Indian Armed Forces – The Idea of India

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The idea of India thrives, robust and vibrant, not so much in the rhetoric of it that does rounds; but there, among those infantrymen huddled in their bivouacs at a remote border post in an icy night, among the tank crews cramped inside their war machines under a blazing desert sun, among the submariners living within the confines of their vessels as they traverse the depths of the ocean, among their comrades who man the warships on the high seas, among the air warriors in their cockpits guarding our skies and their ground crews who never let them down. They are the face of real India; an India beyond region, religion and caste, bound by camaraderie, duty and honour.

They have a martial legacy as proud as any that dates back to the time when Alexander the Great met his worthiest foe in King Porus at the Battle of the Hydaspes. Later, the Mauryan Armies pushed the borders of their empire right up to Afghanistan, defeating many of Alexander’s satraps left behind. Post Ashoka, the pacifist climate rendered Northern India weak and fragmented; but a millennium later, the Cholas from the South expanded their empire northward up to the banks of Ganges and, being the greatest Indian maritime power of the times, invaded most Indian ocean islands and extended its power over entire Southeast Asia. The rise of the Mughal power in the wake of Islamic invasions of North India during the next millennium was challenged by the Maratha Warriors of Chatrapati Shivaji, whose method of warfare the Vietnamese were to emulate nearly three centuries later in their grand fight against the French and the Americans. By 18th Century the Mughal power was on the decline and the Marathas had become fragmented following Shivaji’s death. The subcontinent was thrown into turmoil with petty Nawabs and Rajahs fighting each other for gains. The scenario couldn’t have been better for exploitation by the greedy European colonialists who entered the fray for a piece of the spoils. The fighting men of the subcontinent roaming footloose over the land in large numbers for lack of occupation found regular employers in them. With the concept of Indian nationhood still unborn, they swore allegiance to whichever power could compensate them for their services and provide them battles to win, so as to pursue their martial quest. Such was the beginning of an unusual enterprise which saw Indian soldiers build an empire for Britain in India. The Indian Army, which so became the cornerstone of the British Empire, was no mercenary force as some tend to see, but a highly professional army which had grown in size and stature so much by the end of the Second World War that it proved to be Britain’s Frankenstein’s Monster, and in a way, forced India’s independence. Thus ours was the army which built and broke the empire, in the process, unifying India as a single entity for the first time in her history. The professionalism of this great army along with that of its sister arms, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force, which too had their combative origins and evolution in much the same fashion, became the newborn Indian state’s grandest asset – the ultimate guarantee that India will survive.

Capt. D P Ramachandran
Capt D P Ramachandran is a war veteran and military history enthusiast, who writes about battles of the Indian Army and India’s martial heritage. He can be reached at
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