On May 9, as Indian and Chinese troops clashed at Naku La (Sikkim) following on a similar clash at Pangong Tso on May 5, the Dragon Warriors got a taste of the assertive Indian soldier who was not afraid to take them on.
As one Chinese Major moved menacingly towards an Indian captain of the Assam regiment, young wiry lieutenant Birol Das flew into him to land a powerful punch. The Chinese hit the ground, bleeding . The young Birol then fought back other Chinese . But when he returned to his camp, he was pulled up for being too aggressive with questions of “whether you want to start another Doklam”. Later he was pulled back to a rear camp .When I wrote the story for the Quint, the management was asked by the army to take his name off. ” Or else it would be difficult to save him,” said some officers. The Chinese were upset because a ‘small lieutenant’ meaning junior) had punched a ‘Big’ (senior) Chinese officer.
The story garnered 323K hits , was tweeted by many bigwigs but Birol remained depressed, fearing the disclosure would ruin his career. Though he had not spoken to me and his father stonewalled all queries (because he had been told by the army to avoid media) , some other officers came out with the story because the saga of Birol had spread in the rank and file.But an ultra-defensive army leadership, keener to prevent a possible escalation than facing down the Chinese intruders, and backed by a panicky, chicken-hearted political leadership which had provoked a confrontation by threatening to recapture Aksai Chin but then seemed desperate to avoid taking on the Chinese, passed fatwas that soldiers and their families should not talk to media.
Ashis Das, whom I have known since childhood , stopped talking my calls , imagining that his son’s career has been ruined by my reporting which was aimed at boosting the Indian army morale and reporting an actual incident on ground , garnered from multiple sources. I requested some army friends to ensure no harm came to Birol because my reporting was not based on his account or his father. The boy who deserved a Chief’s Commendation at least, got pushed around for something he had not done — disclosure.
Also, a military school product, I failed to understand why the Indian army was not interested in building up its heroes gallery against China , since the border face-offs seemed long haul.
My father and Ashis’ had served in the IAF , we have been to a primary school at Kanpur for a while and then briefly caught up in army parties and in programmes of a military think-tank CENERS-K.
But despite the treatment Birol got — and I hope the top brass sets the record straight and rewards rather than punish the teenage officer — the saga of the assertive Indian soldier, the only real card India has against the marauding Chinese , had began to unfold in this conflict season of 2020.
This is a saga of bravery that the Chinese had only experienced at the peak of their revolutionary fervour during the Long March in the battles of An Jen Chang and Tatu Ho — but that has eluded the Chinese since the thrashing they got in Vietnam 1979, when they lost 33,000 soldiers in 9 days.
From Major Shaitan Singh of Rezang La in 1962 to Major Vikram Batra in Kargil 1999 , thousands of junior commanders and johnnies (soldiers) had upheld the glorious Indian army tradition of the super-soldier by fighting against insurmountable odds in war after war .
Remember the 6th Rajputs who lost 582 of the 613 men, including their CO, in the first Chinese blitz at Thagla Ridge on 20 oct, 1962. Nobody ran away , they fought , as Dalvi recounts, before they were killed or captured with severe injuries.
The grand Kshatriya tradition, reinforced by much martial traditions of India’s fighting races from the Sikhs to the Gorkhas to the Nagas , has no parallel in China and only a parallel in Japan’s Samurui tradition which has been discontinued after the Second World War.
The summer of 2020 would be no different. Despite the government’s gag on detailed news about exploits of the likes of Birol and Gurtej , the stories have filtered out. Unlike the ‘sanitized coverage’ from defence beat reporters in Delhi singing the 3D tune — Defuse, De-escalate, Disengage– , it has been Easternlink’s pleasure to be at the forefront of reporting the unparalleled bravery of the Indian soldier in one battle theatre after another.
The most poignant was that of 3rd Punjab ‘Ghatak’ battalion Sepoy Gurtej Singh who killed 12 Chinese on the that fateful 15 June clash before he fell dead.
Easternlink is happy to learn that the Punjab government will name the school in Gurtej’s native village after him and will possibly bestow a huge cash and kind reward for his family .
Due to the gag on the Army , the heroic stories of 15th June are slowly filtering.
Another Sikh gunner Surinder Singh , an Amritdhari , is reported to have killed 8 to 10 Chinese alone — slashing with kirpan , snatching a Chinese sword and then swinging to devastating effect.
Lt Col Maninder Nagpal (2i/C) , Capt Arjun Deshpande and Captain Manangma , all of 16th Bihar, also stood their ground like men possessed and fought much larger Chinese numbers with unusual bravery .
Army Chief Gen M M Naravane has honoured 5 soldiers but it was not clear who were they and which unit they belonged. I have not seen any media report on these awards.
The Indian army should take a leaf out of the Soviet playbook of how they turned sniper Vasilly Zaitsev of Stalingrad fame into a hero whose story struck terror in Nazi heart.
It never serves an army right if it gagged the exploits of its braveheart and failed to honor their supreme sacrifice — it impacts on morale and much else.The 3Ds– defuse, de-escalate, disengage — better be left to politicians and diplomats and the field commanders, who have always every face-off from Chumar to Depsang to Doklam India’s way and forced the Chinese to blink, be allowed to take firm local initiative, like Gen Sundarji allowed Lt Gen J M Singh during Ops Chequerboard and Falcon in 1986 ( which I covered from the spot unlike the head-quarter reporters) . I recall doing a Reuters story ” Sino-Indian loudspeaker war on the Himalayas” which swept the western media and which was much appreciated by none other than Sundarji.
This time, my experience has been different. Kill this story, avoid reference to names, reveal the source — such requests have flown from the top.
But I am proud to say that my stories on first Birol, then Gurtej has rekindled the public desire to know about the bravehearts who stopped the Chinamen , often with bare hands , in the high Himalayas in May-June .
Birol is a technical graduate from Calcutta, but one who chose his father’s Assam regimen as sister Ashima joined the Army’s Legal Cell. For three generations, the Das family has been in the service of the nation. Gurtej is a typical Sikh boy from rural Punjab. By the way, these two provinces, which suffered most in Partition, provided 80 percent of the inmates to Andaman Cellular Jail during India’s freedom struggle.
As India gags the public gaze on its heroes amid PM Modi’s desperate de-escalation effort (his “no Chinese intrusion” speech provoked a furious reaction from hundred of veterans) , the Chinese netizens are in angry mode, many asking why Xi’s government is suppressing casualties .
List of dead soldiers soldiers are circulating in the Chinese social media, picked up by some alert Indian netizens with military background . The Chinese are saying they have not suffered more than 40 casualties India media has reported — but they are taking a high moral ground that lack of disclosure is aimed at de-escalation. In reality, the Chinese have taken much casualties than what was reported in the ‘sanitized’ Indian media — 20 odd in the brawls, 29 in the revenge bayonet charges , 25 in the landslide which India blames on operation of Chinese bulldozers but which Chinese blame on an Indian hilltop blast with explosives meant for road building.
Much credit must also go to 14th Corps Commander Lt Gen Harinder Singh whose brilliant tactical moves and spirited ripostes has the Chinese in confusion. Chinese netizens, who were celebrating Indian media reports of his possible removal to prevent escalation, are now dismayed at his continuation of command. Veterans say he is clearly a “Chief Material” , his only weakness is he lacks the political skill of ‘butter-and-oil’ to make it to the very top.