Krishnaswamy Sundarji

Krishnaswamy Sundarji

General Krishnaswami Sundarji.jpg
Birth name Krishnaswamy Sundar
Nickname(s) KS Sundra, Sundarji
Born (1928-04-28)28 April 1928
Chengelpet, Madras Presidency, British India (Present-day Chengalpattu, Chengalpattu district, Tamil Nadu, India)
Died 8 February 1999(1999-02-08) (aged 70)
Allegiance  British India
Service/branch  British Indian Army
 Indian Army
Years of service 1945–1988
Rank General of the Indian Army.svg General
Service number IEC-13398 (emergency commission)[1]
IC-4708 (regular commission)[2]
Unit Mahar Regiment
Commands held IA Western Command.jpg Western Army
1st Armoured Division
Battles/wars Second World War
Indo-Pakistani War of 1947
Congo Crisis
Indo-Pakistani War of 1965
Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
Operation Brasstacks
Indian intervention in the Sri Lankan Civil War
1987 Sino-Indian skirmish
Awards Param Vishisht Seva Medal ribbon.svg Param Vishisht Seva Medal
Mentioned in dispatches
Spouse(s) Padma Sundarji (Died)
Vani Sundarji
Children Vikram Sundarji (son)

General Krishnaswamy Sundarji, PVSM (28 April 1928 – 8 February 1999),[3] was the Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army from 1986 to 1988.[4] He was the last former British Indian Army officer to command the Indian Army.[3]

During his army career, he had commanded the Operation Blue Star under orders from Indira Gandhi to clear the Golden Temple shrine. This was criticized widely as a military failure, with accusations of human rights violations. He introduced a number of technology initiatives to the Indian Army.[5] He was also questioned for his role in recommending the Bofors howitzer in the Bofors Scandal. As the Chief of Army Staff, he planned and executed Operation Brasstacks, a major military exercise, along the Rajasthan border.

Early life and education

Sundarji was born into a Hindu family in Chengelpet, Madras Presidency, British India on 28 April 1928.[3] His official name was Krishnaswamy Sundararajan, but he was popularly known by the informal name of Sundarji. He studied at the Madras Christian College only to leave it before receiving a degree. Later in his career, he graduated from the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) at Wellington, Tamil Nadu. He also studied at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in the US, and the National Defence College in New Delhi. He held a Master of Arts in international studies from Allahabad University and an MSc in defence studies from Madras University.

Military career

Sundarji joined the British Indian Army in 1945 during the Second World War, though the war ended before he could see any active service. On 28 April 1946, he was given an emergency commission as a second lieutenant in the Mahar Regiment.[3] His early career as an army officer involved operating in the troublesome areas of the North-West Frontier Province and then in Jammu and Kashmir.

In the period following India's independence, he saw action in Kargil district, Jammu and Kashmir, during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947-1948. 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 gallantry.

Sundarji served as the commanding officer of an infantry battalion during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. He played an important role as Brigadier General Staff (BGS) of a corps in the Rangpur sector of Bangladesh, during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. This war led to the liberation of Bangladesh. As an acting brigadier, he was appointed Deputy Military Secretary, Army HQ, on 20 January 1973.[6]

Sundarji was promoted to major general on 26 July 1974.[7] For the first time in the history of Indian Army, an infantry officer became the general officer commanding (GOC) of the elite 1st Armoured Division. He was chosen by Gen. KV Krishna Rao to be part of a small team for reorganising the Indian Army, especially with regard to technology. He raised the Mechanised Infantry Regiment by amalgamating various battalions from the army's premier infantry regiments.

Operation Blue Star

He was promoted to lieutenant general on 5 February 1979.[8] In 1984, he led Operation Blue Star, intended to evict Sikh extremists who had occupied the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The Indian Army marched into the temple with their boots off. He later said "We went inside with humility in our hearts and prayers on our lips". According to his wife, Sundarji emerged a changed man after this operation.[9]

Chief of Army Staff

In 1986, he was promoted to General and appointed Chief of Army Staff (COAS) after the assassination of General A.S. Vaidya. After taking over as COAS, he wrote a letter to his soldiers warning of deteriorating standards, and the evil of sycophancy. His operation at Sumdorong Chu in 1986, known as Operation Falcon, was widely praised. The Chinese had occupied Sumdorong Chu and Sundarji used the Indian Air Force's new airlift capability to land a brigade in Zimithang, north of Tawang. Indian forces took up positions on the Hathung La ridge, across the Namka Chu river, where India had faced a humiliating defeat in 1962. The Chinese 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 Sundarji's recklessness. But 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.

He was also involved in Operation Brasstacks, a large-scale mechanised artillery and war gaming effort in July 1986 near the Pakistan border, which led to similar Pakistani buildup. The situation was defused through diplomatic talks in February 1987.

Operation Pawan

In 1987, the Indian government agreed to a Sri Lankan request and the Indian Peace Keeping Force was sent to Jaffna to disarm the LTTE. However, the Indian Army had no experience in unconventional jungle warfare and took heavy casualties. Among the few successes was the bombing of the LTTE controlled jetties by the Indian Navy Marine Commandos (MARCOS) then known as the Indian Navy Special Commando Force. The IPKF force was withdrawn in 1990.

Nuclear Policy

Sundarji was amongst the core team that created Indian nuclear policy. As a senior army general, he wrote the Indian Nuclear Doctrine along with Admiral R.H. Tahiliani. Post retirement, he was unhappy with the lack of response among politicians regarding nuclear security, and wrote the book Blind Men of Hindustan in 1993, which discussed nuclear strategy for India and compared India's nuclear policy to six blind men who misinterpret an elephant by touching parts of it.


Sundarji was amongst the most far-sighted armoured corps commanders in the Indian Army.[10] Despite being commissioned in the infantry, he was a keen student and admirer of tank warfare. He pioneered various operational guidelines and challenged his commanders to push the machines and men to the limits. In various exercises he is known to have ordered tanks full speed up sand dunes in the Thar desert in 70 degree heat. Amongst other things he designed the all black uniform of the Armoured Corps. He then went on to create the Mechanised Infantry Regiment. With emphasis on speed, technology and mobile weaponry it is now an integral part of the Indian strike corps.

Sundarji can also be credited for shaping modern Indian Army thinking. In his stint as the Commandant of the College of Combat (now Army War College, Mhow), he practically rewrote the war manual with emphasis on speed, decisive action, technology and his abiding love – armour. Sundarji was also one of the few to predict the total rout of the Iraqi forces in the Gulf War. Writing for India Today, he was amongst the few who clearly saw what superior air power and technology could do.

He also left behind a partially completed autobiography titled ‘Of Some Consequence: A Soldier Remembers', of which he had completed 33 episodes out of a planned 105.

Personal life

Sundarji married Padma Sundarji when he was a major. They had two children, Pria and Vikram. In 1978, when he was serving as general officer commanding (GOC) XXXIII Corps in the Eastern Command, she died of cancer at the Army Hospital, Delhi Cantonment. Later, he married for the second time. His second wife, Vani, wrote the introductory chapter of Sundarji's memoirs Of some consequence – A soldier remembers, which was published after his death.[11]


In January 1998, Sundarji was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, from which he died on 8 February 1999 at the age of 70.[12]

Honours and awards

Dates of rank

Insignia Rank Component Date of rank
British Army OF-1a.svg Second Lieutenant British Indian Army 28 April 1946 (emergency)[3]
28 January 1947 (substantive)[1]
British Army OF-1a.svg Second Lieutenant Indian Army 15 August 1947[note 1][13]
British Army OF-1b.svg Lieutenant Indian Army 30 October 1949 (seniority from 28 July 1948)[1][note 1]
Lieutenant of the Indian Army.svg Lieutenant Indian Army 26 January 1950 (recommissioning and change in insignia)[13][14]
Captain of the Indian Army.svg Captain Indian Army 1953
Major of the Indian Army.svg Major Indian Army 28 January 1960[15]
Lieutenant Colonel of the Indian Army.svg Lieutenant Colonel Indian Army 26 November 1965[2]
Colonel of the Indian Army.svg Colonel Indian Army 17 December 1970[16]
Brigadier of the Indian Army.svg Brigadier Indian Army 1971 (acting)
24 January 1972 (substantive)[17]
Major General of the Indian Army.svg Major General Indian Army 26 July 1974[7]
Lieutenant General of the Indian Army.svg Lieutenant-General Indian Army 5 February 1979[8]
General of the Indian Army.svg General
Indian Army 1 February 1986[18]