Serving the Nation: A Legacy of Valor and Resilience by India’s Armed Force

A Historical Perspective on the Indian Armed Forces.

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Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd) served in the Indian Army, Armoured Corps, 65 Armoured Regiment, 27 August 83- 07 April 2007. Operational experience in the Indian Army includes Sri Lanka – OP PAWAN, Nagaland and Manipur – OP HIFAZAT, and Bhalra - Bhaderwah, District Doda Jammu and Kashmir, including setting up of a counter-insurgency school – OP RAKSHAK. He regularly contributes to Defence and Security issues in the Financial Express online, Defence and Strategy, Fauji India Magazine and Salute Magazine. *Views are personal.

The British Government rejected options involving withdrawal from India for strategic reasons; they proceeded to work out the quantum of British troops that were required to keep the country under control since the Indian armed forces could no longer be trusted. At one stage, the British government seriously considered a European recruitment drive to raise the additional troops needed. They reluctantly agreed to quit India after failing to find the five British divisions Auchinleck had asked for. Had the Indian armed forces remained staunch, there is little doubt that British rule would have continued for at least another 10 to 15 years. The nationalistic feeling that had entered the heart of the Indian soldier was one of the essential factors in the British decision to grant complete independence to India and advance the date from June 1948 to August 1947. 

New Delhi Maj Gen V.K. Singh September 2007 


The Indian Armed Forces have been the Guardians of the much before India was granted independence in August 1947. Whilst the contribution of those serving in the British Indian Army and the Indian National Army is viewed from different perspectives, historical records and research indicate that loyalty of the soldiers and the mutinies in The Vellore Mutiny –1806, The Barrackpore Mutiny – 1824, The Great Indian Mutiny – 1857, The Singapore Mutiny – 1915, The Peshawar Mutiny – 1930, Mutinies And Revolts During World War II, The Air Force Mutiny – 1946, The Naval Mutiny – 1946 and The Jubbulpore Mutiny – 1946 deeply impacted the British psyche.

Partition of India

Before India’s partition into East Pakistan, India, and West Pakistan, the Indian Armed Forces had led from the front. India’s partition in 1947 caused widespread communal violence and mass migration between India and Pakistan.

 The Indian Armed Forces maintained law and order during this turbulent period. The mass migration of humanity from India to Pakistan and vice versa was marred by communal violence, leading to a genocide not witnessed after the culmination of World War II. 

Merger of Princely States

At the time of independence, more than 500 princely states in India were not officially part of the British Empire. These 500 princely states covered 48 per cent of the Pre-Independent Indian area. Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel was given the task of the integration of princely states. The Indian Independence Act of 1947 permitted princely states to join India or Pakistan or remain independent.

Post-independence, one of the first significant problems surfaced was integrating the princely states into a unified, uniformly administered India. Since the British patronised these princely states on a large scale during the 19th and 20th centuries, they were uncomfortable giving away their power and prestige. Before independence, these nations included Jodhpur, Bhopal, and Travancore; after independence, they included Junagarh, Hyderabad, and Kashmir.

The British announced shortly before independence that with the end of their rule over India, the British crown’s supremacy over the Princely States would also end. This meant that a total of 565 States would gain legal independence. The Indian Independence Act (1947) established two independent and separate dominions, India and Pakistan, and provided the princely states with three options: join India, join Pakistan, or remain independent. Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel was tasked with integrating the princely states. He and V.P. Menon devised a formula to present to the monarchs.

The Instrument of Accession was the official treaty to be signed between the governments of India and Pakistan and the candidates for accession. According to the treaty’s basic tenets, the Government of India would control only foreign affairs, defence, and communications, while the states would administer all other internal issues.

The Indian Army had a major role in the integration of those who were opposed to a United India. Goa, Hyderabad and Junagadh are a few examples of the contribution of the Indian Army without violence.

Tribal incursions and the Pakistan Army

In 1947-1948, the Indian Army was deployed to repel tribal incursions into the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, supported by elements of the Pakistan Army. The Indian Army was launched to fight the tribals backed by the Pakistan Army and perhaps at the behest of the British Military Leadership, who were heading the Indian Army and the Pakistan Army. 

Chinese aggression – 1962

The Sino-Indian War of 1962 saw Chinese forces invading Indian territories in Ladakh and the northeastern region (then referred to as NEFA). The Indian Army, ill-prepared and facing logistical challenges, suffered significant losses. The Chinese aggression in 1962 found the ill-equipped Indian Army deployed at icy heights of Ladakh and North East Frontier Agency (NEFA, now Arunachal Pradesh) in summer uniform. 

Indo-Pak conflicts

The Indo-Pak wars in 1965 and 1971 were significant military engagements between India and Pakistan. The 1965 conflict ended in a stalemate, while the 1971 war resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. The Indian Army played a crucial role in both conflicts. 

The Pakistan Army, wrongly encouraged by the outcome of the Chinese aggression, was thwarted in the conflict of 1965. The 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh in a swift operation was a spectacular campaign in modern times in which PM Indira Gandhi stood up to the US threat of its intervention by sending its 7th Fleet of the US Navy to the Bay of Bengal, negated by the presence of the Soviet Navy. 

Securing the Ceylon Government from Internal Threats

In April 1971, an Indian frigate sailed to protect Sri Lanka’s littoral from “foreign” reinforcements sent to aid the JVP, or Sri Lankan National Liberation Front, which had effectively seized control of the island. Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike told a shocked Cabinet that the insurgents planned to assassinate or kidnap her. 

An Indian Army infantry battalion was deployed, which operated in civil clothes and secured the safety of the political leadership while ensuring that war-like stores could not be ferried by air by the Pakistan Air Force and Pakistan International Airline flights, which had to refuel at Colombo before proceeding to Dhaka.

Operation PAWAN – Sri Lanka

In 1987, India sent its Peacekeeping Force to Sri Lanka as part of Operation PAWAN. The mission aimed to broker peace between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The modern Indian Armed Forces were launched into OP PAWAN in Sri Lanka, a first of its kind as an Indian Peace Keeping Force was sent to broker peace between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government. The Indian Army’s combat experience in Sri Lanka led to the units fighting three insurgencies in 1989 in Assam, Punjab and Kashmir. 

Operation Cactus – Intervention in Maldives

A group of Maldivians led by businessman Abdullah Luthufi and aided by mercenaries of a Tamil secessionist organisation from Sri Lanka, the Peoples Liberation Organisation of Tamil Elam (PLOTE), attempted to overthrow the government of the island republic of Maldives in 1988. This coup conducted by the 50 Parachute Brigade was foiled due to the intervention of the Indian Army.

Internal Threats and Counterinsurgency – India

The Indian Army has been involved in various counterinsurgency operations within India, particularly in regions like Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, and Assam. It has aimed to restore normalcy and combat militant groups in these areas. The Indian Army has fought internal threats in the North East in Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, and Assam over the years to bring normalcy to the region. 

Operation Blue Star

The Indian Army was tasked to clear out the Golden Temple at Amritsar as the terrorists had occupied the same and made it a fortified bastion to resist the will of the Government of India.

In the late eighties, Punjab, Assam and Kashmir were caught in the grip of insurgency, and the battle-hardened troops from Sri Lanka were quick to bring the situation under control in a short period of time.

Operation Vijay – Kargil Conflict

The Kargil conflict in 1999 saw infiltrations by Pakistani soldiers into Indian-controlled territory in the Kargil sector. The Indian Army launched a successful operation to evict the intruders without crossing the Line of Control (LoC). The Pakistan Army’s occupation of Kargil Heights was met with grit, and the intruders were evicted after an intense campaign without crossing the Line of Control. 

Operation Snow Leopard

The Indian army launched Operation Snow Leopard after China failed to backtrack and restore the status quo ante in eastern Ladakh. Colonel Santosh Babu was awarded Mahavir Chakra posthumously for resisting the attack of the Chinese army in the Galwan Valley in the Ladakh sector during Operation Snow Leopard. Colonel Babu was the commanding officer of the 16 Battalion, Bihar Regiment, which was deployed to the Galwan Valley for the operation. The Indian Army has been checking the PLA as it occupied disputed areas along the control line. 

Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief 

The Indian Armed Forces, in particular the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy, have been actively providing Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, be it a Tsunami, conflict in the Middle East, Afghanistan or bringing Indian and Foreign Nationals from foreign countries stuck due to shut down of international flights due to Covid. The students were evacuated from Ukraine under intense fighting in the recent Ukraine conflict. Here is a list of some notable interventions:

Natural Disasters in India

Response to Earthquakes

During significant earthquakes in various regions of India, including the Gujarat earthquake of 2001 and the Kashmir earthquake of 2005, the Indian Armed Forces have provided assistance and relief operations.

Cyclone Relief

The armed forces have provided aid and relief during cyclones, including Cyclone Phailin in Odisha in 2013 and Cyclone Fani in Odisha in 2019.

Flood Relief

The armed forces have conducted rescue and relief operations during floods in various Indian states, such as the Uttarakhand floods in 2013 and the Kerala floods in 2018.

 International Humanitarian Assistance

Tsunami Relief

In 2004, the Indian Armed Forces provided humanitarian aid and assistance to countries affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami, including Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia.

Evacuation Operations

The armed forces have evacuated Indian and disaster-affected regions. Notable examples include the 1990-1991 evacuation of Indian citizens from Kuwait during the Gulf War and the 2015 exodus of Indian and foreign nationals from war-torn Yemen.

Medical Assistance

The armed forces have deployed medical teams and provided medical aid in response to international emergencies, such as the 2015 Nepal earthquake and the COVID-19 pandemic in multiple countries.

Peacekeeping Missions

United Nations Missions: The Indian Armed Forces have participated in a number of UN peacekeeping missions around the globe. To maintain peace and stability in conflict-affected regions, Indian forces have been deployed to the Congo, Lebanon, and South Sudan, among many others.

Assistance During National Emergencies

COVID-19 response: The Indian government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was significantly aided by the armed forces. They assisted in establishing quarantine facilities, offered medical assistance, and distributed essential supplies.

Assistance in Industrial Accidents

The military assisted with industrial accidents, such as the 1984 Bhopal gas calamity and the Uttarakhand glacier catastrophe of 2021.

These are just a few instances where the Indian Armed Forces have provided humanitarian aid. They have consistently played a crucial role in responding to disasters, delivering aid, and servicing communities in India and abroad.

Gulf War (1990-1991)

During Operation Safe Homecoming: The Indian Armed Forces evacuated approximately 1.7 million Indian nationals from Kuwait and Iraq during the Gulf War. Operation Safe Homecoming is regarded as one of human history’s most important civilian evacuation operations.

Yemen Crisis (2015)

Mission Raahat: As Yemen descended into violent conflict in 2015, the Indian Armed Forces launched Operation Raahat to evacuate Indian nationals and foreign nationals from Yemen. The operation involved air, sea, and land evacuations, rescuing thousands of individuals.

Libya Crisis (2011 and 2014)

Operation Secure Return: Thousands of Indians were evacuated from Libya during the 2011 Libyan Civil War by the Indian Armed Forces. In 2014, when Libya’s situation worsened again, a second evacuation was conducted.

Lebanon conflict (2006)

During the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon in 2006, the Indian Navy launched Operation Sukoon to evacuate Indian and foreign nationals from Beirut to Cyprus.

Civil war in South Sudan (2013)

In 2013, when South Sudan was experiencing intensive fighting, the Indian Air Force conducted Operation Sankat Mochan to evacuate Indian nationals from Juba, the capital city.

Civil war in Sri Lanka (1980s and 1990s)

During the civil conflict in Sri Lanka, the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force conducted multiple operations to evacuate Indian nationals, including Operation Poomalai (1986), Operation Flowers Areca (1987), and Operation Sea Waves (1990).

Civil war in Iraq (2003)

Mission Safe Passage: Throughout the 2003 Iraq War, the Indian Navy conducted Operation Safe Passage to evacuate Indian nationals from Iraq.

Operation COVID-19

During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the Indian government conducted multiple evacuations to bring back Indian nationals who were stranded abroad. Here are some noteworthy COVID-related evacuations from March 2020:

The Indian government launched Operation COVID-19, a massive repatriation mission, to transport stranded Indian nationals from various countries back home. The operation began in March 2020 and involved both air and sea transport.

Wuhan, China. In late January and early February of 2020, before March, the Indian government conducted multiple evacuations of Indian nationals from Wuhan, the initial epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, in China. These evacuations were conducted in collaboration with the Chinese government.

Italy. As Italy became one of the worst-affected nations by COVID-19 in March 2020, the Indian government facilitated the evacuation of Indian nationals from Rome, Milan, and other Italian cities, such as Naples. Special flights were scheduled to return stranded passengers.

Iran. Given the significant number of COVID-19 cases in Iran, the Indian government evacuated Indian pilgrims and other nationals. Special flights were arranged to repatriate stranded individuals from cities such as Tehran and Qom.

Maldives. The Indian government conducted evacuations of Indian tourists and citizens from the Maldives. Indian naval ships were deployed to bring back stranded individuals from the island.

United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Indian government arranged special flights to evacuate Indian nationals from the UAE, mainly from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Stranded individuals were repatriated back to India.

Tsunami 2004

During the devastation caused by the tsunami in the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004, numerous relief efforts were conducted to assist and support the affected regions. Here are some of the most important highlights of the relief efforts:

The governments of afflicted nations, such as India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, mobilised their resources and immediately initiated relief efforts. To manage relief operations, they established emergency response mechanisms and coordination centres.

International Assistance. The international community came together to aid the affected nations. Numerous nations, international organisations, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) provided financial aid and relief supplies to the affected regions and deployed humanitarian teams.

Emergency Medical Support. Teams of physicians, nurses, and support personnel were dispatched to provide emergency medical assistance. In the afflicted areas, field hospitals were established to treat the injured and provide essential healthcare services.

Search and Rescue Operations. Search and rescue teams were dispatched to locate survivors entombed beneath debris and provide them with urgent aid. These squads included personnel with disaster response and rescue operations training.

Distribution of Relief Supplies. Aid organisations and governments coordinated the distribution of essential relief supplies to afflicted communities. These essentials included food, water, blankets, outerwear, hygiene kits, and more.

Rehabilitation and Reconstruction. The focus shifted from immediate relief efforts to long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction once they had begun. Infrastructure, schools, hospitals, and housing were rebuilt to restore normalcy and assist the affected communities in reconstructing their lives.

Psychological and Social Support. Recognising the emotional trauma suffered by survivors, counselling services and psychosocial support programmes were developed to assist individuals in coping with the loss and trauma caused by the tsunami.


The Indian Armed Forces have protected the nation’s interests and contributed to its development and stability. From pre-independence to post-independence challenges, they have played a crucial role in defending the nation’s borders, sustaining internal security, and providing humanitarian aid in times of need. 

The bravery, dedication, and resilience of the Indian Armed Forces continue to inspire and protect the nation.


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