Col J P Singh (Retd)
26 July 1999 will go down in the History of India as a day when the Indian Army achieved yet another glorious victory over the Pakistan army. On this day nation remembers 527 brave soldiers and 7 civilian porters who laid down their lives for the success of ‘Op Vijay’. This day also commemorates the sufferings, fortitude and compassion of their loved ones. For the widows, the wait of their husbands and for parents, shock of their sons, has never got over.
People of Jammu and Kashmir have faced 5 uncalled for wars, 4 from Pakistan. The last one, the surreptitious capture of Kargil in 1999, is very fresh in their mind, mainly due to its TV coverage. Most of us would recall that this war received tremendous media coverage so much so that it came to be known as the first televised war of the country. Best of all was when the young reporter of Star TV, Bharka Dutt talked to Capt Vikram Batra of 13 JAK after he captured Point 5140 on 20th June and asked, “how do you feel about this victory”. He replied ‘Yeh Dil Maange More’. Just after capturing Point 5140, he had radioed this victory signal ‘Yeh Dil Mange More’ to his commanding officer jubilantly. It was proudly aired by Barkha and became a symbol for every future success. This slogan became popular with millions as symbol of patriotism. 4 Param Vir Chakras, 9 Maha Vir Chakras, 6 Kirti Charka, 9 Vir Chakras and 25 Shaurya Chakras and number of other decorations should suffice to tell tales of valour of young officers and men. IAF won 2 Vr C and 27 Vayu Sena Medals. Nation profoundly remembers all warriors on Vijay Divas.
In April 1999, Pak forces occupied 130 vacated forward posts in Kargil sector, tip off given by a shepherd on 3 May. Majority of these posts overlooked NH 1A. Most important of them were Tololing, Tiger Hill, Pt 4875, Pt 4590, Pt 5100 and Pt 5140. All these posts were strongly fortified and offered stiff resistance. Our army responded to this challenge promptly. They surprised the enemy which had surprised them, with the lightening speed and ferocity of moblisation and movement. It was the speed with which the army conducted the operations that took the enemy by surprise. All the posts dominating NH 1A were cleared by 14 July. It was in the capture of these posts that our officers and men showed their mettle and won the admiration of the nation. Remaining areas were cleared subsequently. Enemy was fully evicted by 26 July. Hence 26 July has been christened as ‘Vijay Divas’.
Heart rendering stories of several hand to hand fights in perilous rugged high altitude terrain and inclement weather against well entrenched enemy and the display of exemplary courage and valour by young officers and men turned the tables. Sharing her experiences, Barkha Dutt said, “I was very young when I went to the battlefield and was surprised to find that many officers and men far younger than me”. Undeniably this war was the ‘Battles of the Young’ which immensely enhanced the image of Indian Army in the country so much so that craze to join armed forces increased. Under-subscribed courses in NDA, IMA and OTA started going over subscribed.
2 Raj Rif captured Tololing on 13 June after several failed attempts. Col Ravindranath, reported this victory to Maj Gen Mohinder Puri, GOC 8 Mtn Div, by saying “Sir I am on Tololing Top”. It was a great moment for the GOC. Thereafter Pt. 5060 & Pt. 5100 were captured on 29 June, Tiger Hill on 4 July after 11 hours bloody battle, Pt 4875 on 7 July by Vikram Batra and Anuj Nayyar, 17 JAT (MVC Posthumous) and key Peaks of Batalik on 11 July. This tilted the combat in India’s favor.
Those interested in what actually happened in those summer weeks in a remote border area of an obscure place 17 years ago, must get hold of books written by various soldiers and journalists. Two of them are most authentic. They are, ‘Who Turned the Tide’ by Maj Gen Mohinder Puri, GOC in Kargil and ‘Surprise Turned into Victory’ by Gen V P Malik who was Army Chief. Their honest account of Kargil conflict, if only to understand what it took to win this war and protect the nation, may be read. What is important is to realize that it meant sacrifices. Some deaths were dramatic, they made news but most of the brave soldiers died in oblivion. It was end of everything for those who lost a husband, father, son or brother. For 57 years old Prajapati Devi, widow of Kargil martyr, interviewed by ‘Times of India’ correspondent, the promises made to her husband are not yet over. Nk Krishan Lal of 17 JAT (Capt Anuj Nayyar’s Bn) had completed his service and was to come home within a fortnight. He did return but in a coffin. He died leading a section, killed three Pakistanis and captured a bunker. Being the only son he took a promise from his wife. “Take care of my parents for life”. She remembers him calling from Kargil and telling, “your tough time has come to an end. I am coming and will take care of everything”.
Unfortunately that was a signal of more hardships for her. She had three young children and in-laws to look after. Govt allotted her a petrol pump which her elder son runs. She settled the children and continues looking after her old mother-in-law in village Titoli of Rohtak. While children shifted to the city, she stayed in the village keeping with her promise. Govt gave generous ex-gratia and help to the families of martyrs and built subsidised flats for them under ‘Vijayee Vir Awas Yojna’. 412 such flats are at Dwarka, Delhi, 25 at Leh for Ladakhi martyrs and some in disputed Adarsh Colony, Mumbai. Many widows were commissioned in the armed forces.
Vijay Divas is celebrated every 25th and 26th July in which all the serving gallantry award winners and kins of martyrs are invited. This year Manohar Parrikar, RM and Gen Dalbir Singh, COAS will be among the galaxy of participants in the ceremony.
Gen Malik and Maj Gen Puri are the real architect of ‘Op Vijay’. According to both of them, “Wars, if thrust upon a country, must be fought on enemy’s territory”. This cardinal principle of war is taught in Military War College, National Defence College and Defence Services Staff College.
Unfortunately, this ‘cardinal principle of war’ was not applied in ‘Op Vijay’. To take the war to enemy territory involved crossing the LoC. In India, decision of crossing the LoC or IB does not rest with army like Pakistan. It lies with the govt. Had the govt allowed the army to exercise this option of crossing the LoC and taking the war to Pak territory, it would have meant faster operations, lesser casualties without much loss of credibility. It would have shown India as a strong nation which applies restraint but takes bold decisions and consequent risks. India cannot be pushed around by anyone, would have been the message of this bold initiative. In actuality, govt totally banned crossing the LoC for the reasons best not discussed to avoid embarrassment.
As per Gen Puri’s admission, there were pitfalls and mistakes that happened during this war and may happen in any war in future (not the occasion to mention them) but he lauded the innovative tactics of employment of notorious Bofor Guns in direct firing role which helped the assaulting soldiers turn the tide. He also gives credit to the Indian Air Force and points out that restrictions imposed by the political leadership in not allowing aircrafts to cross of the LoC, actually created more problems for the air warriors since they did not have enough depth to launch their attacks and instead of approaching the objective from South to North, the air attacks had to be launched in East-West direction which restricted the IAF’s options. The Army too suffered because of the restrictions. As a ‘formation commander’ Gen Puri wanted limited permission to cross the LoC for purely tactical purpose but was not granted. Despite the restriction and many other adverse factors, Gen Puri, his officers and men of several units of the Indian Army finally evicted the intruders from Kargil and regained Indian territory, albeit at very heavy cost. It is to the sacrifices and heroic tales of young victors and fortitude of Veer Naris that this article is dedicated to, in all earnestness and humility.
Each battle and campaign leaves certain lessons for the posterity and perspective for the future. Kargil was no exception. Gen Pravez Musharraf was at Beijing while the ingress was taking place. China and Pakistan were to share the gains with Ladakh going to China and Kargil to Pakistan. In future the dangers are more with Nepal may be adding up as surprise third player.
Victory by valour
Col J P Singh (Retd)