In September 1946, an interim coalition government of the Congress and the Muslim League was installed in Delhi with Jawaharlal Nehru as the vice-president of the Executive Council. India’s Independence was now round the corner. While serving in Burma during the Second World War, I heard of the Naval mutiny in Mumbai and Karachi. This led to apprehension among the British of a repeat of 1857. Thereafter, Indian National Army trials took place at Red Fort in Delhi.
As I returned to India, the Great Calcutta Killings commenced on August 16, 1947, and in a few months it spread like wild fire leading to the Partition holocaust. I was posted to Military Operations Directorate, at Army headquarters. Hitherto there had been only British officers and clerks serving in this directorate.
For the first time three Indian officers were posted to different sections of the directorate serving under senior British officers. Newly-promoted Lt. Col. (later Field Marshal) S.H.F.J. Manekshaw was assigned to perspective planning, Major (later President of Pakistan) Yahya Khan to frontier defence and I to internal security.
I was overawed seeing the imperial splendour of the massive buildings in Lutyens’ Delhi. A couple of months later, my father was posted to the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in Delhi. He was the first Indian officer to serve in the bureau, manned exclusively by British officers. Sardar Patel sent for him to be number two to Sir Norman Smith, the director of the IB.
He was required to directly report to him about all sensitive matters which could not be shared with British officers on the eve of Independence. My father was allotted accommodation at 10, Prithviraj Road. I moved to live with my parents. Sardar Patel was then living a few hundred yards away, at 1, Prithviraj Road, across the square near Claridges Hotel. Mohammed Ali Jinnah lived in 10, Aurangzeb (now A.P.J. Abdul Kalam) Road. Mahatma Gandhi was staying in Birla House at 5, Albuquerque (now Tees January) Marg and Jawaharlal Nehru at 17, York (now Motilal Nehru) Road.
Only a couple of kilometres further was the palatial Viceroy’s House (now Rashtrapati Bhavan) where the greatgrandson of Queen Victoria, Lord Mountbatten, was living. He had come to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire in India.
Destiny had brought me as a small cog in the wheel of administration to see momentous events that moulded the course of history of not only my country, but also of countries across three continents. Colonialism was to become a thing of the past. I found myself living within a couple of square miles in which great leaders were changing the course of history.
I had occasion to interact with all these great world personalities, albeit remotely. I once attended the Mahatma’s prayer meeting. After our decisive victory at the Battle of Shalateng on November 7, 1947, which I had witnessed, I had to brief Maj. Gen. Cariappa then on the staff at Army headquarters.
He took me along with him to the Harijan Colony where the apostle of non-violence was staying. It was his day of silence. After Gen. Cariappa briefed him, he wrote on a slate, “I am proud of the Indian Army. Non-violence is the weapon of the strong, not of the weak.” The next time I saw the Mahatma was from the top of officers’ hostel building when his cortège was going down Janpath with Nehru and Sardar sitting on either side of his feet. I never saw Jinnah in Delhi other than his pictures in newspapers. However, after June 3, 1947, when Partition was announced,
I saw Army officers who were going to Pakistan frequently visit his house. This explains why the Pakistan Army did not remain apolitical. I used to often see Nehru working on the first floor in his office late at night when I passed his house on my motorbike. On two different occasions I even had the privilege of going to his office in South Block.
During the historic Battle of Zoji La in Kashmir, in November 1948, I had accompanied Gen. Cariappa to his office. I was surprised at his detailed knowledge of the terrain. I later discovered that in 1913 he had spent his honeymoon at Matayan Dak bungalow across the Zoji La pass. The second occasion when I had the honour to be in Nehru’s office was when I was secretary of the Indian delegation going to the UN conference for delineation of the ceasefire line in Kashmir. He personally gave us directions.
I remotely interacted with the Sardar when I used to go jogging in Lodhi Gardens and he would be there for his morning walk. I would halt and respectfully do my pranam to him and he would respond with a faint smile. One afternoon in September 1948, I accompanied Gen. Cariappa to his house. I stayed with his PA in an adjacent room. I could see him in conversation with Gen. Carriappa.
He later told me that the Sardar enquired that if he sent the Army to Hyderabad, would he be able to defend Punjab and Kashmir in case of an attack by Pakistan without asking for reinforcement. Gen. Cariappa told me that he had replied in the affirmative. Two days later, the Army launched an offensive defeating the Nizam’s forces in a few days.
My father working directly under the Sardar told me various incidents including one when he put Qasim Razvi, the Razakar leader who had boasted of planting the green flag on the Red Fort, in his place.
My generation in our young days was mesmerised by Jawaharlal Nehru. We idolised him. After the 1962 debacle, we began to have second thoughts. The results of his disastrous Tibet and Kashmir policies were impacting India. Our admiration for the Sardar increased exponentially because of his achievements, not only as the integrator of the nation but also a great administrator having clear strategic vision for China’s aggressive intentions.
We rightly have memorials for the Father of the Nation at Birla House and at Gandhi Sadan in Delhi. There are memorials for Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, but not for the Sardar. We need to have one for him on the lines of Nehru Museum and Library in Teen Murti House.
The two privately-owned buildings, i.e. 1 and 3, Prithviraj Road, with large grounds should be acquired and developed for this purpose. The house in which the Sardar lived should be kept intact as a heritage building. The extensive grounds in the two campuses could be developed on the lines of India International Centre.