He reminds us that crumbling structures can be resurrected with hard work and by sticking to principles
It’s easy to forget Paramasiva Prabhakar Kumaramangalam, India’s seventh Army Chief (1966-69), whose birth centenary was observed on Monday. A flamboyant, highly successful and articulate chief succeeded him. The years preceding his elevation are generally not talked about in the Indian Army because of the setbacks in the early 1960s.
A bruised and battered Indian Army was looking inwards after the 1962 debacle at the hands of China. Kumaramangalam’s predecessor, J.N. Chaudhuri, who played a gamechanger role in the 1948-49 battle with Pakistani invaders by deploying battle tanks in never-before-been altitudes, was obsessed with the idea of washing away the stains of loss, and was handicapped for a period after losing some senior officers. From November 1962, Gen. Chaudhuri toiled ceaselessly for about four years, even as the sagging morale of the forces, a demanding Indian establishment, and yet another barely-won war with Pakistan impeded his progress.
It was left to Gen. Kumaramangalam, the last of the King’s Commissioned Indian officers, to pick up the pieces and “fix” the Indian Army. His successor, the colourful, always full-of-life war hero S.H.F.J Manekshaw is the person that India celebrated even in an era without round-the-clock TV news, internet or even the computer.
But it is important to remember Gen. Kumaramangalam — if only to remind ourselves that crumbling structures can be resurrected with hard work, by sticking to principles, and team play.
It is impossible not to at least make a passing mention of the other two celebrated Tamil generals with who Kumaramangalam shared some similarities: the flamboyant K. Sunderji (1985-88) and the reclusive S. Padmanabhan (2000-02). Gen. Sunderji is ridiculed for almost starting yet another India-Pakistan war via Operation Brasstacks — which, with the benefit of the lessons from Kargil — could be argued as a pre-emptive strike for India. But Sunderji has often made it clear that he was merely testing out the operational preparedness of the Indian Army after having put the new defence doctrine into play. Gen. Padmanabhan, who wiped up the mess after Kargil, was again on the ‘rebuild the Army’ path, much in the mould of Gen. Kumaramangalam and Gen. Sunderji. Both Kumaramangalam and Padmanabhan were ‘gunners’.
But Kumaramangalam’s rebuilding of the Indian Army was fundamentally different. While the later-era Generals had a precedent to work with and improve upon, Kumaramangalam had only battle strategies that could be called, charitably, vintage. He visualised the need for double-flank defence/offence capabilities, and built a flexible strategy that could be adapted to changing situations. Some military strategies believe that he foresaw the East Pakistan conflict. His theories were put to the test in the 1971 Bangladesh war.
Gen. Kumaramangalam could have had it easy: his zamindar family was one of the “names” in Tamil Nadu; his father, P. Subbarayan (1889-1962) rose to become Chief Minister of the erstwhile Madras Presidency (1926-1930) and later, a union minister in the Nehru Ministry; and his brother, S. Mohan Kumaramangalam (1916-1973), was a seasoned politician who was a union minister in the government led by Indira Gandhi.
He chose a different path. He was commissioned into the Indian Army on August 31, 1933. As he rose in the hierarchy, he headed the Artillery School in Deolali, and the DSSC, Wellington, apart from commanding an independent para brigade, and later, an Infantry Division. Along the way, he was awarded the MBE, DSO (Distinguished Service Order) and the Padma Vibhushan.