General O.P. Malhotra was born on 6 August 1922 in Srinagar, and was educated at the Model High School, Srinagar, and SPM Higher Secondary School, also in Srinagar. He then moved to Government College Lahore and joined the army.
He was commissioned into the Regiment of Artillery in November 1941. He distinguished himself in the Battle of Sangshak in the Second World War, and was wounded. He later joined 13 (Dordon) Mountain Battery. He was instructor in the School of Artillery, and in 1946 attended the Long Gunnery Staff Course at Royal School of Artillery, Larkhill, UK. He was instructor in Defence Services Staff College and went through staff and command appointments before taking over the assignment of Military in USSR from 1962 to 1965. He was concurrently accredited to Poland and Hungary. On return from the post of military attaché, he commanded 1 Artillery Brigade, part of 1 Armoured Division, and took part in the battle of Sialkot during the Indo-Pak War in 1965. He went through various staff and command appointments and took over as GOC-in- C Sothern Command in Pune and was awarded PVSM in 1976 for service of the most exceptional order. He became Chief of Army Staff on 31 May 1978 and retired on 31 May 1981. He was given the honour of Honorary General of the Nepalese Army.
After retirement, he served as ambassador for India in Indonesia from 1981 to 1984. Punjab had been facing militancy for more than a decade. The Punjab assembly had been dismissed and President’s Rule imposed on 11 May 1985. Infighting amongst dominant political leaders, uncertainty about future political set up and an ineffective President’s rule permitted the rise of militant groups and unsocial elements.
The Central Government realised the need for resuming the political process so that the people in rural areas could participate in the state elections. General Malhotra, the former Chief of Army Staff was appointed Governor of Punjab and Administrator of Chandigarh. He took over his assignment on 18 December 1990. Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar did not want to extend the President’s rule beyond 11 May 1991.
General Malhotra had always led from the front and set himself the task of holding elections. Within 24 hours of taking over the responsibility as Governor of Punjab, he visited the Golden Temple at Amritsar to pay obeisance despite the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee boycotting his visit and refusing to present him Saropa, the traditional robe of honour. He undertook a tour of the border area to restore confidence amongst people in the area which had experienced almost complete abdication of authority. He visited the Durgiyana temple in Amritsar to talk to the migrant Hindus from border villages. Three migrant Hindus responded with cynicism. They were busy feverishly loading their belongings into trucks just as he was talking of improved security. He visited the worst hit town of Bhikiwind. The border posts of BSF displayed the smuggled arms and in place of the usual, he asked a searching question, “You have all the electronic gadgets. How then did these arms get smuggled in?”. He realised that establishing control and confidence was not going to be an easy task. Patrolling by the army helped to curb violence. He ordered amnesty for militants who surrendered with arms.
Elections were announced for 22 June 1991. These were cancelled when Narsimha Rao took over as Prime Minister. General Malhotra resigned and commented, “I have been through three wars. I have been a general in the wars, but I have never felt as defeated as I feel today after the announcement by the Election Commission that the elections have been postponed.”
He was a keen sportsman and was president of Equestrian Federation of India and of Delhi Golf Club. He was founder of two charitable organizations, Shiksha and Chikitsa providing help to children to study and give medical help to the unprivileged classes. He passed away on 29 December 2015.