This is the post excerpt.
This is the post excerpt.
In the last 48 hours, the Indian Army has lost 7 brave hearts at Nagrota. It is with deep grief, immense helplessness and cold anger that I tell you today; we will lose many more, unless we realize that our response to Pakistan is woefully short of effective, and altogether wrong. We are applying Band-Aid, where chemotherapy is urgently needed. We are solving the wrong problem.
I write every week on this. And at least 3-4 times a week I go on National TV and share this anger and helplessness with my countrymen. For my sins, innumerable though they may be, I am called a warmonger. Time and again, I am told that I have a fascination for human blood. And, some of them who are a little kinder say that I am afraid of peace.
So I shrug my shoulders and go into this dark corner where it is a little quieter and the demons, a little benign.
The next day my phone rings again and the voice from the studio says, “Sir, can you join us at 6 pm, 7:30 pm, 9 pm? There has been another attack”.
The same cacophony, the same helplessness.
I have diplomats, spokespersons of political parties and an odd journalist as co-panelists. Lights, camera, action…let the games begin. So timid are we, that we can’t even be aggressive in speech, let alone in action. Words are spoken with emphasis on that great Indian virtue, “maturity”. Turning the other cheek is a sign of graciousness.
“Let us talk to Pakistan. After all we were the same country 69 years back”, a former diplomat says. He actually wants to say that the life of a soldier is cheap.
The next day I get a call from an army friend giving me an address. We have to go and pay respects to a fallen brother officer. We reach Delhi Cantt, and climb up to this small apartment on the first floor. It is neat, freshly whitewashed not more than a week back. The young widow is sitting in a corner. The two children look bewildered; they have never seen so many people in their house. Their mother just stares at the wall, still in shock, unable to talk. Army wives huddle in a corner. “She must cry. Let her vent”, they say. They know what they are saying. They have been through this many times. They take the young widow to a room and hug her. They speak to her in soft tones, never leaving her alone for a second. They are very gentle, very kind. Suddenly, there is a guttural scream of immense pain, of a shattered heart and a broken home. Loud wailing sounds of grief rush out from the room. It is like a physical force.
There is nothing to say. I ask my friend to come down stairs. He lights up a cigarette; anything to distract him from the grief unfolding upstairs. I stare at a lizard on the wall. There is something I am trying to remember. What is it? Aah yes. “Let us talk to Pakistan. After all we were the same country 69 years back”, I remember the talk-show diplomat; polished, suave with a clipped South Delhi accent. C’est la vie.
Was there a security breach in Nagrota? Yes, there was. Is the security at the army base to blame? Yes, it is. Having got that out of the way let me address a few questions that have been floating in the social media since the last two nights.
Many armchair warriors have been quick to blame the army, with a caveat “I respect the army and the martyrs but someone must pay for these lapses. There must be accountability”. There is an almost dismissive anger; the type a CEO would cower the head of sales with, for not having met targets. Well, counter insurgency under a nuclear overhang is a bit more complicated than selling toothpaste.
The Pathankot Air Force base was attacked on 2 January 2016. The Government of India took serious note of the terror attack and formed a high-powered committee under the leadership of Lt. Gen. (Retd) Philip Campose.
It comprised of representatives of all the three services and also a representative of the Indian Army’s Military Operations branch. The committee visited multiple locations of the Army, Navy and Air Force across India. In May 2016 the committee submitted a detailed report addressing the lacuna in security across military installations. The report was called “The Lt. Gen. Philip Campose Committee Report”, and was submitted to the Ministry of Defence.
The report is gathering dust on the table of some faceless bureaucrat in the Raksha Mantralaya. At least that is my presumption, because it has not been acted upon yet.
The report deals with multiple facets of security of installations and amongst other things, biometric security, raising of walls, fences, e-fences, CCTV cameras, movement triggered cameras, QRTs (quick reaction teams), equipment for soldiers, laser walls, Night Vision Devices, watch towers and a slew of other measures like movement protocol, threat perception management, SOPs, training, periodic audit etc. It is an exhaustive report, and perhaps the most comprehensive audit of security of defence installations in India. And what I have written here, as part of the report is not even a third of what the report recommends. I do not have access to the report, since it is designated “SECRET”, for obvious reasons. Certain parts were discussed with the media.
Lt. Gen. (Retd) Philip Campose was Vice Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army. It’s a pretty rarified space and only the best of the best get that far. A soldier and thinker par excellence, Lt. Gen. Campose put his heart and soul into that report. He has also identified critical shortages in inventory and weaponry. That report must be adopted in letter and spirit, if we want to sincerely pay homage to our martyrs. And it must be adopted immediately.
Apart from security of military bases, it is important to understand that we are also facing critical equipment and ammunition shortage, which has a direct bearing on the security of our installations.
It is important to have aircraft carriers, fighter jets and artillery guns. It is also equally important to give the infantry soldier the best equipment money can buy. Understand this; you can have space age weaponry but in the end, it is the infantryman who will wade ankle deep in blood, much of it his own. It is the infantryman who will cross the Line of Control, who will walk through minefields and who will charge into enemy machine gun fire.
This is the truth of war. You cannot win without the infantry. Period. We need bulletproof jackets, proper helmets and better assault rifles, amongst other things.
The government has fast-tracked procurement of defence equipment but equipping a modern army is a continuous exercise. The last three decades have been a sledgehammer blow to the armed forces. It was yesterday, 30 November 2016 that we signed a deal for the purchase 145 medium artillery guns much needed on the China border. We should have signed this deal two decades back. There are hundreds of such war stores that have not been procured for the past two decades due to government apathy and bureaucratic incompetence.
We can prepare for a conventional war but the Pakistan Army has neither the funds, nor the willingness to engage in a conventional war. Apart from the fact that they have lost every war that they fought with India, the Pakistan Army’s generals are in a cushy space. They live lives that the Nawabs of Awadh would have been envious of. Why rock the boat? Terrorism is a cheap alternative. The Pakistan Army does not suffer, investment is low, there is plausible deniability and life goes on as usual. Perfect, isn’t it?
What is the solution to our terror problem and how can we stop Pakistan sponsored terrorists from launching attacks on Indian soil? The answer lies in what Ajit Doval has been advocating all these years, and towards which we have now been moving – offensive defence. Questions thrown up by asymmetrical warfare cannot be answered by a conventional mindset.
We have been killing terrorists since 1989, and it has not helped. It has changed nothing because the people we target are foot soldiers of Jihad. They are expendable. You can kill thousands more and they will just keep coming.
If you want to be safe, you have to target the fountainhead of terror, the Pakistan Army. And unless you do that, these attacks will not stop. You can have the best security systems in the world and someone will find a way to compromise them. American bases in Afghanistan are regularly attacked. US bases in Iraq were attacked, too. And before you quote Israel’s example of security seriousness, let me tell you that Israel has not fought a war with another nuclear weapons state or another highly professional army. Its enemies have always been tier two forces. Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq; name your foe. They wont last two days against the Indian Army.
The fountainhead of terror is the Pakistan Army. It is the officer corps that we must target. We do not need to use our army. Pakistan is actually an armory that looks like a nation and is floating in weapons. It is full of young men who know no other trade apart from killing. Most of them have no specific ideology. Dollars are good enough.
Pakistan Army’s V Corps (5 Corps) is stationed in Karachi. It has approximately 60,000 men, including officers. Karachi is the most violent city in Asia and it is amongst the “most armed” cities in the world. It has a violent mixture of Mohajirs, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Baloch and Kashmiris. It is an urban melting pot of armed and violent militia. It is also the commercial capital of Pakistan. Perfect.
Target killers can be had for hire in Karachi. What we must do is route money via offshore accounts. These killers will then target Pakistani Army officers in Karachi, specifically officers of 5 Corps. They will be targeted in market places and malls, outside restaurants and in roadside cafes. As we keep wiring money, Pakistan Army will keep losing officers.
Once the Karachi plan is successful, it can be rolled out in Quetta and Lahore. Peshawar will follow.
These Pakistani killers will not target infrastructure or civilians. They will not target innocents. They will simply locate, engage and eliminate any Pakistani Army, Navy or Air Force officer who steps out of the cantonment area. If the officer is moving with bodyguards, a sniper must take him out. An unseen enemy is far more terrifying than a known quantity.
I repeat – ZERO targeting of civilians, non-combatants and innocents. These are not terror strikes. These are “surgical” targeted killings of Pakistan defence forces’ officers.
India just bought 36 Rafale fighter jets at a total cost of USD 8.7 billion. We need these jets, but we may never use them in combat. Now imagine if we had bought just 35 jets, and put away the funds for one fighter jet into the program that I have mentioned above.
The Pakistan Army is an officer led army. The loss of an officer has a horrendous impact on morale. Once morale is shattered, nothing can compensate. That is what the Pakistan Army is doing to us. And that is what we must do to them.
Allow me to put it simply; should we make up our minds, we have the capacity to cause ten times more damage to Pakistan that they are causing us. In the end, asymmetrical warfare is also a function of money.
Our annual defence budget is about USD 40 billion. Just 1% of that can seriously denude Pakistan Army’s will to fight. It can shatter morale. And that is worth the entire fleet of F-16s that Pakistan is so proud of.
For too long we have been fighting on our own soil. It is now time to take war to the streets of Pakistan.
It is not enough that Pakistan bleeds. It must start hemorrhaging. And that must happen today.
Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
All warfare is based on deception – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The Middle Kingdom has many achievements to its name, paper and gunpowder the most well known. It has been able to project an image of being inscrutable, tough, opaque and absolutely unwilling to entertain a contrary narrative. All this is true, but also true is the fact that the Chinese are more accepting of dictatorial tendencies. This faceless and gigantic mass of humanity has very little tradition of argument or balance, and absolutely no tradition of freethinking. Brilliant, hardworking and disciplined they are; consensual they are not.
China severely restricts opinion, and any opinion contrary to what the politburo deems appropriate, may find you in ‘correctional facilities’, where you will be ‘gently educated’ about how you must think. Many people do not return home after a few sessions of this ‘gentle education’.
China has the largest standing army in the world. It has the second largest economy. It is the most populous nation on earth and is a nuclear power, which occupies a pride of place on the United Nations Security Council. It has all the prerequisites of a global superpower.
And yet, China is afraid of social media.
This is why Twitter, Google, YouTube, WhatsApp and Facebook are banned in China. The Chinese government gives you alternatives, all in Chinese, and all under heavy surveillance by the China’s infamous Ministry of State Security (MSS), their premier intelligence agency.
And that begs the question; what is it about the Chinese political structure that is so shaky?
Democracy, as a workable solution, is far from perfect. But warts and all, it is still the best system of governance the world has ever seen. India took a serious leap of faith when it adopted democracy after independence. Our founding fathers showed tremendous vision. Democracy had very little going for it in the 1940s. While America was great and Britain was a superpower, democracy had thrown up luminaries like Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler. Churchill wanted to keep India under subjugation. Hitler had similar views about the entire world.
China, on the other hand, chose the path of Mao Tse Tung. There is an apocryphal story about farmers complaining to Mao about sparrows eating grain and damaging the harvest. Mao decreed that all sparrows be killed. So, all sparrows were killed. But sparrows also eat insects that damage crops. This damaged the local ecosystem and was one of the leading reasons for massive crop failure.
In 1957, Chairman Mao launched the Great Leap Forward, a program to catapult China into the league of developed nations through rapid industrialization and collectivization. 20 to 45 million people died due to famine and other forms of artificially inflicted violence.
Hitler was responsible for as many deaths, both civilian and military; he is globally reviled, and rightly so. An argument can be made that while Hitler was pure and distilled evil; he was responsible for deaths of foreigners in a global war, apart from deaths of Jews, gypsies and other Nazi-proclaimed so-called “undesirables” within Germany. While there is no accurate figure available, Hitler is held responsible for approximately 35 million deaths.
Josef Stalin, through his purges and executions, imprisonment in gulags and forced labor was responsible for approximately 45 million deaths.
Lets look at how their nations remember them.
The Germans are ashamed of their past and abhor the very name of Hitler. The Russians have turned capitalist and Stalin is a somewhat uncomfortable reminder of their bloody past. The Chinese worship Chairman Mao.
China’s methods have changed, not the mindset. Mao caused millions to die because he wanted to rapidly industrialize China. Millions more are being severely compromised, as China races frantically to grab global pole position. China has changed the entire demography of Tibet, with regular and systematic injection of Han Chinese into the plateau. Han males marry Tibetan females. The child is loyal to China, the Chinese being famously patriarchal.
The Uighur cant pray or fast during Ramzan. Maulvis are made to dance to Chinese music during the holy days. Women wearing hijab are cautioned. Chinese authorities even have a problem with the Uighur fascination with curd. I will let that pass; I simply don’t know how to address the issue of national security being threatened by Chinese Muslims eating curd.
If curd threatens China, did Twitter ever stand a chance?
All of us have seen automobile advertisements in India, with companies claiming a particular mileage, often with the caveat “under test conditions”. This simply means that given perfect conditions, the mileage will be x. But that’s not how automobiles behave in the real world, do they? That’s China for you – always performing “under test conditions”. Every thing is government controlled, including “market forces”.
Here is a list of the top 20 Chinese companies, by revenue https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_Chinese_companies. You will note that the majority of the companies are state owned. In the Chinese context it means that business is guaranteed by the state. And, the real business of the state is business.
Lifan, Loncin, Zongshen, Jialing and Qingqi – these are the top motorcycle brands in China, each valued at a billion dollars, or less. And you, my dear friend, have in all probability, never heard of any of them. Not unless you are an importer of Chinese motorcycles or motorcycle parts.
The point I am trying to make is that the entire story about the Chinese economic miracle is very real, but it is also synthetically manufactured, much like a top athlete whose competitors are chosen by a common coach. The winner is decided before the race starts.
What made China a global financial powerhouse? The 3 W’s – wisdom, will and the whip – formed the superhighway on which China’s car is zooming, albeit a bit slowly now; the wisdom of the government, the will of the Communist party and whip of the state when the citizens did not fall in line.
There are many pillars that uphold the Chinese edifice. However, the two most critical are the export-oriented economy and suppression of free will. Both are joined at the hip and cannot exist without the other.
As of now, an India-China war is an absolute improbability. If, God forbid, we do go to war (and there are no reasons why we should), we can make it extremely expensive for China to wage war, but we cannot defeat China. Neither can China defeat us. It will be a terribly expensive stalemate for both sides.
Boycotting Chinese goods is more of a moral message that hardly translates into dollars of any level of inconvenience.
If we are to tame the dragon, we must hit the dragon where it hurts.
One, we must realize that even the high internal consumption within China is not unrelated to its earnings from export. China is an export-driven economy. It invents or creates nothing new. Think of it as a massive photocopying shop. Nothing is original.
If India makes infrastructure development and creation of a manufacturing ecosystem a national priority, China will bleed. If India works very closely with Vietnam, Indonesia, Taiwan, Japan, Cambodia and Philippines, and builds a very close “special relationship”, China will start hemorrhaging. The day we together achieve even half the manufacturing scale of China at local costs, their story will be more or less over.
The Chinese economy is beginning to slow down. For the past two decades, it was (still is) the engine of global growth, but it left bitterness in its wake. And when Donald Trump takes issue with China about jobs and trade balance, he is not factually incorrect. The world has a problem with China, but has no alternative. Yet.
We can be that alternative, or at least lead it. India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Philippines are in a straight line. Taiwan is up North from Philippines. This is a manufacturing belt. Together, it is a powerhouse. Many of these countries have serious problems with China. Japan is a technology powerhouse and a one time manufacturing hub. It still is in many ways globally relevant. The differences between Japanese and Chinese products are many but one feature stands out. Japanese products are global brands. The top motorcycle manufacturers in Japan are – Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda and Kawasaki. And you, dear reader, have heard of all these brands.
The need of the hour is a TG7 (Trade Group 7) comprising of all these countries, coming together to form an alternative to China. We must share funding, technology and have mutually inclusive tax regimes. Let us have better flight connectivity, priority berths at ports and infrastructure sharing. Let us have funding a low interest rates and a land bank available to kick start manufacturing. And call charges, which are rock bottom. Are all these things easy? No. Not by a long shot. But this is what must be done. It is doable.
This is war by other means.
China’s real Achilles foot is free will. Any expression of free will is treated as an attack on the sovereignty of China. It is not just Uighur who are oppressed. The Han Chinese is a little better off. Many of you will remember the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989. The Chinese government did not take very kindly to its citizens, especially students, demanding democracy, economic reform and end to political corruption. All that the Chinese people were asking was for them to be able to choose their own leaders and overthrow corrupt ones out; something that we take for granted in India.
The Communist Party of China rolled out battle tanks on the streets of Beijing. Between a few hundred and a thousand protesters were killed and thousands were hunted down and imprisoned. The family members of pro-democracy protestors were systematically persecuted. The revolt spread to 400 cities and towns across China before it was brutally stamped out.
There are periodic protests in Hong Kong even today. Very recently, a few elected legislators of Hong Kong refused to take an oath of loyalty to China and instead floated banners, which proclaimed, “Hong Kong is not China”.
This is what India must take advantage of, this Chinese discomfort with democracy. Give a few thousand Indian sim cards to Chinese people on the Indo-China border, sim cards that allow access to Twitter and Facebook on Indian telecom networks. Let the Chinese folks discuss whatever it is that Chinese folks discuss when they are allowed to. That will scare China more than a mountain division. China is an ideological state. Only an idea can beat an idea.
Why have we forgotten the Dalai Lama, the original pinprick in China’s side? The Dalai Lama has a very influential fan following across the world. From opinion makers to Hollywood, from the US State Department to the EU Parliament, his is a respected voice. India must facilitate his travel and exposure at an international level. Let him tell stories of violence and genocide in Tibet.
Money is respected and that is exactly why no one points out that China is not a democracy, and has a terrible human rights record. If the world can single out Pakistan, North Korea and Cuba, why should China answer to different standards? But it does. Unfortunate though it may be, we must understand that it is temporary.
You may say, “China will be upset”. Well, China will always be upset with someone or the other about something or the other. Its intentions are hegemonic. It covets Arunachal Pradesh. It covets trade routes and the South China Sea. It covets what Japan already has. In short, China wants to expand geography. For that it needs influence and military power, which needs money, which in turn needs trade. And China’s growth hinges mainly upon its ability to contract manufacture at basement rates.
In a population of 1.5 billion people, in a fast growing hard-core capitalist (and in theory communist) nation, there is bound to be unequal growth and disquiet. Democracy is that valve that allows people to let off steam, so that the pressure cooker does not explode. China has no democracy and the pressure cooker is heating up. Economic superstardom has ensured that the people are kept quiet; the economic miracle is visible and the moral aspirations of the people have been suppressed. But for how long?
To question is human. And Baidu, China’s answer to Google, will not answer. If you are in China, try to search for “Tiananmen Square” using Baidu. Let me make it simpler for you. Go to Baidu and type “democracy in China” and press ENTER. Some experiences are instructive.
When TG7 offers the world an alternate to China’s manufacturing Goliath, the dollar fuelled submission to, and acceptance of, absence of democracy in China will start coming apart at the seams.
The earlier acceptance amongst the Chinese of the communist party’s totalitarian ways was due to ideology and fear. After Tiananmen Square, it is money and fear. Fear alone is not enough to keep men in line. Dollars are a better argument. And together, they are unbeatable. But they are unbeatable only till the time both are holding up.
TG7 will shift the center of gravity. It will gently nudge the world towards an alternative narrative. And it will nudge China towards an era when fear was the only glue holding the Middle Kingdom together; an era when Chairman Mao was ordering the killing of sparrows.
That is when the world will realize that the dragon was always a mythical creature.
And then the dragon will exist only in folklore.
Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
The annals of the Indian Army are replete with stories of bravery and uncommon valor. And then there are stories of courage so overwhelming that it is almost impossible for the human soul to even comprehend that such men walked the face of this very earth.
On a freezing and unforgiving November night, 123 Indian soldiers – frostbitten, weary, hungry and heavily outnumbered – defied the might of the rampaging Chinese Army.
On 18 November 1962, Major Shaitan Singh and men of Charlie Company, 13 Kumaon Regiment, forever passed into the mists of legend.
This is a story of unimaginable sacrifice. This is a story of men pitted against impossible odds. This is the story of Indian soldiers who looked death in the eye and did not flinch.
This is the story of the Battle of Rezang La.
In their initial assault on Indian positions in October, the Chinese had overrun border posts from Daulat Beg Oldie to Damchok, along the Karakoram Range. The defence of Chushul was the responsibility of 114 Brigade, which had a battalion less. An Infantry Brigade has 3 battalions. 114 Brigade had just 1/8 Gurkha Rifles and 5 Jat Regiment. When the danger to Chushul was realized, 13 Kumaon was rushed from Baramulla to augment 114 Brigade.
Other companies of 13 Kumaon occupied heights like Gun Hill, Gurung Hill and Mugger Hill. Charlie Company was given Rezang La, a pass 19 km away on the southeastern approach to Chushul. Rezang La was all rock, bitterly cold with bone chilling winds and the troops were not acclimatized to such extreme temperatures. The company was deployed at a height of 16,404 feet above sea level, and the main company position was defended by the 7th, 8th & 9th platoons. The surrounding mountains isolated it from the rest of the battalion.
The biting cold and the howling winds were accompanied by snowfall. Lack of protective winter clothing made the vigil more treacherous. And to add to the already impossible situation, Charlie Company was “crested to artillery”. This meant that there was an intervening feature, which did not allow Charlie Company the cover and protection of Indian Army’s artillery.
Charlie Company was without cover, without support and on its own.
In the very early hours of 18 November, the Chinese Army attacked the 7th and 8th platoon.
At 0500 hrs, Charlie Company opened up with rifles, machine guns and mortars. The retaliation was so ferocious that hundreds of Chinese lay dead. The first wave of the Chinese Army was repulsed.
At 0540 hrs, Charlie Company came under intense artillery and mortar shelling, and under the cover of this fire, about 350 Chinese attacked 9th platoon. The platoon, true to their training, held their fire till the last moment. When the Chinese were a mere 90 meters away, the 9th platoon opened up with all their weapons. Their fire was devastating and hundreds of Chinese dead bodies littered the “nullahs”. The second wave of the Chinese Army was repulsed.
Major Shaitan Singh moved from platoon to platoon, firing at the enemy and encouraging his men. He ignored the grave danger to his life and kept fighting. They say that he fought like a man possessed, completely oblivious to his own safety.
For the Chinese, this horrific rate of casualties was not sustainable. They changed tactics. 9th platoon was brought under withering MMG fire and under the cover of this fire, 400 Chinese attacked 8th platoon from the rear. This attack was stopped at the platoon barbed wire fence. Simultaneously, a heavily armed assault group of 120 Chinese attacked 7th platoon from the rear. The 7th platoon responded with mortars and rifle fire. There were heavy casualties on both the sides.
By now, the strength of 7th and 8th platoon was severely depleted.
When the Chinese again assaulted the 7th platoon, our soldiers rushed out of their post and engaged the Chinese in hand-to-hand combat. The Chinese brought reinforcements.
The entire 7th and 8th platoon of Charlie Company was martyred. There were no survivors. 9th platoon was very severely depleted and out of ammunition. So, the survivors fought the heavily armed Chinese with their bare hands. Naik Ram Singh, a wrestler, killed many Chinese soldiers with his bare hands before he was shot in the head.
Major Shaitan Singh was constantly fighting, moving from platoon to platoon, encouraging his men and leading from the front. During the course of the battle, he was critically injured by MMG fire. While being evacuated, the Chinese started firing at him and the two soldiers who were accompanying him. Not wanting his soldiers to be killed in such a manner, he ordered them to leave him with his weapon and rejoin the fighting.
Charlie Company, 13 Kumaon, repulsed seven attacks by the Chinese before the entire company was martyred in combat.
On 21 November 1962, a unilateral ceasefire was declared between China and India.
When the Indian Army visited the Charlie Company location after the war, Major Shaitan Singh was found holding his weapon. He had died fighting. The nursing assistant was found dead with bandages and a syringe in his hand. The mortar section commander was found dead, holding a mortar round. He kept firing till his position was overrun and he was killed. Out of the thousand mortar rounds that Charlie Company had, all but 7 had been fired.
Out of the 123 soldiers of Charlie Company, 114 were martyred and 6 were captured by the Chinese Army and kept as PoWs. They later miraculously escaped.
For conspicuous bravery and heroism beyond the call of duty, Major Shaitan Singh Bhati was posthumously awarded a grateful nation’s highest gallantry award, the Param Veer Chakra. The company was also awarded 8 Veer Chakras and 4 Sena Medals for exceptional bravery. Charlie Company was later re-designated as “Rezang La Company”.
I am from the Kumaon Regiment and I have studied the battle of Rezang La in detail. After all these years I still wonder what motivated Major Shaitan Singh and the entire Charlie Company to so willingly embrace martyrdom. It is unheard of, in the annals of modern warfare.
I don’t know if Rezang La was strategically important or not, but in those dark days of the winter of 1962, for an army facing reverse after reverse, Rezang La somehow became a matter of national honor. This was where the Indian Army dug in and said “thus far, and no further”. Rezang La was not just about “izzat”. Somewhere along the way, it became “zidd”.
122 Ahirs from Haryana, led by Major Shaitan Singh Bhati of Jodhpur, fought for “Naam, Namak, Nishan” at -30 degrees centigrade. In freezing, inhuman cold, clothed in thin sweaters and jackets, wet canvas shoes, badly equipped and armed with Second World War vintage .303 rifles, they fought against an enemy who was far better equipped and armed.
When they were out of ammunition, they fought with their bayonets. When their bayonets broke, they fought with their bare hands. These young men from Haryana had probably never seen mountains so high. Most saw snow for the first time. But it is also true that the mountains of Ladakh had never seen such grit.
These brave 122 fought against 3000 attacking Chinese and counted over 1300 enemy dead before embracing martyrdom.
Today, a memorial stands at Rezang La, honoring the memory of those heroes. It reads:
How can a man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his Gods.
To the sacred memory of the Heroes of Rezang La, 114 Martyrs of 13 Kumaon who fought to the Last Man, Last Round, Against Hordes of Chinese on 18 November 1962.
– Built by All Ranks 13th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment.
It was today, 54 years ago, that Major Shaitan Singh Bhati launched Charlie Company into battle. It was today that they became immortal.
Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
17th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment
Disclaimer: 13 Kumaon and 11 Kumaon are both pure Ahir Battalions. There are other battalions in the Kumaon Regiment that have a mix of Kumaonis, Ahirs and a few other ethnicities. Some other battalions are pure Kumaoni, where the soldiers are from the Kumaon Region. My battalion (17 Kumaon) is a pure Kumaoni Unit with 100% troops from the Kumaon Region. However, in case of all infantry regiments of the Indian Army (including Kumaon), the officers are from all over the country.
When I was serving in the Indian Army, Capt. Abhay (name changed) would lament, always privately, that the countrymen did not acknowledge the army’s sacrifices. Well, it seems that the pendulum has sharply swung the other way. The Indian Army is now the flavor of the season, the new touchstone, which must certify if your gold is actually gold, or an alchemist’s fantasy.
Demonetization has happened. I understand that many have been inconvenienced and many continue to face inconvenience. A creative few have compared themselves standing in long, serpentine queues to soldiers standing on the Line of Control. When I read it in the social media for the first time, I was deeply pained. Where was this coming from, I asked myself? Who were these social media warriors who compared their few days of discomfort with a soldier’s death on the Line of Control?
Did we really need to belittle the soldier to make ourselves relevant?
Yes, there are long queues and money has dried up overnight. Small retailers are hit and daily wagers are struggling. But this inconvenience is temporary. It will end. However, the war on the Line of Control has been going on for seventy years. It is likely to go on for decades more. The Indian Army is fighting a very determined enemy. Every day we hear stories of bodies of our martyrs being brought back from the frontline, to cities and mofussil towns bearing names unheard of. To compare the inconvenience of standing in an ATM line to martyrdom on the border is not only grossly insensitive; it defies all logic.
Everyone’s struggle is worthy of respect, the shopkeeper’s and the soldier’s, both. Each fights their own battle the best they can. To compare is to willfully belittle the other.
Let me tell you what happens on the Line of Control. Maybe that will lend perspective, and make comparisons a little fairer.
The LoC is mostly active at night. It is at night that the shelling, cross border firing, raids by BAT (Pakistan Army’s Border Action Teams), infiltration of terrorists, attacks on posts and bloodshed peaks. By day, soldiers tend to their wounded and dead, replenish ammunition and food and also take much needed rest. There is no Saturday or Sunday. There is no “taking it easy”. If an enemy artillery shell does not find you, an SSG (Special Services Group of Pakistan Army) sniper will. It’s a 24/7 cat and mouse game, in which the game is always played with the highest possible stakes, your life and the life of your brothers. Sometimes you kill, sometimes you die.
Many social media warriors may think that standing in a line outside a bank is as difficult as duty on the LoC. If that were indeed the case, and let us assume for a minute that it is, why not swap roles for a day? Just one day, I ask of you.
When violence on the LoC started peaking a few weeks back (it is still peaking even as I write these lines), many people wrote to me saying that they wanted war with Pakistan. None of them were soldiers, but I understood the emotions. I did tell them that war means a lot of hardship for non-combatants and what we take for granted in our daily lives would be very suddenly disrupted. I mean, seeing enemy F-16s flying over your city is no one’s idea of fun. “We want war”, they said in unison. “We will sacrifice for our nation”, they said bravely.
Well, lets start with the ATM lines.
Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
Mahender Mishar (Mishra) of Behar (Bihar) was a short, dark man who, had you met him in a dark alley, would have probably greeted you with a polite “namaste” and moved forward, head bowed. Until one fine day in probably the mid-1930s (year not known), the British media reported that this seemingly innocent man was a criminal mastermind who had perfected the art of counterfeiting British currency.
Mishra was packed off to prison. Emmerich Heisenberg, a Nazi secret agent in London read about this in the “Daily News” with a great deal of interest. So impressed was he with the entire scam, that he sent a clipping from the newspaper to his boss in Germany, SS Major Bernhard Krüger.
What the Indian had done for personal profit, Nazi Germany started doing, to damage the economy of England. 142 inmates, mostly Jewish, were gathered from Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz, both concentration camps with an evil reputation of sending Jews to the gas chambers. Top German artists, forgers and mathematicians were brought together under the express orders of Fuhrer Adolf Hitler. Bernhard Krüger was made the mission leader, with express orders from Hitler to print counterfeit currency of an extremely high quality, which would pass even the closest of examinations.
Engraving printing plates, developing rag-based paper and breaking the serial number code was difficult, but Nazi Germany has no dearth of talent. By 1942, the Nazis were ready. The operation was named after Krüger.
They called it Operation Bernhard.
And till 1945, till the time the Third Reich fell and the operation was shut down, they had printed £134,610,810 worth of counterfeit currency, in various denominations.
Nazi Germany used the counterfeit British currency to fund their war efforts. It is said that the operation to rescue Il Duce Benito Mussolini was funded entirely by these counterfeit notes.
Someone at the ISI Head Quarters at Islamabad must have been a keen student of military history, especially Nazi Germany’s. Soon after the first Afghan Jihad ended in 1989, the ISI started its secret mission of printing counterfeit Indian currency to destabilize India’s economy and fund its own version of “Jihad” in Kashmir. This counterfeit money was also to be used for funding terrorist activities in India. The modus operandi was the same as Operation Bernhard.
So widespread was the practice that the government gave it a name. FICN (Fake Indian Currency Note) is now an accepted nomenclature for counterfeit Indian currency.
Intelligence sources have quoted to the media (also India Today of 6 November 2016) – quote begins – “Forensic opinion has revealed that the notes have been printed on highly sophisticated machines involving huge capital investment. The pulp found to be 100 per cent rag in the FICN, which is normally used in making currency papers. The perfection of window and watermark formulation indicates the manufacture of FICN paper on regular currency making machines, which can only be owned by a country or state.
Most of the pivotal parameters of the paper like GSM (paper density measured in grams per square meter), Wax Pick Quotient, and Poly Vinyl Alcohol and PH Values were found matching with the legal tender of Pakistan.” (end of quote)
According to a top-secret report complied jointly by RAW, Intelligence Bureau, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and CBI, and recently de-classified and published by the media (also News18.com dated 8 November 2016) says that the ISI earns an annual profit of INR 500 crores only from its business of FICN.
Quote begins – “Indian intelligence estimates that terror financiers incur a cost of Rs 39 per ever Rs 1,000 note printed across the border – the RBI spends Rs 29 to print a Rs 1,000 note – but manages to sell it in India through various illegal channels at Rs 350-400.” (end of quote)
The main channels of funneling this cash into India are D Company (owned and controlled by Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar of Karachi), Lashkar-e-Toiba (owned and controlled by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed of Muridke) and Al-badr (owned and controlled by Jasneil Rihal of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). These three main channels of FICN infiltration into India are controlled, protected and directed by the ISI. The counterfeit money has mostly come into India from Dubai, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bihar (border areas).
When the 500 and 1000 rupee notes were declared an invalid tender on 8 November 2016, it was not only a blow to corruption and black money in India. It effectively dealt a deathblow to the ISI’s main terror-financing machine.
Pakistan had gained tremendously by this scam. Not only did they damage India’s economy, they also earned money from India, which was used for financing terror in this country.
This self-sustained cycle of terror and fraudulence is now effectively dead.
Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
Warren Buffet, perhaps the most successful investor of all time, with a piggy bank creaking under the strain of USD 64 billion, was once asked what the secret of his success was. Buffet said, “I buy when everyone else is selling. I sell when everyone else is buying”. Sound advice and solid judgment. No one can argue with that.
Now, take Warren Buffet’s advice and twist it to suit a narrow Indian context. What is the shortest route to fame? When every Indian is solidly behind the Indian Army, write an article abusing it. You set off a social media firestorm, gain instant infamy and suddenly everyone and their uncle knows you.
Truth be told, my first reaction to Aakar Patel’s article in the Times of India (6 November 2016) was one of dismay. Anger and hurt followed. Suddenly, there was absolute calm. The article was not the prey. It was bait. When you see something for what it is, you understand.
In his article, Aakar Patel accuses the pre-1947 Indian Army of being a mercenary army, of killing fellow Indians and a host of other imagined crimes. He then goes on to say that the sewage cleaner’s job is as dangerous as a soldier’s, and the soldier must not demand more in terms of parity. No data is given and no analysis is offered. It is just a few hundred words of rambling. Maybe an old wound. Who knows? It is surprising that The Times of India chose to publish such blatant hate mongering.
Yes, the British Indian Army was part of the British Raj. Yes, the Sappers defeated the Marathas at Assaye Ganj. On 14 August 1947 India was not the India that we know today. It was a loose confederation of 562 princely states, a veritable galaxy of Maharajas, Nawabs and other sundry rulers. The glue that held them together was the exploitative British Raj.
India, as a civilization, is more than 5000 years old. “Bharat Varsha” as we know it is older than most civilizations known to man. When the people of Bharat Varsha were poets, philosophers, kings and warriors, inhabitants of jolly old England were still in animal skins; there were no Roman Casers and Greek nation-states and the Egyptians has only begun settling in.
On 15 August 1947 India became an independent, modern nation state. And on that day, the Indian Army became a truly modern nationalist army. Since, Aakar Patel insists on splitting hair, it is important that he knows that in 1780 when the Sappers fought against the Marathas, there was no Pakistan. Lets twist logic on its head. Were fighting the 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999 (Kargil) wars also wrong? Because going by the logic offered by Aakar Patel, the Indian Army fought against people who were once Indian.
Most armies in the past were mercenary armies. During the Mughal period, Mansabdars were required to maintain foot soldiers and cavalry. These were contributions made to the Mughal Emperor in times of war. It was in 1857 that the East India Company almost lost India to the very soldiers that Aakar Patel calls mercenaries. It was then that Victorian England stepped in. Rebel soldiers were killed in their thousands, some hanged, some hacked to death and many blown from the mouth of cannon. There was disproportionate slaughter. Ninety years after 1857, we were a free and independent nation, with a free and nationalist army.
Aakar Patel condemns the soldier’s demand for parity. For soldiers, it is not parity that is separately important. Soldiers associate parity with societal prestige.
Soldiers demand rank parity because that is the bedrock of honor, on which there can be no compromise. We must also have parity because there are only two people in recorded history who have offered to die for you. The other one is Jesus Christ.
Retired soldiers do not insist on getting more than what retired teachers or schoolmasters do. The army is an institution that puts teachers on a pedestal. And that is why the best and the most cerebral amongst us become instructors. If teachers were to get emoluments far greater than us, we would not only be happy; we would applaud it. Teachers build a nation. Soldiers protect it. We complement each other.
Our issue is with the bureaucrats who practice deception, and who have brought things to such a pass. We seek parity with them. Blame us for being bull-headed, but it is difficult for us to understand how a babu serving in Guwahati is at a greater risk than our brother in Siachen.
Every profession is worthy of respect, be it the sewer cleaner, postmaster or the soldier. We do not claim to be superior to other professions. We claim to be different. Mr. Aakar Patel would do well to understand that our service comes with unlimited liability, not constrained by death and other inconveniences.
A soldier is not special because he claims to be better than those who do not wear the uniform. He is special because he voluntarily serves everyday in the face of certain death. History is replete with examples of how soldiers have always been looked up to. In America, a soldier or Marine in uniform often elicits spontaneous and public applause. As the famous Marine saying goes, “We are the last hundred yards of American foreign policy”. In the Indian context, the Indian Armed Forces are the final argument of the Republic of India.
And now let me tell you why we need those 36 fighter jets, and then 200 more. We live in a very rough neighborhood. We are flanked by two nuclear powers, with which we have fought wars. China is unsettled by India’s rise and claims thousands of square miles of our territory. There are annual incursions by the Chinese army into Indian Territory. About Pakistan, the lesser said the better. Their entire Jihadi-military complex exists for the sole reason of breaking up India. And they try very hard, everyday. Think of the fighter jets as our little insurance policy. And, pray desperately to God that we never have to use that policy.
Aakar Patel may seriously dislike the Indian Army and even hate it, but I will have him know that there is no alternative. It is that soldier that he despises so much, who stands between India and misfortune.
For seventy years, there has been systematic and institutionalized humiliation of this nation’s armed forces. It is people with his kind of mindset who are responsible for such a sorry state of affairs.
Mr. Aakar Patel, next time you go to work and cross the Madras Sappers HQ, I suggest you say a little prayer of thanks. Unless off course, in place of Assaye Ganj, you prefer to read “Iman Taqwa Jihad fi-Sabilillah”. In Chinese.
Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction.
31 October, Gali Maidan
25 Infantry Division, Poonch and Rajouri Sector
Line of Control, Jammu & Kashmir
Capt. Varun Batra marched into the Commanding Officer’s office and saluted smartly. The CO was in front and Maj. Anuj and I stood on his right.
Maj. Anuj came forward and removed Capt. Varun Batra’s ranks from his shoulders, leaving the shoulder flaps unbuttoned.
He then signaled to the office runner and Hav. Dharam Singh entered the office and stood smartly to attention, holding a tray. The tray had a large goblet full of neat brandy and two Major’s epaulettes.
The CO picked up the epaulettes and dipped them in brandy and then proceeded to put them on Varun’s shoulder flaps, and button them. Once that was done, Varun picked up the glass of brandy and downed it in one go, his eyes watering as the fiery liquid hit the back of his throat.
He stepped back and saluted.
“Congratulations, Major Varun Batra. You are now Officer Commanding Bravo Company”, he said.
Varun shook hands with everyone and thanked them and then marched out of the office.
The CO looked at me briefly and said, “He is a good youngster”.
“Yes, Sir. That he is”, I agreed. I saluted and stepped out of the CO’s office.
Major Nair had been posted to the Kumaon Regimental Center in Ranikhet and we would all miss him. Major Gaur moved from Bravo Company to take charge of HQ Company and Varun took over Bravo Company from Maj. GC Gaur.
We were bang on the Line of Control and liquor was out of the question. The celebration in the CO’s office was tradition and hence an exception. But our celebration in the evening comprised of soda with lime and boiled eggs.
Maj. Gaur sang songs, which no one had heard of. Maj. Anuj looked serious for some reason known to no one. Maj. Yadav was reading about Field Marshall Rommel. Well, he was always reading either about Rommel, Clausewitz or Moshe Dayan. Varun and I were listening to Maj. Gaur attentively. He was years our senior, a foot taller and about 25 kgs of pure muscle heavier. We had no choice but to listen to Maj. Gaur’s belting out song after song from the repertoire of Mukesh’s typical music of longing and separation.
We had serious smokers in that room. Soon, the room looked like someone had set off a tear gas shell inside.
“You will die of cancer. Stop smoking, damn it”, growled Maj. Yadav, momentarily leaving Rommel alone.
“Sir, just one last smoke”, requested Anuj.
And so we sang, smoked, read and drank bad lemonade till 0200 hrs. Varun badly wanted to sleep. Anuj was not having any of it. Varun was almost regretting his promotion when everyone decided to call it a day. We retired to our rooms. All of us went to our bunks and crashed out for the night. We needed a few hours rest before making the long and arduous march to our respective company locations on the LoC, away from the relative comforts of the Battalion HQs.
0725 hrs | 1 November 1996
Bravo Company, 17 Kumaon
Varun was simmering in fury. Military Intelligence sources had confirmed to CO 17 Kumaon that four Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists had managed to infiltrate through Bravo Company location two nights back.
Varun’s mind was churning. He could not understand how it could have happened. He was out on ambush personally six nights out of seven. He knew the lay of the land like his own backyard. He had placed his men and sited his automatic weapons perfectly.
But the infiltration had happened. Somehow against all odds, the terrorists had slipped past Bravo Company.
What was done was done. There was no turning back the calendar. But this was tremendous loss of face for Bravo Company. They had to make it up somehow. Varun launched a manhunt but no one in the nearby village had heard or seen any unidentified person.
Varun and his men had not slept for 24 hours. Another 24 hours and they would be on the brink of collapse.
The air was cold now, with November setting in. Varun sat on the cracked staircase of the local post office, watching school kids going to school. His CHM (Company Havildar Major), Havildar Govind Singh was with him, an experienced grizzly soldier who had seen his share of gunpowder and blood.
Varun was popular with the school kids. He would often hand out toffees to them and they would say “Jai Hind” in return. As a group of school kids walked in front of him, he started handing out orange toffees. With squeals of laughter, the children surrounded him, wanting their share. Soon, Varun was almost out of toffees.
A young Class 5th student walked in front of Varun and put out his hand out. Varun put the last toffee in his hand. As he did so, he noticed the young kid wearing a cheap Casio plastic watch.
“What’s your name?”, asked Varun.
“Junaid”, replied the young student.
“Jai Hind, Junaid”, said Varun.
“Jai Hind, Sir”, said Junaid, and walked away.
Govind was watching this entire scene with a puzzled look in his eyes. It was as if he knew there was a problem but could not put a finger on it.
“What’s the matter, Govind?” asked Varun.
“Sahab, that boy was wearing a Casio watch”, Govind said.
“Yes, Govind. It is a cheap imitation watch available for a few hundred rupees”, he responded.
“Sir, its not about the quality of the watch. It’s about the time. The time now is 0730 hrs. The watch was showing 0700 hrs”, he said quietly, realization dawning upon him.
Varun’s face turned ashen.
“And it is 0700 hrs in Pakistan”, he whispered.
Varun turned and walked quickly to Junaid.
“Hey buddy, can we talk?” he said.
“Yes, Sir”, said Junaid happily. His friends in school would think that he was somebody very important, speaking to army officers.
Varun took out a hundred-rupee note and kept it in Junaid’s hands and said, “That is a month’s supply of toffees, Junaid”.
The look on Junaid face was of pure ecstasy.
“Who got you this watch, buddy?” he asked gently.
“My chacha (father’s brother) got it for me. He works in Delhi”, said Junaid.
“He must really care for you, right?” asked Varun.
“He used to, but now he keeps to himself. He came home late at night two days back with three of this friends and has not talked to me”, complained Junaid.
“Tell me more”, said Varun.
Suddenly Junaid took a step back, frightened. His face turned red.
“What’s the matter, Junaid?” asked Varun
“My father said not to talk about my Chacha to anyone. Now I will get a beating at home”, said Junaid, close to tears.
“What’s your father’s and Uncle’s name?” Varun asked.
“Mudassir Ahmad Lone is my father and my uncle is Afzal”, Junaid answered.
“Don’t worry. I will not tell anyone. I promise. Now run off to school”, said Varun.
Junaid scampered away to rejoin his friends, and was soon out of sight.
Varun’s mind was in a whirl. He sat down with Govind on the same post office staircase.
“Govind, we don’t have time. We need to launch the operation in the next one-hour. Call Subedar Diwan Singh on radio. He should come with 2nd platoon. I want him here immediately. Tell him to skirt around the village and not be seen. I will meet him here”, Varun instructed.
“And yes, find out where little Junaid lives”, Varun added.
Govind hurried to comply.
At Charlie Company location, my 5A phone rang. It was Maj. Anuj on the line.
“Gary, take a platoon and rush to Varun’s location. He needs help”, said Anuj.
“Roger, Sir. Leaving immediately”, I answered.
I gathered 1st platoon of Charlie Company and within 5 minutes we were on our way, fast jogging to Varun’s aid.
At 0815 hrs on 1 November, Bravo Company identified Junaid’s house and a cordon was laid. It was a modest house with a ground floor and a floor above.
Laying a cordon in broad daylight is almost useless. You lose the element of surprise. Every man and his dog can see you. But it had to be done.
Varun made his operational plan. He would enter the house along with three other soldiers of Bravo Company and flush out the terrorists.
The plan was faulty. To enter into a house in broad daylight against armed terrorists was madness.
I asked my radio operator to raise Varun on the radio set.
“Golf Alpha for Victor Bravo, come in, over”, I said.
“Victor Bravo for Golf Alpha, ok over”, responded Varun.
“Hold entry till we arrive. We will be there in 30 minutes, over”, I ordered.
“Roger, Golf Alpha. I will hold….out”, Varun confirmed.
I started running towards Varun, my platoon following fast. We gave up tactical movement. We just ran towards Bravo Company. Something told me that all was not well.
The Bravo Company cordon settled in. Varun, as per procedure, sent a scout party to nose around the house and see what they could find. He had Bravo Company surrounding the house with binoculars but no movement had been spotted. Possibly, the terrorists were lying low.
Three men of the scout party crawled towards the house, taking cover of rocks and bushes. Slowly, they crawled closer towards the house. They signaled to Varun communicating that they could see no movement.
The scout party moved a little closer to the house. They must have been 15 meters from the house, well camouflaged by the bushes, when the window above them opened slowly. A terrorist looked out, pulled the pin of a high fragmentation grenade and dropped it in the middle of the three-man scout party.
The grenade exploded and screams of dying men rent the air. Body parts flew up in the sky and rained down on Bravo Company; body parts of their brothers.
The third scout member was still alive, though badly injured. Varun could see the soldier’s stomach torn apart. The soldier struggled to get up. He was suffering from shock, trauma and severe blood loss but he used the last ounce of his to slowly stand. He was staggering to keep balance but he was on his feet. With tremendous will power, he unslung his AK 47 and pointed it towards the window from which the terrorist had thrown the grenade.
“No”, screamed Varun.
The soldier fired at the window, letting loose a long burst of AK 47 fire, bullets smashing into the wall. The young brave heart had used up the last ounce of life. He collapsed, his weapon still in his hand, and breathed his last.
The martyr died heroically, knowing that his impossible yet defiant action had assuaged Kumaoni honor. His father would soon receive his body, wrapped in the tricolor and the Commanding Officer would personally tell him that his son chose to die on his feet and that his son had honored the nation and the regiment.
Cold waves of fury swept over Varun. He had seen his men being mercilessly killed by a faceless enemy.
At that moment, something snapped deep inside the recesses of the mind of Major Varun Batra. The decision was made.
“Sir, we must use the rocket launcher”, said Subedar Diwan Singh Rawat, Senior JCO Bravo Company.
“No, Diwan Sahab. Junaid’s parents may be inside”, Varun responded.
He motioned to Govind and Govind ran to comply.
In a few moments, he had ten men of Bravo Company surrounding him.
“I am going to enter the house. I need 3 volunteers who will go with me,” Varun said.
All ten soldiers raised their hands. That was to be expected. Varun picked three of the best and quickly explained the plan. They would enter through the main door, but there would be no grenade thrown in. They would enter with their AK 47’s only.
“Koi shaq ya sawaal”, he asked.
“Nahi sahab”, all three replied.
“Kalika Mata ki Jai”, Varun said to each man, shaking hands.
“Kalika Mata ki Jai”, each man responded.
My radio set crackled. I stopped running. I was panting badly with sweat streaming down my face.
“Hi Gary Sir”, it was Varun on the radio.
A cold wave of helplessness gripped me. Why was Varun not using RT (radio telephony) procedure, the laid down procedure for speaking on radio? What was wrong?
“Golf Alpha for Victor Bravo, do you…..?” I asked.
“Gary Sir, it was an honor to serve with you,” Varun said, cutting me short.
“Varun….Varun”….I screamed into the radio set. No response.
I could see Bravo Company troops surrounding a wooden house about half a kilometer away.
I started sprinting towards the house. Now there was no holding back.
Varun crawled to the entrance of the house, his team of three volunteers following at a spacing of 5 feet. As he reached the main door, he gave the hand signal to stop. The team froze.
Varun got up to a half-crouch and stepped back from the door, his team behind him with the fire selector switch of all weapons on automatic fire mode.
His right leg shot forward and smashed into the door. The door caved in and Varun moved in with his weapon aiming at the great darkness beyond.
They separated into two teams of two men each. Varun led Team One. Havildar Jaidev Singh Rautela led Team Two.
The ground floor was searched room by room. No one spoke and all communication was by hand signal.
Varun signaled to Jaidev’s team…all clear. Lets go up. I will lead.
He slowly moved up the wooden stairs, knowing fully well that one small mistake could mean death. He climbed till the landing and then signaled his team to follow. The team followed.
They slowly reached the first floor. The team led by Varun turned right. The other team turned left.
I reached the encounter site and asked CHM Govind where Varun was. He informed me that there was an encounter in progress.
I cursed Varun under my breath. He could have waited. Now he was inside the house and I could not enter. There had been fatalities because of friendly fire before and I did not want to accidently shoot Varun or his men.
“Why did he enter the house when I told him not to?”, I angrily asked Govind, raising my voice.
“Izzat”, Govind said softly. He wanted to say that it was Varun’s right to avenge the deaths of Bravo company men and it was a matter of honor for an officer. Govind could not find the right words to explain to me, and so he used the one word that all army men understand, one word that brooks no argument or discussion.
Govind hesitatingly continued, “We are Kumaoni, Sir. We will always choose death before dishonour”. I had heard this a million times in the regiment. This was the regiment of Maj. Somnath Sharma and Maj. Shaitan Singh. “Vijay ya Veergati” was in the DNA.
As Varun peeked into the large hall, he could see a single terrorist walk to the window to peep outside. 500 meters away, Naik Pratap Singh got the opening he wanted. The opening was just for 5 seconds but that was more than enough for a trained infantry sniper.
The Draganov 7.62 mm is a Russian sniper rifle. It is simple, sturdy and accurate. It delivers. Varun saw red mist coming out of the back of the terrorist’s head. Milliseconds later, the head exploded like a watermelon and it was then that Varun heard the sound of the shot.
There was confusion in the room and sound of movement. Varun moved in, followed by his buddy. 3’o clock to Varun was another terrorist. He saw Varun and fired. The shots were fired in fear and were wide. Varun fired a three round burst into his chest. The terrorist flew back and crashed into a wooden almirah.
In the other room Jaidev moved, keeping the wall to his left. As he moved into the room, looking through the sights of his weapon, a burst of automatic fire hit him in the leg. Jaidev screamed and collapsed. Varun ran to help his men.
There were two terrorists inside the room and were using Junaid’s father Mudassir, as a shield. One terrorist was pointing his weapon at Jaidev’s buddy. Jaidev’s buddy, a young athletic soldier called Manoj, was pointing his AK 47 at the terrorist. Varun saw that there was only one way to end this classical Mexican standoff.
Varun took a risk and very silently changed the fire selector switch to “single”. Now, whenever Varun squeezed the trigger, only one shot would be fired.
Varun looked at Manoj. No words were spoken. I don’t know if you believe in telepathy, but for men who live and die together, it is real. The decision was taken. Manoj suddenly dived to his right hand side and let loose a controlled burst at his target. His target slumped.
Simultaneously, Varun shot Mudassir in the thigh, smashing his femur beyond repair. Mudassir screamed and collapsed, leaving his brother Afzal exposed. Varun had not moved his weapon from his shoulder. He raised the barrel a few inches and shot Afzal twice in the chest, using the double tap shooting technique. Two rounds were fired in quick succession at the same target using the same sight picture. Afzal’s body spun around and crashed into the floor.
Varun quickly moved to where the terrorist shot by Manoj, lay. His breathing was shallow and his face had lost all color. He was moments away from death.
Varun spoke into his radio set “This is Victor Bravo. All clear. One friendly injured. Sanitize area. Out.”
Bravo Company rushed inside.
5 November 1996
Battalion Head Quarters, 17 Kumaon
We bid farewell to our 3 martyrs with tears in our eyes. The injured had been shifted to the 25th Infantry Division Military Hospital at Rajouri.
The Commanding Officer’s briefing had started a while back and would finish any time soon.
“Gentlemen, we have our orders. There is enhanced infiltration at Balnoi Gap, ahead of Mendar. Gary, you will move with Charlie Company and for administrative purposes, will be attached to 14 Maratha Light Infantry. Come back to us in one piece.”
“Varun, you have been nominated to attend the ASMT (Army School of Mechanical Transport) Course in Bangalore. You will leave on 17 November.”
“Thank you gentlemen”, said the CO, and finished his briefing.
Later in the evening, we gathered around in Maj. Anuj’s room. We would be leaving for our company locations tomorrow morning, but today we would celebrate. Of that we were determined.
Out came the lousy lemonade and boiled eggs. Suddenly Varun entered the room with a bag. Maj. Gaur, Maj. Anuj, Maj. Yadav, 2/Lt Sam and I looked at him in curiosity.
Varun, that great king of drama, slowly put his hand inside the bag and one by one, took out two bottles of Peter Scott.
No one spoke. We were speechless with wonder.
“Its called superior management, gentlemen”, Varun smiled.
Maj. Anuj quickly walked to the door and latched it. If the CO found out that we were drinking, we would all go on very extended LRPs (Long Range Patrols) over the Pir Panjal Mountain Ranges.
We threw away the lemonade and Varun poured the golden liquid into the glass. Soda followed the whiskey and we looked at this light golden liquid in wonder.
As we raised our glasses and said our cheers, Varun held up a strip of Disprins.
“Gary Sir, drink up. It’s going to be rocking”, he winked.
Maj. Gaur lowered his voice and said, “Did you hear about that operation the MARCOS did at Wular Lake?”
It was going to be a long night.
I winked back, raising a toast to all the heroes of 17 Kumaon.
Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
17 Kumaon Regiment