Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lt. General Hanut Singh PVSM MVC


In an earlier note, I wrote about moral courage and the ability to stand upright for what one believes is right. One such officer was Lt. Genl. Nathu Singh. I am reminded of yet another Army officer - a general belonging to an entirely different generation and an era. That officer was Lt. General Hanut Singh - PVSM MVC.

Many many know of Lt. Genl. Hanut Singh, as the elder cousin of Jaswant Singh -the famed leader of the BJP.

Genl Hanut Singh is described by many - as a 'complete soldier'. He epitomised courage - moral as well as physical, fair mindedness a very high standard of morality, discipline and professionalism.

Born into a proud clan of 'Rathor' Rajputs from 'Jasol' in Rajasthan, Hanut Singh joined the Joint Services Wing (JSW in Dehra Dun in 1949, and was commissioned into the '17 Horse' popularly known as the 'Poona Horse' in 1952. Poona Horse - a coveted cavalry regiment, had the unique distinction of having won 4 Victoria Crosses and two Param Vir Chakras -one in the 1965 war and the other in the 1971 war with Pakistan.  Hanut was Commandant of 17 Horse, and led his regiment to victory in the famous 'Battle of Basantar' we Indians know it,or the Battle of Bade Pind, as the Pakistanis call it. 

Hanut was himself  decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra for displaying courage while leading his officers and men during the battle.

Hanut Singh's subsequent tenures as commander of an armoured Division and a strike Corps, left no doubt in the minds of military experts that he was one of the best armoured commanders India had produced.

It is not my intention to write much abut his achievements as a military strategist and a  tactician. However, one of the qualities that he displayed time and again, was his ability to stand up and speak boldly for what he believed in. I have read about two such instances during his tenure in the Army, that merit sharing.

Shortly after he assumed command of an independent armored brigade, a discussion was held at the Corps HQ about a concept of crossing a water obstacle by the armored division and the subsequent breakout. Attending this discussion apart from Hanut Singh, were Lt. Genl ZC 'Zoru' Bakshi and Lt Genl IS 'Inder' Gill the Western Army Commander. While this concept had been formally approved by teh Army HQ, the Corps commander had initiated the discussion as he wanted the concept to be evaluated and tested before implementation. Most senior formation commanders were attending this meeting.

When Hanut Singh read the concept he as surprised to see such an impractical concept probably written by an 'armchair' tactician, had been approved all the way up to the Army HQ. He expressed his reservations about the concept, within the syndicate that he was part of. The syndicate leader overruled him, on the grounds that the Army HQ had already accorded approval. Undeterred, Hanut sought permission from the Chief of Staff of the Corps HQ, to express a personal opinion on this issue. Permission was granted. 

Hanut's words while addressing the meeting were simple and bold "Though I find myself in a position of being one man against the house, I have some very major and serious reservations against this concept". He then went on to outline in detail just how the concept was 'not workable' even in an exercise leave alone a full scale war.

The entire audience was shell shocked at turned to look at the Army Commander - Inder Gill who responded by saying "Hanut - you aren't alone against the house - I too do not agree with this concept. Gill then asked Hanut if the latter had any suggestion as an alternative. Hanut presented a workable solution. The Army Commander and Corps commander both agreed to Hanut's observations and the concept was 'dropped'.

In an exercise held some time later after this incident, Hanut's brigade was asked to execute a 'breakout' plan. Hanut expressed reservations about the plan but was overruled. The situation that developed 'on the ground' was exactly as Hanut had predicted. Hanut immediately  called off the plan. The next morning when the Army and Corps commanders inquired as to why he had aborted the manoeuvre he replied "I am not prepared to order my leading regiment to undertake a mission that would be suicidal"

Hanut Singh went on the command a brigade and a Corps. His last assignment in the Army was that of Commandant, Armored Corps Center and Ahmednagar.
With a flawless service record, it was expected that Lt. Gen. Hanut Singh would make Army Commander. But that was not to be. He was passed over, on two major grounds - one that he was a bachelor and shunned social life, which was partly valid, and the other allegation against him was that he was a 'religious bigot' The second charge was seen to be utter nonsense. Hanut was a deeply religious person, and at the same time very tolerant of all other religions. The fact that all rank and file under him literally worshiped him, should have been enough grounds to call that insinuation a blatant lie. 

He took his 'passing over' quite philosophically.When a subordinate informed him of his passing over and expressed sorrow, his typical reply was "Why are you sorry? It's the Army that should be sorry. If the Army they don't want me, the loss is theirs, not mine" Hanut Singh continued to serve his assignment with the same dedication and zeal till the day he retired - on July 31, 1991.
Today, Hanut Singh lives in an 'Ashram' in Dehra Dun. 

Hanut Singh will always be remembered as one of the finest armor commanders the Indian Army has produced. His simplicity, courage, boldness, and a high sense of professionalism will continue to inspire thousand of officers and men of the Indian Army.


(This blog post has been adapted mostly from the book titled:

"Leadership in the Indian army: biographies of twelve soldiers"

 By Major General (Retd.) V. K. Singh)

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