later. The Aulakhs now live in retirement at their small country home on the outskirts of Chandigarh and I can now also reveal that the IB officer I mentioned in the second part of this series, who told me with dismay how his warnings to not underestimate the militant firepower or resolve in the Temple went unheeded, was none other than Aulakh, one of the finest intelligence officers I have travelled with in my journey as a reporter. Besides, indeed, being a life-saver gifted with a wonderful, generous and quick-witted sardarni.
People are as central to reporters’ lives as money or chequebooks to a banker or businessman. People are the capital of our working lives. Except, unlike any currency or most assets, they mostly become more valuable over time. And it is uncanny how they keep resurfacing in your lives. That’s why I had promised some “people” stories today.
I still cannot reveal the source of the Siachen newsbreak, the fact that our army had moved on to desolate heights in what was codenamed Operation Meghdoot, the eternal story of the world’s highest battlefield, which has defied solution for three decades now. But I can tell you about the two key commanders involved. Lieutenant General M.L. Chibber, then GOC-in-C, Northern Command, and Lieutenant General P.N. Hoon, then GOC, 15 Corps, Srinagar, and later director general of military operations (DGMO). I got a ringing admonition from him later when I went to see him to check on a follow-up story and addressed him as DMO, the old title for the job: “I am no bloody DMO, I am DGMO, young fellow.”
Both were proud of moving on to Siachen and beating the Pakistanis, who had apparently planned a similar operation, and each claimed he had played a more important role. In fact, when I somewhat breathlessly suggested to Hoon that it looked like we had outflanked the Pakistanis in a couple of chases to the top, he straightened in his chair in some alarm: “Outflanked? Who told you that word, outflanked? That was the word I used to plan my strategy.” Oops, I think now, I should have known I was looking at one of the future prime-time stars of the shouting channels decades later. Hoon later became a real hawk, even joined the Shiv Sena once. Chibber, on the other hand, became one of India’s foremost peaceniks and set up an NGO to talk peace with Pakistan. You never know what growing out of the uniform can do to you. Both continued featuring in our lives as reporters for decades.
As did General K. Sundarji, though in a very different manner qualitatively. After Blue Star, he became one of our most dashing and futuristic chiefs, shifting the entire outlook and doctrine from defensive to offensive, attack-and-halt to assault-and-keep-moving, terrestrial to airborne, pedestrian to mechanised. No other chief has left behind such an abiding doctrinal legacy in India’s history. He became one of my favourite people over the years, he indulged me greatly too (you continued…