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  • Published 8.02.02
IN THE SERVICE OF THE NATION: REMINISCENCES By K.V. Krishna Rao, Viking, Rs 595 Armed constabulary or a modern combat force? Which category fits the postcolonial Indian army best? While Western analysts like Stephen P. Cohen asserts that independent India's army is a Hindu police force used for subduing minority communities in the peripheries, Indian generals like S.L. Menezes categorize it as a modernizing institution capable of conducting large scale conventional combat. It is probably a mix of both, as the autobiography of General K.V. Krishna Rao. Rao joined the army in 1942, fought three major wars and rose to become the chairman of the chiefs of staff (1981 to 1983). After retirement, his star rose higher. From 1984 till 1989, Rao functioned as governor of the six northeastern states. Then he was made the governor of Kashmir, where he continued till 1998. It was Rao's genius in suppressing armed insurgencies that led several governments to appoint him as governor in the disturbed areas. Despite being a Madrassi, considered as a non-martial race by the British, Rao was given an officer's commission during the break-neck expansion of the Indian army at the time of World War II. Rao was hard-working and dedicated. After the end of the war, many officers were encouraged to apply for the Indian Civil Service. Despite the temptations of higher pay and prestige, Rao decided to remain in the army. Rao was a rare blend of both a desk officer and a combat leader. He is one of the few Indian generals to have boldly shouldered the responsibility for the Chinese debacle. He points out that inadequate training and unrealistic tactical thought sounded the death knell of the Indian army in the snowy Himalayas. Even while serving as a battlefield leader, Rao continued his intellectual pursuits. In the early Sixties, he was the initiator of discussion on nuclear warfare. As the chief of army staff, Rao's contribution was to start long-range strategic plans covering a future period of 20 years. After retirement, Rao utilized his military experience to crush the Naga and the Mizo insurgents. Despite the fact that military personnel burned villages while conducting counter-insurgency operations, Rao proved to be a popular governor because he constantly toured and interacted with the common people. Rao's reminiscences steer clear of "juicy" controversies. Instead, he provides temperate comments about the various aspects of the state's policies. The autobiography brings forth his personality: of being a gentleman-officer.