Kargil War : The neglected Heroes

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Capt. Keishing Clifford Nongrum MVC

Peter and Saily Keishing live in a small double-storey house in a narrow, steep sloping street of Shillong. When we visited their home recently, the whole family was present to give us a warm reception. Our conversation was mostly about their middle son, Nongrum, who had created history in Meghalaya by getting commission into the Army and leading his men of 12 JAK Light Infantry in the Kargil war.

Captain Nongrum had demonstrated outstanding gallantry while leading his men to capture Point 4812 and was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) posthumously. His battalion also captured the first Pakistan Army prisoner of war, Naik Inayat Ali, which ended all misinformation about mujahideen being the infiltrators.

The Keishings maintain Nongrum’s room with almost everything that he left behind. All awards, presentations, write-ups in the media are kept in this room. Keishings have lost their son. But his gallantry and sacrifice for the nation live on for the family and their friends!

Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey, PVC

Gopi Chand and Mohini Pandey too maintain a separate room with all the memorabilia of their son Manoj in their house in Gomti Nagar, Lucknow. “He continues to live with us”, said his sister when we visited their home. Her brother Lieutenant Manoj Pandey of 1/11 Gorkha Rifles participated in a series of attacks at Khalubar. On the night of July 2–3, 1999, when Manoj’s platoon approached their final objective under intense enemy fire at Khalubar, it was nominated to clear the interfering enemy bunkers.

While clearing the third bunker, he sustained a machine-gun burst to which he succumbed. His daredevil act, however, enabled the Gorkhas to capture Khalubar. Manoj Pandey was awarded the Param Vir Chakra for his outstanding acts of bravery.

In every martyr’s home that I have visited after the Kargil war, there is a room or a corner full of memories, which gives pride and sustains the family.

Captain Vikram Batra PVC

Captain Vikram Batra, awarded the PVC for his actions at Point 5140 and Point 4875, reminds us of his success signal, “Yeh dil mange more”. Grenadier Yogendra Yadav, also awarded the PVC, led the assault to fix a rope for his colleagues on top of Tiger Hill. Captain Vijayant Thapar, in his last letter to his parents, wrote, “By the time you get this letter, I will be enjoying the company of Apsaras in the sky.” He ended up his letter with “OK then, it is time for me to join my assault party of the dirty dozen.” The Vir Chakra in Vijayant’s room is the pride of the family.

Family of Captain Neikezhakuo Kenguruse, MVC

Sudhir Kumar, my ADC, volunteered to join his battalion 9 Para. Without acclimatisation, he led his troops to capture Zulu Top, almost the last battle in the Kargil war. Hanif-ud-din led his team of 11 Rajputana Rifles to capture Point 5590. He succumbed to his injuries and the body fell in a crevice. His mother had to wait for 20 days before we could recover his body and hand it over to her. Captain Kengruse scaled a sheer rock face at Three Pimples in Dras bare-footed, literally hanging on by his fingers and toes. After reaching the top, he killed two enemy soldiers with a commando knife before he was fatally wounded.

Thousands of Naga people along the road between Dimapur and Kohima spent long hours to salute his body on its last homeward journey. 1 Bihar lost Major Sarvanan in a failed assault on Point 4924 at the Jubar complex on May 29. Determined to recover his body, the battalion captured this feature finally on July 8. The battalion recovered his body along with a large cache of enemy arms and ammunition and dead bodies of many Pakistani soldiers. At this time, our national spirit and respect for the soldiers was so high that a Union Minister, the late Ranganathan Kumaramangalam, personally escorted Saravanan’s body to his hometown in Trichnapally, where a solemn farewell was given.

There were countless acts of gallantry, displays of steely resilience, single-minded devotion to duty and sacrifices. The war in Kargil saw unalloyed heroism, which will remain a benchmark for valour whenever the security of our nation is threatened. All units responded with alacrity and with their characteristic steadfastness and perseverance.

The above-mentioned tactical battles were a follow-up of a simple war strategy. At the grand strategy level, the approach was that India was a victim of intrusion and yet was willing to exercise restraint by not crossing the LoC or the border. That notwithstanding, it would take all measures, including military, to ensure that the intruded area is vacated. The military strategy was to threaten and maintain pressure on Pakistan throughout the land, air and sea borders with a view to creating a strategic imbalance for Pakistan and to reduce enemy pressure on Kargil.

Indian soldiers celebrating after reclaiming the post. (File)

We were prepared to escalate the situation and launch our forces across the border or the LoC if the situation demanded. All formations tasked for the western border were deployed on the front, or located close to it. Our strike formations were ready to cross into Pakistan at short notice. These formations, their equipment and ammunition —- over 19000 tonnes —- were moved in 446 military special trains over several nights. A part of the Eastern Naval Fleet was moved to the Arabian Sea. The Indian Navy deployed war ships from the Gulf to the western Indian coastline. The Air Force, which was already supporting battles at Kargil, had prepared all its bases and aircraft for war.

In the Kargil war, the Pakistan Army had taken the initiative and surprised us. We were reacting to a situation, like we did in 1947-48, 1962 and 1965 when attacked by the enemy. The political objective was to “get the Kargil intrusion vacated and restore the sanctity of the LoC” with a rider not to cross the LoC or the border. We achieved that on July 26 when Pakistani troops were either thrown out physically or withdrew from some occupied positions on our terms and conditions.

Indian soldiers taking their position during Kargil War 1999

In the current geopolitical and strategic environment, it is not possible to take the war to the conclusion of old-style politico-military victories. Wars now are conducted with the objective of achieving political success rather than military victories. That is what we achieved for our political authority in the Kargil war. Our war diplomacy could not have succeeded if we had not been able to beat the hell out of the Pakistan Army intruders in Kargil.

When the truth about the foolhardy Kargil venture filtered out in Pakistan, all those responsible for the catastrophe were vehemently condemned within their country.

Historically and culturally, despite having to go to war so often for external and internal security, we Indians never take pride in our military achievements or our military heroes. It is a strategic cultural weakness. The military is sidelined as soon as the conflict is over. Till date, there is no national war memorial. Questions are raised whenever the military wishes to celebrate an event to maintain military traditions and to inculcate regimental spirit and espirit de corps. That is also the reason why our long-term defence planning continues to suffer. Kargil heroes and martyrs like those of 1971 and other previous wars are facing the same neglect.

It is sad to see that the political leadership, even the media, does not realise the adverse impact of such neglect while the military continues to be engaged in a proxy war in J&K and the Northeast. The media tends to spend columns and days describing a military aberration. But there is little coverage of its heroes and sacrifices. Many of them wrote off the whole of the Kargil war over a tribunal decision on a dispute between a Brigadier and his Corps Commander. It must be remembered that such disputes over promotions, honours and awards occur after every war. And for every single brave deed noticed and recognized, there are many that go unnoticed in the fog of war.

Recently, I was in Srinagar when Colonel Neeraj Sood of the Rashtriya Rifles was shot dead by the militants in Kupwara. At the airport, I witnessed his devastated wife and daughter taking his body to Delhi. Neeraj’s military colleagues were present to look after the family. Not a single representative from the Central or state government was present to see them off. The sense of nationalism and pride in the military generated during the Kargil war is missing today.

The men and women of the armed forces have been on the front lines of violence almost continuously since the early 1980s. There is not enough recognition of the stresses that they operate under and the terrible disruptions and strains that affect their families even after the Kargil war. Many veterans have returned medals awarded to them for gallantry and fighting wars to the President, a sure sign of frustration and feeling of neglect.

If we wish to maintain good civil-military relations to optimise national security, our people, particularly political and media leaders, must realize this important responsibility and ensure that there is no feeling of frustration or injustice in the military profession.

(The writer was the Chief of Army Staff during the Kargil war)

(Courtesy: The Tribune)

Disclaimer : The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy of MisterBharat.com

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