LIEUT GENERAL R.N. BATRA, PVSM, OBE
Rajinder Nath Batra was one of the pioneers, who helped lay the foundations of the present day Indian Army. Unlike most well known military leaders, who commanded armies, corps and divisions, Raj, as he was popularly known - a few of his close friends and family called him Inder - was not a commander, in the strict sense of the term. But he was a team captain, and an achiever. Though he had all the qualities, and qualifications, of rising to the top in the 'general cadre', he was destined to make his mark not as a generalist, but as a technocrat. He is widely regarded as one of the 'Founding Fathers' of the Indian Signal Corps, and is credited with having conceived and initiated the process of modernisation of military communications in India. His contribution to the Indian Army was prodigious, and in terms of enhancement of operational capability, would rank on par with the achievements of some of our best known field commanders.
Raj Batra was born on 27 December 1916, at Jhang Maghiana, in the Punjab province of undivided India, where his father, Ram Lal Batra, who was an irrigation engineer in the Punjab Civil Service, was then posted as the sub divisional officer. His mother, Puran Devi (Vidya), was an outstanding sportswoman, who could out-swim and out-ride her husband. The couple had nine children, six boys and three girls. Raj was the fourth child of his parents, having been born after a brother and two sisters. After retirement, Ram Lal settled down in Montgomery, though he also had a house in Lahore.
Raj began his education at Modern School, in Delhi, in 1922. The school had been established in Daryaganj in 1920, and his elder brother, Rajeshwar, was one of the twenty students who had enrolled when the school was founded. A little later, in 1923, Raj's younger brother, Rabinder (Robin), who was just four years old, also joined Modern School, as a boarder, as his parents were going abroad. However, they were not destined to study in Delhi for long. Ram Lal's service in the Irrigation Department entailed frequent transfers, often at small stations, and the boys had to be put in a boarding school. The best school at that time was the Bishop Cotton School, in Simla, and since Ram Lal wanted his sons to have the best education, that is where he decided to send them. In March 1927, Raj and his younger brother Robin were sent to Bishop Cotton School, in Simla. Raj was then just ten years old, and Robin only seven. A year later, two of their cousins, Jagan and Mohinder also joined the school, and so did Raj's younger brother, Rameshwar, a few years later. As it happened, four of the five Batras who were in Bishop Cotton joined the Defence Services, with two going to the Army, and two to the Navy. Of these four, three were to attain three star rank. Raj and Mohinder became Lieut Generals, Robin rose to be a Vice Admiral, while Rameshwar retired as a Commander. Raj's two youngest brothers, Gopal Krishen (Guppi) and Ram Krishen (Kaka), were educated at St. Joseph's College, Nainital. Both joined the Services, with Gopal retiring as a Major General, and Ram Krishen as Group Captain.
Raj's eldest brother, Rajeshwar, had a short but eventful life. As a school boy, he had witnessed the landing of a sea plane on the Jumna, by Sir Alan Cobham, during his historic flight from England to Australia, and had set his heart on becoming a pilot. After passing out from Modern School in 1928, he joined the Government College, Lyallpur. He also became a member of the flying club at Lahore, and got his 'A' licence. After graduating from college, he applied for a commission in the Royal Air Force, and was selected. He was sent to Cranwell, but had a row with one of his instructors, and was withdrawn. He remained in England, and obtained a commercial pilot's licence. He returned to India in 1931, and began to fly, being the youngest pilot in the country. He joined a private airline, and began ferrying mail between Lahore and Karachi. During one of his sorties, his plane crashed, near Jacobabad, and he was killed, in 1937, at the age of 25.
Soon after he had started flying, Rajeshwar had taken out a life insurance policy from his maternal uncle, Vidhyadar Chawla, saying, half in jest, that it would provide for his mother after his death. He proved true to his word - his parents built their home, named Raj Smriti in his memory, from the insurance money. Raj was at Dehradun when Rajeshwar died. When he reached home, he hugged his mother and told her: "I am no longer Inder - from today, I will be your Raj". That day, he stepped into his elder brother's shoes, and began to be called Raj, as his elder brother had been.
In Bishop Cotton School, Raj did well in studies as well as games. He was particularly good at Mathematics and Science, and always stood first in his class. He played all games, but excelled in boxing, in which he represented the school for three years. He had a flair for languages, and began to learn Latin, French and Urdu. At that time, Bishop Cotton had almost two hundred boys, of whom only thirty odd were Indians. The Britishers tended to look down on the Indians, who were thought to be lacking in physical and mental abilities. Raj Batra's performance put paid to this theory, and he became a shining example for the other Indian boys.
In 1932, Raj and his cousin Jagan passed the Senior Cambridge examination, with Raj getting a First, and three distinctions. At that time, the school had a college wing attached to it, and they joined it next year. According to the system then in vogue, they could attend summer classes in Simla, and winter classes at the Government College, Lahore. In May 1934, they appeared for the Intermediate examination, at Simla, and Raj once again passed in the First Division, topping in the college. The boys then joined the Government College, Lahore, which was then the premier college, in Punjab. Raj's father wanted him to join the ICS, which was then the most sought after government service, for Indians. Entry to Sandhurst had been stopped, after the IMA was established at Dehradun, in 1932. However, ICS trainees still had to go to England, and this added to its glamour. The ICS was the 'steel frame' which held India together, for the British Empire, and enjoyed a lot of prestige, and authority. His father had arranged for him to go to Cambridge, but Raj had made up his mind to join the Army. He appeared in the Public Service Commission examination for entrance to the IMA in 1935, without any preparation. He not only qualified, but stood first, and his father reluctantly gave his consent.
Raj Batra joined the IMA at Dehradun on 19 August 1935. At that time, there were three types of entries - Open, Army and State Families. Each batch had 40 cadets, with 15 each from the 'O' and 'A' categories, and 10 from the 'S' category. Batra's batch was the seventh, and had 16 'O' cadets, 20 'A' cadets, and only two 'S' cadets, making a total of 38. Raj was allotted to A Company, where he found B.S. 'Tutu' Bhagat, who had joined six months earlier. He became a role model for Raj, as well his guide and mentor, and was responsible, in some measure, for his brilliant performance, in the Academy. Tutu Bhagat was an outstanding cadet, and not only Raj, but his younger brother Prem Bhagat, who later won the VC, found it difficult to emulate his example. Raj tried to follow in his foot steps, and made his mark in the first term itself, by getting a place in the Academy football team. In subsequent terms, he continued to excel, and by the time he passed out, his performance had surpassed Tutu Bhagat's. He had represented the Academy in almost every game, had won his spurs, and a prize in the fourth term camp, for 'showing the most initiative and power of leadership'. A brief on the cadets of the passing out course, prepared by the Indian Military Academy, contains the following description of Raj. " Batra was a fine combination of brain and brawn. He was equally at home in the ring or the examination hall. Undoubtedly one of the finest boxers the I.M.A. has had."
Raj was a natural leader, and this attribute came to the fore in the Academy itself. His term was one of the best that passed out from the IMA, and produced no less than nine generals (R.N. Batra, K.N. Dubey, D. Premchand, Virendra Singh, D.G.R. Rajwade, D.B. Chopra, Niranjan Prasad, Kamta Prasad, and R.S. Shergill 'Sparrow'), in India alone. Another unique feature of the course was that they decided to call themselves the 'Zunts', which was Punjabi slang for the 'smart ones.' Raj emerged as the leader of the group, and galvanised them into a team which developed a distinctive sense of esprit de corps, and camaraderie. The nine or ten who settled down in Delhi after retirement continued to meet regularly, and even their spouses, who called themselves the Zuntinas, as well as their children and grandchildren, who were called Zuntlings, became a part of the unique fellowship. The Zunts held regular meetings, in each other's homes, and whenever one of the Zuntlings was married, the Zunts always gave a collective present, a practice which continues even today. Raj was the unelected President of the Zunts, and was the moving force which held the association together, and brought them closer to each other, as their numbers dwindled. The surviving Zunts and Zuntinas bear testimony to his stellar role, and the moral and physical support, which the group provided to each one of them. It helped them face the joys and sorrows of life together, and was a blessing, in the twilight of their lives.
The Punjabis are a robust and fun loving people, and Raj had inherited these qualities in abundance. Major General Niranjan Prasad, one of his batch mates at the Academy, recalls that Raj's zest and exuberance often landed them him in very difficult situations. But his friends could not ask for a better companion, when in trouble. Some of the cadets often spent their summer holidays in Kashmir, with Prasad, and they have many anecdotes about their escapades.
Once, Raj Batra, Masood Ali Baig, Kartar Dubey, Mark Ranganathan, Dewan Prem Chand and Manohar Lal were in Srinagar, during their holidays. At that time, swimming boats on the Dal and Nagin lakes had notice boards, with the words "Indians Not Allowed", or "Europeans Only". The cadets wanted to swim, but were shooed away by the boatmen. Next day, they decided to forcibly board the boats. Led by Raj, the gang donned swimming trunks, and got into 'shikaras' (a shikara is a narrow boat, normally used by a couple, with a boatman, similar to the gondola). Like in a military operation, they approached the swimming boat from both sides, to divide the reaction. The boatmen tried to push them away, but they dived into the lake, and clambered aboard. When the boatmen (there were three of them) tried to hit them with their oars, the cadets knocked them down, and threw them into the lake. Within a few minutes, there was complete pandemonium. The boat men shouted for help, and dozens of other boats converged on the scene. Hundreds of 'Hanjis' surrounded them, and a free for all ensued, with the cadets giving as good as they got. Finally, an elderly gentleman intervened, and brought the situation under control. The cadets left only after removing the offending notice boards, and an undertaking that they would be allowed to swim.
Another interesting incident occurred in December 1936, when Raj was in Lahore, during the winter vacations. His elder brother, Rajeshwar had just turned twenty five, and a tea dance was held to celebrate the occasion. In those days, two attributes which were prized among Indians, especially in the North, were fluency in speaking the English language, and skill in ballroom dancing. Having been to one of the best schools, Raj was quite proficient, and thus reasonably proud, of his achievements in both departments. The eighteen months he had spent at Dehradun had added not only to his dexterity, but also done wonders to his confidence. So when he saw an attractive English lady at his brother's party, he went up to her, and asked her for a dance.
The lady gave him a sweet smile, but instead of rising from her chair, said, "I am sorry, I cannot dance with child." Raj was literally shattered. The thought of a refusal had never entered his mind, and was a big blow to his vanity. In a minute, the confidence built over years had been razed, and he retreated, like a defeated warrior. A few minutes later, when he related his misfortune to his elder brother, he was greeted with laughter. It was only after Rajeshwar explained that the lady was in an advanced stage of pregnancy, and thus in no condition to dance, that Raj was mollified, and regained his composure and confidence.
Raj commanded the Commandant's Parade, held on 22 December 1937, during which the awards were announced. He made a clean sweep of the honours, and was awarded the Birdwood Sword of Honour, for the best all round performance, in addition to the Gold Medal, for standing first in the overall order of merit, and the Baluch Regiment Prize, for mountain warfare. This was truly an awesome performance, which has rarely been surpassed. In his report, his company commander, Major Cadogan Rawlinson wrote: " An outstanding cadet, who possesses both initiative and drive, and whose work in the company both on and off parade have been of a very high order. He is professionally and intellectually well above the average, is well read and has wide interests. He is the right type with the right ideas and is eminently suited to his profession." He went on to add that Batra possessed a strong character and a definite personality with an above average power of command. The Commandant, Brigadier H.E.W.B. Kingsley, DSO, endorsed the remarks, and wrote :" GC UO Batra has entered whole heartedly into all the activities of the Academy and has made himself the outstanding figure of his term. He is obviously a leader and men will follow him. If he continues as he has begun he should become a first rate officer. I hope he will do so. He will be welcome in any social circle."
As was the practice, though the batch had actually passed out earlier, they were granted commissions from 1 February 1938, to bring them on par with the batch commissioned from Sandhurst. Raj had passed out on top of his batch, and could have got the Regiment of his choice. He was assigned to Signals because it had for long been the exclusive preserve of British officers, and once Indians started being taken, only the very best were selected. He may also have been motivated to strike at 'the last bastion of the British', as Signals was regarded at that time. Raj left Dehradun on 15 January 1938, and after spending his leave in Lahore, reported to the Signal Training Centre, at Jubbulpore (now called Jabalpur) on 10 February 1938. According to the procedure then in vogue, he had been formally posted to 3rd Cavalry, but sent on attachment to the Indian Signal Corps. At that time, officers commissioned into Infantry and Cavalry did a years attachment with a British battalion, before joining their parent units; while the Artillery and Engineers officers went directly to their regimental centres. In case of Signals, the procedure was slightly different. Because of the sensitive nature of its role, Indian officers were not taken into Signals directly, but were posted, on paper, to a Cavalry or Infantry unit. They were accepted into Signals only after completing an 18 month course at the Signal Training Centre, Jubbulpore, followed by a three month course at the Army Signal School Poona, and a six month attachment to a non-Indianised Signal unit (Waziristan District Signals). They were seconded for duty with the Signal Corps, and formally posted to an Indianised Signal unit (4 Indian Divisional Signals), only after they had been found upto the required standard. Those found unsuitable were reverted to the regiments to which they had been formally posted. Before Raj, only five Indians had been commissioned into Signals, from Dehradun, starting with A.C. Iyappa in August 1935, and followed at six monthly intervals by Mehta, Joe D'Souza, B.D. Kapur and B.S. Bhagat. Mehta did not make the grade, and was reverted to 19 Hyderabad Regiment. The only KCIO to have been sent to Signals, Sangram Keshav 'Sunshine' Ray, who had passed out from Woolwich in September 1932, had also been similarly reverted to the Cavalry.
Raj's first day at Jubbulpore was inauspicious. On arrival, he was received at the railway station by B.D. Kapur, who took him to his quarters. Next morning, at breakfast, he was relating to Kapur the achievements of his company, which had won the Commandant's Banner, as well as his own, in winning the Sword of Honour and the Gold Medal. A senior British officer, Major 'Father' Williams, who was sitting across the table, suddenly shouted " Shut up, Batra. Breakfast is a quiet meal." This put an end to the conversation, and Raj's exuberance subsided, like a burst bubble, under the cold stare of Charles Ommaney, the Senior Subaltern. Later in the day, Raj was taken to the Adjutant, Captain Donald Burridge, and then formally presented to the Commandant, Colonel George Pollard, who was also known as 'The Terror'. It was only several months later, when Raj let himself be beaten by the Commandant at squash, that Pollard began to approve of the young Indian. However, he still had to contend with Ommaney, who had not forgiven him for his behaviour at breakfast, on his first day in the mess.
Raj's stay at Jubbulpore was eventful, and he always remembered it with nostalgia. One of his favourite stories was about Ronald Frankau's famous poem, "I am terribly British". After the Signal Training Centre had beaten the Scottish battalion at squash, they were invited by the Scots to their mess. Supper was followed by cock fights and billiard fours, interspersed with jokes and skits. Finally, the Scots challenged them to a 'rugger scrum', which resulted in many torn dinner jackets. All this was forgiven but not Raj's misbehaviour, in reciting "I am terribly British", in front of the Scots, much to their delight. In Ommaney's eyes, this was an unforgivable sin, and Raj got a severe tongue lashing from the Senior Subaltern next morning. At that time, neither of them could have known that they would become good friends, and meet each other in England and in India, much after they had both retired. And whenever they did, Raj would again recite his favourite poem, to the delight of everyone present.
In September 1938, Raj was sent to Poona, to attend the three month All Arms Signals Course, at the Army Signals School. Poona was a large city, which had many distractions for a young officer. There were horse races, late night dances at the club, and week end visits to Bombay. Raj did not miss out on any of these, and made the most of his stay at Poona. In December 1938, he returned to Jubbulpore, after getting a Distinguished Certificate on the course. More than the certificate, what pleased Raj was the qualification pay of forty rupees, that he now started getting, in addition to his salary of three hundred rupees a month. In April 1939, he was detailed to attend the four month 'S' course, for British Other Ranks, for promotion to Sergeant. His earlier training had been confined to technical aspects of signalling, such as morse code, flag wagging, heliograph, radio theory etc. On this course, he learned brigade level signal tactics, detachment drills, organisation of higher formation signal units, and general administration.
In November 1939, after completing 18 months training at Jubbulpore, Raj was posted to Waziristan District Signals, at Dera Ismail Khan, in the North West Frontier Province. Life on the frontier was tough, and Raj gained a lot of experience, especially during the Ahmedzai operations. He spent some time at Razmak, and also at Wana, and learned the finer points of signalling. After six months, he asked for three months leave, which was allowed for service on the frontier, and went to Lahore. He also went to Mussourie, a hill resort in North India, which was especially popular with bachelors. His holiday had to be cut short, when he received a telegram cancelling his leave, and ordering him to join 10 Indian Infantry Brigade Signal Section, which was to proceed to the Middle East, as part of 5 Indian Division. After this posting, he was struck off the strength of 3rd Cavalry, and transferred to the Indian Signal Corps, which now became his parent arm.
In early May 1940, Raj reached Jhansi, where 10 Infantry Brigade was located. He reported to the Commander, Brigadier (later Field Marshal and Chief of Imperial General Staff) 'Bill' Slim. Raj's first impression of the great soldier was of a man with a determined strong jaw, but with kind eyes behind a closely clipped moustache. Slim gave Raj the welcome news that Army HQ had approved his promotion to Captain, and he could take over the brigade signal section from the reservist British officer, who was then in command. Slim also told him that they would be sailing for the Middle East in two months time. When Raj assumed command of the brigade signal section, it comprised one third British and two thirds Indian Other Ranks. He soon discovered that the section was to be Indianised, and only three British NCOs - one sergeant, one lance sergeant and one corporal- were to remain. In addition, their equipment was to be 'modernised'. The No 1 wireless sets were to be replaced by No 5 sets, the D-3 telephones by the D-5, and the old magneto exchange by one with lights. Raj had to train his men, now almost all Indians, on the new equipment, and he had only two months to do it. It was a daunting task, but Raj was young, and brimming with confidence. He had a good second-in-command, and with the help of the British NCOs, they were able to finish up in good shape, after working day and night for two months.
When the brigade entrained for Bombay, Raj's parents were there to see him off. Having lost four children, his mother was inconsolable at the thought of her eldest son going to war. Bill Slim spoke to his parents, and reassured them that he would be safe. (After his father's death, when Raj was sorting out his papers, he found that Slim had written to his parents regularly, informing them of his progress and well being). Early in July 1940, they embarked at Bombay and set sail for the Middle East. They disembarked at Port Sudan, after experiencing a few air raids by enemy aircraft during the voyage. From Port Sudan, the brigade went by train to Gadaref, where HQ 5 Indian Division had arrived earlier. Raj met the CO of the divisional signal regiment, Lieut Colonel Leslie Morgan, and then proceeded with his brigade to a place about 11 miles away, just short of Gallabat, which was held by the Italians. Shortly afterwards, the brigade launched an attack on Gallabat. Preceded by a heavy bombardment, a dawn attack was put in, and the Italians driven out of Gallabat, after an operation lasting about 72 hours. This was the first time Raj had been in actual combat, and he had his hands full, maintaining communications with the forward troops, as well with the Divisional HQ, which had moved up. Fortunately, the wireless and lines functioned without a break, but Raj did not get any sleep for almost 72 hours. He was able to catch up with some sleep only after Slim sent for him and ordered him to bed, saying: " I would rather have my communications fail, than my signal officer collapse."
After the capture of Gallabat, 5 Indian Division was ordered to assist 4 Indian Division, which was then engaged in pushing the Italians back into Eritrea, but were held up at the Keren Pass. By this time, Raj had been promoted acting Major, and given command of No 3 Company, of the divisional signal regiment. A coordinated attack by the two divisions succeeded in driving back the Italians, and 5 Indian Division entered Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. The division continued to follow the retreating Italians towards Abyssinia, till they made a stand at Amba Alaji, with the help of the Duke of Aosta. During this operation, the Italians were beaten, and forced to surrender. The division then turned towards the port city of Massawa, which was held by the Italians. The city was captured, with the assistance of the Navy, which foiled an attempt by the Italians to scuttle their ships in the harbour. The Eritrean campaign being over, the division was moved to Mena Camp, near Cairo, for rest and refit.
Raj and his section had been in Mena Camp for about three weeks when orders were received for the division to move to Kirkuk, in Iraq, to suppress a revolt, fomented by a German agent. It took them five days to reach Kirkuk, via Baghdad. The situation soon stabilised, and after a month in Iraq, the division returned to Cairo. Meanwhile, Crete had fallen, and it was expected that the Germans would now turn their attention to the island of Cyprus. 5 Indian Division was ordered to replace the British Territorial Division in Cyprus, and prepare for an airborne attack from the Germans. The Divisional HQ was established at Famagusta, while the brigades were located at Kyrenea, Limassol and Morphu. After establishing communication on line, wireless and helio, Raj found ample time to do some sight seeing. Cyprus was full of vineyards, but due to the war, none of the wine could be exported. As a result, excellent wine was available for almost nothing, and Raj probably drank more of it than was good for him.
In April 1942, Raj received a cable, sent about two months earlier, informing him that his father had died in Lahore, and asking him to return home. He applied for leave, but it was decided to send him back to India, and post him to the Signal Training Centre. This was done with a view to make use of his war experience, to improve the training of recruits, and make them fit for the war theatres. Raj returned to Cairo, and after picking up his heavy baggage, left by train for Damascus, en route to Baghdad. From Basra he went by sea to Bombay, and from there, by train to Jubbulpore. After reporting for duty, he proceeded on two months leave, leaving his baggage at Jubbulpore. Shortly afterwards, 5 Indian Division also returned to India, and then proceeded to the Burma theatre, to fight the Japanese.
Raj did not stay at Jubbulpore for long. He was posted to Army HQ, as a GSO 3, in the Signals Directorate. Raj's posting came as a surprise to him, as well as to others, since appointments in Signals Directorate were the exclusive preserve of British officers, and Raj would be the first Indian to break this monopoly. His service in the Signals Directorate proved to be extremely useful to Raj, as it broadened his horizon, and acquainted him with the functioning of the higher echelons of the Military, and the Government. After a short spell in Delhi, Raj was posted as second-in-command of Landikotal District Signals, at Peshawar. Here again, his stay was short, since he was nominated to attend the Staff College, at Quetta, in February, 1943.
Before he left for Quetta, a confidential report was initiated by his CO, Lieut Colonel I.St.Q. Severin, who wrote: "This officer has a quick brain, plenty of drive and initiative and plenty of self confidence. He is smart and soldier-like in his appearance and has good power of command. At present he is too interested in his own welfare and inclined to be self assertive. His keenness also tends to make him too impulsive, otherwise he has a pleasant personality and gets on well with officers and men. Very good at games." During those days, career advancement was frowned upon, and many senior officers, of the old school, did not take kindly to young officers who wanted to go to the Staff College. Staff officers were derided as 'pen pushers', and regimental service was held in higher esteem than a staff job.
On completion of the staff course in October 1943, Raj was again posted to the Signals Directorate, as GSO 2. World War II had been going on for four years, and the focus of attention had shifted from the European and North African theatre to the East, where Indian troops were now facing a different enemy. The Japanese onslaught had been stopped just on the borders of India, and Allied troops had started pushing them back into Burma. Raj had a hectic schedule in Delhi, and had little time for his young wife, whom he had married during this period. This was to have unfortunate consequences, in the years to come. In March 1945, he was promoted Lieut Colonel, but remained in Signals Directorate as GSO 1.
In January 1946, Raj took over command of 15 Indian Corps Signal Regiment, in Jakarta, from Lieut Colonel George Dutton. The Corps was occupying Java, Sumatra, Borneo and Bali, and its main task was to look after the Japanese prisoners of war. It also had to protect the thousands of Dutch, who had been under Japanese custody, and were awaiting repatriation to Holland, from being butchered by the Indonesians. After the task of providing communications to the subordinate formations and headquarters of the South East Command was over, Raj and his officers had little to do, and he had a new problem on his hand - how to keep them occupied, and free from boredom. He had as his Adjutant a very smart and handsome British officer, Captain Gordon Nation. Raj discussed the problem with Nation, and they soon found a solution. With his good looks and skill at ball room dancing, Gordon managed to persuade some young ladies of the Red Cross, selected nurses from the Military Hospital, and a few eligible Dutch ladies, to join them for parties and dances in the officers mess. Of course, the ladies had to be collected from their homes and dropped back, under armed escort, accompanied by officers.
Raj had been in command of 15 Indian Corps Signal Regiment for barely three months when he was recalled to India, towards the end of April 1946. He had been selected to lead the Signals contingent for the Victory Parade, which was to be held in London. After several enforced halts, due to engine trouble and bad weather, he landed in Rangoon, from where he hitched a ride in Mountbatten's plane to reach Calcutta. He took another plane to reach Delhi, and was sent to Bareilly, where Brigadier (later General) J.N. Choudhury was getting together the Indian contingent. Raj was late, but was quickly kitted up, and took charge of the Signals contingent, which comprised twelve Indian Other Ranks. They sailed from Bombay, and after reaching England, were put up in a tented camp in Southampton.
Raj marched in the Victory Parades in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow. After the parade in London on 8 June 1946, he found, through the newspapers, that he, along with eight others, had been awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE). He was surprised, and naturally very pleased, since the OBE was quite a rare award, and carried a lot of prestige. The awards were to be presented by the King, at a formal ceremony, to be held in Buckingham Palace shortly afterwards, but Raj was in a hurry to join his unit, and decided to fly back to India. As it happened, he had to wait for several years to get the award, which was presented to him after Independence by General K.M. Cariappa, the C-in-C of the Indian Army.
After returning to India in early July, and making his report to Major General R.H.S. Nalder, the Signal Officer-in-Chief, in Delhi, Raj requested to be sent back to command his unit, in Java. He was informed that 15 Corps Signal Regiment was at that time on the high seas, on its way to India, and that he could have a month's leave before joining the unit in Quetta. While he was on leave, Raj was recalled, and ordered to proceed to Poona, to raise Force 401 Signal Regiment. Force 401 had three infantry brigades, two Indian and one British, and was to proceed to Basra, to protect the British oil interests in Iran.
Once again, Raj had to prepare his unit for overseas duty in a matter of two months. This time his task was even more difficult, since the unit was a new raising, and he had a number of 'bad hats', which other units wanting to get rid of had sent to him. Raj needed some good officers in his team, and he specifically requested for Captain Gordon Nation, who, apart from his social accomplishments, was professionally also an outstanding officer. Gordon had just returned from overseas service and was entitled to a period of rest, but he immediately agreed, and leaving his unit even before reaching Quetta, joined him at Poona. Raj was lucky to have a good second-in-command, in Major (later Brigadier) Apar Singh, who had passed out from the IMA exactly a year after him. Apar Singh still recalls the hard work, which they had to put in, to get the unit ready in time. Raj was thorough and meticulous, and nothing missed his attention. By mid September, they were ready to sail from Bombay.
They disembarked at Basra and went into a tented camp. It was bitterly cold, and the frequent rains turned the entire area knee deep in slush. It was worse in summer, when flies and mosquitoes added to their woes, and the men started to grumble. The British troops had been away from their homes for very long, and with the war being over, wanted to return to 'Blighty' as soon as possible. Some of them wrote to their Members of Parliament, complaining against the terrible living conditions. Raj had a difficult time keeping things under control, but he was able to do so, with the help of his team of officers, especially Major F.P. Stewart, who had replaced Apar Singh as his second-in-command, and Gordon Nation, the Adjutant. The task of Force 401 was to protect British oil fields in Iran from a communist take over. Fighting an imaginary enemy did not appeal to the battle hardened troops of Force 401, so their resentment was excusable.
The Commander of Force 401 was Major General F.J. Loftus Tottenham. He was impressed by Raj, and after having seen him for just three months, wrote in his confidential report, on 3 January 1947: "Exceptionally strong character. Knows his job inside out and has plenty of energy, determination and resourcefulness. A bit impulsive, but thinks things out and certainly knows what he wants. Leadership and drive to a marked degree. He inspires confidence and would carry heavy responsibility well. Among Indian officers I know I consider him outstanding and he should be marked for further advancement." General Tottenham's trust was not misplaced. Raj did rise to high rank, and fully justified the assessment of his commander. The remarks about his strength of character, and impulsive nature, were in conformity with his earlier assessments, and continued to appear in future reports, throughout his service.
In May 1947, Raj returned to India on a month's leave. Before he could return to Basra, he was informed that Force 401 was on its way to India, for demobilisation, and that he had been posted to take over command of 7 Infantry Divisional Signal Regiment, at Rawalpindi. In July 1947, he relieved Lieut Colonel Crichton, who was going back to England. This was the period when British officers and men were returning, except for the few who had volunteered to stay on after Partition. Due to the sensitive nature of their job, very few Indians had been taken into Signals, and the sudden departure of the British created a vacuum, which was difficult to fill. Raj and the few Indian officers like him in Signals had a very difficult task, in those days, and it is to their credit that they performed magnificently.
Shortly after he took over, Raj's cousin, Major (later Lieut General) M.N. Batra, joined him as his second-in-command. The day he joined, Raj told him; "Mini, you have come as my 2IC, I am not going to show you any favours just because you happen to be a close relation of mine. In my office we will have a very professional relationship. After office hours it is a different matter." There were several British Other Ranks in the regiment at that time, and Raj always referred to them as 'my BORs'. Some of them still recall the affection with which he treated them, and the respect and regard they all had for their first Indian CO.
On 15 August 1947, the day India became independent, a function was held to enable officers who were going to India and Pakistan to bid farewell to each other. As one of the senior most officers in Rawalpindi, Raj organised the show, which was a grand success. There were emotional scenes as officers who had served and fought together said good bye to one another. As a result of Partition, several units had to move, across the newly created border between the two nations. 7 Infantry Divisional Signal Regiment in Rawalpindi and 4 Infantry Divisional Signal Regiment in Jullunder had to change over. The killings had already begun, and it was quite a job to get everyone across, especially the families. Raj moved his mother and the rest of the family to Lucknow. He had given strict instructions that they should carry only the minimum essential baggage, like any other refugee family, and had to leave a large part of their valuables and jewellery behind. Such was his authority that even his mother did not dare to ask if she could carry an extra trunk.
In October 1947, the Kashmir operations had started. Raj had been ordered to send all BORs to Delhi immediately after Partition, but he was very reluctant to part with them. He kept giving reasons, such as erection of an aerial park, which was required for the Kashmir operation, to delay their move. Finally when he realised that he could not hold on to them any longer, he agreed to let them go. The day before they left, he came to their mess, and told them that he had five hundred rupees in the regimental funds, which he did not know what to do with. He had decided to spend it on a farewell dinner for the BORs, and he would be happy to preside, if they wanted him to. Naturally, the BORs were overjoyed, and it was an emotional evening, with old comrades sitting down together for the last time. When RQMS Booth, the senior BOR present, proposed a toast to 'Lieut Colonel Batra and his BORs ', there were many wet eyes.
In November 1947, Raj was promoted Colonel, and posted to Army HQ, as Deputy Director, Signals (DD Sigs). He handed over the unit to M.N. Batra, who was promoted Lieut Colonel, and left for Delhi. The Director of Signals and SO-in-C at that time was Brigadier C.H.I. Akehurst, OBE. This was the third time Raj was being posted to Signals Directorate, having served there earlier in 1941-42 and 1943-45. In fact, Raj had the unique record of serving in Signals Directorate in every rank, from Captain to Colonel, and later as Major General. He also had the distinction of commanding three types of major signal units, as a lieutenant colonel. It must be remembered that though Indians were being commissioned in the Army since 1920, they always served in units which had Indian troops, and very few Indian officers got the opportunity to command British troops. Raj was one of the lucky few who got this chance, and he came out with flying colours.
Raj remained at Delhi till July 1949, when he was promoted Brigadier and posted as Chief Signal Officer, HQ Eastern Command, replacing Brigadier A.C. Iyappa, MBE. Eastern Command was then located at Ranchi and the Army Commander was Lieut General Thakur Nathu Singh. Ranchi was a small station, known only for a mental asylum, and being the summer capital of the Government of Bihar State. Soon after his father's death in 1942, Raj had married Pamela, a Christian girl from Allahabad. His total involvement with his work, and long periods of absence due to overseas assignments did not allow Raj enough time to devote to his young wife, and they had begun to drift apart. When he went to Ranchi, Pamela did not accompany him, and he went through a difficult period of separation, which finally ended in divorce, by mutual consent, in November 1952.
One of his close friends from college days, Brigadier (later Major General) M.G. Dewan was also posted at Ranchi. Raj found solace in the company of Madan and his wife Guddo, and their house became a second home for him. Mrs. Dewan recalls that Raj did a lot to enliven the social life of Ranchi, and organised regular parties and dances in the club, and various other forms of entertainment, such as plays and skits. He was a very good dancer, as well as a fantastic organiser, and soon even people from Calcutta heard about the gay parties of Ranchi, and began to come over during weekends. Invariably, Raj took the lead in all such gatherings, and readily joined in the singing and dancing. His recitation of Ronald Frankau's poem, "I am terribly British, you see", and the joke about Andree the flea, were perennial favourites. In a party at the home of Brigadier Umrao Singh, the Brigadier General Staff, Raj played the 'tabla' (an Indian percussion instrument, comprising two drums, placed upright, and played with both hands) with such vigour that the drum skin broke. He was promptly christened 'Tees Mar Khan' (a Hindustani term, literally meaning one who had killed thirty birds; used to refer to any one who does something extraordinary).
In December 1953, Raj accompanied the Dewans on leave, to Delhi, where he met Priyo Singh, a friend of Guddo from her days in Kinnaird College, Lahore. She was from a deeply patriotic and socially active Sikh family of Abbotabad, where they owned a hotel, in addition to extensive property in the Chitral Valley. Her father had been a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, and she had been trained as a teacher by Madam Montessori herself. Raj and Priyo took to each other, and decided to tie the knot. They were engaged in a simple ceremony held at the home of Priyo, where her mother read some verses from the Granth Sahib (the holy book of the Sikhs) and blessed both of them. The Dewans were the only witnesses, and they were very happy for Raj. As it turned out, Priyo proved to be an ideal companion for Raj, and brought him the joy and stability he sorely needed. They were married on 14 March 1954, in Delhi, just after Raj was posted to Simla, as Chief Signal Officer, Western Command.
Raj and Priyo enjoyed their stay at Simla. In January 1955, their daughter Preminda was born, followed by a son, Ranjit, in November 1956. Raj's old school, Bishop Cotton, was in Simla, and he was a frequent visitor, attending all functions, and meetings of the Old Cottonians Association. In mid 1956, Raj was informed that he had been selected for the appointment of the Military Attache, in the Indian Embassy in Washington. Both Raj and Priyo were thrilled with the news, and began preparations for their departure. Once again, Raj handed over to his cousin, Brigadier M.N. Batra. After a few months attachment in Delhi, he left for Washington, along with Priyo and the children, in December 1956. En route, they spent some time with the Dewans in London, where Madan was posted as the Military Attache.
Raj and Priyo were a gregarious couple, and soon became popular members of the Corps of Attaches, in Washington. Captain (later Major General) Bir Paintal, an Indian Signals officer, was doing a course at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, in 1959. He and his wife Mira still recall their first meeting with the Batras, when they went to call on them at their gracious home in Maryland. Mira was a very nervous bride, and still remembers how Raj and Priyo disarmed her, and in a few minutes, she began to feel that she had known them all along. Both Bir and Mira were literally bowled over by the famous Batra charm, and became their ardent admirers. Little did they realise that they were destined to become close relatives - twenty five years later, Ranjit Batra was to marry their daughter Lalita, who was as yet unborn.
Raj was affable and hospitable by nature, and soon his neighbours were walking in and out of his house. He was sandwiched between two blue blooded American families, and soon after he moved in, he invited them over for dinner, only to discover that this was the first time the two families were sitting down together! The Paintals often met visiting American Generals from Washington, in Fort Monmouth. All of them had the highest regard for 'that fantastic Indian General from Signals in Washington'. (In most Armies, Brigadiers are called Brigadier Generals). As for the ladies, most of them cooed " Oh, that darling General of yours." Raj was a charmer, and a very accomplished dancer. Not surprisingly, he got more than his share of 'passes' from many of them, which he adroitly parried.
The four years Raj spent in Washington gave him an extremely privileged World view, and enriched his personality. He had been brought up and educated in a British colonial setting, and the environment in America was a refreshing change. His horizons became wider, and his perspective of the World came in sharper focus. He took his job seriously, and closely studied the organisation, functioning, and latest developments in the US Army and Navy, as well as the other developed countries. Because of his Signals background, he paid special attention to communications, and the latest trends in this field. He did a two weeks course at the US Army Signal Corps School at Fort Monmouth, and visited a large number of Signal units and establishments. This was made possible because of the excellent personal relationship which he had developed with Major General Nelson, the American Chief of Signals. This was to prove fortuitous, when he returned to India, and took over the reins of the Corps of Signals. There is little doubt that if Raj had not had this exposure in Washington for over four years, Plan AREN would not have come about, when it did.
In May 1961, Raj returned to India, after spending four years and three months in Washington. At about the same time, Thimayya retired, and Thapar became the COAS. During his tenure in Washington, Thimayya had indicated that Raj would be given command of a brigade, on his return. At that time, officers of Artillery, Engineers and Signals were given command of infantry brigades based on their reports, and no separate promotion boards were held for induction into the 'general cadre', as happens today. Raj had been recommended for command of a brigade by Lieut General Kalwant Singh, GOC-in-C Western Command, in his confidental report, initiated on 7 July 1956. However, fate had willed otherwise. Major General A.C. Iyappa, the Signal Officer-in-Chief, had completed his term, and there was nobody else who could replace him. Starting with Iyappa, who was from the 2nd batch, one officer had been commissioned into Signals every six months. However, none of them was available. Mehta, from the 3rd batch, had been reverted to the 19th Hyderabad Regiment; D'Souza from the 4th batch had been boarded out on medical grounds; B.D. Kapur from the 5th batch had gone to Bharat Electronics; and 'Tutu' Bhagat from the 6th batch had quit the Army, and joined Rallis (India), a private sector company. That left Raj, who was from the 7th batch, and next in line, after Iyappa.
In May 1961, Raj was promoted Major General, and appointed Director Signals, and Signal Officer-in-Chief. The suffix 'in-Chief', is used by the heads of Engineers and Signals, since they have certain responsibilities towards the Air Force and Navy, in addition to their own Service. Raj was pleased at his promotion, but also a little disappointed, at being denied command of a brigade. 'Tutu' Bhagat had been given command of an infantry brigade in March 1956, about nine months before Raj proceeded to Washington. Even Prem Bhagat, from the Engineers, who was junior to him, had commanded a brigade from March 1957 to August 1959, and there was little doubt that he would soon get command of a division. If Raj had not been sent to Washington, it is quite likely that he too would have been given command of a brigade, like the Bhagats. Who knows, he might have become an Army Commander, or even the Chief, as Prem almost did. On 4 August 1961, General Thimayya, who had just retired, wrote to him from Bangalore, to congratulate him on his promotion and appointment. He went on to add:" ....I am however sorry that I could not get you through a Brigade first. I have no doubt you would have shone, but there were too many difficulties in my way." As is well known, Thimayya's authority had been severely eroded, after the episode of his resignation. In the event, his inability to give Raj the command of a brigade was propitious. The Indian Army probably derived much greater benefit with Raj heading the Corps of Signals, than it would have if he had joined the General Cadre.
When Raj took over as the Director Signals, Krishna Menon was the Defence Minister, P.N. Thapar the Army Chief, and B.M. Kaul the CGS. As is well known, the Army was ill equipped, in every department, as was amply proved in the conflict with China in 1962. Although his predecessors, Brigadier C.H.I. Akehurst and Major General A.C. Iyappa, had set into motion plans for the modernisation of Signals equipment, Raj found that, except for the C-42 VHF wireless sets newly installed in tanks, and a small start in the production of radio relay sets, all other equipment was still of World War II vintage. In peace-time, the Army had to depend entirely on the Posts and Telegraphs (P&T) department for its communications, backed by its own high frequency radio. Field formations did have facilities of wireless and line for their internal communications, but still had to depend P&T department for long distance speech and teleprinter circuits.
Soon after Raj took over as SO-in-C, the Goa operations took place. A few days before the operations started, Raj went to visit HQ 17 Infantry Division, at Belgaum. He then went to visit 50 Para Brigade, in its concentration area at Savantvadi. Brigadier (later Lieut General) Sagat Singh, who was commanding the Para Brigade, was a good friend of Raj. He had come to know that 17 Division had been given some radio relay sets, for their rearward communications to Belgaum. He asked Raj to give a radio relay detachment to his brigade also, since he found that the existing arrangements were unreliable. Raj told Sagat that the C41/R222 radio relay sets had been recently introduced in the Army, and had still to be blooded. Only one section had been raised, which was directly under the control of Army HQ. To try them out, four sets had been given to 17 Infantry Division, and four were kept for training at the Signal Training Centre at Jabalpur. These were also the GS reserve, and he could not give them to Sagat.
Sagat was not to be shaken off easily. He asked Raj what sort of a friend he was, if he could not do this small favour. Raj thought for a moment, and then agreed. But he told Sagat that he would have to arrange to pick up the sets from Jabalpur, and after the operation, return them in one piece. Sagat assured him that this would be done, and within minutes, got through to the Parachute Training Centre at Agra, who sent an aircraft the same day to Jabalpur, to pick up the sets. Sagat got the radio relay sets just a day before he moved to the assembly area at Doda Marg. By a stroke of good luck, his Signal officer, Major (later Colonel) R.R. Chatterjee, found a permanent line route of the P&T Department, which ran past Doda Marg. This was patched to the rear terminal of the radio relay link, and enabled the brigade exchange to get through to Belgaum. Thanks to the radio relay sets, Sagat was never out of touch with the Command HQ. The orders for his brigade to capture Panjim were conveyed to him on the radio relay link, because 17 Infantry Division's communications had broken down. According to Sagat, Raj would do anything for a friend, as this incident proves.
The Indian Army faced its greatest challenge in October 1962, when the Chinese attacked India. Though the number of troops involved was very small, we suffered a humiliating defeat, which many consider to be a blessing in disguise. The situation is best described in Raj Batra's own words.
" But then, and if I can say fortunately, came the Chinese intrusion in the month of October 1962, and like the rest of the Army, our Corps too was caught completely off balance, At that time, I was already a member of the P&T Board, and to supplement our single and totally unreliable speech and teleprinter circuits rented from the P&T department to our newly formed Corps Headquarters at Tezpur, the P&T department kindly gave me a full time liaison officer based in Guwahati, and under his supervision our line construction sections built an open 4 wire copper carrier route from Guwahati to Tezpur in record time. In addition, P&T department put up a carrier centre for the exclusive use of our Corps Headquarters at Tezpur in Army accommodation. They also strengthened their existing carrier centre at Guwahati and with these we were then able to obtain reliable speech and teleprinter circuits from Army HQ and Command HQ to the Corps HQ. Forward of Corps HQ, of course all Signal communications were provided and maintained by our Corps.
However, when the withdrawal (shall I say the disorganised retreat) started, my CSO Corps, (Brigadier P.S. Gill) telephoned me to say that he had orders to blow up this specially installed carrier centre at Tezpur. I had to use all my powers to persuade the Chief, General P.N. Thapar, to prevent this from happening. He very kindly issued direct orders to both Army Commander and Corps Commander regarding this. This non destruction of the carrier centre paid off really well in later days after the Chinese withdrawal.
Because of the Chinese intrusion, not only we did get considerable American help in terms of equipment but also our Government realized the necessity of modernising Signal equipment and considerably loosened their purse strings. Therefore, after years of stagnation, we were able to get considerable types and quantities of new Signal equipments. It also gave tremendous incentive to LRDE, BEL and ITI to develop a new generation of the much needed new signal equipments for our Army . If I may, in all humility, say that I was lucky to get this circumstantial golden opportunity, and I grabbed it to the maximum advantage of the Army."
Raj Batra's major achievement, during his tenure as the SO-in-C, was the formulation of the new communication philosophy for the Indian Army, which also earned him the sobriquet 'Father of Plan AREN'. His tenure in the USA had already exposed him to the new concepts being propagated in the advanced countries. In 1962 and 1964, he attended the Commonwealth SO's-in-C conferences in UK. On both these occasions the British SO's-in-C were his old friends from pre-World War II days in India. On one of these visits, he spent a few days with the British Corps HQ in the British Army on the Rhine (BAOR), to study their signal communications within their Corps. A briefing from the Commandant of the British Army's Signals School at Catterick Camp on their future thinking with regard to signal communications in the field made it apparent that both in the USA and UK they were not only depending on secure radio relay, but also going in for digital techniques. He made a detailed study of the HOBART and BRUIN systems, which were being planned in UK, and the area grid system being followed by the USA.
With this background, and having studied the limitations of linear signal communication system in India, Raj realised that in the event of war, our Armed Forces would basically either remain within our own territory, or at best exploit success to about a 100 miles or so within enemy territory. He came to the conclusion that future signal communications within each Corps should be on the basis of secure radio relay systems on an interconnected grid of communication nodes, covering an area of 100 x 100 miles. Divisional and brigade HQ could then hook on to the nearest such node, based on a computer controlled digital automatic electronic switch. In case of mobile operations, the grid would roll forwards or backwards, by nodes leap-frogging ahead or behind, without any disruption in communications. The system would provide each crucial appointment with a fixed number, and no matter where he moved within the corps area, he could receive speech, teleprinter, FAX and data communication automatically.
The new communication system, conceived by Raj, was named AREN, which is an acronym for Army Radio Engineered Network. It sounded as 'RN', which were the two initials of his name. Major General J. Mayadas, who was then a Major, vividly recalls that when Raj returned from UK in 1964, after attending the SO's-in-C Conference, his enthusiasm was boundless. He quickly assembled a team of officers, to give concrete shape to his ideas. Apart from Brigadier I.D. Verma, who was his deputy, the team included Colonel K.S. Garewal; Lieut Colonels M.S. Sodhi, J. Mayadas, M.B. Hart and S.L. Juneja; and Majors R.K. Gupte, B.S. Paintal, M.K. Ghosh, M.C. Rawat and Sushil Nath. (Four of them - Verma, Garewal, Sodhi and Ghosh - rose to the rank of Lieut General, and became SOs-in-C, while the others - except for Dick Hart who retired permaturely - became Major Generals). There were long sessions, running into the late hours of the night, but everyone was so enthused by Raj's passion that there were no complaints, except from the wives.
The process was frenzied, and was interrupted only by the Indo-Pak War of 1965. After the dust had settled, they began where they had left off. There were monthly presentations, and Raj's ardour and conviction began to rub off on everyone, including General J.N. Chaudhury, the Army Chief. In late 1965, Raj made the first formal presentation of Plan AREN to the Army Chief, the Army Commanders and Principal Staff Officers. Their response was heartening, and Raj knew that he had won the first round. His grasp of fundamentals, and their application in the field of combat communications, coupled with his domineering personality, convinced those who mattered in South and North Blocks that Plan AREN was essential, at any reasonable cost. Once this was achieved, it was easy to justify the associated raisings, and the funding for the project.
Though Plan AREN was his best known achievement, and in a sense, his magnum opus, Raj was responsible for scores of other changes and developments, during his tenure as Director Signals and SO-in-C. These cover a wide canvas, and encompass every field and facet of Signals, including organisation, training, equipment, policy, procedures, security, ciphers, personnel, and administration. He was a visionary, who could look ten or twenty years into the future, and visualise requirements which at that time appeared to be in the realm of science fiction. Plan AREN is a classic example of a revolutionary concept in military communications, which was conceived twenty years ahead of its time, even before the General Staff felt a need for it.
Shortly after the Chinese invasion in October 1962, the Government decided to raise ten mountain divisions for the defence of the Northern borders. With his wide experience, Raj immediately realised that forward deployment of these formations would lead to establishment of communication zones behind them, comprising road, rail, air and telecommunication networks, in addition to numerous administrative installations. Higher formations and the forward divisions would need reliable communications between them, and also to these establishments. Raj and his team immediately set to work, planning the deployment of these communication zones, and spelling out the scale and extent of the forecast signals requirements. A clear requirement of twelve communication zone signal regiments was established, cases prepared, presented to the Government, and sanctioned in record time. This was an extraordinary achievement, and a direct result of Raj's foresight, intuition and enthusiasm.
It was at Raj's behest that the Tactical Communications Committee was formed in 1964, with him as the Chairman, to examine all requirements of military communications, for field formations. During his tenure, the communication requirements of mountain divisions were finalised, and signal units reorganised accordingly, for the first time. In 1965, the Committee studied the special requirements of communications for armoured and infantry divisions, air defence, offensive air support, and counter bombardment. Two important decisions which were taken, were the change from HF to VHF, and the introduction of radio relay, in divisions.
There were a large number of organisational changes, which Raj pushed through. When he took over as SO-in-C, his cousin M.N. Batra, who was then a Brigadier, had assumed the appointment of Director of Military Intelligence, after attending the first course at the National Defence College. The appointment was later upgraded to Major General, and M.N. Batra continued to hold it, on promotion. Being signal officers, both of them were convinced of the immense potential of signals intelligence, and the need to upgrade our capability in this field. As a result of their deliberations, in 1963 Raj sponsored a case for establishment of a Directorate of Signals Intelligence, to function under the Director of Military Intelligence, which was accepted. The new set up was an inter services organisation, which covered intercept units of the Army, Navy and the Air Force. This has paid handsome dividends, during the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan, operations in Sri Lanka, and also in counter insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East.
Raj was also responsible for the raising of several new units, such as the Special Signal Regiment, which carries out trials of new equipment, air support signal regiments, radio monitoring companies, and air defence brigade signal companies. He also reorganised the Army HQ Signal Regiment into two regiments, one to man the communications in Delhi, and the other to look after the transmitters and receivers, located at Meerut. The conversion of command and area signal regiments from brick to tailor made establishments, and of corps signal regiments into brick type establishments, was also Raj's brain child.
It would be incorrect to assume that Raj always met with success in his ventures. A number of his proposals did not materialise, mainly because of opposition from other Arms and Services, or bureaucratic resistance to change. One of the changes he proposed was that Signals should take over from the Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers the responsibility for field repairs of signal equipment, in field formations also, as they were doing in static establishments. Another proposal that he mooted was that field signal units should be rotated between formations, as was being done for Armoured Corps and Artillery. This would facilitate continuity of service of individuals in these units, and facilitate the implementation of the 'parent unit' system, in vogue in several other Arms.
One of the most important areas which Raj concentrated was electronic data processing systems. His tenure in the USA had convinced him of the tremendous power of computers, and he decided that the Indian Army must begin using them as soon as possible. A steering committee, with Raj as Chairman, was appointed, to go into the question. Captain (later Major General) Bir Paintal, who had joined his team on return from his course in USA, remembers that none of them ever walked - they ran. There were free for all brain storming sessions, and everyone was encouraged to come out with new ideas, however bizarre and absurd. The Committee's first report was approved by the Army Chief, and submitted to the Government, which constituted another high powered committee to review it. Meanwhile Raj convinced the Chief that they should go ahead with the mechanisation of procedures, to save time, and this began at the Central Ordnance Depot in Delhi, and at the Signals Records, in Jabalpur.
As a result of the expansion of the Army after the 1962 operations, there was a spurt in the intake of officers as well as other ranks. To cater for the increased training load, two additional training centres were established, at Jabalpur and Goa, for training of recruits. Raj realised that it would be impossible to open another school for training officers, or increase the size of the School of Signals, in such a short time. He decided to run a number of short courses, to train officers on specific systems or equipment, till the situation stabilised. These courses, of four to six weeks duration, were run at the School of Signals, on wireless equipment, line equipment, line construction, radio relay etc. In addition, additional vacancies were obtained in USA and UK, to train officers on techniques and equipment which was being imported in large numbers. A larger number of graduate engineers began to be inducted, and for others, a three years degree engineering course was introduced, so that every signal officer would be capable of handling the sophisticated communication systems that were to be introduced in the near future.
At that time, satellites had been launched only by the USA and the USSR, and their utility in the sphere of military communications was still to be realised. Raj was one of those who could appreciate the tremendous potential of satellites, and though he could not achieve much in the field, his concepts proved to be great help to his successors. Similarly, electronic warfare was almost unknown, except for the rudimentary aspects of jamming. Raj constituted a sub committee of the Joint Communication Electronics Committee, of which he was the Chairman, to study the subject. He submitted a report to the Chiefs of Staff Committee, which approved it, and the process of acquisition of capability in this field commenced. Another area in which he made a significant contribution was in the automation of handling of messages, in the Army's signal centres, which was hitherto being done manually. This resulted in considerable saving of time and effort, and also reduced errors.
During his five year tenure as the SO-in-C, Raj literally transformed the Corps of Signals, and made a extraordinary contribution to the Indian Army, in terms of enhancing its capability. A number of factors played a part, in facilitating his task. The first was his tenure in Washington, which had exposed him to modern communication systems, and the futuristic trends in this and related fields. The second was the 1962 war with China, after which the Nation realised that the Army was ill equipped, and Government was forced to increase the budgetary allocation to the Defence Forces. The third was the excellent rapport which Raj was able to build up with General J.N. Chaudhury, the Army Chief, as well as officials in the Ministry of Defence. The fourth factor was the excellent team of officers which Raj was able to assemble, to give concrete shape to his ideas. He had an eye for talent, and was able to discern between the brilliant and the pedestrian, which is not very easy, especially among soldiers. The last, and probably most important factor was his own personality, and strength of character. He was a determined man, who rarely gave up, till he had achieved the desired results. His powers of persuasion, coupled with his passion and vitality, affected everyone he came into contact with, and he got what he wanted, almost always.
In recognition of his immense contribution, Raj was awarded the PVSM, the highest non-gallantry award for the Armed Forces. He was presented with the award at a formal investiture ceremony, held in the Durbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhawan, on 21 April 1966. After the ceremony, the President, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan met the awardees informally, at tea. When he was introduced to Raj's mother, who was present, he said, "You must be very proud of your son today." The old lady drew herself upto her full height, and told the President, with obvious pride, "I have four more - just like him."
In July 1966, after having held the appointment of SO-in-C for over 5 years, Raj was appointed Director General of Civil Defence, on deputation to the Ministry of Home Affairs. He handed over to Major General I.D. Verma, who had been his deputy, and was thus fully in the picture about various on-going projects, which Raj had initiated. Soon after assuming his new appointment, he was promoted to the rank of Lieut General. As Director General Civil Defence, Raj was responsible for the recruitment, training, and employment of the home guards, who functioned as a second line of defence, and were designed to relieve the Army, and assist the police, in carrying out routine tasks, especially during war, natural calamities, and civil unrest. He served in this appointment for about four years, and made several organisational changes, in order to enhance the effectiveness of the force.
Raj was to retire on 30 September 1970, but he took premature retirement on 28 February 1970, and joined the industry, as General Manager Somaiya Organics Limited, a chemical manufacturing concern which was setting up a modern plant at Barabanki, near Lucknow, with French collaboration. It was to produce alcohol based products for the industry including the pharmaceutical industry. Raj had virtually no experience in the field, but had spent several decades getting things done. The fact that he remained with the company for almost 25 years, as General Manager and later as Director, bears testimony to the success he achieved. According to Mr G.H. Keswani, who was one of the Directors, Raj "lent his deft and adept hand in the establishment and subsequent establishment of the plant. He himself brought colour, vivacity, intelligence and understanding to his work, particularly in his dealing with other people."
After spending about five years as General Manager of Somaiya Organics, Raj decided to move to Delhi, and settle down. He had built a house in Defence Colony, where most of his brothers, as well as a large number of his friends were also living. To keep himself occupied, he joined Danfoss (India) Limited, as General Manager (Administration), where he was required to work only three days a week, and that too only for a few hours. He joined the Delhi Golf Club, and began to play golf regularly. He had also bought a small farm, on the Delhi Haryana border, and tried his hand at becoming a farmer, for some time. He built a small house on the farm, where he and Priyo lived for a couple of years. He was now the head of the Batra clan, and his brothers, nephews and nieces often went to him for advice and assistance. He kept in touch with every member of the family, and took pains to keep it together, by making sure that everyone attended all functions, such as birthdays, anniversaries etc.
After about five years with Danfoss (India), he decided to retire completely, and quit his job. However, he continued to play golf regularly, and remained active. He and Priyo decided to visit places they had not been able to see earlier, and they went on a number of holidays. Their eldest daughter, Preminda, had been married in August 1981, to Sanjiv Langer, an Armoured Corps officer, and the couple had a daughter and a son. Ranjit Batra had married Lalita, the daughter of Bir and Mira Paintal, in April 1984, and they too had a son. The youngest daughter, Preeti, born in 1958 while they were in Washington, had become a teacher, like her mother. She married Gurdeep Singh Ahluwalia, in 1989, and they had a daughter and a son. Raj and Priyo tried to spend as much time with their children and grand children as they could, and sometimes went abroad to visit them.
In December 1980, Raj and Priyo went on a tour of South India, and visited several places. They had lunch with General K.M. Cariappa, at his house, Roshanara, in Madikeri. They also met Nina Thimayya, and Lieut General A.C. Iyappa, in Bangalore. During his service in pre Independence days, Raj had developed close ties with many British officers. While he was in Washington, he made numerous acquaintances, not only in America, but among the diplomats from several other countries. He was a warm and affectionate person, and made friends easily. He took pains to maintain his close links with all his friends, especially his comrades, from the British Army. The Indian Signals Association of Great Britain, which comprised British veterans who had served in Indian Signals during World War II or earlier, played an important role in helping him maintain these links. Raj and Priyo made several trips abroad, to visit their children, and their friends, with whom they were very close.
In 1986, Raj and Priyo spent two months, holidaying in the United Kingdom, Spain and Kenya. In England, Raj was able to meet scores of his old comrades, some after almost forty years. In Almeira, Spain, they were house guests of Dougan and Betty Elliot - Major Elliot had been one of his company commanders in Force 401 Signal Regiment, in 1946. They went abroad again in 1991, to visit Ranjit, who was based in Germany, and attend the Royal Signals Re-Union, in England. The President of the Indian Signals Association in Great Britain, Major General David Horsfield, OBE, was an old friend of Raj. He was ten days older, and referred to Raj as his 'Indian twin'. He put together a three week programme for the Batras, with the help of what came to be known as 'Horsfield Instant Tours', that took them on a whirlwind tour of London, Blandford, Catterick, Aldershot, and Southill House in Somerset, where the Horsfields lived, and had been hosting the annual dinner for Colonels Commandants, for the past eighteen years. The Batras were hosted and feted wherever they went, and General Horsfield, writing about the visit in the Association's Newsletter, under the heading 'The Fabulous Links With India - 1991', wrote, " This was a very happy visit and Raj did so much to show to all concerned what a marvellous institution the old Indian Army was, for all of us. As the 'the Commander in the Field', I gave Raj an immediate award of Honorary Membership. Raj is unequalled in showing all around him the depth of his interest and the warmth of his heart. I borrow one of his favourite expressions in saying 'God Bless you, Raj'."
Raj and Priyo visited England again in June 1995, after spending some time in New York, with their daughter, Preminda, whose husband, Lieut Colonel Sanjiv Langer, was posted in the United Nations headquarters. This time, they were part of a delegation of eight retired signal officers from India, and one from Pakistan, who had been invited to attend the 75th Anniversary celebrations of the Royal Signals, in the United Kingdom. Once again, they were treated like Royalty, and attended a large number of official and private functions. Raj was the senior member of the delegation, and in spite of his age - he was almost seventy nine - he made a deep impression on everyone, by his jest and joie de vivre. At a ladies guest night organised by Brigadier John Neeve and his wife Jane, who had spent a year at the Staff College in Wellington, the hosts put up a hilarious programme to entertain their Indian guests. Raj responded by reciting "I'm terribly British", which as usual, brought down the house. Who could imagine that this genial man, so full of life, had less than six months to live.
A few months after he returned from the trip to Germany and UK in 1991, Raj had to see the urologist, who recommended surgery of the prostate gland. For a person of his age, this was quite normal, and after the operation, he returned from the hospital in seemingly good health. However, the prostate had been found to be malignant, and everyone kept their fingers crossed. It was another three years before the tell tale symptoms began to appear, and their hearts sank. It was a losing battle, but Raj put up a very brave front, and never complained. Visitors were still greeted with a smile, and the jokes and leg pulling continued, as before. Priyo could see the writing on the wall, but she remained stoic and unflinching, knowing that any sign of weakness on her part would make Raj's resolve crumble. Her courage seemed to give strength to Raj, and he refused to give up, right to the end. The trip to England in June 1995 was perhaps ill advised, but Raj had always been a fighter, and as long as the knock out punch was not delivered, he was not going to let anyone begin counting.
The end came on 16 November 1995. Raj passed away quietly in the house, with his loved ones around him. He was in his favourite arm chair, with his evening whisky beside him. He died peacefully, a happy and contented man, with his loving wife at his side. He was cremated at the military cremation ground at Brar Square, in Delhi, very close to the famous War Cemetery. The mourners included almost the entire top brass of the Corps of Signals, retired officers, soldiers, as well as a large number of his civilian friends and admirers. The large turnout was an indicator of the tremendous popularity, esteem and affection which Raj enjoyed. For several months after his demise, tributes kept pouring in, not only from his own friends, but even from those of his children, who had always looked upon Raj as a favourite uncle. Letters came to Priyo from almost every corner of the Globe, which often brought her to tears.
General John Badcock, from England, wrote that Raj's death 'almost signifies the end of an era', while David Horsfield felt that "..... as in everything, Raj got it right. It was time to go." From Singapore, a friend of Preminda wrote " I'm sure everyone has a lot of fine things to say about him and his many outstanding achievements, but we will always remember him for his endearing sense of humour and larger - than - life personality." From Germany, Herta Schemdl wrote, "Raj always wanted people to be happy and he invariably succeeded." For Anne Wright, who had once been a tenant at the Batras' farm house, Raj was "one of the World's great gentlemen, and there are so few of them." Mr. G.D. Gokarn, who had been Engineer-in-Chief of the Overseas Communications Service, felt that " So wide was General Batra's vision and scientific temper, that in those days, in my humble opinion, he was in the same class, as Dr. Homi Bhabha, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, and Dr. Satish Dhawan......Raj 'Bahadur' was indeed the Field Marshal of Indian Telecommunications."
Captain Martin Howard of the Royal Navy, and his wife Anne had first met Raj and Priyo on the lawns of Rashtrapati Bhawan, when they were playing as extras in the film 'Mountbatten, The Last Viceroy'. Martin was the British Naval Adviser in New Delhi at that time, and the chance meeting with the Batras turned them into lifelong friends. After his retirement, he continued to live in Delhi, and was very close to the Batras. In his opinion, "It was either very deft appointing or the hand of God, that turned him into a communications, or signals officer, giving him thereby the very best career possible in the army, and one in which his rise to the top of his branch was unstoppable." There were a large number of letters, from 'Zunts', in India and Pakistan, recalling the wonderful association they had with Raj. There were letters from people who had served with him, in the Army, as well as in industry, in a similar vein. Perhaps the most wonderful letter came to Priyo from David Horsfield's wife, Sheelah, who wrote, "What a joy Raj was. So full of life, bubbling over......But what a sparkling memory. What a jewel to keep in one's room of happy times."
Rajinder Nath Batra was one of the greatest soldiers produced by the Indian Army. After a brilliant record in school, college and at the IMA, he had an outstanding career in the Army. Scruplously honest and painfully meticulous, he was blessed with a contagious sense of humour and joie de vivre. He had a magnetically dominant personality, with the ability to develop and sustain human bonding. It was providential that he became a communicator, and was thus able to achieve what he did. Though his contributions in the sphere of military communications are stupendous, he is equally well known for his skill at communicating with people. He had a deep understanding of human nature, which enabled him to change his 'frequency', to suit the wave-length of the person with whom he was interacting. As a result, he never faced a breakdown of communications, and was always 'through'. For a Signaller, that is the ultimate accolade. And Raj was a true Signaller, if ever there was one.