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Eastern Command

Eastern Command is headquartered at Kolkata [Calcutta] and is responsible for counter-insurgency operations in Assam. It consists of the III, IV, and XXXIII Corps. In sharp contrast to the seemingly placid atmosphere, Eastern Command has remained heavily committed in active operations since its inception. Formations and units of the Command bore the brunt during the Chinese aggression in 1962 and were again in the forefront in 1971 Indo-Pak War, which changed the course of history of the subcontinent and installed India as an unchallenged regional power.

The Eastern Theatre encompassing the snow-capped peaks of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh towards the North, the jungle clad hill tracts of Nagaland Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura and Meghalaya in the North-East and the alluvial fertile plains of Assam and Bengal, is a veritable conglomeration of flora and fauna in all its imaginable diversities. This is not only the most enticing and enchanting part of India displaying nature's bounty at its best but also boasts of a wide diversity of cultures woven together by the underlying thread of nationalism. The abundance of natural resources coupled with the gracious and warm nature of the inhabitants makes the region uniquely different.

One of six geographic Army commands, the Eastern Command is responsible for defending northeast and eastern India, including the strategic Siliguri corridor, from external or secessionist threats. The Eastern Command has extensive counterinsurgency experience with ongoing campaigns in Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. Military operations have prompted insurgent groups such as the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) or Karbilongri North Liberation Front (KNLF) to come to the negotiations table.

Headquarters of Eastern Command, occupying Fort William, the former seat and symbol of authority of the British Empire has an unparalleled aura not experienced by any other formation. The historic structures and edifices in and around the Fort, narrate the tales of trials and triumphs of the British Army and the post Independence Indian Army. The history of the region is replete with stories of uncanny heroic deeds of valour and sacrifice since the days of yore. The close proximity to a number of neighboring countries add significance to its strategic geopolitical position and standing.

The history of Eastern Command dates back to the year 1895 when the Bengal Presidency Army was abolished. The period 1902, begining with General Viscount Kitchner's reforms till World War I, gave the command its military character. As per official records, Eastern Command was formed on 01 November 1920 with its summer Headquarters in Nainital and winter Headquarters in Lucknow. General Sir H Hudson, KCB, KCIE, was its first Army Commander. The command's territorial jurisdiction extended over Delhi, UP, Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Assam.

On first January 1939, Meerut, Lucknow, Bengal, Assam and Delhi military districts came under Eastern Command. The winter Headquarters moved to Bareilly but summer Headquarters remained in Nainital. In Apr 1942 the command was designated as Eastern Army and its Headquarters moved to Barrackpore to prosecute war effort during World War II. Its formations, however, were forced to effect the longest tactical retreat (1500 kms) through Malaya and Burma against superior Japanese forces.

In June 1942, plans were prepared to limit Japanese advance at Imphal and Kohima and for reconquer of Burma that were to result in the biggest ever defeat of Japanese forces in World War II. The Command then consisted of 4 Corps (Headquarters at Imphal) with 17 and 23 Indian Division, 33 Corps (Headquarters at Arakan) with 14 and 26 Indian Division, 70 British Division and 50 Indian Tank Brigade in reserve. In Feb 1943, the first CHINDIT operations were mounted in Burma by 77 Indian Infantry Brigade (Chindits) under Brigadier Orde Wingate. (Name of Chindit derived from the mythological Chinte-half lion - half eagle, adopted as the formation sign). The force was maintained wholly by air. In Oct 1943 the first Arakan offensive against Japanese was undertaken by 14 Indian Division. However in Jan 1944, Arakan was recaptured by the Japanese.

In Oct 1943, on the formation of the Fourteenth Army, Eastern Army was relieved of operational responsibility east of river Meghna (now in Bangladesh) including Burma and Eastern Command was revived under Lieutenent General Agom Mayne, CB, CBE, DSO, IDC, Headquarters at Tollygunge, Calcutta with operational responsibility West of river Meghana. In addition the command was responsible for training Indian, British and Chinese troops. Ramgarh became a large training base. The Command also provided administrative back-up for operations in Burma.

The short 1962 Border War with China dictated that no matter what the state of electronic communications, higher directive control should be exercised from geographical proximity. Headquarter Eastern Command had tried this from Lucknow, some 1,100 kilometres distant from Walong. Wiser after the war experience, Headquarter Eastern Command went back to Fort William, Calcutta.

Fort William was built as a symbol of British Raj and was perceived as an icon of imperialism for two centuries, the Fort adapted with remarkable alacrity to its new role - a military base of a democratic and secular nation, avowed to preserve its territorial integrity and internal security. The changed role has been accomplished with a human face resulting in forging strong bonds between the soldiers and citizenry. Fort William occupies a unique mystic and a pride of place in the history of West Bengal, nay the Bengali psyche and the present narrative seeks to capture its story through a historical continuum.

The site of old Fort William was located at the present GPO, the Eastern Railway Office, Custom House and the Government Office complexes on the banks of river Hoogly. Based on the East India Company trading policy shift, from voyage to factory and to establishment of fortresses, the construction of the old fort commenced at Sutanuti (Calcutta) in 1698 and was completed in 1706. It was named Fort William in honour of the King of England. Interestingly, though built for defence, there was no moat around this fort. The raison-d-etre of the fort was the security and the safety of East India Company trading interest in Bengal. However, the defences of the fort crumbled and could not brave the attacks of Nawab Siraj-Ud-daula forces in 1756. This led to the capitulation of the old fort to the Nawab's forces. The capitulation of old Fort William rudely shattered the illusion of security nurtured by the English Company in Bengal.

Besides internal security, army assistance is sought by the governments of the northeastern states for many reasons. Usually it is during times of natural calamities. It was sought for the first time in 1950 when Assam was hit by an earthquake followed by floods. There have been numerous other instances thereafter when Army was called out to help the civil administration. In each and every case, without exception, the organizational strength of army formations and units and the dedication of disciplined Army personnel, overcame numerous challenges to rise to the occasion to provide immediate relief to the affected people. At times requests for assistance are also made to make use of the specialized equipment and the expertise available with the Army. It could be for the launching of a bridge, as an immediate replacement for one that may have been washed away, or it could well be for army divers to locate the victims and the wreckage of a bus that may have fallen in river.

Three army corps, or over three lakh troops, are deployed in the North-east, a majority of them for counter-insurgency operations. Army formations deployed in the state are stretched thin, engaged in counter-insurgency in the region rather than patrolling the border. The Army has been employed in the NE to fight insurgency. In Nagaland after protracted negotiation there is a ceasefire with both the main groups that is NSCN(K) and NSCN (IM). However, inter factional clashes continue between the groups. In Manipur, the hill districts of Ukhrul, Senapati and Tamenglong are Naga dominated and have a natural affinity to Nagaland. The Army after its deployment in Apr 2004 has been able to clear large areas of Manipur of terrorist influence. However, Imphal district where AFSPA has been lifted provides a safe haven for terrorist activities. In Assam ULFA continues to be the main insurgent group. However, their support base is severely eroded and activities are on a low key due to own operations.

In January 2008 the Cabinet Committee on Security approved the formation of two new mountain divisions for the Indian Army at a cost of Rs 650 crore each. In what will be the army's largest reorganisation in the North-east in decades, the divisions will comprise nearly 14,000 soldiers, functioning under the Kolkata-based Eastern Command. The divisions will be backed by state-of-the-art technology-heavy-lift helicopters, each capable of carrying 50 troops; Howitzers like the 155-mm Bofors, but light enough to be slung under the helicopters; missile and cannon-armed helicopter gunships; utility helicopters; and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) (see box), all of which will be acquired over the next five years.

Army officials estimate that the first two brigades of the divisions will start coming in 2008 and will be expanded at the rate of two brigades a year. Both divisions were to be fully functional within four-to-five years, that is, no later than 2013. The Army asked the Government to raise its manpower ceiling for the new divisions by 30,000, from the present 11 lakh, but that initially seemed unlikely. Instead, the army may convert two existing infantry divisions to mountain divisions, like it did while raising the new IX Corps in 2005.

These are the first moves being taken by the Government to prepare for any possible long-term threat from China. Of a total of 2,800 km of the disputed Indo-Chinese border in three sectors, over one-third or 1,080 km comes under Arunachal Pradesh. The government had not created roads or bridges in Arunachal, fearing that infrastructure could be used by the Chinese Army to roll into Assam. Instead, a buffer zone was created along the border with China, with the strategically sensitive state remaining one of India's most isolated, with feeble infrastructure, with Indian military resupply to the border nearly impossible. Along the 1,080 km McMahon Line dividing Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet, only two Indian posts, Tawang and Kibito, can be reached by road. The rest telescope from jeep tracks to mule tracks and finally into foot tracks. The Chinese built all-weather motorable roads on their side of the border, allowing speedy insertion of troops at various points along the border.

Eastern ComCalcutta 2234'N8822'E

III Corps
Dimapur, Nagaland 2554'N9344'E

U/I Artillery BDE
U/I Location ____'N____'E

23 Infantry Division
Ranchi 2300'N8500'E

57 Mountain Division
Silchar 2449'N9248'E

IV Corps / Gajraj Corps
Tezpur, Assam 2638'N9248'E

U/I Artillery BDE
U/I Location ____'N____'E

2 Mountain Division
Dibrugarh 2730'N9500'E

5 Mountain Division
U/I Location ____'N____'E

21 Mountain Division
Rangia 2628'N9138'E

Siliguri 2642'N8826'E

U/I Artillery BDE
U/I Location ____'N____'E

17 Mountain Division - Blackcat
U/I Location ____'N____'E

20 Mountain Division - Kirpan
Binaguri 2646'N8903'E

27 Mountain Division
U/I Location ____'N____'E

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