Sunday, September 27, 2015



At the end of October 1963, F. J. Heredia IAS (Indian Administrative Service) had become Home Secretary, Government of Gujarat, after elections had brought to office in January that year, Balwantrai Mehta as Chief Minister and Hitendra Desai as Home Minister. As was his custom, the first thing he did on assuming his new post was to study all the files and records, as a result of which, in due course, Government of Gujarat set in motion the prosecution of Inspector General of Police (IGP), J. D. Nagarwala. For reasons of prudence, the Home Secretary asked Government of India for, and got, an officer from outside Gujarat to be the new IGP. This was Imdad Ali IP (Indian Police – a service dating to before Independence). He was from Assam, and he had invaluable experience of safeguarding a border State – also against [East] Pakistan. He was in need of re-location, having got in the way of certain politicians and officials.

Imdad Ali joined in late 1964, immediately studied all the files on Kutch, starting with the most recent reports, and warned the Home Secretary to prepare for a major incursion by Pakistan, probably by April (1965), because that was how he read all the signs. The incident of 13 May 1964, and most of all the Pakistani threat of “long-range guns” being used, had alerted him, and already young Dadabhoy, the new Deputy Superintendant of Police (DSP) at Bhuj, was sending in disturbing reports. [More about this at the appropriate point in the narrative.]

The State Reserve Police (SRP) and Central Reserve Police (CRP) were trained only in mob control and riot control. Their proper duties are the preservation of internal security in times of serious internal disruptions of law and order, and the protection of railways and vital installations during such breakdowns of law and order as well as in time of war.

Had the SRP and CRP who defended the Kutch border broken and fled – as they might well have done in the circumstances – the repercussions on the morale of the Gujarat Government and the people of Gujarat would have been grave indeed. In such a case, the roads to Bombay, to Delhi, and into the very heart of India would have lain wide open to the Pakistani Army.

It seems likely that the terms Pakistan Rangers and Indus Rangers correspond to the Central Reserve Police and the (Gujarat) State Reserve Police.

Karnail and Jarnail as Punjabi (Sikh) personal names date to the Sikh Wars, and are corruptions of Colonel and General. Bet, pronounced ‘bate’ signifies an island; kot, pronounced ‘coat’ means fort.


The events in this case occurred in the Kutch District of Gujarat – a State of the Indian Union, lying on the international border of India with Pakistan – during 1964-65. A notably pacific people, the Gujaratis were reluctant to concern themselves with a problem which they felt was really the business of soldiers, and of the Union Government.

The district of Kutch incorporates, along its northern (and larger) side, a salt wasteland approx. 300 km long and at its broadest, 80 km wide, with an area of approx. 20,000 sq km. At the western extremity of this uninhabited waste is the sea. The northern edge of this wasteland, known as the Rann of Kutch, coincides with the international border between India and Pakistan. Annually, the conjunction of pre-monsoon gales in the month of May with high tides causes the flooding of the western part of the Rann by the sea. With the setting-in of the monsoon, rainwater inundates the remaining part. Consequently, the Rann becomes impassable between May and November each year.

During the fair season the prevalence of mirages, quagmires and gullies renders its passage by any but four or five established routes a risky venture for all but the smuggling fraternity, and herdsmen (from both countries) who graze their cattle on isolated patches of vegetation that occur (on rising ground) in the Rann. Smuggling is quite extensively practised by fishermen and cattle herders, mostly Muslims with ethnic ties to the Pakistani population over the border. Carriers of contraband also convey information across the border, and not infrequently act as double agents for the intelligence organisations of both countries.

In 1947, Pakistan had laid claim to half of the Rann south of the international border as shown in the current survey maps of both countries. This claim was not, however, backed by an overt act until 1956, when a Pakistan army unit had trespassed on a small grazing area known as Chhad Bet, some 8 km south of the border. Unopposed, the Pakistanis prepared to establish a permanent post. But they were being spied on, and when Brigadier Ajit Singh Gurayya, commanding 112 Infantry Brigade posted at Bhuj (headquarters of Kutch District), learned that the Pakistanis planned to celebrate the setting up of their mess, he led his brigade against Chhad Bet, falling on the unsuspecting enemy with such ferocity that they fled, abandoning their camp – in which the Indians found hot food on the tables, and in the tents equipment ranging from arms to shaving kit.

Thereafter an army post of company strength had been established in Chhad Bet, for a year, and this was replaced by a company of SRP – a force which differed from the District Armed Police only in holding light automatic weapons besides rifles. A detachment of 8 mortars and a platoon of 6 medium machine-guns were attached to this post, for defence against any repetition of the abortive Pakistani attempt to seize Chhad Bet.

While no such attempt was made, Pakistan did not desist from its territorial claim. In 1960, when delegates of both countries met for the purpose of settling some undemarcated portions of their border, the only portion that remained unsettled was that lying in Gujarat State, because Pakistan insisted that this portion was still in dispute. It was consequently agreed that the Surveyors-General of both countries would prepare data and meet again to define the border. In the meantime, the status quo ante was to be maintained.

For three years thereafter, until Pakistan’s new-minted friendship with another power hostile to India (China) was marked by a sharp rise in the extent and intensity of aggressive acts by Pakistan elsewhere along the border, the Gujarat border remained undisturbed. However, recollecting the storm that had arisen over the discovery that China had built a road through a remote, uninhabited and inaccessible region on the northern frontiers of India, the Gujarat Government decided that patrolling in the Kutch desert border territory, which had hitherto been confined to the area in front of the Chhad Bet post, should be extended up to the western extremity of the border. Patrolling began in the fair season of 1963 and was resumed in the following year. Nothing untoward was reported and there was no reaction from Pakistan.

At the beginning of 1964, as soon as weather conditions permitted, a temporary post was set up at Karimshahi and patrolling in front of Karimshahi began as well. About the same time, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru fell seriously ill. The probable end of his 18-year spell in office, and the consequences thereof on the stability of the Indian Union, became the subject of speculation in world capitals. On 13 May, two weeks before Nehru’s death on 27 May 1964, an SRP patrol in the western sector of the border arrested three persons suspected to be illegal entrants. The place where these were found was about 1200 metres south of the border, in the vicinity of a spot marked ‘Kanjarkot’, on the survey map, and appearing on the ground as a heap of ruined masonry.

On the following day, the Commander of the police post at Chhad Bet received a message from the Commandant of the Pakistan Rangers, (a paramilitary border force also called Indus Rangers). The message was in effect a claim that Kanjarkot was in Pakistan's territory. There was a protest that the Gujarat police had acted illegally in entering the said area and in carrying off three Pakistani civilians, and finally, there was a demand for their instant release, backed by a threat of resorting to bombardment by “long-range guns”. The three suspects were, on interrogation, found to have inadvertently strayed across the border (which is not demarcated at this point), and were duly returned across the border, along with a note firmly rejecting the claim that Kanjarkot was in Pakistan's territory, and reiterating the Gujarat police's right to patrol in that area. Soon after this incident, the rains set in, necessitating suspension of border patrolling for six months.

In the meanwhile, the Gujarat Government considered that the tone and content of the Pakistan Rangers Commandant's message presaged the extension to this long-dormant border of the aggressive acts that Pakistan was committing elsewhere along the Indo-Pakistan border. It undertook several measures to strengthen border security, in consultation with Brigadier S.S. Pahlajani, Commander 31 Infantry Brigade Group stationed at Bhuj. These measures included posting in Kutch two officers (Stanley Joseph Coelho IAS and Keki Dadabhoy IPS – Indian Police Service), picked by the Home Secretary to be District Magistrate (DM) and DSP respectively, and each in turn being thoroughly briefed. For each it was his first District charge. Both were self-confident, eager to make good, and intelligent enough to realise that much more was at stake by this posting than their own careers. Coelho took charge in September 1964, and Dadabhoy early in 1965. They worked admirably together.

Soon after the incident of the three intruders, the Rann had become impassable. Immediately after patrolling was resumed by SRP, things began to happen. In January 1965 the Commander of the Pakistan Rangers stationed at Diplo lodged a protest with the Commander of SRP at Chhad Bet; he reiterated his claim that Kanjarkot was in Pakistan's territory, and called upon the Gujarat Commander to stop patrolling in that area. This protest was rejected and patrolling was continued. Within three days (on 25th January) a patrol saw fresh jeep and lorry tracks about 800 metres south of Kanjarkot and extending approximately 26 km on an east-west alignment, running from Surai to Ding. A week later, a night patrol saw vehicle lights in the same area, and investigation the next morning revealed fresh tyre marks there.

DSP Dadabhoy sent intelligence gleaned from various sources, of a 20ft to 80ft escarpment and very substantial concrete ramps being constructed, which would permit the descent of vehicles from the plateau that lay on the Pakistani side of the border. He believed these were meant for tanks. His agents had brought him news of regular tarred roads being laid and telephone lines, of the strengthening of bridges, and every preparation seeming to point to one particular spot – where India would consequently set up the soon-to-be-famous Sardar Post. Imdad Ali was impressed by Dadabhoy’s reports, and had no difficulty in convincing the Home Secretary of their significance. Gujarat Government accepted the opinion of these officers that a Pakistani attempt to establish a post at Kanjarkot was probably imminent. The idea of forestalling such an attempt by ordering SRP to be positioned there was briefly considered and rejected, on the grounds that it would constitute a breach of the status quo ante. SRP patrols continued to move in the Kanjarkot area, ignoring repeated objections and threats uttered by the Pakistan Ranger parties encountered.

The reaction of Pakistan to this continued patrolling was to deploy its Rangers, from bases on the border, in superior strength, across the line of advance of each SRP patrol that crossed the aforementioned track in the direction of Kanjarkot. SRP patrols of section strength encountered two sections of Pakistan Rangers and successive increases up to platoon strength were encountered in the same manner. After ten days of this game (in which the SRP patrols, operating from a base 40 km from Kanjarkot were at a disadvantage) a Pakistan Ranger platoon was seen in position, with automatic weapons, in the ruins of Kanjarkot. This was on 10 February 1965. [It was later established that one Company of Indus Rangers was stationed at Kanjarkot, 400 Indus Rangers at Rahim-ki-Bazaar, one wing of Indus Rangers along the border, and two battalions in reserve at Hyderabad (Sind) and Chhor. Opposing these forces were five companies of SRP – two at Vigokot, one at Karimshahi, and two at Chhad Bet.]

Five days later, the Commanders of the two border police forces met, by previous arrangement, near Kanjarkot. The Pakistan Commander, a Lieut. Colonel Aftab Ali, seconded (as he said) to the Indus Rangers, reiterated the Pakistani claim to Kanjarkot but denied that his men had occupied the ruined fort. His claim was rejected by the Gujarat police officer, and thereafter the SRP continued to patrol north of the new track and up to the border, outflanking Kanjarkot in the process, and keeping out of firing range of the Pakistan armed personnel in position there, pursuant to orders received from the Indian Government. Meanwhile, the ever keen-eyed Dadabhoy had seen that although Aftab Ali wore the flashes of the Indus Rangers, he had a tank as the badge in his cap. He understood that the Pakistani officer enjoyed the freedom to go where he willed as an Indus Ranger, whereas he would be conspicuous in his uniform of an armoured corps.

Since the Pakistan Rangers now appeared not only in greatly increased numbers but also better armed, their positioning in Kanjarkot was a matter of grave concern to the State and Union Governments, both of which were under attack in their respective legislative bodies, then in session. On the border, fire had not yet been opened by either side, but with increasingly larger bodies of armed personnel from both sides counter-marching in the vicinity of Kanjarkot, a clash seemed imminent and inevitable. It was expected by the Gujarat Government that, on the first exchange of fire, the deployment of forces on both sides would escalate; and the Pakistani forces, with much shorter and superior lines of communication, would be built up and deployed far more rapidly than those of Gujarat, whose sole source of drinking water was 130 km. distant from the scene, across a rugged desert. The inevitable consequence of a clash would be a de facto occupation by Pakistani forces of the territory to which they had laid claim, occupation, indeed, of the whole of the Rann of Kutch.

At the end of February the Gujarat Government urgently sought clear instructions from the Union Government, and also sought preparation by the Indian Army to respond instantly, in case of the expected attack by Pakistani armed forces, because the armed police could not be expected to hold out for more than 24 hours – if so long – against such an attack as was expected.* The State Government, for its part, raised the strength of the SRP deployed along the border from one company to thirteen.

Already Gujarat Intelligence had described warlike preparations from and around Badin, Rahim-ki-Bazaar and Diplo, towns and large villages located within 15km of the border on the Pakistan side; specifically, the arrivals of infantry and artillery units and of jet aircraft in the area were reported, as also the construction of gun emplacements. Patrolling was necessary in order to maintain the morale of the SRP and of the people of Kutch district. It was also necessary in order to maintain the initiative over the enemy military force being assembled on the border. Patrolling was therefore maintained despite the severe logistic disadvantages of maintaining a police force ten times more numerous that had ever previously been deployed in this waterless and inhospitable waste.

A month after the positioning of Pakistan Rangers in Kanjarkot, the District Magistrate informed the State Government that in company with his police colleagues, including the Range Deputy Inspector General (DIG), he had reconnoitred a spring of brackish water near the western end of the now notorious track made by Pakistani vehicles through Indian territory. The water was not potable but could be used for washing and its discovery at once made it possible to maintain a much larger body of men than had hitherto been possible on this border. On the strength of this discovery, the DM placed a bold scheme before the Government.

In the two months remaining of the fair season, he proposed to build an earthen platform two metres high, so as to be half-a-metre above the highest flood-tide during the monsoon, and of sufficient area to hold a garrison one hundred strong. This garrison, to be supplied by helicopter, would hold the western extremity of the border until the next fair season. As the desert sloped southwards, its northern half would dry out and become passable earlier than the southern, and this would give Pakistan an opportunity it was hardly likely to miss, of occupying the territory it claimed after the monsoon, easily overcoming present resistance from the Gujarat side. This task called for a considerable civilian labour contingent, as well as a police party to protect them and their earthmoving and well-sinking equipment.

The DM's plan was quickly approved. The Home Secretary saw in it certain exciting possibilities. Within four days, a police party 300 strong was established in the vicinity of the new-found water source, barely 200 metres from the now notorious tract. A few days later the immense task of building the platform began, at a site called Vigokot, some eight km south-east of the new police camp, which was deliberately named Sardar Post after the deceased Indian statesman Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Gujarati by birth and known as the ‘Iron Man of India’ for his tremendous courage, boldness and determination. The SRP also pressed for additional weapons and equipment.

The first Pakistan Ranger patrol to sight the Sardar Post camp on the morning after its overnight arrival gave visible evidence of shock and dismay. On succeeding occasions, Ranger patrols approached Sardar Post and called upon its garrison to withdraw, under threat of being destroyed. Meanwhile, Intelligence reported an enhanced tempo of military activity behind the Pakistani border. Acquainted with these developments, the then Indian Army top brass reacted predictably, and advised diplomatic action to ‘ease the mounting tension’ and ‘prevent a crisis.’

On 3 April 1965, an order was signed in Karachi and soldiers, guns and armoured cars of a Pakistan Army Brigade began to move southwards to the Kutch-Sind border. Four days later, they were poised to strike a coup de main at the Gujarat police posts of Sardar and Vigokot, which stood like sentinels on the northern edge of the Rann. The Pakistan Army Brigadier knew that there were no more than 600 policemen between him and his objective: Karimshahi on the 24th Parallel. He reckoned that his vastly superior force would need no more than six hours to overwhelm Sardar Post, Vigokot and Karimshahi; in fact a walkover. He did not know that in the past seven centuries, many before him had attempted to invade Kutch from Sind and all in vain. But if the Brigadier was ignorant of history, he was nevertheless destined to make it. For the attack which he launched at 3.30 a.m. on 9 April 1965 met with a defeat unparalleled in history, in that it was imposed on an Army Brigade by border policemen who were outnumbered - 10 to 1 – in strength, as well as outweighed in fire power.

[To prove that this was not a fluke, the Gujarat SRP were to earn yet another page in Indian history 12 days later, when they stood shoulder to shoulder with the jawans (soldiers) of the Indian Army at Chhad Bet, in a bitter three-day battle with the Pakistan Army - which seemed determined to seize the post whence they had beaten an ignominious retreat in 1956. These victories frustrated Pakistan's Peking-inspired tactic of establishing a de facto line of control on the 24th Parallel. They demonstrated Napoleon's famous dictum 'Morale is three-fourths of the battle'. But to return to the attack on 9 April.]

Morale was what the Gujarat border police had in plenty as they prepared to give battle to the Pakistan Army, which on 7 April was deployed in strength along the entire border opposite Sardar Post, Vigokot and Chhad Bet. In the first week of April, a message was received from the Commandant of the Pakistan Rangers asking for a meeting with his Gujarat counterpart on 10 April, for the purpose of resolving the impasse. Contemporaneously, intelligence was received of a heavy concentration of Pakistan army units, including tracked vehicles, opposite Sardar Post. The DM and his police colleagues expected an attack on Sardar or Vigo camps on or before 10 April. At their request; the IGP, Imdad Ali, moved half the strength of mortars and machine guns from Chhad Bet to Sardar Post and put the entire border security force on “alert". As will shortly be seen, this was a decision that sealed the fate of the Pakistan Battalion which marched to attack Sardar Post on the night of 8/9 April.

At Sardar Post, Deputy Commandant Major Karnail Singh put the finishing touches to tactical defences prepared especially against a surprise night attack. The trick employed by the Home Secretary was such a time-honoured one, no really intelligent Brigadier should have fallen victim to it. There were two posts not one; the front one for daytime was a TAC post, while about 400 metres to the rear slit trenches had been dug by night, and for retiring to at night. By day the trenches were covered with groundsheets and sprinkled with sand. There were also night retiring posts on either flank of the rear (or Admin) post, and here were placed the newly arrived machine guns and mortars.

On the same day, 8 April 1965, DM Coelho and DIG Asoka Sen arrived at Vigokot to prepare for the attack that was expected at any time soon. They visited Sardar Post to brief Karnail Singh and returned to Vigokot by evening. At Chhad Bet the SRP garrison evacuated its records and prepared for a siege, whilst 5 metres to the north its standing patrol at Hanuman Talai scanned the borders, barely 2700 metres distant, for signs of hostile activity. At the State capital, Ahmedabad, the latest intelligence reports were studied and an appreciation of the situation was made.

Even Southern Command had finally become apprehensive, by 8 April, of an imminent Pakistani attack, but continued to underestimate its force. Against their assessment of one infantry battalion group positioned offensively, such a formation was in fact only a reserve to protect the flanks of the main force. Police patrols had estimated that four tanks, seven armoured cars and a field regiment faced Sardar Post-Vigokot by 8 April, and Intelligence reported two F-86 Squadrons moving into Badin all ready for Operation Desert Hawk.

Karnail Singh, sensing the stealthy approach of Pakistani soldiers on both flanks of his advance post, withdrew his men silently to his (concealed) main position and the flanking positions, unobserved by the attackers, and left only one Company at the TAC Post. (The existence of this main position was unsuspected by the Pakistan Army, whose artillery was trained on the advance post, its range fixed accordingly, because of the attack being planned for the dark pre-dawn hours.)

At 3.30 a.m., two hours before first light, the Sardar Post advance camp was assaulted by the Pakistan Army in very great strength. Brigadier Azhar, commanding 51 Brigade, attacked with two battalions (18 Punjab and 8 Frontier Force), leaving 6 Baluch positioned as Brigade reserve until it was their turn to take a softened up Sardar Post in the rear and cut off retreat. The infantry were supported by 14 Field Regiment and 83 Heavy Mortar Battery. 8 Infantry Division under Major General Tikka Khan (to become infamous in 1971 as the Butcher of Bangladesh) was in place to invade Kutch and complete the business. [It was learned later that Tikka Khan had taken operational command of the Indus Rangers in February 1965.]

With blood-curdling yells the Pakistanis charged from both flanks, passing between Sardar Post and a standing patrol of SRP stationed outside it. They engaged one another in mortal combat, in the very position on which Karnail Singh and his men had been standing moments earlier and were simultaneously caught in a cross-fire from the defenders which pinned them down; for Karnail Singh from his main position poured a hail of bullets and mortar bombs on the helpless Pakistanis battling each other in the darkness. 

A third company of attackers advancing from another direction were engaged by their own comrades, but perceiving the mistake, and perhaps also noticing in the gradually lifting darkness that there was another camp behind what appeared by day as Sardar Post, attempted to storm it from one flank. The temporary stoppage of a machine gun defending that flank enabled them to penetrate the perimeter defence. The Pakistanis seized the brave Karnail Singh as he strove desperately to clear his blocked machine gun and threatened to shoot him unless he ordered his garrison to cease fire. But two police Jamadars, observing that Pakistani soldiers had entered their position, promptly launched a fierce counterattack which drove the Pakistanis back. The Pakistanis took with them the valiant Karnail Singh, one of his Jamadars, 9 policemen and 8 non-combatant personnel.

[It was in this clash that several men, including Constable Satbir Pradhan, received mortal wounds. But the Pakistani losses were greater. Four of the attackers were taken prisoner, along with their American-made firearms and wireless set. Not less than 34 Pakistanis lay dead outside the main position. On one of the bodies, that of Captain Nazhar Hussain of 83 Mortar Battery, was found the operation order that had been issued just six days earlier at Karachi. It showed that the attacking force was of Brigade strength. There was no time to copy the Op Order or to interrogate the prisoners, because the defence services had been alerted to events by this time, and an IAF plane swooped down to carry off all men, documents and arms that had been captured.] 

The defenders of Sardar Post's concealed main camp heard messages passed over the captured Pakistani wireless set, among them an appeal from the main body of attackers - pinned down by heavy fire from Indian mortars and machine guns - for artillery support.

The Pakistani guns began to thunder, but they were aimed at a position occupied then by Pakistani troops. The invaders found themselves caught between two fires, one from their own side and being unable to advance or retreat, were practically destroyed where they lay. (Later, over 100 Pakistani corpses were counted in the advance camp). After an hour's grim battling, the remainder of the attacking forces drew off.

The defenders of Sardar Post had no more than four hours respite before the appearance of a smokescreen across their front presaged the return of the attackers. At 9.30 a.m. armoured cars advanced towards Sardar Post under smoke cover. They were allowed to approach within a few hundred metres and then concentrated fire was opened from mortars and machine guns. So accurately was this fire directed that several Pakistani vehicles received direct hits from mortar bombs even while scuttling away in full retreat.

Having repelled this threatening manoeuvre, the defenders began again to listen to the Pakistan Army's wireless messages which could clearly be heard over the captured set. These indicated that the Pakistani attack was to be resumed by 2.30 p.m. The defenders prepared to repel the attack, determined to fight to the limit of their resources. At 2.30 p.m. on the dot a very heavy artillery bombardment began with 25-pounder guns as well as heavy mortars, from the distant sand dunes marking the Pakistani line. It was expected that waves of attackers would advance to assault Sardar Post under cover of this barrage.

The expected attack never came. The barrage, however, continued until, by 5 p.m., shells began to fall near Vigokot, and Sardar Post became untenable. Still no ground troops attacked. Dismayed by the failure of the surprise attack which was to have been a walk-over, stunned at the fire-power unexpectedly displayed by the defenders (whom they now credited with having artillery as well as machine guns and mortars), and demoralised by heavy losses, the Pakistani Brigade proved unwilling to resume its advance even after their concentrated artillery bombardment had actually forced the abandonment of Sardar Post - which camp lay undefended overnight. 

Meanwhile, at Vigokot the DM and the DIG gazing anxiously towards Sardar Post, had seen smoke and flashes of tracer bullets, and heard the thunder of the Pakistani guns throughout the morning and the afternoon. Towards evening, shell bursts within half-a-kilometre from the post gave warning of an approaching bombardment of Vigokot. Ultimately, after a heroic resistance lasting over 14 hours, the SRP, with their ammunition and water reserves exhausted, were greatly outnumbered and out-gunned by the enemy. At 5.30 p.m. the DM sought and received permission from the State Government to withdraw from both camps. He himself and his police colleagues had at one time been given up for dead, when Ahmedabad lost contact for an agonizing period with Vigokot. The surviving defenders of Gujarat’s – and India’s – borders, with all their valuable equipment and vehicles were safely evacuated to Karimshahi. On the way back to base, the retreating police column passed the advance company of the Indian Army on its way to Vigokot. For 14 hours, 300 border policemen had successfully withstood an assault by a full brigade of the Pakistani Army, supported by armoured cars, field and medium artillery.

For all that this engagement has been forgotten, it is not claiming too much to say that in the (strictly limited) context of modern Indian history it has the same importance as the never-forgotten holding of the pass at Thermopylae by the Spartan three hundred.
That battle has a far greater significance in the wider context of European and world history, but Leonidas and his men did not fight and die in such knowledge.  They fought pro patria as did these policemen, and while those three hundred died almost to a man, they were warriors, whereas a policeman, who never expected to have to fire the simple rifle he carried on special duty, was here required to fight like a trained and seasoned soldier – and die, if need be, like one.  It is a difference that makes them heroes. 

Sardar Post was re-occupied the next morning by units of the Indian Army.  It was later established that the Pakistanis had lost over 400 killed in this encounter. The fact that most of these casualties must have been caused by their own artillery did not diminish the magnitude of the Sardar Post garrison's achievements. In consequence of the mauling taken by the Pakistani brigade, a whole division (8 Division) had to be moved in by Pakistan. The eleven days that were taken to regroup and bring up reinforcements gave the Indian Army time to organise the defence of the border. When the Pakistani Army resumed its attack, the target was Chhad Bet post. On 20 April they heavily bombarded the Indian standing post at Point 84. The following day this bombardment probed further west to Hanuman Talai and Chhad Bet, where the SRP stood their ground beside the jawans of the Indian Army. For the next three days, wave after wave of attackers attempted to advance on Chhad Bet under cover of intense artillery bombardment. But the steadfastness and courage of the defenders threw them back every time with heavy losses. The Indians, too, lost three killed, including Head Constable Bhosle, with seven seriously wounded. A ceasefire ended hostilities for the time being.

The complete list of casualties in battle was as follows:

Central Reserve Police killed:
1.  1885  Naik Kishoresinh
2.  1507  CI      Gyanchand
3.  1639  CI      Shamshersing
4.  1239  CI      Huddu Ram
5.  1955  CI      Satbir Pradhan

1.  1449  CI      Ganpatram CH
2.  2270  CI      Madanlal Dutta
3.  1099  CI      Bhaktawarsingh
4.  1123  CI      Devisingh

Taken Prisoner:
1.   Sardar Karnail Singh
2.   Jamadar Baldeo Singh
3.   1886   Naik Samuel Ganesh
4.   1314   CI      Landhu Rang
5.   1472   CI      Sukhbi Tamang
6.   1674   CI      Richpal Singh
7.   2239   CI      S. Somanathan Nair
8.   1422   CI      Kishan Singh
9.   1688   CI      Badrinarayan
10.  1536   CI      Baldeo Prasad
11.  2144   CI      Brahm Dutt
12.  F/104  Cook    Ram Kishore
13.  F/114  Cook    Sant Ram
14.  F/123  Cook    Shiv Singh
15.  F/140  W/C     Ratan Singh
16.  F/176  S.W.P.  Shuklal
17.  F/-       S.W.P.  Pannalal
18.  F/195  S.W.P.  Rana
19.  F/L/C  L/C       Ramchander

State Reserve Police killed:
1.  H.C. G.D. Bhosle
2.  P.C.  P.V.  Kamble
3.  P.C.  S.G.  Salunke

Seriously wounded:
1.  Jamadar  Y.P. Jadhav
2.  Naik  Shripat Kalgude
3.  P.C.  Lalchand K. Jodge
4.  P.C.  Ramanlal G. Trivedi
5.  P.C.  Kamji Jagaji
6.  P.C.  H.D. Mahajan
7.  P.C.  Kavaji Meghaji

On 22 August 1965, Karnail Singh and 17 of his men were repatriated from captivity in Pakistan to Ajmer (in Rajasthan), where they were received by an enthusiastic assembly of over 10,000 citizens. Constable Kishan Singh had died in captivity.

Influenced by Gandhi’s pacifism and Nehru’s Panchsheel policy, the Indian Government, even in the mid-1960s, tended to play down any achievements in armed conflict such as that described here. Consequently, recognition of the gallantry displayed by policemen and civilians was inadequate by the standard of any other country. Eighteen policemen received between them 9 President's Police and Fire Services Medals for Gallantry and 9 Indian Police Medals for Gallantry. Stanley Joseph Coelho received the lowest honour awarded to civilians – the Padma Shri – which was usually given to film stars, cricketers and the like; and he only got it because the Home Secretary put a deal of pressure on his Minister to insist on its being awarded by Delhi. Neither DIG Sen nor DSP Dadabhoy, who had shared DM Coelho’s peril and his labours, received any award.

This story is supported by the following, from the hand of the famous Rustamji, founder of the Border Security Force, a paramilitary force:
by K.F. Rustamji

(Times of India, 28 December 1993)
[relevant extract]

A Major Achievement
The biggest achievement of the CRP, to my mind, was the manner in which they stood their ground against the Pakistan invasion of Kutch in 1964 [sic], and turned an attack by superior forces into a retreat, merely by adopting the right tactics and deployment.  It was a brigade attack launched by the Pakistan army.  The CRPF (probably the 2nd Battalion) drew the Pakistanis into a trap, and opened up with MMGs [medium machine-guns] which the Pakistanis never suspected them to have.  An ignominious retreat resulted, and in consequence the Pakistan brigadier was sacked.

When he was young, F.J. Heredia was enthralled by the stories of Rafael Sabatini, and part of his interest in history, followed later by an interest in the history of combat, especially the art of warfare, can be attributed to his reading of Sabatini. During World War II he served as an Infantry Regimental Officer (in Persia, Iraq, Palestine, the Dodecanese Islands, Egypt, and Libya) from 1942 to 1946, relinquishing commission with rank of Major in the 17th Battalion of the 10th Baluch Regiment (of the then British Indian Army). 

In late December 1964, he went to Kutch with his family. It was not a holiday. He was there in his official capacity, along with the Home Minister. After installing his family in the house built for the British Resident by the ruler of Kutch, and now serving as a Government guesthouse, he, along with the Minister, the DM Coelho, and Brigadier Pahlajani, began detailed discussions about conditions in the district, with special focus on the border. It was in consequence of these discussions that Dadabhoy was posted as DSP. (Distance may be lending enchantment to memory, but I see my father setting off, in his rifle-green army jacket, desert boots and slouch hat to recce the terrain and visit the men guarding the border.)

By an extraordinary coincidence, the well-stocked library of the guesthouse (Dornford Yates among the authors) contained a copy of Sabatini’s Bellarion, which I read all too swiftly. Much later, I suspected that there was something about the trick played on the Pakistanis which had a connection with Bellarion, but I could not confirm that until I was able to buy a copy of my own in 2003. For me the novel will always be a link between the writer, my father, myself when young, and the story of the defence of Kutch. The present plight of my country may be a cause of bewilderment, grief, and anxiety, but the pride in my country and its people in those far-off days (and again in 1971) will never diminish.

I have a thick file of papers, some of them precious original documents – including notes jotted during the attack on Sardar Post as messages came in on one of the phones by my father’s bedside, to back up the story I have related. There are things I have left out which are true, but could be construed as defamatory of politicians, officials in the administration and the police, and Army officers at the highest level. These things are not necessary to add, by way of contrast, and by demonstrating the obstacles to be overcome, lustre to the already illustrious.

* I was afforded a certain wry satisfaction by the following passage from a report published by The Hindu on 6 September 2015. 
Wing Commander J.M. Nath recalls the missions he flew to photograph weaponry and enemy positions. 
Mr. Nath’s hush-hush assignments and bravery took him to rooms of the chiefs of the three services, political leaders and bureaucrats during the conflict. He was witness to what he describes as “astoundingly bad decisions, miscalculations and errors in judgment.” But those are nothing when he thinks of the incredible courage and grace under fire that his comrades displayed, many of whom lost their lives [reported by Pankaja Srinivasan].

It reminded me that on 28 February 1965 my father, accompanied by Imdad Ali, went to Delhi to report to the Union Government the explosive situation on the Kutch border. What he experienced there, sitting in the office of the Foreign Secretary, with the Defence Secretary and the Union Home Secretary also present, is borne out by Wing Commander Nath’s observations. Speaking with the authority of his State Government behind him, my father explained the value of the Rann to Pakistan for possible exploitation of its mineral resources and for land reclamation, an aspect which came as a surprise to the civilian officials of highest rank, who had not previously considered such facts. In spite of the protests of the Defence Secretary, the Chief of Army Staff and his second-in-command walked out in 45 minutes, without any decision having been taken, dismissing with contempt the urgent message from Gujarat. One of them was going to judge a vintage car rally, and the other for his customary game of golf, as it was a Sunday. There is an official note in the file of this meeting.

On 25 April 1965, my father flew on a mission to New Delhi, with two letters, marked secret, authorising him to speak on behalf of the Government of Gujarat, his mission being to get fuller support for the defence of Gujarat. The State Government desired more arms for the border police and greater preparedness from the Indian Army as soon as a clash occurred, because the next attack would be full-scale war. The view of the top-ranked generals was that any such preparation would itself provide a further escalation of forces on the other side, bringing the possibility of an armed conflict even nearer, and that full-scale war could only be expected on the border from Kashmir down to Punjab, not in unimportant Gujarat. One general considered this desert to be an “impossible” area, logistically speaking, for military operations, and “untankable”. The Gujarat Government was advised to calm down. In September that year, the war that broke out encompassed Gujarat and even threatened Bombay. In the course of it, the Chief Minister, Balwantrai Mehta - in a clearly civilian plane which ‘surrendered’, although just as clearly within Indian air-space - was shot down in flames by a Pakistani fighter aircraft. He was succeeded by Home Minister, Hitendra Desai. But all that is another story.

The secret letters being too secret to go on record in New Delhi, or by some happy chance being returned to my father, he retained them when he left the Home Department for another post, as he retained, also, his record notes of the meeting.

Inspector General of Police Imdad Ali; Chief Minister Hitendra Desai; (one step above right) Home Secretary F.J. Heredia

Monday, September 21, 2015



The Almanaques do Porto for the years 1886-1890 list Anna Trafford Sabatini under ‘music teachers’ for all the years covered; Vincenzo only in 1886. No music school is mentioned. Perhaps Vincenzo was later employed in such an establishment and Anna continued to teach at home. Home in 1886 was Rua do Mirante 9A. 

In 1888 the Sabatinis lived at Rua Cancela Velha 15, a street renamed Rua Guilherme da Costa Carvalho (after the 1974 revolution). This street adjoins the Câmara do Porto, and is in the centre of the city. 

In 1886 the Liceu Particular do Porto, at Rua da Conceição 64, had for its director Jacob Bensabat, teacher of English, French, and Italian (author of ‘teach yourself’ textbooks for these, and possibly co-author of a similar book for German). This liceu was a short walk away from the Rua do Mirante, which may have been a reason to enroll Rafael in it. (It is a strange coincidence that in Columbus the hero rents a lodging from Bensabat the tailor, if we also recall that Vincenzo’s father had a tailoring establishment.) 

However, at present we know nothing for certain about where Rafael studied in Porto.

In his Life of Cesare Borgia, Rafael Sabatini translates a Portuguese proverb as the following couplet:

Soundly Father Thomas preaches;
Don't do as he does, do as he teaches.

which is in the original -

Bem prega frei Tomás, fazei o que ele diz e não o que ele faz.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

scribendi cacoethes

Remembering that little gem of a film,"Le maître de musique", in which Jose van Dam, baritone, acted well and sang beautifully - most beautifully of all, Mahler's setting of a poem by Friedrich Rückert - this approximation:


Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen

The world’s well lost to me
and I to it.  Much time
have I wasted in that place
where they now believe me dead.
And so I am, to the world –
for it nothing troubles me
what is believed there.

On the world’s senseless tumult
my back I have turned.
If rest in a realm of peace
be death in the mad world’s eyes,
then I am dead; well content
to live alone in the haven
of my love and of my song.

~ E.M.R.H.   19 September 2015