Former Jammu and Kashmir governor and retired chief of Army staff, General K V Krishna Rao, passed away on Saturday. He was 93.
General Rao was commissioned in the Army in August 1942 and served in Burma, North West Frontier and Baluchistan during the Second World War. He was part of Lord Mountbatten’s Punjab Boundary Force during Partition, which saved lives in both East and West Punjab during extensive rioting. He saw action as a Company Commander with 3 Mahar, the infantry battalion he later commanded, in the Jammu and Kashmir operations of 1948.
But the moment he cherished most from his life was the one he began his memoirs, In the Service of the Nation — Reminiscences, with: being witness to Pakistan’s surrender at Dhaka in December 1971. He was the GOC of 8 Mountain Division in Sylhet sector, where his division liberated North-East Bangladesh.
In 1975-76, as a Lt General, he headed the government-appointed expert committee on reorganisation and modernisation of defence services. His report of nine volumes, encompassing 1,740 pages, contained far-reaching recommendations, which were to be implemented over 25 years. Although his report was accepted by the government, most of the recommendations were not acted upon.
Rao became the Army chief in 1981, when he was personally told by former prime minister Indira Gandhi that he had been chosen for the post. Amidst the many messages of congratulations, Rao was fond of quoting one: “Please accept my wife, and my congratulations.”
As Army chief, Rao is credited with instituting a forward policy against China, and drafting the first formal directive, which was issued by the defence minister, to the armed forces.
But soldiers and officers remember his stint as Army chief for succeeding in getting the government to agree to free rations for all ranks. Although the anecdote was never confirmed, Rao is reputed to have got the approval from the Prime Minister by quoting the Napoleon adage that an Army marches on its stomach.
Rao retired as the Army chief in 1983 but the choice of his successor was embroiled in controversy. The government chose to overlook the senior-most Lt General, S K Sinha, and made A S Vaidya the next Army chief.
Lt General Sinha resigned and later blamed Rao for keeping him in the dark about the supersession.
After his retirement, Rao served as the governor of Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura from 1983 to 1989.
He was appointed governor of J&K in July 1989. Sensing the brewing trouble in the state, he had asked for some additional battalions of paramilitary forces, which were denied by the Home Ministry due to impending parliamentary polls. Rao always believed that had those forces been given then, he would have finished the incipient militancy in Kashmir in six months.
Rao, however, had a major role to play in subduing militancy in his second stint as governor of J&K from 1993 to 1998. He governed the state under Governor’s Rule and ensured successful parliamentary and assembly elections in the state in 1996.
He provided military helicopters and security to election commission officials and saw that the polls were conducted smoothly. He had earlier survived an IED blast during the Republic Day celebrations in Jammu in 1995.
He did not hold any public office after 1998. That was in keeping with what he told former Prime Minister Chandrashekhar in 1991, when he wanted to appoint Rao as a governor, that his duty will only be in Kashmir, and nowhere else. Like a committed soldier, Rao kept that promise.