Rimco Commandants of IMA
Rimcollian, March 2016
Of the thirty eight Commandants of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) since Independence, ten have been Rimcollians. In an inimitable hat trick, the first three Indian Commandants were Rimcos. Closer to our times, the last two Commandants have been Rimcos, including the current one, Lt Gen BS Negi.
Given the centrality of IMA to creation and sustenance of the Indian army’s unique leadership ethos, this is a distinction the RIMC can claim with considerable pride. It points to the College consistently turning out a caliber of officers that are then set by the army to hone the officership of its officer corps.
Major General Thakur Mahadeo Singh was the first Indian Commandant, succeeding five British officers who had held the reins pre Independence since the founding of the IMA in 1932. Stepping up from his earlier appointment as Senior Instructor in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, he took over from the last British Commandant in November 1947 on promotion to Brigadier. He was at the helm when, on 1 January 1949, IMA was converted into the ‘Military Wing’ of the new entity called the Armed Forces Academy.
The ‘Armed Forces Academy’ had two Wings, the ‘Inter Services Wing’, that in the mid fifties shifted to Khadakvasla as the National Defence Academy, and the ‘Military Wing’ that was IMA. Thus, Thakur Mahdeo Singh, who led the AFA in the rank of a Major General, can be credited with raising the first inter-service establishment in the world. The Inter Services Wing that was later renamed the Joint Services Wing. The ceremonial inaugural parade of this institution was reviewed by Sardar Vallabhai Patel.
He handed over the AFA, renamed the National Defence Academy in end 1949, to his illustrious successor, Maj Gen KS ‘Timmy’ Thimayya. At the time, the IMA was the ‘Military Wing’ of the NDA. When the NDA moved to Khadakvasla, the IMA was initially called Military College, till it regained its pre Independence name in 1960. Thus the first three Rimco Commandants were not only Commandants of the IMA, but also of NDA, a double distinction for the College.
Thimayya was already a national hero at the time of his taking over. He was the first Indian to command a Brigade, a distinction he earned in the Burma theater during the Second World War. He had gone on to create military history in Kashmir; the most famous episode being his employment of tanks at Zoji La. India having become a Republic in January 1950, it was decided to rest the King’s Colours at the NDA. The parade to mark the occasion was reviewed by Sardar Baldev Singh, who had Army Chief Gen Cariappa and NDA Commandant Maj Gen Thimayya flanking him at the podium. Thirty five regimental Colours were laid to rest at Chetwode Hall.
Wadalia who stepped into Thimayya’s shoes had been Cariappa’s BGS when ‘Kipper’ was Thimayya’s boss as Western Army commander. At Independence, he had been a company commander at the Academy. Since he was a services’ squash player and, as a cavalier, an accomplished horseman and polo player, these inter alia received his attention as Commandant. Mrs Wadalia is credited with planting many trees in the appointment house occupied by successive Commandants since the first, LP Collins. Wadalia went on to being the Deputy Chief of Army Staff, then Vice Chief equivalent.
The command of IMA reverted to Brigadier level after shifting out of NDA. A Rimco great, PS Bhagat, took over befittingly as Commandant when war clouds were inexorable advancing across from the Himalayas in June 1962. He had earlier served on staff at IMA under its first, Rimco, Commandant Mahadeo Singh. The Academy received its first Colours on 10 December 1962 when he was Commandant from President Radhakrishnan, to replace the one presented by Earl of Willingdon in 1934. The photo of the occasion has Bhagat escorting the Rashtrapati, behind a Rimco ADC to the President, Capt Zaki, who two decades later went on to head the IMA. Bhagat barely had time to oversee the consequential after effects of the war on training, in particular the expansion of the officer corps and training of emergency commission officers in the early sixties. He was appointed secretary to the commission that looked at the war record of the Indian army and was thereby the principal author of the report that continues to bedevil the Indian security establishment, so much so that even the current government ruled out its release, the Henderson-Brooks report.
The next Rimco Commandant of IMA in the sixties was K Zorawar Singh. A Sword of Honour winner of his course, he led Central India Horse in its relief of Rajauri in the 1947 War. He met his Greek wife while his regiment was stationed in Greece in the World War. She recounts her time in the six acre colonial bunglow that served as the Commandant’s residence in the Ton’s valley in her illustrated autobiography, Love and War. The IMA history notes his interest in furthering co-curricular activities in the form of ‘clubs’ and in games. He stabilized the training once again in the pre-emergency patterns with an emphasis on turning out military leaders.
Taking over a decade later, the only Rimco Commandant in the seventies was Maj Gen SC Sinha. He had been by the side of Brig Mohammad Usman, when a Pakistani artillery salvo took a toll of the Brigade HQs, killing his commander and injuring him. He oversaw the changes in the mid seventies stemming from modernization, principally the balancing of service subjects with academics. Graduates were now gaining the officer commission and there was a need to ensure balance between service and academic subjects. He undertook renaming of the battalions at IMA, rightly including two Rimcos among the four they are named after: Thimayya and Bhagat.
The eighties were a blank. The first Rimco Commandant in the nineties was also one to serve for the shortest time in the appointment. Lt Gen Zaki was recalled to Kashmir, this time as Adviser to the Governor. He had come to IMA from command of 15 Corps in the period that the nation faced its most severe internal security challenge. His four month stint at IMA was nevertheless notable for its emphasis on field training, especially field firing. Insights from the short tenure held him in good stead when as Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia he was able to initiate a makeover for the central university into being one of the foremost universities in the national capital.
Lt Gen Gurbaxani was the other Rimco to head the august institution in the nineties. He is well known for his own physical fitness and propensity to join the units being inspected on their battle physical test runs. Those who passed out in his tenure won this nation the Kargil War. The 2000s, like the eighties, did not witness a Rimco heading the IMA.
However, this decade there have been two Commandants, Lt Gen Manvendra Singh and Lt Gen Negi. Lt Gen Singh was in the news for the visit of the royal couple to IMA. Since the Prince of Wales could not visit RIMC, established by his predecessor nine decades back, the Commandant RIMC and cadets met him at IMA. It is a comment on the priorities of the times, that the Doon School stole a march on the occasion over RIMC in its inveigling the Prince to visit it!
Lt Gen Negi, having been a platoon commander at IMA in the late eighties, clearly knows where the shoe pinches, and can be expected to set the compass of the institution along the straight and narrow. A written history of the Academy dates to 1992 and, a subsequent unauthorized one, was published in 2007. Therefore the details of exploits of the later Rimco Commandants must await the next edition. However, his resume of three blues, a double MPhil and enroute to his second doctorate, along with extensive trekking and biking in the Himalayas, indicate the ‘brains and brawn’ approach he has. However, as is the wont of MS Branch, he is off to take over Central Command, much too soon to leave the impact he could have otherwise had on his alma mater.
This brief review of the contribution of Rimcos in turning out an officer corps in sync with the Chetwode motto suggests continuing need for ‘more of the same’. The earlier prominence of Rimcos in higher ranks has been diluted owing to the expansion of officer numbers. Fewer numbers reach higher ranks and making a wider impact in today’s relatively impersonal conditions is confined to only one’s immediate environment. These constitute all the more the reason for a Rimcos’ sure hand at the ‘cradle of leadership’.