Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh - A Tribute
Gurcharanjit Singh Lamba, editor, 'Sant Sipahi' First publiched: 16 November, 1999
With the final march past of the legendary Lt. General Harbaksh Singh, VC, PVSM,PB,PV who commanded not only the columns but the hearts of the people in uniform or otherwise, has now got himself a prime place in the glittering pages of the Indian history.
The general got himself in the Indian Army in 1939, though immediately thereafter the political leadership spearheading the independence movement gave a call for boycott of the recruitment to the armed forces. The presence of a large number of entrants of that time from Punjab in the Indian Army thus proved only one point that but for the presence in large number of these soldiers during the 1947 and 1965 war with Pakistan the result would have been catastrophic.
During the 1965 Indo-Pak War the determined strategy and action plan of this war hero created legends and got him applause not only from friends but secret admiration from foes also. His war dispatches published later were sold and read more in Pakistan than in India. In an exclusive interview to the writer of these lines the General in his eighties, was too youthful to shell out his reminiscences about the Army Chief General J. N. Choudhry's suggestion to realign his forces behind Beas, which has become sort a folklore. Giving details of this, he said that he was asked by Gen. Choudhry to come to Delhi for discussion but impressed upon him that he cannot move out from the front and later the meeting was held at Ambala. He also recalled that Chief's aircraft came escorted by two bombers and during his meeting he was able to convince the chief that the battle has not been lost and the apparent reverses are not a panic sign but this is quite a common phenomena in any war. "This suggestion was not at all acceptable to me. We would have lost Amritsar, Khamkharan, Pathankot. Then why were we fighting. J & K would have been cut off, then what was the use. I told the Chief about it that if we loose J & K then what for we are fighting?" said General.
He recalled that his strategy was too simple that the enemy tank may penetrate deep inside but have to have the support of the soft vehicles. To prevent this he had a determined plan not to allow any Paki vehicle on the road. And he proved right too.
Recalling his contribution and determination, Lt. Gen. B. M. Kaul in his book Confrontation with Pakistan writes,
"Government should by now be aware that in the midst of this grim crisis on 10 September Army Chief Chaudhuri asked Harbaksh Singh whether our forward positions should not be readjusted and established behind the Beas as the enemy Armoured Division might breakthrough. This would have meant pulling back our corps in this area nearly 40 miles from the front line, evacuating vital areas like Ferozepur, Khem Karan, Taran Taran, Khalra, Wagah, Amritsar, and Dear Baba Nanak. Such action was not necessary at that juncture as the battle of Assal Uttar, near Khem Karan, was still being fought and by no means lost and there should have been no cause for panic. Thanks to the leadership and determination of Harbaksh Singh, who resisted the Army Chief's counsel, India was saved from a disastrous situation. The decision of this commander to make a resolute stand at Assal Uttar proved right, as by the 10 evening the Pakistani forces suffered a severe reverse. [P. 38-39] , In this war, Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh received no worthwhile directions from Army Headquarters but influenced the battles favourable, wherever possible, by his personal leadership and courage. But for his sound judgement and example might not have achieved even an honourable stalemate."
The historians will evaluate the contribution of the great General, but since the Punjab was the battle field one thing is too sure that but for this action of the general of the Sikh regiment the Punjab and Punjabis would have got an unprecedented blow, the parallel of which is found in the chapters of invaders in the history.
Writing about this part of history Sirdar Kapur Singh in Sikhism & Politics published by SGPC says,
"In the Indo-Pakistan conflict of 1965, it is now know, that but for the obduracy of a certain Sikh General it had almost been decided to abandon the entire Punjab west of Ambala to the invading Pakistani tanks. Just a week often days of occupation of the Sikh Homeland by the soldiers of Marshal Ayub and not a single Sikh virgin or a single Sikh rupee or a single Sikh sacred spot would have retained its purity or dignity, And the Sikh world its generals, barristers and psychoanalysts notwithstanding would have been enveloped by darkness and decay for fifty years at least if not forever. "
In the interview the General said very emphatically, "I had absolute confidence that I will not allow them to enter Amritsar."
The contribution of the General to the nation is so great that certain concerned quarters made specific suggestions to the honour General Harbaksh Singh during the forthcoming tercentenary celebrations of the Khalsa. It is no exaggeration that his contribution for this Nation and especially for the Punjab is no less than that of Banda Bahadur or Hari Singh Nalua, but that was not to be and no body even cared to invite him for the celebrations. This morning when I rang up an Akali activist and told him about the sad demise of the general, the question was, "Who was General Harbaksh Singh?".