Death visits the mundane a heightened gravity, making life’s trivia beautiful and everyday weighty. Had Col MN Rai, Lt Col Sankalp, Maj Mukund Varadrajan or the countless others lived, each of them would have grown old with their spouse, experienced the pains & pleasures of bringing up teenage children, cared for their parents, done their bit for society. Above all, they would have lived to tell the tale.
The last year and half has seen many deaths in the Kashmir Valley. Death – that is what it is like. It doesn’t matter what uniforms the soldiers are wearing. It doesn’t matter how good the weapons are. And, that is the thing about death. No one can get used to it. Just when you think you are reconciled, accepted, you hear about it again, and it just hits you all over, that shock.
A lot of my friends had pertinent questions sometime ago, when we were discussing the futility of a war thrust upon a country because of political whims and fancies. Irrespective of how a war happens, one thing is certain…Herbert Hoover said, “older men declare war, younger men fight & die.” One of the questions that came up was, “when we talk of army preparedness and training and strategy, why is it that so many of our soldiers die?” Well, to all those who have that question on their mind, I would like them to read what Lt Gen Ata Hasnain of the Indian Army has to say. He said this in the context of Col MN Rai being martyred yesterday in the Valley.
“In ‘Last Mile’ tactical level operations for elimination of terrorists there will be casualties and the traditional ratios of own against terrorist losses will rise, at times abnormally. This must not draw the ire of the higher leadership but rather its constant monitoring and advice. Losses occur due to the lowering of guard and failure to take sufficient precautions in apparently simple operations. The return of suicide acts by terrorists, last witnessed in the early part of the millennium, remains a distinct possibility with targets being in the areas closer to the LoC. This has the effect of forcing LoC formations to shed more troops for security at the cost of the counter infiltration grid at the LoC.
Horribly proverbial but rightly predicted I feel. It takes away nothing from Late Col MN Rai’s valor and leadership. Most casualties occur either in the first TWO MINUTES of a contact or then, in urban ops, during attempts to break in by the Search elements. In this case it was neither. I recall a similar situation at a village called Batpura, on outskirts of the Old Airfield, where in a long stand off with six to eight LeT trts in 2000, the then GOC Victor Force forced me (I was then Col GS) against my advice to take him to the Cordon to witness the search operations. We were watching the operations without Bullet Proof Jackets and standing on a vantage point provided by the terrace of an incomplete house. Suddenly, I found two trts breaking the close cordon and running towards us, firing on the run. The fire raked the building around and we could just pull the GOC out of harms way. The valiant soldiers of 6 SIKH then eliminated the two trts. I learnt my lesson of not interfering with ops of ground troops.
Late Col Rai’s action is not akin to the above. He was providing frontline leadership. It is usual in the RR for the CO to move to the spot with his QRT and take charge. Let us not fault him on that at all. I am not aware whether he was wearing a BPJ; he must have been because that is an SOP. Possibly, for a momentary break in SOPs he stepped out from cover to examine for himself where the target area was. That is when possibly he was shot at. A case of sheer bad luck but then people have to realize that officers of our Army have this passion to be there with the men and facing the same odds that their men face. If it is not so, no individual under fire is going to raise his head. The presence of a CO with them energizes all ranks. That is the risk that Late Col Rai took and no one can fault him for it. Given the situation I would have done exactly what he did. There is an element of such risk which goes with your responsibility. That is why we are all saying that Late Col MN Rai, YSM, sacrificed his life in the finest tradition of the Indian Army. Such acts need not be faulted, for the sake of the officer – man relationship which exists in our Army.”
Leadership in the army is walk the talk. Harold AcAlindon once said, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. ” That is exactly what our brave soldiers do, when they are battling the enemy. They leave a trail behind them, a trail that few us can comprehend, much less follow. To such an army, what tribute or homage do I pay? My eyes are filled with unshed tears, knowing that while they lay down their lives to protect us, their families miss them in the everyday routine. A song heard, a festival celebrated, a birthday party hosted, a movie watched…how does one get over the vaccuum. The absence of that one person in the family leaves a void that can never be fulfilled, a dark gash that cuts through the family every time they think of him. I have lost friends who died fighting for us. The families feel proud….yet, there is an emotional part that dies with the soldier. A mother whose youth snapped over her son’s death, a father who weeps silently rocking himself on a chair, grandparents who keep wondering why it couldn’t be them, instead of their grandson, a wife who feels is presence in everything around her.
For my part, I can only spread the word, share my feelings and help build an awareness of what is it that our Armed Forces are all about. Remember, we have a confirmed threat against our country and I for one am grateful for the Indian Armed Forces sitting in deserts, on snowy peaks and plains all through out the year. I see three commonalities.
(1) Passion. The Indian Armed Forces runs on this one factor…passion to serve the nation, passion to protect, passion to be the best.
(2) This brings me to the second commonality…we are all Indians. Yes, we fuss, we have differences of opinions, but we are all Indians and not hyphenated Indians.
(3) The third and most important commonality is the fact that we all bleed red.
And from where I am, it is the same red blood that is seeping through my land, turning the colour of the soil, choking me, numbing me and a silent cry…how many more, how many more?