Operation Vijay: Young officers and men made us proud

[ SC Mohanty ]

On the momentous occasion of Kargil Vijay Divas, we pay our humble obeisance to those gallant armed forces personnel who made the supreme sacrifice for the safety, honour and territorial integrity of our great nation.

I feel deeply nostalgic, having lived through those crucial moments of the war that was thrust on us by an untrustworthy neighbour. In ‘Operation Vijay’, the role played by our young officers, men and a large number of anonymous countrymen who stepped up to the plate to contribute their mite towards the overall war effort need recognition. It was for the first time that the conflict was brought live into our drawing rooms and with it the overwhelming emotional, inspirational and material support of the countrymen, cutting across religion, caste, language and political barriers.

I was privileged to be posted at Drass, the ground zero, which lies on NH 1 between Zojila Pass and Kargil town, during the conflict. As a brigade major of a mountain brigade, I was responsible, along with my superior commanders, to conceptualize, plan, coordinate and execute all operations in the sector to evict the Pakistani intrusions across the line of control (LoC). Generally, a brigade has 3-4 units under command, but during Operation Vijay, we had as many as nine units placed under command, owing to the strategic location of the brigade headquarters, through which many key operations to include Tololing, Point 5140 and Tiger Hill were launched. Out of nine Maha Vir Chakras awarded for the entire war, six were to units under our brigade. While much has been written about the Kargil conflict, let me highlight some instances depicting the cold courage, chivalry and bravery of our

young officers and men who were launched into operations in high altitudes without the mandatory acclimatization period.

Those days, the infantry battalions were short of missiles that are crucial for long-range precision shooting. We got missile launcher detachments from specialized battalions from all over the country to augment the firepower of the defended localities. Before their induction and employment at the forward localities, I spoke to them (in an apologetic manner) and told them that we were unable to give them the mandatory acclimatization period due to the urgency of the operational situation. All of them said in unison: “Sahab, hamen aap aagey bhejiye, hamen dushman ka saamna karna hai, is dharti ke liye mar mitna hai. Hamen acclimatization nahin chahiye, sahab (Sir, please send us forward to confront the enemy and we do not need acclimatization).” I was nearly driven to tears (even as I write this anecdote), at the enthusiasm, high sense of motivation, energy, commitment and loyalty towards the country against all odds and at great personal risk to their lives.

In another instance, a young officer, major RS Adhikari (one could hold a rank of major from service length of 3 years to 13 years), was on deputation with an infantry battalion and was nominated to undertake a sortie on an MI 8 helicopter to indicate targets to the pilots for engagement. The helicopters were just then retrofitted with rockets for pinpoint targeting of enemy sangarhs made out of piles of stones on hilltops. Incidentally, attack helicopters in our inventory, which would have been ideal for such tasks, were unsuitable in such altitudes. The officer told me: “Sir, why are you sending me with the choppers? Please allow me to lead the assault of my battalion tonight.” The glint in his eyes would have softened even the hardest of commanders. However, since the task was operationally expedient, he had to go, which he reluctantly accepted. As destiny would have it, the officer rejoined the unit after the specific task was over and the next day, when four helicopters were engaging the Tololing feature, one of them was brought down by a stinger missile, resulting in irreparable loss of our gallant air warriors and the machine.

The same night, a ground attack was launched by major RS Adhikari’s battalion, with him as the forward company commander, on the Tololing feature, which dominated NH 1. Maj RS Adhikari made the supreme sacrifice while leading the assault of his company, which was beaten back by the enemy, and due to direct observation and domination over the area by the enemy, his body could be recovered only after around 20 days. The assault by Maj RS Adhikari’s company made a crucial contribution to the final capture of the objective. The officer was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra. There are numerous such examples of unparalleled courage and devotion to duty by young officers and men, some of whom barely completed their foundational training. There were many countrymen, including businessmen, small traders, politicians, bureaucrats and common unsung heroes of all hues who sent packets of biscuits, chocolates, ready-to-eat meals, Maggi noodles, etc, for the soldiers deployed in far-flung and isolated areas. In fact, the regular logistic supplies to the troops could be relaxed due to such overwhelming support of many of our countrymen.

The media played a significant role in mobilizing the nation’s consciousness and for the citizens to rally around the armed forces, which in no mean way contributed to victory. Barkha Dutt (I am speaking from a bunker) and Gaurav Sawant, then greenhorn journalists, reporting from the war zone are now highly accomplished media personnel.

The nation invariably rallies around, cutting across other differences, during a national crisis and would continue to do so in the future.

Our deep obeisance to the martyrs and salute to those who played a defining role in Operation Vijay.

Proud to be Indian. Mera Bharat mahaan. Jai Hind! (The contributor is a retired major general and current security advisor to the Arunachal government.)