Recollections of a Communicator; Remembering Radhakrishnan on Teachers Day

New Delhi, Sept.5 Teachers’ Day this year is of special significance, as on this day the nation remembers former President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and also the positive role he played during the India-Pakistan war of 1965.

Dr. Radhakrishnan interacted with Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Defence Minister Y .B. Chavan and Army Chief General J. N. Chaudhuri, and helped to keep up their morale during the war.

When the India-Pakistan War broke out on September 1, 1965, India suffered reverses in the initial phase. Pakistan was able to occupy Chamb on the first day of the war. It was reported that General J. N. Chaudhuri called on Dr.Radhakrishnan, who was the supreme commander of the armed forces, and apprised him of the situation, and suggested that India may have to pull back the Indian Army from some areas in Punjab. Dr. Radhkrishnan asked him not to lose confidence.

The Indian Air Force responded to the request of the army to counter the aggression in Chamb Jaurian , which helped in slowing down the progress of the Pakistan Army in that sector. On September 6, India attacked Pakistan on the Lahore front. Our troops occupied the Icchogil Canal on the outskirts of Lahore, and captured Burki. Pakistan counter-attacked in the Kasur -Khem Karan axis.

Pakistani troops had made advances in the Kasur Khem Karan axis, but the Indian Army was able to push it back. In the battle of Asal Uttar, Pakistan suffered heavy casualties.

India then attacked Pakistan in the Sialkot sector. Pakistan, had to move its armoured formations to that sector. During the battles that followed, Pakistani Patton tanks became a casualty. When the war ended on September 22, we had a graveyard of Patton tanks for the world to see.

During the war, I was the Public Relations Officer of the Lahore sector. When the war ended I was told that President Radhakrishnan would be visiting the forward areas near Burki. I was present when the President’s helicopter landed in the area. Dr. Radhkrishnan got down and exclaimed “I say, we are in Pakistan.”

I, who had the rank of a Major in the Indian Army, introduced myself to him.The accompanying army hierarchy was surprised.

In fact, I had the opportunity of knowing Dr.Radhakrishnan since my first visit to Delhi in the middle fifties. I visited Dr.Radhakrishnan at the vice president’s house. My uncle, Mr U. S. Mohan Rao, who was the Director of Publications Division, had published his books when he headed a publishing firm in Mumbai. He asked me to accompany him when he called on Dr.Rahakrishnan.

I recall that during my visit, Dr. Radhakrishnan was sitting on his bed and we were ushered it. There were not many chairs in the room. He asked me to sit in a cornor of the bed and be near him. He asked me about my background and wished me success in my endeavours.

Later, when I joined the Directorate of Public Relations in the Ministry of Defence, foreign defence college delegations used to call on him. I used escort the delegations and he would give me a warm smile and pat on the back on those occasions.

When India agreed to a cease-fire which came into effect on September 22, President Radhakrishnan in his broadcast to the nation, said,”Pakistan assumed that India was too weak or too afraid to fight. India, though naturally disinclined to take to arms, felt the necessity to defend herself when attacked. Pakistan also assumed that communal disturbances would occur in the country, and in the resulting chaos, she could have her way. The miscalculations must have come to her as a rude shock.”

This Teachers’Day is of special significance, as the nation observes the birth anniversary of Dr.Radhkrishnan and his morale boosting role in the war that took place half a century ago.

Mr. I. Ramamohan Rao is a former Principal Information Officer of the Government of India. He can be reached on his e-mail (ANI)