and control will ease the domination of LAC, without compromising the national security.Similar arrangements with BSF will pay dividends along the LOC and with CRPF, local state police and RR for internal security to tackle insurgency. Clear command and control is vital for national security.
The need of the hour is to perform at optimal levels within the budget constraints which hopefully will rise to minimum 2% of GDP if not 3%. As a nation, we must secure the cyber domain, harness space potential, be a net security provider in the Indian Ocean and possess strategic weapons to achieve credible deterrence. With Infantry displaying no complacency on ground and with Special Forces ready to strike hard, it is adequate to deter the evil intentions of our adversaries. Stand firm, strike hard and be firm and fair — this attitude alone will make Infantry deadlier than before and a force to reckon with. Every leader is a potent combination of strategy and character. Difficult times need different strategies, especially when our adversaries are rampantly innovative.
In War or Peace or in ‘neither war nor peace,’ it is the Infantry that can quickly be mobilised to move to the trouble spot within the country or on UN Missions or in “Out of Area Contingency,” to stabilise the situation, being versatile and adaptable. All things being equal, a well equipped Infantry is a deterrence in today’s volatile environment. This great potential is not just dependent on fibre optics, but victory is largely due to it being well trained, well oiled, self motivated soldiers who prefer to fight their battles their way always without questioning and keeping the national interest uppermost in their mind. Boots on ground will always be a primary requirement in the Indian context be it at Siachen, Chumar, Depsang, Doklam, Kargil etc.
The French motto is ‘Artillery Conquers, Infantry Occupies’; Fuller said, ‘Tanks Conquer, Infantry Holds’; for Liddell Hart, Infantry was the ‘Queen of the Battle’. Whatever be it, Infantry is the cutting edge of battle and must act decisively. May the India Infantryman always display patience under adversity, courage under fire and modesty in victory.
Lt Gen. Sanjay Kulkarni, PVSM, AVSM, SC, SM, VSM, was commissioned into 4 KUMAON in 1977. He was awarded the Shaurya Chakra in 1984, while serving in Operation Meghdoot and was the first to fly the Indian flag at Bilafond La. An alumnus of National Institute of Defence Studies, Japan and of National Defence College, New Delhi, he retired as Director General, Infantry.