At the end of October 1963, F. J. Heredia IAS (Indian Administrative Service) had become Home Secretary, Government of Gujarat, after elections had brought to office in January that year, Balwantrai Mehta as Chief Minister and Hitendra Desai as Home Minister. As was his custom, the first thing he did on assuming his new post was to study all the files and records, as a result of which, in due course, Government of Gujarat set in motion the prosecution of Inspector General of Police (IGP), J. D. Nagarwala. For reasons of prudence, the Home Secretary asked Government of India for, and got, an officer from outside Gujarat to be the new IGP. This was Imdad Ali IP (Indian Police – a service dating to before Independence). He was from Assam, and he had invaluable experience of safeguarding a border State – also against [East] Pakistan. He was in need of re-location, having got in the way of certain politicians and officials.
Imdad Ali joined in late 1964, immediately studied all the files on Kutch, starting with the most recent reports, and warned the Home Secretary to prepare for a major incursion by Pakistan, probably by April (1965), because that was how he read all the signs. The incident of 13 May 1964, and most of all the Pakistani threat of “long-range guns” being used, had alerted him, and already young Dadabhoy, the new Deputy Superintendant of Police (DSP) at Bhuj, was sending in disturbing reports. [More about this at the appropriate point in the narrative.]
The State Reserve Police (SRP) and Central Reserve Police (CRP) were trained only in mob control and riot control. Their proper duties are the preservation of internal security in times of serious internal disruptions of law and order, and the protection of railways and vital installations during such breakdowns of law and order as well as in time of war.
Had the SRP and CRP who defended the Kutch border broken and fled – as they might well have done in the circumstances – the repercussions on the morale of the Gujarat Government and the people of Gujarat would have been grave indeed. In such a case, the roads to Bombay, to Delhi, and into the very heart of India would have lain wide open to the Pakistani Army.
It seems likely that the terms Pakistan Rangers and Indus Rangers correspond to the Central Reserve Police and the (Gujarat) State Reserve Police.
Karnail and Jarnail as Punjabi (Sikh) personal names date to the Sikh Wars, and are corruptions of Colonel and General. Bet, pronounced ‘bate’ signifies an island; kot, pronounced ‘coat’ means fort.
ATTACK ON THE RANN OF KUTCH
The events in this case occurred in the Kutch District of Gujarat – a State of the Indian Union, lying on the international border of India with Pakistan – during 1964-65. A notably pacific people, the Gujaratis were reluctant to concern themselves with a problem which they felt was really the business of soldiers, and of the Union Government.
The district of Kutch incorporates, along its northern (and larger) side, a salt wasteland approx. 300 km long and at its broadest, 80 km wide, with an area of approx. 20,000 sq km. At the western extremity of this uninhabited waste is the sea. The northern edge of this wasteland, known as the Rann of Kutch, coincides with the international border between India and Pakistan. Annually, the conjunction of pre-monsoon gales in the month of May with high tides causes the flooding of the western part of the Rann by the sea. With the setting-in of the monsoon, rainwater inundates the remaining part. Consequently, the Rann becomes impassable between May and November each year.
During the fair season the prevalence of mirages, quagmires and gullies renders its passage by any but four or five established routes a risky venture for all but the smuggling fraternity, and herdsmen (from both countries) who graze their cattle on isolated patches of vegetation that occur (on rising ground) in the Rann. Smuggling is quite extensively practised by fishermen and cattle herders, mostly Muslims with ethnic ties to the Pakistani population over the border. Carriers of contraband also convey information across the border, and not infrequently act as double agents for the intelligence organisations of both countries.
That battle has a far greater significance in the wider context of European and world history, but Leonidas and his men did not fight and die in such knowledge. They fought pro patria as did these policemen, and while those three hundred died almost to a man, they were warriors, whereas a policeman, who never expected to have to fire the simple rifle he carried on special duty, was here required to fight like a trained and seasoned soldier – and die, if need be, like one. It is a difference that makes them heroes.