The strange march to the 1965 war

Banerji's phone never stopped ringing. At one stage, I heard him virtually shout: "What, only one

company left at the police headquarters? Please make sure that it is not sent away for any reason whatsoever." He then rang up the army's divisional commander at Baramulla, Major General Sarup Singh Kalan, and informed him that three tanks were urgently needed to protect Srinagar's airport, radio station and telegraph office. But the general would hear none of this. The job of taking on the infiltrators, he said, was that of the paramilitary. His instructions were to act only if the Pakistan army moved in. Luckily, at that precise moment Dhar walked in, took the phone from Banerji and charmingly persuaded the reluctant Kalan to do the needful.

Dhar and Banerji then pondered their next big problem. Kashmir was very short on paramilitary forces. Large-scale reinforcements were desperately needed. But how to convey this to Delhi when Pakistani agents had access to the contents of every phone call? Ultimately, they decided that Banerji should ring up M.G. Kaul, a joint secretary in the PMO who, though a Kashmiri, spoke fluent Bengali because he was a West Bengal civilian.

The next morning, only one battalion of the Punjab Armed Constabulary, headed by super cop Ashwini Kumar and accompanied by the state's home minister, Darbara Singh, flew in. There was no sign of other promised formations. Months later in New Delhi, I learnt from the Union home secretary, L.P. Singh, why several states had initially dragged their feet until warned of dire consequences: the Centre had failed to pay for the previous occasions that they had sent their forces to Kashmir or elsewhere. UP's chief secretary had pleaded helplessness. His chief minister, in response to an "audit objection", had issued strict orders that no request from Delhi for state forces should be entertained until outstanding bills were cleared. The CM was away. It took a lot of time to trace him at a remote village and persuade him to reverse his order. In another state, the chief secretary lamented that he had enough law-and-order problems on his hands and couldn't spare any armed personnel. He had to be told that he was making himself liable for action under the Defence of India Rules!

... contd.

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