By Raju Mansukhani
It is a banner headline on the newspaper’s front page: ‘INDIA REOCCUPIES TWO KARGIL POSTS’.‘Pak attempt to cut Srinagar-Leh Road’ and ‘453 raiders killed in Kashmir’ are supporting headlines.
Readers may presume the daily was covering Indian military operations in the thick of the 1999 Pakistan occupation of Kargil, now commemorated as Operation Vijay. The reportage however pulls us back to the 1965 Indo-Pak War when Kargil was a battleground we revisit through its coverage in the Indian media.
“India today reoccupied the two Pakistani post – named ‘Saddle’ and ‘13,620’ – along the ceasefire line in the Kargil sector of Kashmir as a measure of security against renewed Pakistani attempts to disrupt communications of the strategic Srinagar-Leh road,” reported The Statesman (Delhi edition dated 17 August 1965), adding that Defence Minister Mr Y B Chavan made an elaborate statement in both Houses of Parliament.
In his statement, Mr Chavan informed Parliament that the Kargil sector was the special target of Pakistani infiltrators in spite of the assurances given to India by the U.N. last June when the Pakistani posts, having been occupied for the same reason as now, were vacated by Indian troops on the clear understanding that there would be no fresh attempts by Pakistan to interfere with the Srinagar-Leh road.
A Defence Ministry spokesman was quoted, “India’s reoccupation of the two Pakistani posts became unavoidable after Pakistani troops launched a full-scale attack on the Indian forces guarding the road he also revealed that Pakistan had inducted regular troops into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to man those pickets which should have been manned by the troops of the so-called ‘Azad Kashmir’.”
The 1965 Indo-Pak War posed not just military challenges but seriously tested India’s foreign affairs, diplomatic acumen and parliamentary protocols.
In the Rajya Sabha, when the Defence Minister was making his statement on Kashmir, Mrs Indira Gandhi (as the Minister of Information and Broadcasting) explained, “she had in fact expressed regret over the fact that UN observers, who reacted rather sharply to the occupation of two Pakistani Kargil posts by India, had failed to react when Pakistan had committed a much graver violation of the cease-fire agreement.” She added, “At no stage had she criticized the U.N Secretary-General or any of the friendly countries for their attitude towards the large-scale Pakistani infiltration into Kashmir.”
In Parliament, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s government was facing flak for, what several members said, was “evidence of dissatisfaction with the Government’s handling of the situation.” In the Lok Sabha, the Speaker allowed a motion of no-confidence in the Shastri government. It was tabled by the Swatantra Party leader, Mr Minoo Masani with the support of over 50 MPs.
Across the political spectrum, members of Parliament were questioning the Shastri government. Media reported Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee (Jana Sangh) demanding whether India would be content to fight only a defensive action. Or would it hit the raiders at their bases in ‘Azad Kashmir’. Mr Inder Gujral (Congress) was also vocal on this issue. MPs, it was apparent were agitated on the ‘the poverty of intelligence’ due to which the raiders could penetrate deep into Kashmir right up to the gates of Srinagar.
Tales of Gallantry
Political turmoil inside Parliament was as widely reported in the media as innumerable features on the bravery and gallantry of the Indian Army.
One such story, spread across The Sunday Statesman (Delhi edition, dated 15 August 1965) captured the tales of gallantry ‘written in blood and toil’. It was the story of the Kargil operation in May and June 1965, a tribute to the officers and men of the Indian Army who upheld the great military traditions under the most testing conditions.
The Brigade Commander was quoted on the treacherous terrain, the extreme conditions in which skirmishes were fought. The enemy had occupied strategic mountain-tops and the Indian soldiers had to reach them, dislodge them. Over slippery boulders carrying the supplies and stores was an enormous challenge.
Black Rock, 13620, Crooked Finger: these were the peaks to be attacked while the enemy guns were unrelenting in their fire. The first assault began on a moonlit night, with Indian forces engaging the Pakistanis, assessing their strength and positions.
From the Kargil battlefield we hear the voice of Captain Ranbir Singh, a young officer, the son of a retired Brigadier and winner of Vir Chakra for his role in the operation. Under heavy enemy fire we were counter-attacking zestfully, he said. The casualties mounted: Major Baljit Randhawa fell; the Commanding Officer took over an LMG from a fallen Jawan just 50 yards away from the objective. It was Sepoy Budh Singh who stepped into the enemy bunker and routed the enemy with grenades. 13620 was now secure and the tricolour was hoisted by the valiant officers and jawans of the Indian Army.
At Block Rock, it was Major D P Nayar and his band of men who demonstrated fearlessness in the face of enemy bullets. Said 2nd Lt A Chattopadhyay: “Not all of the performers lived to see the triumph but, then, it was worth all the blood and toil’.”
The sheer face of rocks and over the boulders, gallant officers like Captain RS Sherawat, Major RP Singh, Lt Rajinder Singh and Lt M K Chengappa led their men through some fierce fighting. Their Commanding Officer words of praise ring in our ears, “It was a task of rare magnitude fulfilled with equally rare daring and excellence.”
The Commanding Officer shared his assessment of the Kargil campaign with the correspondent M L Kotru.
He said, “as operations go this was one was a small one; its significance lies not in the scale as it does in the fact that it is a reassertion of the Army’s capability, of the excellence of the young officer corps. It means that given the leadership, the Army has not lost any of its efficiency; it shows that terrain really is not hard to overcome, and above all, it shows that strategy is the essence of warfare.”
The author is a researcher-writer specializing in history and heritage issues, a former deputy curator of the Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya.
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