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Indian Army
Valour Above All - January 2011

Indian Army 2011

By Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

Mhow: A group of roughly 25 young officers, including a handful of foreign ones from the friendly neighbourhood countries, look intently at the JCO explaining the nuances of a medium machine gun in staccato English. Grammar and pronunciation is not important, information is. And the JCO, who is the instructor, enjoys the respect and authority due to a teacher. The classroom is an open shed surrounded by rolling grounds and groves of acacia trees. Dappling sunlight on the cold winter morning and the occasional cry of birds hark back to the era of Gurukuls. Though it is a class in weapon training, the setting lends it the charm of old world romance.

As the FORCE team strolled inside the precincts of the Infantry School, throw-backs to the past were as frequent as spanking laboratories, computerised teaching aids and simulators. The course itself, YOs (Young Officers), as it is called, encapsulates both old and new. By way of explanation, officer in charge of the weapons training wing, Col Vinod Bajiya says, “Modernisation and technology are tools to help the soldier. They are meaningless if the soldier is not sound. Hence, our training has to address this human resource in the best possible way.” And so the greenhorn officers are transformed into assured soldiers, confident of themselves and the weapon they hold.

The YOs course at the Infantry School, which trains nearly 10,000 students in a year, is divided into two parts, weapons training and tactics. While the former is purely instructional, the latter incorporates classroom discussions, with student-officers being encouraged to question. “Our biggest challenge,” says the officiating commandant, Maj. Gen. Sanjay Laumas VSM, “is to get all the student-officers on the same grid. Since, they come after only a year’s service in the army, they bring different experiences and perceptions with them. Some may have seen counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir while others may have experienced only the peace-time role in a place like, say, Jaipur.”

Keeping abreast of the evolving role of the Indian Army and the changing expectations from its officers, the YOs course has, over the years, incorporated several news subjects in its syllabi including a capsule on human rights and winning the hearts and minds of the civil population. “Course revision is a dynamic process,” says Maj. Gen. Laumas. While the administrative block of the school looks like any other building, once you step out of the office and onto the training block, the gentle quaintness of the place hits you in the face.

In many ways, the Infantry School is reflective of its settings. Though only 22km from Indore, an unremarkable industrial town, Mhow lives in the time and space of its own. It is both, quaint and quirky, old and modern, comfortably balancing the colonial heritage with new-age technologies. There is no contradiction in crumbling churches, some dating back to 1870s, sitting alongside spanking, new institutions devoted to the art and science of war.

And there lies the charm of Mhow, which is today home to three of the Indian Army’s prestigious institutions of learning: the Army War College (formerly the College of Combat), the Military College of Telecommunication and Engineering (MCTE) and of course, the Infantry School. Perhaps, because the town is dedicated to learning at all levels, the cantonment and the civilian areas in Mhow converge happily; no fence or barbed wire separate one from the other. One of the reasons for this could be the fact that the civilian population of Mhow grew essentially out of the needs of the army and even today their interdependence is obvious. Though the history of Mhow probably predates the military’s presence — some believe that the town was originally a village called Mohu and not an acronym for Military Headquarters of War — the fact is, everything about it has to do with the military, if not the Indian Army, then the British Indian Army.

Far removed from the territorial borders and astride the plateau which joins up with the Deccan plateau, Mhow has been an ideal location not only for the training of the troops but for rest and recuperation as well. Though it was chilly when the FORCE team visited Mhow in December, the weather usually remains salubrious round the year, hence causing little stress or distraction to those who come here to further their careers in the Indian Army.

Yet, there is something else also, in quiet of its landscape and in the sharpness of its air which makes Mhow a distinctively soldier’s town. Perhaps, it is the history which screams out from the dilapidated structures, or the carefully cultivated aura by the army through roadside hoardings, memorials and captured enemy equipment placed outside various buildings, that one is suffused with the feeling of heroism and sacrifice. Whether driving down the tree-lined avenue of the Army War College or walking alongside the memorial dedicated to the Indian soldier, the intangible sense of honour and courage hangs in the air. Perhaps, it is only appropriate. After all, soldiering is not only about firing a mean shot. It goes far beyond that... far beyond sloganeering and breast-beating. It is about faith in oneself, personal courage and honour.

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