The quiet soldier

Major General Indar Jit Rikhye, who passed away, unsung and unnoticed, in the US on May 21, will remain India's most distinguished and unassuming 'soldier turned UN peacekeeper'. After he retired from the UN in 1969, General Rikhye (IJR) conceived and nurtured for 20 years the world's first peace studies institute: the International Peace Academy, New York.

He was born in Lahore and his father, Dr Madan Lal Rikhye, was a veteran of the First World war. Despite his mother's predictable reservations, young Indar opted to join the army. The clinching argument was that Mahatma Gandhi had approved of Indar's career choice. As IJR recounted later, when taken to meet Gandhiji by his father, the apostle of peace remarked, "This is good. We want good, educated young boys to become (military) officers."

After a stint at the IMA, Dehra Dun, IJR was commissioned in the 6th Lancers and saw action in World War II as part of the 8th Indian Division. On the eve of Partition in August 1947, the 6th Lancers was awarded to Pakistan and, by a quirk of fate, IJR remained the last Hindu officer to command a Pakistani army unit till September that year when he repatriated to India with his family. By that same quirk of chance, IJR found himself leading the first units of Indian armour to ward off Pakistan's military in J&K in the war of 1947-48, and his book, Trumpets and Tumults, (2002) provides rich first-hand archival material of Pakistan's direct support to the so-called irregulars.

IJR's stint with the blue berets began in 1957 when he commanded the Indian troops assigned to the UN Emergency Force in the Middle East and was later designated its chief of staff. Soon after, he returned to India to command a brigade in the Tibet sector just prior to the 1962 war with China but was personally selected by then UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld to be the SG's military advisor in troubled Congo. In the years that followed, IJR was Dag's most trusted advisor in every major global crisis, including the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. He was perhaps the only non-American citizen to have been allowed to study Top Secret US photographs and documents of that crisis and this was largely due to his personal credibility. But in keeping with his innate modesty, IJR never sought personal glory or honour and when I met him the first time in the early 1990s, he was leading a quiet, retired life in up state New York.

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