The Indian Army (IA, Devanāgarī: भारतीय थलसेना, Bhāratīya Thalasēnā) is the land based branch and the largest component of the Indian Armed Forces. With about 1,100,000 soldiers in active service and about 960,000 reserve troops, the Indian Army is the world’s second largest standing volunteer army. Its primary mission is to ensure the national security and defence of the Republic of India from external aggression and threats, and maintaining peace and security within its borders. It also conducts humanitarian rescue operations during natural calamities and other disturbances. The President of India serves as the Commander-in-Chief of the Army. The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), a General, is a four star commander and commands the army. There is typically never more than one serving general at any given time in the Army. Two officers have been conferred the rank of field marshal, a 5-star rank and the officer serves as the ceremonial chief.
The Indian Army came into being when India gained independence in 1947, and inherited most of the infrastructure of the British Indian Army that were located in post-partition India. It is a voluntary service and although a provision for military conscription exists in the Indian constitution, it has never been imposed. Since independence, the army has been involved in four wars with neighboring Pakistan and one with the People’s Republic of China. Other major operations undertaken by the army include Operation Vijay, Operation Meghdoot and Operation Cactus. Apart from conflicts, the army has also been an active participant in United Nations peacekeeping missions.
Indian Army provides that “The Indian Army is the land component of the Indian Armed Forces which exists to uphold the ideals of the Constitution of India.” As a major component of national power, along with the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force, the roles of the Indian Army are as follows:
- Primary: Preserve national interests and safeguard sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of India against any external threats by deterrence or by waging war.
- Secondary: Assist Government agencies to cope with ‘proxy war’ and other internal threats and provide aid to civil authority when requisitioned for the purpose.”
British Indian Army
A Military Department was created in the Supreme Government of the East India Company at Kolkata in the year 1776, having the main function to sift and record orders relating to the Army issued by various Departments of the Government of the East India Company.
With the Charter Act of 1833, the Secretariat of the Government of the East India Company was reorganized into four Departments, including a Military Department. The army in the Presidencies of Bengal, Bombay & Madras functioned as respective Presidency Army until April 1895, when the Presidency Armies were unified into a single Indian Army. For administrative convenience, it was divided into four commands at that point of time, namely Punjab (including the North West Frontier), Bengal, Madras (including Burma) and Bombay (including Sind, Quetta and Aden).
The British Indian Army was a critical force in the primacy of the British Empire in both India, as well as across the world. Besides maintaining the internal security of the British Raj, the Army fought in theaters around the world – Anglo-Burmese Wars, First and Second Anglo-Sikh Wars, First, Second and Third Anglo-Afghan Wars, First and Second Opium Wars in China, Abyssinia, Boxer Rebellion in China.
First World War
In the 20th century, the British Indian Army was a crucial adjunct to the British forces in both the World Wars.
1.3 million Indian soldiers served in World War I (1914–1918) for the Allies after the United Kingdom made vague promises of self-governance to the Indian National Congress for its support. Britain reneged on its promises after the war, following which the Indian Independence movement gained strength. 74,187 Indian troops were killed or missing in action in the war.
The “Indianisation” of the British Indian Army began with the formation of the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College at Dehradun in March 1912 with the purpose of providing education to the scions of aristocratic and well to do Indian families and to prepare selected Indian boys for admission into the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Indian officers given a King’s commission after passing out were posted to one of the eight units selected for Indianisation. Political pressure due to the slow pace of Indianisation, just 69 officers being commissioned between 1918 and 1932, led to the formation of the Indian Military Academy in 1932 and greater numbers of officers of Indian origin being commissioned.
Second World War
In World War II (1939–1945), 2.58 million Indian soldiers fought for the Allies. In 1939, British officials had no plan for expansion and training of Indian forces, which comprised about 130,000 men. (In addition there were 44,000 men in British units in India in 1939.) Their mission was internal security and defense against a possible Russian threat through Afghanistan. As the war progressed, the size and role of the Indian Army expanded dramatically, and troops were sent to battle fronts as soon as possible. The most serious problem was lack of equipment.
Indian units served in Burma, where in 1944-45 five Indian divisions were engaged along with one British and three African divisions. Even larger numbers operated in the Middle East. Some 87,000 Indian soldiers died in the war. On the opposing side, an Indian National Army was formed under Japanese control, but had little effect on the war.
Upon independence and the subsequent Partition of India in 1947, four of the ten Gurkha regiments were transferred to the British Army. The rest of the British Indian Army was divided between the newly created nations of Republic of India and Republic of Pakistan. The Punjab Boundary Force, which had been formed to help police the Punjab during the partition period, was disbanded, and Headquarters Delhi and East Punjab Command was formed to administer the area.