On the 26th of July, India will celebrate the victory achieved in ‘Operation VIJAY’ as Kargil Vijay Diwas, with full official gusto. Just three days from that day, on 29thJuly, falls yet another momentous dateline in our country’s history, the signing of the Indo – Sri Lanka Accord of 29th July 1987, leading to launch of ‘Operation PAWAN’, the first overseas peacekeeping operation undertaken by Indian armed forces under Indian flag, post-independence. Much like the Henderson-Brooke’s report on the 1962 India China War, this is a dateline which the corridors of power in New Delhi are more than keen to brush under the carpet. For it showcases yet another flawed adventure undertaken by them, a mere decade prior to the happenings of Kargil, leading to avoidable loss of around 1200 precious young lives of our soldiers.
There are glaring parallels in the two operations. First, miscalculating the intentions of the adversary, and then ignoring the tell-tale signs indicative of a change in stance by the latter. Even more glaring likeness is rushing in reinforcing troops into the thick of battle without giving them adequate time and opportunity to prepare for the impending operational tasks, thus leading to avoidable heavy casualties.
Looked at from the hindsight of history, there shall always remain this lingering doubt whether the supreme sacrifice of 527 lives of the brave Indian soldiers during ‘Operation VIJAY’ could have been avoided, had the Indian establishment learnt from their sins of omissions and commissions during ‘Operation PAWAN’.
I look to my fellow citizens to dedicate 29thof July to the young blood of our armed forces who have unhesitatingly pulled out our chestnuts from the fire repeatedly, be it 'Operation PAWAN' 1987-90, Kargil 1999, Galwan Valley 2020…
A short episode is presented below, which gives a peep into the mental makeup of our soldiers that guarantees victory in any adversity, the quiet courage, the mental robustness, and the willingness to look death in the eye with equanimity.
From ‘Operation PAWAN’ - A Peep into the Ethos of an Infantry Soldier
15th Battalion The Mechanised Infantry Regiment (15 MECH INF) was deployed in ‘Operation PAWAN’ from July 1987 to March 1990. The sub-units of the Battalion were extensively deployed in all the four sectors of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) - Jaffna, Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Batticaloa. The unit suffered 23 Killed In Action (KIA) and 34 wounded during the course of its deployment for operations in Sri Lanka and had the distinction of being awarded 1 Vir Chakra, 5 Sena Medals, and 2 Mention-in-Dispatches.
In late afternoon on 19thof October 1987, 15 MECH INF Bravo Company Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV) BMP-1 bearing BA Number 82 X 3020 was destroyed by an Improvised Explosive Device, near Manipay in Jaffna peninsula. All six occupants of the ICV were killed on the spot in the explosion. The mortal remains were recovered and brought to the unit rear location for last rites.
Though there were six fatalities in the operation, the death of No: 14912763P Sepoy Bihari Pande of Bravo Company holds special significance as it reflects the highest moral standards and ethos of an ordinary infantryman, fighting an unknown enemy, in a foreign land.
Sepoy Bihari Pandey four days prior to his death, had written in his own hand a letter to his newly married wife, which he had not posted but retained in the pocket of his combat jacket. He had a premonition of his coming death as was evident from the contents of the unposted letter, but never once did he display any apprehension at what fate had in store for him.
The letter stated that he would have died by the time his wife would be reading it. He wrote about the details of money borrowed by him from two personnel of the unit and wanted that debt to be cleared from the money to be received from his salary account settlement. He further wrote to his wife that he was aware of the customs and traditions of his native region and family, but his soul would rest in peace only if she remarried, as she had a full life ahead of her. He also bade her to say his farewell to his parents and acquaint them of his desire to assist in her remarriage.
It is this quiet courage of these ordinary and unsung heroes which makes the Indian Army great and unique. I fervently pray that our military and political hierarchy is ever worthy of command of these ordinary heroes and when the time comes, will willingly sacrifice their personal interests to safeguard the interests of these ordinary and honourable men! Let the readers decide whether the national hierarchy has been true to the ilk of Late Sepoy Bihari Pande and the 1200 KIA in ‘Operation PAWAN’, and should the supreme sacrifice made by them for the nation, go uncelebrated by the very government which ordered them to battle.
A Fit Case for Citizen activism
As long as we as a nation remain callous enough to forget the supreme sacrifice of 1200 of our soldiers KIA, we shall be destined to undergo repeats of Jaffna, Kargil, Galwan Valley, and lose more Bravehearts in future as well to hierarchical ineptitude. If the activism of young Indian citizens is strong enough to effect a change, post Galwan Valley, in the half a century old pacifist policy towards China, it can certainly induce a change in the stance of the Government to publicly honour the supreme sacrifices made in 'Operation PAWAN'.
All citizens are invited to attend the solemn wreath laying commemorative ceremony at National War Memorial, India Gate on 29thof July 2022 at 1030 hrs to show solidarity with and honour the 1200 Indian Armed Forces soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice fighting an unknown enemy, in a foreign land.
The event of 29th July 2022 is being held under the aegis of ‘Operation PAWAN’ Veterans.
Col RS Sidhu, Sena Medal is a post graduate in History from Delhi University, and a veteran from the Army’s Mechanised Infantry Regiment with extensive operational service in varied terrain. He also has hands-on experience of dealing with varied facets of Indian Peace Keeping Force operations from 1987 to 1990 in Sri Lanka.
(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)