Infantry Day

Source: By Man Aman Singh Chhina: The Indian Express

Army establishments across the country are on 27 October 2020 marking ‘Infantry Day’ and paying homage to the thousands of infantry soldiers who have laid down their lives in the line of duty. Here is a look at why the day is celebrated as such and what was the landmark event which caused 27 October to be known as Infantry Day.

It was on this day that first Indian infantry soldiers took part in an action to defend Indian territory from external aggression. On 26 October 1947 the then Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Hari Singh, signed the instrument of accession, making his state a part of Indian dominion, and thus paving the day for Indian troops to be deployed in the state to fight against Pakistani invaders.

On 22 October, Pakistan had poured in thousands of regular soldiers in the grab of tribals as well as volunteers from the tribal areas of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) into J&K with the aim of forcibly occupying the state and integrating it into Pakistan. The initial resistance to the invaders was given by the state forces of J&K. On October 26, after the Maharaja signed the instrument of accession the way was paved for India to send in its troops and ward off the Pakistani invaders on October 27.

Which troops were sent to J&K on 27 October?

The first Indian battalion which was rushed to Srinagar by air was 1 Sikh, commanded by Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai. The battalion was at the time stationed in Gurgaon but out of its four companies two were deployed in aid to civil authorities role away from Gurgaon to tackle the post Independence communal riots. The battalion was intimated late at night on October 26 to move to Palam airport in New Delhi for being airlifted to Srinagar airfield the next morning. Since 1 Sikh had only two companies available with it, one battery of 13 Field Regiment, an artillery regiment, was provided to it in infantry role. All these troops assembled at Palam airport in the early hours of 27 October.

How was the arrangement of despatching troops done at short notice?

An emergency meeting of the Western Army Commander had been held on 26 October night after a go-ahead had been received from the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to rush troops to Srinagar as the Pakistani invaders were on their way to the summer capital of J&K.

According to Lt Gen SK Sinha, former Governor of J&K and Assam, who was then a Major involved in making arrangements for sending the troops, It was decided to send a brigade-level force at first but since the road link from Pathankot to Srinagar was not in good shape and time consuming, it was decided to rush in troops by air in Dakota aircraft requisitioned for the purpose. Another brigade would then follow by road.

How was the airlift done on 27 October?

Seven Dakota aircraft were assembled at Palam airport on the morning of 27 October with each scheduled to do two sorties each to airlift the troops of 1 Sikh and their equipment. Out of these seven Dakotas, only two were from the Indian Air Force while the rest five were from private airlines including that of Biju Patnaik who would go on to become the Chief Minister of Orissa (now Odisha).

As ordered, Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai had reached Palam with his troops well in time and at around 3 am on October 27 he was briefed about the task his unit would be performing by Major S K Sinha who recalls that Rai was absolutely cool and calm about the orders that he was given and that this struck to him as a hallmark of a confident commander. Shortly after sunrise, the Dakotas took to air carrying first Indian infantry soldiers and a battery of artillery troops into J&K where they would make history by saving the Srinagar airfield from the Pakistani invaders.

What was the importance of the induction of troops on 27 October?

Had 1 Sikh not been airlifted into Srinagar on time the airfield would have fallen into the hands of Pakistani invaders. With the road link extremely tenuous, this would have meant that getting Indian troops into Srinagar would have been a time-consuming task and would have given ample opportunity to Pakistan to reinforce its invaders through air and thus occupying the Valley.

Appreciating the gravity of the situation, Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai first made sure that the Srinagar airfield was secured and then rushed towards Baramulla to take on the invaders and stop them in their tracks. He was able to delay the advance of the invaders towards Srinagar and the extra time that he bought helped in sending more reinforcements to Srinagar by air.

However, the gallant Commanding Officer of 1 Sikh laid down his life near Baramulla while taking on the invaders. He was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for his bravery.