Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lt. General Inderjit Singh Gill - PVSM, MC

I have often wondered how easy - or hard it is to 'compress' an entire life of this soldier and General, into a few hundred words. This is a humble attempt - to pay tribute to one of India's finest soldiers - a distinguished General, leader and trainer, about whom very few outside the Army circles know..

Inderjit Singh Gill was born to a Sikh father and and English mother in 1919, in Chennai. His father was a Royal Medical Corps Doctor and Inder was one of four sons. After finishing School in Chennai, Inder went to England to complete his studies. It was because of the fact that he was half English biologically, and spent a good part of his life in England, that Inder was more of an Englishman, and less of a 'Sardar' That explained his clipped English accent, and absence of a turban and beard. Inder was a 'gora sa'ab' in more ways than one.

Inder finished School in 1939 and had good enough grades to pursue Engineering at Edinburgh University. He however enlisted with the famous 'Black Watch' - a Scottish Regiment, in 1941, shortly after the outbreak of World War II.

Soon after, in 1942, Inder got involved in what came to be known as the 'Harling Mission' - which was to thwart the Axis strength in Greece and in the Mediterranean region through undercover operations. Inder was part of the team that destroyed the Gorgopotamos Bridge in Greece in November 1942.

Soon after the War was over, Inder decided to give up his commission in the British Army, and joined the Indian Army in January 1948. What followed was a distinguished career in the Army that consisted of a variety of command and staff appointments. He passed 'Staff College' in 1954 Inder got his command - that of the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, or more commonly known as '1 Para' in 1955. This was followed by Brigade and Division level commands. Inder was then appointed Director Military Training.

During the 1971 Bangladesh war Inder was the officiating Director of Military Operations, where he played a pivotal role in coordinating operations that ultimately led to India's victory. After the war, Inder commanded a Corps and finally was appointed GOC-in-C, Western Command, before he retired in 1979.

Inder Gill's career record might not be different from that of any other General who rose to that rank. But he demonstrated exceptional qualities because of which he stood out.

One of the foremost things for which Inder was admired by not only the men he commanded but also his seniors was the depth of professional knowledge, and clarity of thinking. And because of this quality, Inder proved to be an exceptional instructor. As Commandant of the Defence Services Staff College Brigadier (later General) Manekshaw assessed Inder as "a first class instructor, credit to the Army and 'should be considered for accelerated promotion'

Inder was also known to work hard and party hard. His capacity to put in hard work was also folklore in the Army. There were many a time, when he would party hard till the wee hours, return home sit down to work, and by the opening hours of Office, produce multiple pages of neat handwritten accounts of war plans, strategy tactics and so on.

His propensity to party hard, and his weakness for 'the bottle' also did not escape the attention of his seniors many of whom made it a point to make a mention of his nuisance value once he got drunk, in his Confidential Reports. Many appraisers felt that an otherwise brilliant officer would lose out due to his fondness of alcohol. Inder was to prove all of them wrong, right through his career.

So confident was he of his professional capabilities, that he had the moral courage to stand upright in front of any senior - be it an Officer, or as was proved in some cases, even politicians.Once during the 1971 war, as Director of Military Operations, Inder was to give a briefing to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram. Everyone gathered in the room but the chatter did not cease. After waiting for several minutes Inder turned to Sam Manekshaw the Army Chief and said " Sam, there's a war going on and I better see how it's progressing. Why don't you take over?" And he walked out.

During the war Inder was at the helm of affairs as Director of Military Operations. Rumor has it that he did not go home for 14 days, and remained in his operational headquarters. But despite the tension, he was unflappable even then. One story goes that Inder was on his desk, trying to catch a quick nap when the Vice Chief rang up and wanted to know the status at various war fronts. 'I was dreaming of my wife. I 'll let you know if anything exciting happens' Inder said, and hung up.

After war Inder played an equally important role in delineating the line of control that divided the northern disputed Kashmir state between the rival claimants, India and Pakistan.

Long after the war was over, Inder kept the Operations Directorate busy, with formulation and documentation of 'after action' reports, lessons learnt and so on.

Inder went on to command a Corps in the East before being appointed the Army Commander of the Western Command. It was here that Inder having got provoked by a controversial newspaper article, acted without discretion, and shot off an angry response to the editor, in his official capacity. His letter was published the next day, and this became a huge controversy, with the opposition en cashing upon the situation, and the Government facing embarrassment.

Inder who with his exceptional career record and a long string of medals including 7 of them from other Countries, the PVSM and the Padma Bhushan, was undoubtedly in line for the top position of the Chief of Army Staff.

Whether he missed the opportunity due to the fact that he shot himself in the foot with the letter to the editor, or something else went wrong, will never be known. But it is clear that Inder not becoming the Indian Army Chief was the loss of the Army, the Government and the Nation.

Because officers like Inder don't come along so easily.

Inputs from:

2. 'Born to Dare' (The LIfe of Lt. Gen. Inderjit Singh Gill PVSM MC by S. Muthiah (Penguin Viking)


  1. He acually said,"Sam there is a War going on and my Men are risking their lives , why don't you take over " . And walked out ...

    1. I'm his granddaughter . I enjoyed reading your article ! Thank you

  2. Hi. Great to hear from you. I am from an Army family and wanted to join the Army myself. I'm a great fan of Genl. Gill. Glad to know you read my blog.

  3. Indeed a great soldier and General. Sam was lucky to have a great team of Generals to do the job at different levels.