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 third entry into this series by interacting with Lieutenant General RS Sujlana PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd), a distinguished veteran who has held some of the most coveted appointments in the Indian Army such as the command of the 3rd Battalion the Sikh Regiment, a Mountain Brigade in Assam during Operation RHINO and an Infantry Division in the deserts.
The General has served as both an instructor and Commandant at IMA, Dehradun and has held crucial staff appointments like Brigade Major of an Infantry Brigade, Colonel General Staff Counter Insurgency Force in Jammu and Kashmir and has served as both Deputy Director General (Public Information) Additional Director General of Public Information, at the Army Headquarters before being appointed as the Chairman of the Punjab Public Service Commission post retirement.
The former Commandant began our conversation by highlighting his family’s deep martial roots, “Three generations of my family had served in the Indian Army before me, yet when I arrived at the NDA as a teenager, one was suddenly engulfed by a totally different environment. The rumble-tumble of the academy caught most of us unawares, but the camaraderie that we built, acclimatised us to the new life. Unannounced our bond built up, its tenacity grew by the day, it saw us pass the four years with good cheer and has been everlasting. It has rejuvenated us through our career and specially now as we gradually age, willing support will always be there without favour.”
Recounting the journey from his commissioning as an officer in the Indian Army to being shipped off to war, the General proudly narrated, “On 12th morning we eagerly looked forward to the evening’s ceremonial function culminating with the pipping at the stroke of midnight. This event was indeed memorable and went on into the first minutes of 13th June. My mother unveiled the lovable one star on my shoulders, (sadly my ‘Fauji’ Father was laid up in hospital).”
He went on say, “The jostling followed, we back slapped each other, greetings floated, and a memorable function got over. On 13th morning even as commissioned officers we carried the deep impressions of crossing the Rubicon of the Antim pag during the POP to becoming commissioned officers. After the Oath Taking Ceremony on 13th morning, we began to realise that we had now embarked into a new world of adventure and responsibility.”
“After a short leave till early July ‘71, we reached our respective battle stations to join the regiments and battalions of which we were to become an integral part. The '71 War followed in which one experienced and witnessing comradeship and gallantry under fire and victory,” he continued.
General Sujlana made it a point to further emphsise the deep sense of camaraderie shared between his course mates for half a century, “The bond of the training time never faded, the desire to meet course mates remained a constant, it further blossomed whenever we ran into one another. Ours is a course to be really proud of, our achievements in many fields go to our credit, but valour takes the cake. Every time we took to battle, we proved our worth, earned many gallantry awards with the singular honour of being the only course whose two officers have been decorated with the highest war and peace time gallantry awards; 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal, the Param Vir Chakra and Col NJC Nair the Ashok Chakra and Kirti Chakra.
“Such has been our togetherness that we have constantly endeavoured to meet and rekindle, course get togethers (CGT) have been regular. It was before our CGT at NDA, that two of us, Anukul Chandra and me, after some brainstorming appropriately christened ourselves as the “Born to Battle” Course, and rightly so; credit needless to say goes to Anukul. I had the privilege to prepare a brochure for the course, the cover said it all, ‘Born to Battle’! Throughout our years the ladies and children have been close knit with us and given each one of us unmatchable support in thick and thin,” he added.
“A word about NJC, as he was popularly called. We had a delightful association, spent three years together in India Squadron at the NDA, an ideal ground to develop everlasting friendships. During our service we met regularly, in 1991 NJC was at my place over dinner at Delhi where he had come on duty from Bhutan. This was just before we moved to command our respective units, little did I imagine that it would be our last meeting. NJC was a gentleman to the core, a thorough professional, well read, spoke fluently with confidence and conviction. His determination was unshakeable, the troops loved him, such was his devotion to the Maratha troops he commanded that he named his son, Shivaji! He led by example, no better endorsement than being awarded with the two highest peace time gallantry awards, KC and AC (Posthumously),” fondly recounted General Sujlana albeit displaying sorrow over the loss of his friend in service of the nation.
However, on a positive note he went on to proudly speak about continuing his family’s strong foundation built upon military service, “On commissioning from the IMA in June 1971, I was thrilled to join the illustrious Sikh Regiment, the same Regiment as my father. Coincidently he retired the same month and in a nebulous way handed over the baton to me. The baton in hand, I was privileged to command the same Battalion, 3 Sikh that my father had commanded in the 1965 War in Kupwara and I, across a couple of mountain ranges in the Uri Sector. We set a landmark in 3 Sikh, to be the first father-son duo post 1947 to command this very fine outfit. This, and later being selected as Colonel of the Sikh Regiment are most treasured appointments as a Regimental Officer.”
When asked to recount the vast offices of the Indian Army he has held in his decades long military career, General Sujlana ecstatically narrated, “After varied appointments I was most lucky to get my last posting as Commandant, IMA, where incidentally I had the privilege to serve earlier as a Captain, Major (as a platoon and company commander), Colonel General Staff and spend a year on study leave, totally some Seven years plus! As Commandant it was payback time, to do my best for our Alma Mater, an opportunity to train the future officers of our army. One endeavoured to develop the gentlemen cadets as holistic junior leaders, skilled in leadership, who believed that they are the best, determined and perseverant under stress, imbibed with camaraderie, team spirit and empathy for the best soldiers in the world that they will have the privilege to command, it had to be Veerta aur Vivek.”
“For the youth I can say that the Army is not just a career but a way of life, where you will have professional satisfaction, the best of inter-personal relations if you stay true to yourself and the men you lead, build lifelong friends and a never-ending association unknown in any other profession. For those couldn’t make it, remember if one option closes another will definitely surface, just keep at it,” replied the former Commandant when asked if he had any message he would like to share with the youth.
“From Cadet to Commandant to Superannuation has been an awesome journey, it was nostalgic as the Commandant’s Buggy rode me out of the Mukhya Dwar to bid farewell to arms, I left thinking, ‘where else would I have got such a satisfying profession to lead men who stood tall in every adversity, wonderful companionship of the best ladies and nearly 400 lifelong friends who would be by our side till the last call,” said General Sujlana before signing off.
About Lt Gen. RS Sujlana, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd)
The '71 veteran is an ex-Comdt, IMA and former Chairman, PPSC. He has commanded 3rd Bn of the Sikh Regt, a mountain Bde in Assam (OP RHINO) and an Inf Div in the deserts & has been an instr at IMA. He has held various important staff appointments like Bde Maj of an Inf Bde, Col GS CIF (J&K), DDGPI & ADGPI, at AHQ. He was born in 1951 at Ambala & has done his schooling from PPS, Nabha & is an alumnus of NDA. He has obtained MA in Defence studies from Madras University & is a 4th generation Army Officer. The veteran has had five tenures in active CI-Ops both in J&K and the NE & has done prestigious Courses at the Inf School, DSSC, AWC and NDC. He was decorated with VSM on Republic Day 2002 for commendable role during Op PARAKRAM.