THE BITTER TRIUMPH
|KARGIL WAR: HEROES
Fired by a 182-year-old-regimental code of honour, often stronger than family bonds, the Raj Rif's soldiers were the first to be cited for their dogged bravery in Tololing.
ByHarinder Baweja in Drass
For a warrior these are the best of times. To stand on the mountain top victorious. "The objective given to my battalion has been achieved in full," Colonel Ravindra Nath radioed his brigade commander. "We have captured Tololing sir." As he bestrode the crest of Tololing on June 20, breathing in the thin, crystal clean air at 4590 m, he knew what the rest of India was soon to know: this was the first turning point of the war.
For a warrior these are the worst of times. To stand on the mountain top victorious -- and then mourn the price of victory. Colonel Nath's rush evaporated rapidly when he looked around him and saw the bodies of eight of his "boys" lying in a 10-m radius around him. He says, hushed, "The loss is more overpowering than the pleasure of having performed our duty."
As he stands in the foothills of Tololing today, after being pipped by his commander, Brigadier Arun Aul, and made a full colonel (he was a lt-colonel earlier) Nath goes over his losses again: four officers, two JCOs and 17 other ranks dead; 70 wounded, of whom six have lost their limbs; and 20 so badly incapacitated that they can no longer serve their regiment for which they gave their all.
So fiercely did the men of 2 Rajputana Rifles fight, so bravely did they scale the mountaintop and so effectively did they vanquish their foes that theirs was the first of the seven Indian Army units in the war to get a unit citation, an official honour from the army chief, recognising extraordinary battlefield performance. Nath smiles again, for with him are heroes who have lived to tell the story of Tololing. Of the 30 men recommended for gallantry awards, at least eight are there to share the moment of glory with him.
The tales that won them that citation are endless. Of Major Vivek Gupta who died with the pinnacle only 5 m away. Of Major Padmapani Acharya who dodged a minefield and scaled the rocks to reach Knoll Top where he died of grenade injuries. Of Lt Neikezhakuo Kenguruse who lugged an LMG on his back up a cliff face, got to the top, opened fire, but fell 100 ft on the rocks below to his death after being shot. Of Subedar Shiv Naik who captured that Knoll after destroying a bunker and calling in artillery fire from Bofors gun below, even though shells were landing barely 5 m away from him. Of Havaldar Ranbir Singh who did not retreat an inch even after his entire section was wiped out.
Even the actions of the carpenter and the cook show just why 2 Raj Rif, as the unit is called in army parlance, won its place of honour. Unit carpenter Uttam Singh, unable to see at night, carried ammo up the mountain side, by holding on to the man in front as a guide. So did the cook, now in an army hospital, a splinter lodged in his heart.
What drove these men?
These tales of seemingly blind courage may sound close to unbelievable, but they are true. For in the Rajputana Rifles, as in most of the infantry, regimental honour is all. It is the reason they are willing to die on icy mountaintops, far, far away from their families and friends. They know they may die, but it does not stop them from urging their sons to follow the tradition; the 2 Raj Rif has soldiers who are fifth generation riflemen. It is so strong a feeling that the regiment is an alternate family -- for many soldiers with ties stronger than their own family -- and is the reason for their very existence.
"In a country as vast and diverse as ours, you need something very close to motivate you. Ask a soldier, 'Tu kiske liye marega (who will you die for)?' and he will say 'Main paltan ke liye maroonga (I will die for the regiment)'," explains Brigadier Prakash Chaudhary, commandant of the Rajputana Rifles regimental centre in Delhi. "The self has to be subservient to the cause, that's what I teach them. Whatever right or wrong we do, it all comes down to paltan ki izzat (regimental honour)."
That paltan ki izzat, so befuddling to civilians, is the cause that drove the men of 2 Raj Rif. It was amply evident on July 2 when Brigadier Chaudhary had to calm at least 300 charged, young recruits who were demanding, beseeching, to be sent to join their colleagues in 2 Raj Rif. It is the same honour that is today sending in a flood of letters to every unit of the seniormost rifle regiment of the Indian army -- from retired or pensioned off soldiers, all begging to be taken in again.
There's Lt-Colonel Vishwas Rao from Mumbai who asks to be given permission to rejoin -- as a platoon commander, a section commander, even as a rifleman. There's Rifleman Pathan Babu Miya of Hyderabad, formerly of Delta company, 12 platoon, 3 section of 3 Raj Rif. He retired in 1992 after 11 years and says sombrely, "Now I would like to rejoin the armed forces to fight the enemies in the war." There's even Havaldar Chhog Singh, 85, joined 1939, retired 1961, a World War II veteran who talks of his battles in the North African desert, who knows he's old, but says his heart pulls him to his paltan.
But 2 Raj Rif's history of valour precedes even Chhog Singh's memories. It was raised on November 5, 1817 in Baroda. One of its officers, Captain John Augustus Wood, won the first Victoria Cross for the Indian Army in Persia. That was 1856.
More than a century, many lifetimes and a civilisation later, Colonel Nath reads the unit citation, which came in the form of a humble telegram. It was earned, the piece of paper tells him, for "displaying exemplary valour and grit in the face of the enemy". There will be a ceremony later, honour with the requisite pomp and splendour. For the 2 Raj Rif, today's battle is won, but there is still a war to fight.
-with Samar Halarnkar
COURTSEY INDIA TODAY
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