GALLANTRY BEYOND CALL OF DUTY
In the ’70s and ’80s the otherwise peaceful valley of Manipur that has a predominant population of Hindu Meiteis had become an insurgent state. The local population that was famous for performing Braj Holi of Radha and Krishna, praying in the temples of Lord Krishna and excelling in staging cultural performances, especially the Manipuri dances with typically rounded colourful Lehangas made of stiff cloth, had forsaken Mridangam and taken to guns as their first love. The culture of Krishna of Braj bhumi had given way to the battle philosophy of Kshattriyas of Rajasthan to claim their financial dues and rightful place in the constitutional republic.
When talks failed, negotiations gave way to the aggressive use and misuse of rifles and other fire arms illegally imported through the hazy international borders of India and Myanmar, former Burma. So many illegally armed outfits operated there and were independent of each other that both the State and the central government were perplexed about their aims and also knew not who stood for what. Their predominant slogan was: Bash On Regardless whatever Comes in Way; Peace will Proclaim Paramount Power.
Like it was in the days of Mahabharat, the first rifle shot would ring out with dawn breaking on the eastern horizon; weapons of yore were sheathed with the setting sun. Of course, the belligerents did not visit each other’s camps at night because their lack of knowledge of each other’s language was a major hurdle like the Lakshman Rekha that even Mahabali Ravana had found it difficult to cross over.
It was truce generated peace that had enabled combatant soldiers to buy machine operated toys to be sent home along with the next month’s leave party. It was in the interest of morale boosting that the toys reached soldiers’ children to keep them busy and not bother their geographically single mothers at odd hours.
With this setting in the background, one fine morning with the rising Sun came the summons of the Commanding Officer for Cyrus Pithawala, then a subaltern. Exhaustive directions had been given about the aim of the operation to be undertaken, the number of troops, arms and ammunition to be carried on person and both dry rations and cooked food to make way for the all important rounds of ammunition. Pithawala knew that he had been chosen for a close-quarter battle where a hand-to-hand fight may decide who the winner would be. He knew that this operation against insurgency was going to make or break his career as a combat officer of the infantry. It was no ordinary infantry but the one raised, trained, tested and groomed with a finishing touch second to none by the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir who claimed to be a direct descent from Maryada Purshottam Shri Ram.
Pithawala knew that the assignment given to him was of great military importance and that he could not afford to put up a slovenly show. He had been briefed thoroughly by everyone who mattered and by now he knew every inch of the footpath through the vast paddy fields that he and his comrades-in-arms of the JAKRIF would negotiate on foot.
THE MOTHER OF ALL ACTIONS
The wireless sets of JAKRIF cackled but fell silent soon. Radio silence was being observed. Pithawala maintained communication with his company Jawans through signs and symbols that they had learnt and practiced in the Field Craft classes. Of great importance that learning was in the battlefield today. Life of each Jawan in battle is precious because if he is up and about; alive and kicking, that would provide sustenance to the mission. The mission of anti-insurgency in Manipur was going great guns so far. The Indian Army had gained initiative and didn’t wish to lose it. With a view to maintaining secrecy in operational plans, the officer viewed every new comer with a degree of suspicion and did not take him into confidence until he proved himself to be a chip of the old block.
Pithawala was the commander of the present counter-insurgency operation. Right now, moving closer to the objective, maintaining radio silence, communicating with own troops through signs and symbols made him feel that he was the kingpin of a great plan and the overall success depended on the success of his present operation against a big gun of the Meitei Insurgency. In the total silence around the more Pithawala thought of it and its consequences either way, the more loss of self confidence in the wilderness he felt. Nevertheless, the training at the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun, the total loyalty of troops he commanded and confident mien and gait of his Jawans put the high morale back in him.
A new type of doubt crept into the mind of Pithawala and it was shared by his immediate confidants, the Non-Commissioned officers. Pithawala and troops were so close to the hut in paddy fields but there was no sign of life or military action around. One wondered whether the top insurgents had shifted to a safer place. There was no way to check and counter check except to go to the hut and ascertain the truth.
He did just that. With the speed of lightening he sprinted cross country putting his life and limb to a great risk and entered the central hut with a couple of jawans. Bubbling with high morale and boosted by enthusiasm, he pointed his rifle towards the chest of the commander of insurgents in the Manipur valley. Later on, army learnt that in that operation, they had netted no less a person than Baseshar Singh, the then topmost Meitei insurgent in the Manipur valley. The most ferocious and cruel topmost insurgent was now a prisoner of the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles, thanks to sagacity and presence of mind of a young officer of the Indian Army, Cyrus Pithawala.
Pithawala became the hero of the day and the blue eyed boy of the army formation concerned. The wireless silence was lifted and the piece of great news was flashed all over the place. A great achievement indeed, of the cool headed subaltern who is now a two-star General Officer.
Over the last three decades or so, the subaltern has risen to the coveted rank of a Major General. It would be his privilege and prerogative to move ahead in a jonga immediately behind the General Officer commanding and commander of the Republic Day Parade on the Rajpath. Indeed the Indian Nation is proud of Major General Cyrus Pithawala.