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Military Tactics: The Durg Fortress Mentality Has Dogged Indian Military Thought for Centuries and Continues Now

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.



A look back at the military history of India gives us an interesting insight. The era of the Hindu empires lasted until about the ninth century AD. There were great emperors like Kanishka, Chandragupta, and Ashok who ruled almost the entire subcontinent. Most of these kings were content to rule in India only and did not venture out. Thus the Hindus never produced any of the conquerors to Genghiz Khan, Timur-e Lang, Attila, or Alexander.

At the same time, the Hindus had to face the invaders. These invasions became more prominent after about the 10th century AD. During the earlier era of Hindu rule, the concept of Hindu warfare was centered on the elephant. The elephant was a formidable offensive weapon in a positional or static battle. Its potency can be gauged from the battle of Hydespes (326 BC) between Alexander the Great and Raja Purushottam Porus on the banks of the Jhelum. Despite history being falsified, we are now aware that Alexander was defeated in this battle and decided to go back.

The victory in this battle molded Indian military thought and the elephants became the linchpin of the Army. The elephant, however, could not be used for mobile warfare, and thus the ancient Hindu armies while laying stress on the elephant did not develop the cavalry. The elephant also molded the military thought of the generals who decided that it was better to wait for the enemy to attack and then defeat him in a pitched battle with a preponderance of elephants. Thus the concept of the 'Durg mentality' crept into Indian military thought.

This concept was negative. Field Marshall Montgomery in a 'History of warfare' has stated the "Hindus were very brave with a fatalistic concept of death but they had little strategic sense as the passes of the northwest frontier were never guarded.'

There are many examples of this Durga mentality that pervaded Hindu military thought. Mehmood of Ghazni invaded India 17 times and yet no Hindu king had any concept to stop the invasions right at the Khyber pass itself.

This concept of the elephant as the linchpin of the Army was also adopted by the Muslims who came to India and Ibrahim Lodi the Sultan of Delhi is an example. At the battle of Panipat in1526, the Sultan of Delhi decided to give battle to the Mongol Babar only at the gates of Delhi. He had no concept of offensive warfare to attack Babar in the North West. He relied on his elephants to carry the day but he was defeated.

The Durg mentality continued in Indian military thought and even the Sultan of Mysore -Tipu holed up in his fortress at Serringapatnam and waited for the Duke of Wellesley to come. It never occurred to him to attack the Duke who was marching from Madras 200 miles away.

The durg mentality thus pervaded Hindu thought and lacking strategic sense the Hindus ultimately were defeated by the Muslims who became the rulers for close to 800 years.

Seeing the weakness of Indian rulers including Muslims, the British were able to conquer the entire country. They also threw the concept of the Durg mentality into the ocean and started a proactive campaign all-round India, that led them to war against Tibet, China, and Afghanistan.

Indian troops in Opium wars

Indian troops in Opium wars


British India military concept proactive offence

When the British became the masters of India they Incorporated the local rulers as part of their empire. This was a shrewd move and was articulated by Queen Victoria in her proclamation of January 1858. At the same time the British set about securing the borders of India with an offensive policy. They conquered Burma(1824-26) in what is known as the Anglo- Burmese War. They invaded Tibet in 1903 and the Dalai Lama fled to Sinkiang and the result of this was the Simla conference of 1913 which greatly enhanced the borders of India in the north with Tibet. China was part of the Simla conference and there was nothing much the Chinese could do. Earlier in the 19th century, the British had defeated the Chinese in the two opium wars(1839-60). These battles were fought by the British Indian Army.

The British followed a proactive policy. They wanted to keep the borders of India safe. For this, they made Tibetan a protectorate after the invasion of 1903 and also invaded Afghanistan in two Anglo-Afghan wars (1839-42). They began to control the passes of the northwest frontier in particular the Khyber pass.

The British used the Indian Army in the opium wars and humbled the Chinese who were forced to sue for peace. All this culminated in the 1913 Shimla conference where the northern borders of India were demarcated. China and Tibet had no choice but to agree. Tibet was also granted a semblance of independence and became a buffer between India and China.


Indian military thought after 1947

Logically the Indian military machine should have carried on the proactive policy of the British. Unfortunately for India, the political leadership led by Nehru had no time for any offensive military or proactive policy. Fed on a diet or nonviolence and satyagraha movements including mass civil disobedience Nehru and the Congress leaders who came to power decided to let things stand as they were.

Nehru talked of imperialism and he thought that the British policy of proactive offense was not required by India. He decided that the military was not an important part of the Indian foreign policy. He also failed to draw lessons from history as how the Hindu kings had lost the entire subcontinent as they had followed a Durg military concept. Nehru behaved more like an ostrich who hides amid the gathering storm and failed to see the writing on the wall; the aggression from China.

The Chinese occupied not only Tibet but nearly 37,000 mi.² of Indian territory in the Aksai Chin. This was because of Nehru not having followed a proactive policy and thinking that so long as India did not disturb anybody nobody will disturb India.

His lack of an offensive policy in Kashmir also led to almost 40% of Kashmir being handed over to Pakistan when he went to the United Nations for a ceasefire. It's not easy to comprehend now as to how at with the Indian Army moving towards Muzaffarabad, he accepted a cease-fire.

Nehru went away but the Durg mentality continued with the Indian political leadership which came after him. It is difficult to understand that when the Pakistan Army had mounted an invasion of Kashmir in 1965 the Indian political leadership and army did not attempt to attack East Pakistan which was a defenseless area. No General wishes to talk about it because this was a sign that the country had no military concept of proactive action. The lack of single-minded will for victory has been brought out by field Marshall Montgomery. He had brought out in the History of Warfare that the Hindus time and again did not display the single-minded aim to destroy the enemy.

This concept again played havoc with the Indian leadership when 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war were handed back to Pakistan after the 1971 war without any political bargain.

Now we can see that not taking the offensive in Tibet to stop the Chinese though having the finest fighting machine in Asia at that time in 1950 was a blunder. The net result was that China became a border state of India and both India and China now began to have a shared border that had not happened for 2000 years.

Present scenario

The military normally echoes the thought process of the political leadership. However, nothing stops the military from suggesting to the government offensive steps. Unfortunately, this has not happened and now in the latest border clash with China, it has come to the fore that all the initiative was by the Chinese who have been instigating India. The Indian Army has only been reacting. The talk often is that 1962 will not be repeated but nobody talks of an offensive action to strike and capture Lhasa. Nobody has any plan militarily to take back from China or at least to have the upper hand by being proactive on the border as far as China is concerned.

The negative Indian thinking could be seen in the Kargil conflict when the Indian Army lost almost 3000 dead and no attempt was made by the army and the political leadership to open a second front, may be in Rajasthan to relieve the pressure on Kargil. In the ultimate analysis, Kargil was a Pyrrhic victory and it was only possible when President Clinton intervened and forced the Pakistan Army to withdraw from part of the area which was still under their control in Kargil. The Durg mentality was visible after the IAF carried out a striker on Balakote against terrorist camps. Pakistan also responded in kind. Nothing happened after the Pakistan attack; there was no retaliation from India and no further Balakote has been repeated. This Point has been brought out by Shekhar Gupta the eminent political commentator.

In the present imbroglio with China, a similar mindset can be seen as the Indian generals are generally talking that 1962 will not be repeated. There is no thought of plan or articulation of ideas to take the offensive on the Indo Chinese border or a plan by raising a military strike force to threaten the Chinese by capturing Lhasa. The political leadership is again like an ostrich hoping that the Chinese will not advance further and there will be peace. Unless India changes its military concept which has roots of almost 2000 years and takes the offensive and carries out action against Pakistan and China, I do not know how India can live in peace.

It is a sad commentary that in the latest clash on the border the Hindustan Times has stated that the Chinese have occupied a fgair amount of territory. The Indian political leadership is just hoping that the Chinese will go back and there will be no military conflict for the simple reason that the Indians have no plans whatsoever other than a defensive posture to stop China. I wonder why the Indians have never taken the initiative on the border against China and what China is doing why could India not do it. This is the million-dollar question and it's a matter of regret that the political leadership has also conditioned the army. Despite all rhetoric by Mr. Narendra Modi, the army remains lower in his priority and I would once again mention that he has not sanctioned the One Rank One Pension(OROP) which he had promised before his election.This shows how serious he is about the army. He may well remember that an ostrich tries to weather the storm by hiding his head in the sand but the storm will come.

Last Word

Despite the bravado by China the silver lining to the cloud is that China cannot afford a full-scale war with India. Their best bet was to try and create some psychological pressure on the Indians and grab more territory. The Indians under Modi are now wise and though they may not be on the offensive yet in a defensive battle the Chinese may have to pay a very dear price.


Robert Sacchi on October 22, 2020:

I hope you're right.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 22, 2020:

That's underestimating the AMERICANS!

Robert Sacchi on October 21, 2020:

With America the question is how long will they believe it. For many history is what was in yesterday's newspaper.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 21, 2020:

Robert, China is a formidable adversary and even the Americans are now realizing it.

Robert Sacchi on October 20, 2020:

China knows how to work the system. They make a formidable opponent.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 19, 2020:

Robert, you have hit the nail on the head and I am so glad you understood my point. China is making use of this in the present confrontation on the northern border where they have occupied certain areas and are asking for a mutual withdrawal when all they have to withdraw is from the territory which they have occupied while the Indians will again have to Cede territory.

Robert Sacchi on October 19, 2020:

It seems the Indian strategy is made to order for China. They could attack in an area where they have the advantage and agree to a ceasefire when it appears India is about to stiffen its defense. The fight, fight, talk, talk strategy.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 21, 2020:

Flourish, a conflict with China will drag other countries in also. Its a complex scenario and hope a solution can be found.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 21, 2020:

Gosh that’s all we need is significant conflict between China and India at that border.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 17, 2020:

Thank you Colonel for your comment.

Lt Col Parduman ˜Singh on September 17, 2020:

This is an informative article, the analogy with the past is ok but I think Modi has jettisoned it. Maybe he learned the hard way after 19 meetings with President Xi but now he knows that the old policy of meekness is no longer to be followed.

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