Army Chiefs

General Krishnaswamy Sundarji



COAS, 01 Feb 1986 - 30 April 1988
Infantry, Mahar Regiment


General Krishnaswamy Sundarji (formal name was Krishnaswamy Sundararajan) assumed charge of the Indian Army, as the 14th Chief of Army Staff, on 01 February 1986. Born on 28 April 1930 at Chenglepet in Tamil Nadu, he joined the Madras Christian College only to leave it before receiving a degree. Dr A.J. Boyd, who was then the highly distinguished principal of the college, was sorry to see him leave. He was commissioned into the Mahar Regiment in April 1946 and saw action in the North-West Frontier of Undivided India and later on in Jammu & Kashmir. In 1963, he served in the UN Mission in the Congo, where he was Chief of Staff of the Katanga Command and was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery. Later, he commanded the 1st Mahar from November 1963 to November 1965 and his battalion saw action in the plains during the 1965 Indo-Pak War.

During the 1971 Indo-Pak War, General Sundarji was the Brigadier General Staff of a corps in the eastern theatre and made valuable contribution in operations culminating in the liberation of erstwhile East Pakistan into Bangladesh. In March 1974, he was promoted to the rank of Major General and took over command of an infantry division in the plains. He was chosen by General KV Krishna Rao to be part of a small team for reorganizing the Indian Army, especially with regard to technology. He came to head the Mechanised Infantry regiment, which he had himself shaped, by inducting various battalions from the Indian Army's premier regiments. He was then appointed as the Deputy Chief of Army Staff in August 1981, where he threw himself into the Indian Army's modernisation activities.

General Sundarji was a graduate of the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) at Wellington, the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in the US in 1967-68, the Senior Officers Preventive Maintenance Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky and the National Defence College in New Delhi. He held an Master of Arts in International Studies from Allahabad University and a Master of Science in Defence Studies from Madras University. After graduating from Wellington, he held various command and staff appointments, including that of Chief of Staff, Katanga Command and took part in combat as part of the UN forces in the troubled African state of Congo. He was Mentioned-in-Despatches for his distinguished UN tenure. He was also awarded the PVSM in 1978 in recognition of his distinguished service of the most exception order. He took over as the GOC Western Command in 1984 and was involved in the politically-sensitive Operation Bluestar, to flush out Sikh militants holed up in the Golden Temple at Amritsar.

General Sundarji was amongst the most farsighted armoured corps commanders in the Indian Army. Despite being commissioned in the infantry, he was a keen student and admirer of tank warfare. He pioneered various operational guidelines, challenged his commanders to push the men & machines to the limits. In various exercises, he is known to have ordered tanks full speed up sand dunes in the Thar desert at 70º degrees Celsius. Amongst other things, he designed the flamboyant all-black uniform of the Indian Armoured Corps. Post his transformation of the Armoured Corps, he went on to create the Mechanised Infantry. With emphasis on speed, technology and mobile weaponry it is now an integral part of the Indian Army's Strike Corps. He is also credited for shaping modern Indian Army thinking. In his stint as the Commandant of the College of Combat in Mhow, he practically rewrote the Indian Army war manual with emphasis on speed, decisive action, technology and his abiding love - armour.

As Army Chief, his operations at Sumdorong Chu in 1986 - known as Operation Falcon - has been widely praised. The Chinese had occupied Sumdorong Chu and General Sundarji used the Indian Air Force's new air-lift capability to land a brigade in Zimithang, north of Tawang. The Indian Army took up positions on the Hathung La ridge, across the Namka Chu river, where India had faced a s humiliating defeat in 1962. The Chinse responded with a counter build-up and adopted a belligerent tone. Western diplomats predicted war and some of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's advisers blamed General Sundarji's recklessness. But General Sundarji stood by his steps, at one point telling a senior aide, "Please make alternate arrangements if you think you are not getting adequate professional advice." The confrontation petered out.

Among the Indian Army's most articulate Generals, he guided and conducted the Indian Army's largest military exercise for its time, codenamed Operation Brasstacks, near the Indo-Pakistan border in Rajasthan. Conducted between December 1986 and January 1987, the exercise involved two armoured divisions, one mechanised division and six infantry divisions. The stated objective of Operation Brasstacks was to test new concepts of mechanization, mobility, and air support devised by General Sundarji. A man of immense wit, charm and style, he was also known as the 'scholar warrior' and a visionary with a brilliant mind. Handsome with high cheekbones and a pugnacious jaw, and with his cap worn at a rakish angle, he fitted the glamorous image of the soldier and was married to Vani Sundararajan. He was afflicted by an ailment of the central nervous system and was hospitalised during March 1998. He passed away on 08 February 1999, at the age of 69.