My father used to tell me often how when he was a Gentlemen Cadet as part of the Third Regular Course in the Indian Military Academy (IMA) during Partition, all the cadets were summoned by the then Commandant, Brigadier AB Barltrop, to the ante room and asked whether they would like to remain in India or be sent to Pakistan. The time to decide was a matter of hours and young men in their teens without access to any sort of communication had to make this decision. It was broadly mandated that all Hindu and Sikh Gentleman Cadets were to remain in India and all Muslims belonging to Pakistan were to remain in Pakistan. The Muslim cadets from India were free to choose their country of residence. The Christian and Parsi cadets, too, could opt for any country.
The history of the Third Course is closely linked with Partition. They had reported to the Academy on January 20, 1947. Just down the road from IMA in Prem Nagar, there was a camp of about 10,000 Sikh and Hindu refugees from Pakistan. Soon after Independence, anti-Muslim riots began in Dehradun and the IMA suddenly found itself involved in preserving internal security. Brig Timick Lal of the Second Course, now in his nineties, clearly remembers being involved in patrolling as a cadet on foot and in Bren gun carriers, carrying out ambushes, from August to September 1947.
By October 1947, life in the IMA returned to normal. Some cadets had opted for Pakistan but were to leave only after completing their course. The British officers were making plans for their repatriation, but it seemed the Pakistani government had made representations to Gen Auchinleck regarding the safety of its cadets. There was the possibility of hostilities breaking out between the two countries, and the Pakistani authorities felt they could no longer leave them at Dehradun. Auchinleck could not deny their request.
The transfer of the officers and cadets to Pakistan remained cloaked in secrecy. As per Col Girdhari Singh, who wrote about it on the golden jubilee of the Third Course, “The cadets were watching a hockey match when Brig Barltrop entered the field from the goal end and signalled to the umpire, Maj AJ (Jim) Wilson, the Adjutant, to see him. The cadets knew all was not well. It was in the evening on October 14, 1947, when the cadets were ushered into an ante room in the Kingsley Block and told of the plan.”
It was apparently met with stunned silence. Eight hours later, after midnight, the Pakistani contingent moved out of the IMA gates with a few belongings (the rest were sent later) and drove to an air base near Saharanpur where Dakotas of the 31 Squadron of the Royal Air Force flew them to Lahore.
The parting was hurried but emotional. Some cadets had tears in their eyes, there was an exchange of gifts and promises to keep in touch. Sadly, this never materialised as the two countries would soon be at war. The departure of 67 cadets — 66 Muslims and one Christian — of the Third Course was carried out with such secrecy that the next morning the bearers were surprised to see their Gentlemen Cadets missing. Soon after, in November, Brig (later Maj Gen) Thakur Mahadeo Singh was appointed the first Indian Commandant of the Academy. Capt (later Lt Gen) SP Malhotra took over as the first Indian Adjutant of IMA.
Cadets of the Second and Third Course, who were undergoing training during Partition, were shaped by historical events in which they could not help but be immersed. They were part of the process of ‘Indianisation’ of the Army. The Third Course was the smallest batch ever to graduate from IMA. Its uniqueness is also seen in the truncated duration: it was cut short from two years to 21 months in response to the urgent military needs.
Trouble on the northern borders and a shortfall of Army officers resulted in the Indian government pushing for the Third Course to be commissioned even earlier than December 1948. A compromise date was reached and 185 cadets passed out of the IMA on September 12, 1948, with the Sword of Honour being awarded to Under Officer (later Maj Gen) Narinder Singh. The numbers would have been larger, but 67 of their coursemates had opted for Pakistan and finished training at the newly created Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) in Kakul.
To make the occasion memorable, the salute at the passing-out parade was taken by Baldev Singh, the first Defence Minister of India.
Most of the newly commissioned officers went straight into action. Those in the Infantry were sent to Kashmir. Those in the Armoured Corps saw action in Operation Polo for the liberation of Hyderabad. Moreover, while still in training, they were deployed for patrolling and suppression of violence. As cadets, they even provided escorts and guides right up to Delhi.
As regards the Second Course; 249 of them had joined the Academy on August 8, 1946. Independence was on the horizon, so they were to be the leaders of a free India and were filled with patriotic zeal.
On October 14, 1947, towards the end of their course, 45 cadets left for Pakistan. As per Lt Gen Sushil Kumar, in his book ‘Jawan to General’: “Soon after their arrival at Chaklala, they were ‘commissioned’ on October 20, 1947, and sent to their respective Regiments.” The course passed out on December 21, 1947, with 189 Indian Gentlemen Cadets being commissioned as Second Lieutenants in a sparkling passing-out parade, for the first time under the Tricolour.
Brig Barltrop had urged when he announced the partition of IMA on October 14, 1947: “Those cadets and staff who remain at the IMA have the onerous task of consolidating the conditions and traditions of the Academy, which is to serve the Dominion of India. See to it that your work, conduct and discipline are worthy of the nation of which you are privileged to serve.”
Twelve officers of the Second Course attained the rank of Lieutenant General, five became Army Commanders and one the Military Secretary. The Sword of Honour was awarded to Senior Under Officer Harbhajan Singh.
The Third Course, too, did its alma mater proud, producing 12 Lieutenant Generals, 22 Major Generals, 10 Param Vishisht Seva Medal awardees, five Maha Vir Chakra awardees (one posthumous) and a Padma Shri awardee: Maj KC Johrey, IAS. There have been two Army Commanders, Lt Gen Hridaya Kaul and Lt Gen Ranjit Singh Dyal, and two became Commandants of the IMA: Lt Gen Matthew Thomas and Lt Gen Surjit Singh Brar.
The MVC awardees included Lt Col NN Khanna of 2 Sikh, Maj (later Lt Gen) Ranjit Singh Dyal of 1 Para, Lt Col Desmond Hadye of 3 Jat, Brig (later Lt Gen) K Gauri Shankar and Brig Mohindar Lal Whig.
The cadets who left for Pakistan formed the First Course of the PMA. Gentleman Cadet No. 391 at the IMA, who became Cadet No. 1 at the PMA, Rahim Uddin Khan, rose to the rank of General and became Joint Chief of Staff. The Instructors who left also had successful careers, including Capt Tikka Khan (the butcher of Bangladesh), a platoon commander who became the Pakistan army chief.
The two courses were witness to the process of Independence. Their distinguished record, leadership qualities and high standards of valour and service have been worthy of emulation.
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