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Friday, July 16, 1999

Capt Batra lived up to his code name

Gaurav C Sawant  
DRASS, JULY 15: The popular cola ad line, `Yeh dil maange more', haunts Lt-Col Y K Joshi, commander of 13 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles (J&K Rif) even as the government has announced the first gallantry award for Operation Vijay. The Mahavira Chakra has been awarded to Capt Vikram Batra posthumously.

The proud unit is still to come to terms with the death of the 24-year-old fearless lad from Palampur. Young Batra had taken the catch line about ``wanting more'' to great heights as he sent this message to his commander on June 20, after successfully capturing the crucial Peak 5140 in the Drass sector. This fierce bunker-to-bunker battle had completed the Tololing victory.

Injured in the operation, Batra or Vicky, as friends called him, was recovering when, on July 7 morning, at their base in Mushkoh Valley, they received information that the two companies which had been sent for the attack on the most crucial peak 4875 had been trapped in enemy fire. Despite being injured, Sher Shah -- Vicky's call sign-- was tasked to reconnoitre the ledge from where enemy fire was coming and lead a rescue operation.

It was pitch dark when he left with a company of 25 men. The climb was vertical and vision due to fog almost zero. To make matters worse, it began snowing as they advanced. The 24-year-old ``kid'' of the unit climbed fearlessly like a snow leopard. He saw a faint flash and heard the rat-a-tat of the machine gun. That was the first machine gun position firing at the trapped Indian soldiers.

Crouching, Vicky moved towards the gun, hiding behind rocks whenever possible. Reaching close, he lobbed a grenade at the gun position, destroying it. ``Fellow me, boys,'' he whispered in the dark, and they advanced to the next position. Time was of crucial importance. Before the first light, the enemy guns had to be silenced. Otherwise even Vicky and his men would be seen and killed.

At 16,000 feet they were out of breath and panting. Yet they advanced nonstop. Before the first rays of the sun lit up the mountains,two more guns had been silenced, but firing from the ledge continued. Vicky knew it was mission impossible.

The Pakistanis -- aware of his call sign -- broke into the Indian wireless and said, ``Sher Shah, go back. If you come inside, you will not go back alive''.

To which Vicky shot back, ``I won't only come inside but I will kill you all and win the peak''.

It was this josh that kept him going. He knew that more than 50 lives depended upon what he would do next. In broad daylight, screaming ``Durge Mata ki Jai,'' he charged at the enemy position on the ledge. It was a close quarter battle and he could not even use his rifle. He unsheathed his bayonet and charged. Seeing the young officer charge, his soldiers were enthused too.

He grappled with a Pakistani soldier, punching him in the nose. As soon as he fell, Vicky plunged his bayonet into his heart. But another enemy solider caught him from behind. ``All hell broke loose. It was utter chaos,'' a soldier of J&K Rif who accompanied him in theattack, said. Seven Pakistanis were killed in the attack.

Nonplussed by the ferocity of the attack, the enemy retreated. Vicky and his boys gained an upper hand. The trapped Indian soldiers grabbled the moment and charged at Peak 4875, recovering it. At 6 am, while fleeing, an enemy soldier fired a rocket straight at young Vicky, who was fighting like a tiger, true to his name of Sher Shah.

``The rocket hit his neck and he fell,'' said Col Joshi, unable to keep his voice from shaking. Tiger Vicky became a martyr but the peak, the ledge and the ridgeline were won. The ledge is being named after Sher Shah Vikram Batra.

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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