The Tribune - Spectrum

, May 12, 2002

Why did independent India and Pakistan retain British generals?
Review by Rajendra Nath

War and Diplomacy in Kashmir 1947-48 by C. Das Gupta. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pages 239. Rs 250.

IN 1942, the Indian National Congress passed the famous Quit India Resolution, asking the British to leave India. As India was the brightest jewel in the British Empire, the British were against the Independence Movement. However, in 1947, they had to leave India. The attitude of the British should have been clear to Indian leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Maulana Azad and Sardar Patel. They should logically have ensured that no British held any important post in India after Independence. But the British government and its Defence Staff were keen on ensuring that British officers continued to hold senior posts in the Indian armed forces after Independence. According to the book under the review, the British government's analysis concluded: "It is in our view that the Indian Government should be persuaded to accept the assistance of the necessary number of British personnel".

So the British must surely have been delighted when the independent Indian government decided to retain the British Commander-in-Chief of the Army, and the British Chiefs of Air and Naval Staff. To add to it, Lord Mountbatten was appointed the Governor General of India. He was also given the power to preside over the proceedings of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, which is normally the prerogative of the Prime Minister. In this case, Prime Minister Nehru was not allowed to preside over the proceedings of the Defence Committee. Nehru, Patel and others attended the meetings of the committee under the chairmanship of Mountbatten.


It may seem incredible, but it is true that Indian leaders lead by Pandit Nehru willingly handed over control of the security and defence of the country to the British against whom they had been struggling for independence for so many years. Surprisingly, neither the Indian leaders, nor the intellectuals or the general public objected to this handing over of the control of the country's defence forces as well as its defence policy to the British. No wonder these British officers were able to harm India's national interests in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947-48. This is the most revealing and interesting part of the book which deals with war and diplomacy in Kashmir in 1947-48.

The author asks searching questions as to why India did not carry war into Pakistan in 1947-48 as she was to do in 1965? Why was no serious effort made to clear the Pakistani forces from J&K? Why did India accept a cease-fire when she clearly had military superiority? This well-written book tackles these questions in a rational and analytical manner by referring to British records.

In the introduction, the author states that the conflict which broke out between India and Pakistan was unique in that the opposing armies of both the independent states of India and Pakistan were commanded by British generals who were in a unique position to influence the course of the military action. Yet, curiously, their role has received little attention in India, states the author with good reason. The book brings out how the Atlee Government in the UK, Mountbatten and the British generals in India and General Gracey, British C-in-C of Pakistani army, cleverly stopped India from making full use of its military strength to throw out Pakistani forces from J&K or to attack Pakistan in 1947-48.

That Pakistani forces were in no position to fight against the Indian armed forces in 1947-48 is brought out by the author who quotes records of the meeting between Mountbatten and General Gracey. "I asked him how the Pakistan armed forces stood in relation to war. How ready were they if war came between the two dominions? General Gracey shrugged his shoulders and said "Pakistan has not got a hope. The air force can hardly take to the air. The army, such as it is, quite efficient, but it is half the size of the army of India and has no proper backing. The Pakistan army would run out of ammunition very quickly indeed in the event of any large scale engagement and there were no ammunition factories of any type in Pakistan to replenish the stocks. In fact, any war between the two dominions, Pakistan would be completely defeated militarily in a fairly short time."

So the British interests in looking after Pakistan required preventing an all-out inter-dominion war and ensuring that Mountbatten projected to Indian leaders a deliberately exaggerated picture of India's military limitations, vis-a-vis Pakistan. The British C-in-C and other British senior officers followed the same pattern while discussing the matter with Indian leaders. It was a well-planned strategy that worked. The British generals and Pakistan wanted that the Indian Army should not be allowed to advance beyond the line of Uri-Poonch-Naushera in J&K. The British C-in-C of the Indian Army did not send more troops to J&K on one pretext or another, so that Indian forces could not launch a proper offensive to throw out Pakistani forces from J&K.

In order to ensure the success of their gameplan, General Busher, C-in-C Indian Army, issued a directive on July 6, 1948, to General Cariappa in J&K that no major operation should be undertaken without approval of Army HQ. The author states that "Busher also seems to have explored secret understanding with Gracey (C-in-C Pak Army)."

I invited Field Marshal Cariappa to give a talk to the cadets when I was Commandant IMA in 1980. Cariappa told me that General Busher used to pass information to General Gracey regarding the operations he intended to launch in J&K and so he used to keep secret his plans from Army HQ at New Delhi! Prime Minister Nehru suggested more than once that the Indian Army should be used to attack Pakistani bases from where the raiders were planning to attack certain targets in J&K and Pakistan but his suggestions were always overlooked due to opposition by Mountbatten and General Busher.

The book states that it was on the advice of Mountbatten that India took the case to the United Nations. The superior Indian army could not attack Pak bases or launch a bigger offensive in J&K because the British C-in-C and Mountbatten were deadly against such actions and somehow managed to persuade Indian leaders to give up such plans. Yet Indian leaders did not take any action against them or replace them with Indian generals.

This is a well-documented and thoughtfully written book that throws new light on operations in J&K in 1947-48. It should make a useful addition to any library.