Nestled in the picturesque Doon Valley, the Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC) in Dehradun has played a pivotal role in providing the finest military leaders in the service of the nation. In its centenary year now, the institute was set up during the British Raj, to prepare Indian boys so that they could enroll at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in England and become officers in the then British-Indian Army.
This hallowed military academy was established after a hard-fought battle by Indians who had demanded parity with the British in the services. Essentially, Indians had demanded the right to be promoted as officers in the British-Indian Army, a privilege that had been denied to them for close to 200 years, and the RIMC was to prepare them for the road ahead.
Since Independence in 1947, the RIMC has fulfilled its role as a feeder institute, by preparing boys intending to enroll with military institutes such as the National Defence Academy and the Indian Naval Academy, for a career in the armed forces. Back in 1922, when it was inaugurated, the institute began with 27 cadets. Today, it houses 250 cadets aged between 11and 17, from across all states of India.
On the occasion of RIMC’s centenary year, we tell you about the struggle involved in the formation of this institution known as the ‘Cradle of Excellence’.
In the 18th century, as regional powers in North India were fighting over the spoils of a crumbling Mughal Empire, peninsular India saw the rise of the British East India Company, a company of traders with a small army to protect its business interests.
Later, when the Company raised Presidency Armies in each of its three Presidencies, in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, the British began recruiting Indians into the army. But the scope for Indians in this army was limited, for it was led by a British captain assisted by Indians, whose ranks were limited to ‘Subedar’and ‘Jemadar’.
This system was temporarily abolished when Muhammed Yusuf Ali Khan was appointed Commandant of the native sepoys in the Madras Army, in the early 1760s. However, the move backfired when Khan declared himself the independent ruler of Madurai and Tirunelveli.
Khan was put to death and the British would never repeat this ‘mistake’. They introduced a new rank for the Indian sepoy as ‘Subedar Major’– without any scope of further promotion, even though Indians proved their mettle in the battles they fought on behalf of the British.
As the decades passed, resentment brewed among the sepoys and it spilled over in the Revolt of 1857. After crushing the Revolt, the British dropped the idea of upgrading the officer status for Indians. Instead, they had two categories of officers in the British-Indian Army– King’s Commissioned Officers from the British Army, and Indian officers known as ‘Sub-Officers’.
Ray of Hope
As the Indian nationalist movement slowly took shape in the late 19th century, a demand for Indian officers was raised. Interestingly, many British military administrators like Major-General George Chesney (1830-1895), the military member of the Viceroy’s Council, had also raised the issue of upgrading Indians to genuine officer level.
The debate was sought to be resolved when Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, brought a ‘Memorandum on Commissions for Indians’ on 4th June 1900. As part of this, the Imperial Cadet Corps was formed in Meerut and Dehradun. It allowed for the commissioning of Indian ‘officers’. They would be known as ‘Viceroy Commissioned Officers’ (VCOs) and would be a part of ‘His Imperial Majesty’s Native Indian Land Forces’.
But the system was short-lived. The main reason was that it was limited to princely or feudal warring families, whose interests lay on the side of the British Government. Also, the British continued to maintain a rigid attitude towards Indians.
Another disadvantage was that VCOs commanded only local state forces and not British army units. They did not receive a commission like their British contemporaries, who were granted a regular King’s commission.
The next step was taken with the arrival of Lord Minto, who was Viceroy of India from 1905-1910. He agreed to the proper training of Indians who could be promoted to the rank of officer, to lead regiments that were to be established for them.
The proposal was yet to go through and was put on hold by Minto’s successor, Lord Hardinge, as World War I (1914-1918) had broken out. The Imperial Cadet Corps, which was losing its lustre after the departure of Lord Minto, was disbanded in 1914.
Boon For Indians
World War-I was a game-changer for Indian soldiers as it showcased their loyalty and bravery, and earned them laurels within the British administration. Finally, the British realized the need for creating a military institution for Indians.
This was the result of two developments – massive recruitment from the ‘non-warring’ Indian classes in the army with a promise of promotion; and political awareness among Indian soldiers was growing stronger, and this translated into a desire for promotions and political freedom.
Prominent nationalist leaders such as Motilal Nehru and Muhammed Ali Jinnah also supported the demand for Indian officers in the armed forces.
During the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms of 1919, among other provisions, a provision was included to have Indian commissioned officers graduate from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. For this, a ‘feeder’ institute in India, on the lines of an English Public School, was to be established.
By the end of WW I, Northern India witnessed some path-breaking events such as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, the Third Afghan War (both in 1919), and resentment among Sikh soldiers created by the Akali Babbar Movement in 1920-21.
Thus, the Military Requirements Committee was formed and it set in motion the plan to induct Indians for regular training at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst (England). The committee also proposed eventual replacement of British officers by Indians. This was to be achieved in three phases of 14 years each, at flexible time intervals. Besides, new British Army regiments were to be introduced, to be led exclusively by Indian officers.
Recruitment for the new institute was in full swing, of which the Lt Governor of Punjab, Michael O’Dyer, was also a part, where he toured the whole of Punjab, exhorting the martial races to join.
An Institution Comes To Life
Thus a ‘Pre-Sandhurst’ institute in the form of the ‘Prince Of Wales Royal Indian Military College’ (PWRIMC) was built on the campus of the erstwhile Imperial Cadet Corps at Dehradun, with 27 cadets, who were to complete their education in six years.
On 13th March, 1922, the Prince Of Wales, later King Edward VIII, inaugurated the institution and, in his opening address, said:
“It is the first few blows on the anvil of the life that give the human weapon the set and temper that carry him through life’s battles.”
The first batch of cadets comprised of 27 cadets & General KS Thimayya was one of them. He played a crucial role in the Korean War (1950-51) and also became the Commander of the United Nations Peace keeping Force in Cyprus. He breathed his last in Cyprus.
Two World War II heroes – General Shahnawaz Khan, a close associate of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, and Lt-Gen PS Bhagat, who fought for the Allied troops and was awarded the prestigious Victoria Cross for bravery, were both RIMC alumni.
This institute has also been the training ground for many military chiefs like Gen. GG. Bewoor, V N Sharma, S Padmanabhan & Air Chief Marshal NC Suri & BS Dhanoa.
A number of Rimcollians after partition who had gone over to Pakistan also proved their mettle became eminent military leaders like General Gul Hasan, Air chief Marshal Asgahar Khan & Nur Khan.
The Param Vir Chakra Connection
After Independence, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, entrusted the implementation of India’s highest military honour, the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), to Maj-General Hira Lal Atal, an alumnus of RIMC and the Adjutant-General of the Indian Army.
General Atal, in turn, requested Savitri Khanolkar, the Swiss-origin wife of an army officer, to design the medal. Coincidentally, the first PVC was posthumously awarded after first Indo-Pak War (1947 – 48) to Major Somnath Sharma, a Rimcollian who was incidentally the brother-in-law of Khanolkar’s daughter.
After Independence, the name ‘PWRIMC’ was changed to the ‘Royal Indian Military College’ and then to the ‘Rashtriya Indian Military College’.
Initially, the institution’s crest consisted of the three ostrich plumes of the Prince Of Wales’ emblem, with the motto of ‘Ich Dien” (I Serve) along with the British crown. It was replaced in 1964, with three peacock feathers topped by the Ashoka Chakra. The motto was changed to ‘Bal Vivek” (Strength and Wisdom).
Since then, the RIMC has been training young men from age of 12 to 17 for the military institutes of all three services –the Army, Navy and Air Force. From inception till the Partition of British-India in 1947, it also contributed to officers corp of the Pakistani military establishment.
In 1997, when RIMC celebrated its Platinum Jubilee, many Rimcollians from Pakistan arrived to revisit their proud old alma mater. India Post also released a stamp honouring the institution on 13th March 1997.
In the 100 years of its existence, the RIMC has been fulfilling the need of providing the best military leaders to the three services of our country. The legacy of Rimcollians continues to this day and their tales of valour have featured in the history of wars fought for India since independence. Many Rimcollians have been decorated with honours & awards from the nation.
With inputs from Commodore Bibhu K Mohanti VSM, an alumnus of RIMC from 1955-59.