Today, the nation commemorates the 20th anniversary of Kargil Vijay Diwas, a day when our armed forces successfully completed Operation Vijay and delivered a crushing defeat on yet another military misadventure by Pakistan — 28 years after the last humiliation was inflicted on them during the 1971 War.
From mid-May to July 1999, Operation Vijay saw infantry battalions of the Indian Army fight some of the fiercest battles to take back the high-altitude posts captured by the Pakistani forces. While artillery fire was instrumental in clearing the way for the infantry soldiers, the Indian Air Force supported the men on ground with its Operation Safed Sagar that included never attempted before air strikes on bunkered posts. Despite the treacherous terrain and icy heights, our armed forces demonstrated a relentless resolve to throw back the Pakistanis, and prevailed.
Twenty years on, the memories haven’t faded. The over 60-day conflict was a saga of unmatched valour, grit, and determination that ended on July 26, 1999. It also had the political leadership of a determined kind in Atal ji who signalled unambiguously India’s determination to throw out the Pakistan army.
It was the first war to be televised and the images have remained etched in our memory.
Even today, we feel the anger at the torture that Lt Saurabh Kalia and five other soldiers on patrol had to endure in Pakistan Army captivity — this violated every norm of a civilised nation. We feel awestruck when we read about the extraordinary acts of courage of soldiers like Captain Vikram Batra, Captain Vijayant Thapar, Captain Haneef Uddin, Major Sonam Wangchuk, Grenadier (now Subedar Major) Yogendra Yadav, Lance Naik Ghulam Mohammed Khan, Captain Neikezhakuo Kenguruse, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja and so many others — diverse as they are because they come from different parts of India — represent the deep resolve, grit, and determination to fight for and defend India’s people and territory.
The men who never returned from the conflict lived and walked among us 20 years ago. These bravehearts were all young, most just into their 20s and yet their courage was that of veteran warriors. These men and their lives are inspirational — especially to the young Indian that account for the majority of our population.
Today 20 years on, while the 527 bravehearts who laid down their lives during Operation Vijay may not be among us today, but their parents and families are, and they owe our deepest respectful gratitude. Captain Vikram Batra’s identical twin Vishal recently visited Pt 4875, now named Batra Top, and one could easily mistake him for Captain Batra at the location. Colonel V N Thapar still makes his annual pilgrimage to Knoll at the spot his 22-year-old son Captain Vijayant Thapar laid down his life to fulfill his last wish. Diksha Dwivedi, the daughter of Major C B Dwivedi, who laid down his life at Kargil, published a book, Letters from Kargil in which she tells the story of the Kargil war through the letters of the soldiers who were there at the battlefield. They carry forward the legacy of their sons, fathers, brothers, and husbands who fought and sacrificed in Kargil.
The 20th anniversary of the victory at Kargil is being celebrated with the theme, “Remember, Rejoice and Renew”. Today we “remember” our bravehearts by revisiting their stories of service and sacrifice, “rejoice” by celebrating the victory and honour these brave men brought their country and “renew” our resolve to remember, honour and commemorate their sacrifices and safeguard our nation.
Today, Kargil Vijay Diwas is being celebrated across the country, but it wasn’t always so. I remember how under the Congress-led UPA government, from 2004 to 2009, the Kargil War victory was not celebrated at all. It was after my persistent demand that the then Defence Minister A K Antony started the tradition of laying a wreath on the occasion of Kargil Vijay Diwas from 2010. Since then, Kargil Vijay Diwas has been observed and celebrated by every citizen, and the government of India officially.
This 20th anniversary of Kargil Vijay Diwas is a big milestone in the history of our proud nation. It is a day which reinforces the support of every Indian to the service and lives of our men and women in uniform and their families. On this day, we must once again pledge to do whatever is necessary for our bravehearts — including pursuing Pakistan over the torture and killing of Captain Saurabh Kalia and five other soldiers, as well as pursuing with Pakistan the issue of 54 missing war heroes from 1971. Their families have not yet found closure.
Ever since India became Independent, we have had to deal with threats from across our borders. Pakistan, in particular, has launched many battles and has been inflicted humiliating defeats in all of them, including the recent Balakot strike, approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and delivered by our air warriors. Seventy two years after Independence, the threats from Pakistan remain — albeit of a different kind. Men and women of our armed forces serve and sacrifice every day fighting terrorism. So, as we celebrate 20 years of inflicting a crippling defeat on Pakistani forces, let us also salute the men and women who served then and those that serve today to keep us safe and our country secure. Jai Hind.
This article first appeared in the print edition on July 16, 2019 under the title ‘Unmatched valour’. The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP.