Western Command Celebrates Platinum Jubilee
It shares its Raising with India becoming an Independent nation
On Thursday September 15 2022, the Indian Army's Western Command will complete 75 years of existence, and celebrate its well-earned Platinum Jubilee. It shares its Raising with India shedding its colonial shackles and becoming an Independent nation.
Prior to the formal raising of Western Command, two ad hoc formations were raised on account of the turmoil that accompanied India's Independence, in the form of Partition of India, and the formation of a new country, Pakistan.
Although Muslim League leaders like Mohammad Ali Jinnah and others were blamed for the division of India into two nations, it was actually the wily British who manipulated this sordid act to ensure that they get a subservient nation that could be manipulated as part of their strategy of 'The Great Game' to keep the Soviet Union away from the warm waters of the Arabian Sea.
Although outwardly, the United States professed to oppose the Partition of India, they played along with the British! However, that story is not relevant to the subject under discussion, but it needed to be stated so that the readers understand the real reason why the partition took place.
On July 18 1947, the Indian Independence Act 1947 of the British Parliament stipulated that British rule in India would come to an end just one month later, on August 15 1947. The Act also stipulated the partition of the Presidencies and Provinces of British India into two new sovereign dominions: India and Pakistan.
On account of bringing forward the date of Independence by nearly a year, and the drawing of the Radcliffe Line, without sufficient thought and consultations, there was chaos and turmoil. This could have been avoided, had the British stuck to the original plan of Independence from June 1948.
However, it resulted in the greatest mass movement of refugees the world had witnessed. Not to speak of the lakhs of lives lost; the large-scale riots and arson and unbridled violence in terms of murders, rapes, kidnappings, looting and uprooting of settled populations by force.
The Radcliffe Line
The Radcliffe Line was the boundary demarcated between India and Pakistan. While there were problems across the entire boundary, it was the Indian and Pakistani portions of the Punjab Province, and Bengal Presidency of British India, where massive wrongs were committed.
The boundary was named after its architect Cyril Radcliffe, a lawyer with no knowledge of cartography. He had never visited India and had no clue about the culture and demographic mix of the two areas.
As the joint chairman of the two boundary commissions for the two provinces, he was responsible to equitably divide 175,000 square miles (450,000 km2) of territory between 88 million people. The Punjab's population distribution was such that there was no line that could neatly divide Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. Likewise, no line could appease the two major political parties.
Moreover, any division based on religious communities was sure to entail "cutting through road and rail communications, irrigation schemes, electric power systems and even individual landholdings."
The demarcation line was published on August 17 1947, two days after Independence Day on August 15 1947. The Partition of British India, resulted in the western side of the India-Pakistan Border as part of India, while forming the India-East Pakistan Border in the east, which is now the Bangladesh-India Border.
The Western Command
The Western Command was actually a successor to two ad hoc formations. The Punjab Boundary Force was raised on August 1, 1947, with its headquarters at Lahore and two subordinate headquarters, viz. the Indian Component commanded by Brig KS Thimayya, with 15 units under it; and the Pakistani Component commanded by Brig Ayub Khan, with 10 units under it.
However, this formation had to be wound up within one month due to the overwhelming number of refugees on both sides and the prevailing chaos and large-scale violence. A somewhat larger formation, named Delhi and East Punjab Command was raised on September 15, 1947, headed by Lt Gen Dudley Russel, which was the precursor of Western Command.
When Pakistani Raiders under the command of Pakistani officers launched attacks from all sides on the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir and the Maharaja of the State acceded to India, India intervened and commenced flying in its forces to Srinagar.
At this time, Britain issued instructions that no British officers would take part in the operations in J&K. Following this, Lt Gen Russel handed over command to Lt Gen KM Cariappa, OBE (later the first Indian Commander-in-Chief of India and thereafter, after his retirement a Field Marshal)
While at Delhi, the newly raised Western Command was given temporary office accommodation in the World War II temporary hutments. The Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten gave the Command the use of the Viceregal train as a mobile headquarters. The latter proved very useful in monitoring and controlling the movements of refugees from/to the newly created Pakistan.
Prior to Independence, the British Indian Army had only three command headquarters: Northern at Rawalpindi, Eastern at Lucknow and Southern at Poona (now Pune). With a new border interposed, it fell on Western Command to assume control over the entire border with West Pakistan except the Southern portion of Rajasthan that was allocated to Southern Command. This continued during all wars fought with China and Pakistan, including the Himachal-China and the Ladakh-China borders.
In 1972, Northern Command was carved out from Western Command by allocating the whole of J&K to it. In 2005, on the raising of the South Western Command, the area of North Rajasthan was also carved out.
In lieu, the national boundary from Jammu to northern Punjab was allocated to Western Command. The Command HQ moved to Shimla in 1954. During all the wars fought by it, while the large portion of its staff remained at Shimla, an Advance Headquarters moved forward to operational locations with selected staff and communications.
In 1955, Headquarters Western Command was relocated at the newly organised Chandimandir Military Station, after a massive fire in the officer's mess complex at Shimla. This now is the permanent location of Headquarters Western Command.
The Dharma Chakra
The Dharma Chakra of our National Flag was adopted as the insignia of Western Command. Interpreting the Wheel, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, Former President and the Supreme Commander of India had given two quotes as his interpretations of the insignia:
"Truth and virtue ought to be the controlling principles of all those who work under the flag. The wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnation and life in movement."
He also said: "May the pursuit of excellence – beyond excellence go on forever to the greater glory of the Western Command and our great nation. Jai Hind."
The achievements of Western Command in the last 75 years bear testament to the above two quotes!
After the successful conclusion of the 1971 War with Pakistan, the entire J&K and areas comprising the line of communications from Punjab to Jammu were carved out from Western Command, and a new Northern Command was created.
Later, in 2005, when for operational reasons, the South Western Command was created, portions of Northern Rajasthan were detached from Western Command, but the entire area from Pathankot to Jammu was allocated to Western Command. Despite all these changes in the area of operations, Western Command continues to be responsible for the most important border areas of the country.
It will not be out of place to mention that out of 39 Western Army Commanders till date, 13 were elevated as Chiefs of Army Staff since the raising of the Command.
The Command has been awarded 39 Battle Honours and six Theatre Honours and the Command is proud of hundreds of Gallantry Awards won by the Officers, JCO's and Jawans of Western Command in various operations during the last 75 years.
On this important landmark of completing 75 years in the service of the Nation, I convey my greetings, best wishes and many more victories in future to Western Command. I had the honour to command this militarily potent Command just prior to the turn of the Century, as I had assumed command in Oct 1999 before moving to take over the prestigious appointment of Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) in end September 2000 for the last year of my active service in the formidable Indian Army.
In its 75 years of existence, Western Command has been the key Command in war and peace; it has brought honour and victories to both the Nation and the Indian Army. I have no doubt that the Command will continue its good work in the years to come.
Lt General Vijay Oberoi (Retd) was former Vice Chief of the Army.