Thinking of the Galwan incident of 15 June 2020 and the battle action of 20 unarmed Biharis, led by Colonel Santosh Babu, one is reminded of General Patton’s saying, "I don't want you to die for your country. You should make the other poor dumb bastard die for his country"; and premier Modi’s statement, “veh marte marte marte mare hain.” In hindsight it looks as if it is for these sayings that Col Babu must have led his brave men and led them from the front.
He made his adversary including a Col and another officer die in that gallant Galwan action. Initial inputs suggested that seeing a PLA tent remaining pitched where it was earlier, he ordered it to be burnt on which a scuffle seems to have ensued with those Chinese soldiers who were still there despite assurance of going back, resulting in deaths on both sides in which he also died. Hence Col. Babu died while doing his sacred duty.
Col. Santosh Babu, the renowned martyr of Galwan Valley, in Ladakh Sector, was the Commanding Officer (CO) of 16 BIHAR, the Battalion he had taken over a fortnight before. The motto of BIHAR Regiment is ‘Karam hi Dharam’ (work is worship). He died performing his sacred duty in the line of action. In the short spell of command, as usual, he developed a close rapport with the men that they followed him to the adversary’s camp unarmed. They haven’t laid down their life for nothing. The Nation is proud of gallant martyrs of 16 BIHAR and 3 Fd Regt who finally dislodged PLA from the Galwan Valley.
It is their bold and gallant action that endured Modi to tell, not only the opposition leaders so loudly on 19 June 2020, but to the entire world that, “neither an inch of our territory is under Chinese control, nor any ingress has taken place on the LAC or any of our post captured by the enemy adding that not an inch of our land will be allowed to be occupied by the enemies, because by then the gallant Biharis had dislodged the adversary from the Galwan Valley.
What triggered the deadly action is also becoming clearer. During the 6 June Corps Commanders meeting in Ladakh it was decided that PLA will vacate Galwan heights before 15 June i.e. within 10 days of the meeting. Since the Galwan ingress was in the area of responsibility of 16 BIHAR, the CO himself went on the ground to verify and confirm to his superior commanders of physical vacation of the area or otherwise. (also possible that his Brigade Commander asked him to do so). CO and his escort were outnumbered and overpowered.
They were physically assaulted in the most despicable manner is also clear. They fought despite all odds and lost 20 lives. After-all ‘Paltan Izzat’ and trust of the nation was at stake at that moment of time. Many such instances of the past are on record when soldiers gave their life and some of them have been so significant that they created an impact of far-reaching magnitude on the narrow confines of tactical aspects of the warfare which at times took a recourse to strategic outcome and become a structural episode in the annals of military history.
One such incident of interest of recent times, akin to ‘Battle of Thermopylae’ is the ‘battle of Uri’ in which 100 odd Dogra soldiers led by Brig Rajinder Singh, stood rock solid against numerically far superior Pakistanis (more than 6000) for their fatherland enabling Maharaja Hari Singh to accede to India after partition and changed the course of sub-continental history. The ‘incident of Galwan’ will become a strategic watershed in defining India-China future relations and sub-continental geo-politics. It has also demolished the myth of unstoppable Dragon. The credit for it will go to Indian Army. Much needed freedom of action and use of weapons at the discretion of the local commanders is a tremendous morale booster.
Leading from the front has been a significant leadership trait in the Indian Army since long past. This is what I have witnessed in 34 years service including seven years on the LoC & LAC and two years in Op Pawan in Srilanka. Nation has seen it vividly in the 1999 Kargil War. Not going into further details of retaliatory action of 16 Bihar & 3 Fd Regt and treacheries of rugged mountains and high-altitude of Galwan, Col Babu's act of valour is a testament to the motto of ‘service before self’ as well as sacred resolve of the Armed forces in the service of the motherland.
Being a Bihari Veteran and a Dogra of J&K by birth, I am immensely proud of the act of valour of my regimental officers and men whose gallant act will be etched in ‘golden letters’ in the military history. Col Babu has earned the heartfelt acknowledgement of the nation posthumously for conspicuous gallantry which is a hallmark of military leadership. It is remarkable and must be taken note that the killing of their CO didn’t dampen the morale of the few men who were accompanying him.
On the contrary the death of the CO galvanized Biharis to fight a numerically superior opponent empty handed who possessed improvised death tools. Their number was far less but actions were resolute and in conformity with ethos of the Indian Army. In many ways the action of 16 BIHAR is a follow up of illustrious footsteps of their predecessors who have left their footprints on the sands of battlefields.
The limited inputs from media and diplomatic circles also suggest that the Biharis have done themselves, their Paltan, their formation, the Indian Army and the country a great proud and made others' job of dealing with PLA much easier. They have also proved that the morale and the will to fight against all odds at the level of an Infantry Bn is the only winning factor in the battlefield. I regret the loss of twenty precious lives. I salute Col Babu and his gallant men.
Many countries in Asia avoid standing up to the Chinese hegemony and PLA’s bully. Many have fully surrendered to their territorial aggressions and diplomatic maneuvers. This is seen in Tibet, Southern Magnolia, Pakistan, Hong Kong and South China Sea. This has given rise to China’s arrogance and overstretch of muscles.
And this has further percolated down to the rank and file of PLA little realizing that Indian soldiers are a different stock altogether. Hopefully Col Babu’s Galwan action will be the beginning of the end of PLA bullying and the Modi era will be beginning of an end to the Chinese hegemony.
China has proved beyond doubt that it cannot be trusted, hence any agreement, treaty or talk with such inimical neighbor is meaningless. While what next will be different from the status quo, the current tragic loss of soldiers and a highly competent military leader is a big loss not only to the army but to the nation because it is such people who make or write the illustrious history of a nation. That is what makes young lads crazy for military service.
(Col JP Singh (Retd) was commissioned in 4 Bihar on 13th June, 1971 from the IMA, Dehradun. He served in the Poonch sector during the 71 war, and has since held several prestigious appointments. Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')