On 13 June 1971, 349 Gentlemen Cadets from the famed ‘Born to Battle’ course graduated from the Indian Military Academy, that which is nestled on the foothills of the Himalayas whence they found themselves thrust into combat operations during the I971 Indo-Pak war for the liberation of Bangladesh. Five decades have surpassed since the course walked towards the ‘antim pag’; Thrust into what they call “A trial by fire”
Veterans from the course recount tales of valour, pride, friendship, and loss from the battlefield in this series, which chronicles the lives of the 307 young men from the 47th regular, and 42 from the 31st Technical Course who helped deliver a watershed victory for the nation half a century ago, thereafter, changing the geopolitical face of the subcontinent
Mission Victory India flags off the fourth entry into this series by interacting with Colonel Rajinder Singh Kushwaha, a battle hardened veteran and former Commanding Officer of 3 Bihar who has spent a lifetime in uniform fighting militancy in some of the most insurgency prone areas of the country before moving on to becoming a successful military author, regimental chronicler and columnist on national security issues.
Col. Kushwaha began our conversation by saying, “Over the last 50 years a lot of water has flown through the Ganges. A quick glance would tell you that on one side, socio-politically speaking, a confident India, both individually and collectively, has emerged. On the other hand, it’s ethical and moral grandstanding has lost its sunshine. Therefore, it is pertinent to recollect General Douglas McArthur, US, Army who had lamented, never try to regain the past, for the fire would have become ashes.”
“It was a memorable evening at Chetwode Hall. I Joined Infantry, Bihar Regiment, I knew nothing about. I opted for it because my NDA friend MS Balhara (Major General later) had joined it,” said the battle-hardened veteran recounting his commissioning ceremony. When asked about what he felt knowing his course would be thrust into a major war, Col. Kushwaha said, “Well! The course had to go through war within six months of commissioning. There are mixed feelings. Most of us were novices in the art of military warfare and many of our course mates, like Arun Khetarpal, were martyred.”
He addressed the rapidly evolving nature of warfare which has been going on since his journey as Second Lieutenant to an accomplished national security writer and analyst, “Over the last 50 years, militarily speaking, a lot of things have changed. In fact, the very philosophy of war-making has changed. ‘No Contact warfare’ and concept of ‘Designer wars’ have added new weaponry and new dimensions to war making. Wars of the future would be technology-driven and not of the soldier’s monkey-dancing across the borders—which is 180-degree opposite of what we saw in 1971. The era of ‘Brute Force wars’ of 20th century has given way to ‘Brain Force Wars’. This requires mental robustness and mobility as against physical power.”
“The biggest lesson I have learnt is that one ought to keep updating one’s knowledge. Process of learning is never complete. Gained or acquired knowledge not only broadens your horizon, but it also makes you proficient and competent in your job,” he added further.
When asked if he could paint an intimate account of the two most decorated members of his course, the veteran replied by saying, “I knew both, Arun Khetarpal and NJ.C Nair, personally. Arun and I are from sane squadron, Foxtrot in NDA. We spent three years together in NDA. He was a soft spoken but a determined fellow. Aggression was never his forte. But what he did in the Battle of Basantar, in 1971, explains that there were many other factors, other than aggressive nature, which make you do unthinkable. Mental steadfastness is the other name for bravery.”
“NJC Nair, was from India squadron but we met quite often during our service. He was quite a cool and composed person, not to be stifled by any crisis. He had the courage of convictions to stand by his decisions. His men liked him for his down to earth nature. I think both are iconic figures of the course but different personalities. Arun Khetarpal was a hardworking and a determined young leader who was not overawed by adverse situation. At the same time, NJC Nair believed in professional excellence, and he proved it in his 20-21 years’ service. He was a meticulous planner, whom even Napoleon would have envied,” he exclaimed!
Speaking about his fallen classmates and brothers in arms, the seasoned veterans said, “I salute to those who have gone to their heavenly abode. And those who still survive, I would ask them to stay put like a rock of Gibraltar. They must not think that the grey hair has made them useless for the nation and society. They have years of experience to guide the youth. All the same, I will advise each one of the survivors to live happily hereafter, without any wants and desires.”
“It is called Born to Battle because it was commissioned in June 1971 — just 5-6 months before the war. It was still in its infancy. It had not even learnt to militarily walk when it was launched into the battle,” he proclaimed proudly about his famed course. “I think the name B2B was given in the 2010 reunion of the course at IMA, Dehradun, when Lieutenant General RS Sujlana of the course was the Commandant of IMA. He needs to verify it,” he added.
When asked if he would like to give any advice to the youth interested in joining the armed forces, the former Colonel said, “I personally feel life in the armed forces is of dignity and personal satisfaction. It gives you opportunities to not only broaden your horizon but also takes you across the length and breadth of the country. This itself is a great learning about your country than any bookish reading. More than anything else, it does add to your social stature, besides giving you a good quality life. It also provides you opportunities to a good second career after superannuation.”
“If media-generated aberrations are overly highlighted, it must not dampen one’s spirits. This does happen with any organisation. Remember, field Marshal Slim’s words, Armed forces are woven into the social fabric of the nation. Whatever happens in the society, it will have a cascading effect on the armed forces too. However, training and discipline do reduce the impact of emerging social evils,” he went on to add.
“Never lose heart. If one dream could not be achieved, there are many more vistas open to you to serve the nation. Remember, the ants, they are never discouraged by hurdles on the way forward, they circumvent and keep moving. Similarly, water finds its new path when blocked,” he advised to those who could not make it to the forces.
“The nation can be served in many ways. As professionals and teachers, you can serve the nation also with the same enthusiasm. As journalists you can serve the nation by bringing out the adverse effects of the socio-politico ills of the nation. Each profession makes valuable addition to national growth and development, if national interests are kept at the back of one’s mind,” he reiterated.
“When asked if there is anything else he would like to add, the veteran said, “I will only add one thing by quoting Oscar Wilde, who had said: Nowadays people know the price of everything but the value of nothing. It is the moral degradation of the people which endanger our nationhood. As a soldier, who has grown dreaming greatness of India, it is uncompromising to see people selling its interests for a fistful of dollars. Unfortunately, their tribe is multiplying day by day.”
About Col. Rajinder Singh Kushwaha (Retd)
An ex-NDA, Col. Rajinder Kushwaha, is an author and Defence and Strategic Affairs analyst, and ex-CO of 3 Bihar. He led the regiment in insurgency environs in Assam in 1990-93. He has vast experience in CI Ops from Northeast to Punjab and J&K. & has authored books on both the J&K & NE insurgency. The veteran is a regular contributor and leading defence and strategic affairs publications. He has held prestigious appointments in the army including as an instructor at a premier army institute, Col GS, Col Adm of an Infantry Division and Col "Q" works at a Command HQ.