While the nation was celebrating ‘Azadika Amrit Mahotsav’ [grand celebration of Freedom’s Nectar] to commemorate India’s 75th Independence Day, on the icy heights of Siachen Glacier, an Indian army patrol recovered the mortal remains of Lance Naik Chandra Shekhar Harbola, of 19 Kumaon Regiment which was the first unit to be inducted on to the Glacier in 1984. This brave soldier was a member of a 20 men team which was patrolling the treacherous snow-covered landscape of the highest battlefield in the world to prevent any ingress by the Pakistan army when this patrolling party was hit by a massive avalanche on May 29, 1984.
Despite extensive search, the bodies of five soldiers couldn’t be located, and Harbola was one of them. So, while this recovery must have opened up many nearly four-decade old wounds, but discovery of Harbola’s mortal remains with his rifle still clenched in his lifeless and frozen hands, serves as a solemn but apt indicator of the unparalleled grit and consummate devotion to duty for which the Indian army is respected all over the world.
In the last 76 years, the Indian army has more than lived up to the high expectations of the people. It has dealt firmly with those who tried to violate the country’s national integrity, and repeatedly defeated Rawalpindi’s evil design to annex J&K. It has also frustrated Pakistan army’s attempt to create anarchy in Kashmir Valley by sponsoring terrorism and thwarted Gen Pervez Musharraf’s attempt in 1999 to alter the Line of Control [LoC] alignment through well planned intrusions.
Though the Indian army did suffer a reverse in 1962, it’s no secret that this was primarily due to lack of requisite military hardware and certainly not because of any inadequacy in fighting capabilities or the courage of its rank and file. In fact, it was the heroic last stand of a 120 strong Company of 13 Kumaon Regiment at Rezang La in Eastern Ladakh during this conflict [in which 114 brave hearts including their company commander Major Shaitan Singh who made the supreme sacrifice and was awarded the highest gallantry award – the Param Vir Chakra (PVC)] that has made this hitherto fore unknown mountain pass, the epitome of Indian army’s unmatched valour and spirit of sacrifice!
There’s no dearth of accounts detailing the valour of the Indian army. In 1947, when outstripped by hordes of Pakistani army men and tribals, Maj Somnath Sharma’s last message to the brigade headquarters was, “The enemy are only 50 yards from us. We are heavily outnumbered. We are under devastating fire. I shall not withdraw an inch, but will fight to the last man and the last round.’ Maj Sharma was posthumously awarded the PVC.
During the Indo-Pak Conflict of 1965, despite being seriously wounded in action, Lt Col A B Tarapore, the commanding an armoured regiment [17 Horse], refused evacuation saying, “If my troops are here, my regiment is here, I will die fighting here. I will not go back.” Unconcerned by his injuries, he bravely fought on for six days before making the supreme sacrifice on the battlefield. Lt Col Tarapore was posthumously awarded PVC.
Six years later, during a fierce tank battle during the 1971 Indo-Pak War, the tank commanded by 2nd Lt Arun Khetarpal of 17 Horse caught fire after receiving a direct hit. On being ordered to abandon his burning tank, the 21-year-old subaltern refused, saying that “No Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My main gun is still working …,” and for his conspicuous act of valour, 2/Lt Khetrapal was posthumously awarded PVC.
Such was his daring that even his adversary Maj [later Brig] Khwaja Mohammed Naser, of Pakistan army’s 13 Lancers to this day remembers how 2/Lt Khetrapal “stood like an insurmountable rock between the victory and failure of the counter attack by the SPEARHEADS – 13 LANCERS on 16 Dec 1971.” Maj AH Amin, a retired Pakistan army armoured corps officer, columnist and military historian too admits that “The only occasion when a breakthrough [by Pakistan army] could have occurred was when two squadrons of 13 Lancers attacked together in the afternoon, but a gallant last ditch lone stand by 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal of Poona Horse averted the danger.”
Indian army’s unparalleled grit and resilience once again came to the fore during 1999 Kargil War. Capt Manoj Pandey, PVC [Posthumous] famous pledge that “If death strikes before I prove my blood, I promise I will kill death,” and the promise made by Capt Vikram Batra, PVC [Posthumous] that “I will either come back after raising the Indian flag in victory, or return wrapped in it,” reflects the unmatched motivation of Indian army’s rank and file.
Can there be any better testament than these as regards the Indian army’s consummate dedication?
In more recent times, the Galwan face-off on May 5,2020 has again proved beyond any doubt that the Indian army’s phenomenal resilience continues to flourish. Similarly, the Indian army’s bold pre-emptive action of occupying strategically important heights of the Kailash Range on the intervening night of August 29/30, 2020, to counter PLA build up in Pangong Tso area proves that for our daring men in olive greens, nothing is impossible! To thwart any nefarious designs of People’s Liberation Army [PLA] in Ladakh, the Indian army has dug-in and braving the harsh arctic-like winter conditions, is maintaining 24X7 vigil in this area.
Besides the impressive professional acumen and ‘never-say-die’ approach displayed by the Indian Army while dealing with external threats, its rank and file has always walked the extra mile during natural calamities and other disasters to save their countrymen and ameliorate their suffering. One such example is of the massive 2010 flash floods in Ladakh in which more than 71 settlements were inundated and almost 1,500 homes damaged. The Indian army immediately swung into action and undeterred by the raging torrents, rescued marooned civilians, including about 3,000 tourists.
Ladakh Scouts whose troops hail from this region and are located here were amongst the first responders and carried out their rescue mission with utmost dedication. A lady tourist from Delhi recounted an interesting incident regarding her interaction with a Junior Commissioned Officer [JCO] from Ladakh Scouts who was supervising rescue operations. While sipping a hot cup of tea after her harrowing ordeal, she, out of sheer curiosity, asked him where his native village was and if had also been hit by the floods. She also enquired whether his family members and friends were safe.
The JCO replied that his village was not very far away and being located in an equally low-lying area, would have certainly been submerged. However, since the mobile network had been disrupted, he was unaware of the current status of his family members. Taken aback by his calm composure, the surprised lady asked him if he and his team were worried about the safety and wellbeing of their family members?
The JCO calmly replied that though anxious, they had put their minds and heart into the rescue tasks assigned to them and had not allowed emotions to impede their physical and mental abilities. Another reason why they weren’t particularly perturbed was that just like this team was assigned the task of rescuing people here, they knew for sure that some other such army team would be carrying out rescue and relief operations in their native villages. So, there was no need to unduly fret because the army would ensure that each and every affected person would be safely evacuated and well taken care of!
Just four years later, when massive floods in Kashmir paralysed the civil administration, it was the army, which despite itself being a victim of this humungous calamity, once again measured up upto public expectations by undertaking massive and well-coordinated rescue and relief operations. Despite limited resources at its disposal and efforts by pro-Pakistan elements led by separatists to undermine rescue/relief work, the army gave an extremely impressive account of itself, and the credit for this goes to the professional ethos of ‘service before self’ that abounds within the Indian army.