The Lahore declaration signalled a major breakthrough in overcoming the historically strained bilateral relations between India and Pakistan. However, the relations soon lost impetus with the outbreak of the controversial Kargil debacle in the year 1999. Pakistan kept waiting for the right time to sneak into our borders, with an intention of capturing strategic locations in the Ladakh region.
In the guise of Kashmiri Militants, trained Pakistani army troops infiltrated the Line of Control and captured the dominating heights in the Kargil area, overlooking National Highway 1, the nerve artery for the Indian forces deployed in the region. From their posts high up in the cold and barren hills, Pakistani soldiers enjoyed all the advantages of a strong fortress.
The Pakistan, however, could not reckon the ferocity with which the Indian infantry men would attack them. The gunners fired till their barrels were red hot, the pilots took great risk to blast the enemy strongholds, and the supporting arms and services extended themselves well beyond their limits to provide soldiers the necessary support. Displaying unshakeable determination and unparalleled collective valour, our soldiers gave the Indian Army and the nation one of the finest victories ever in military history, and the enemy received a befitting reply.
The Battle of Tololing was a stepping stone to recapturing the posts captured by Pakistani troops. Changing the course of the Kargil war in India’s favour, Tololing was of great significance during Operation Vijay. Overlooking Drass, Tololing is the highest feature from where the enemy could cut the supply route to Kargil by blocking National Highway 1 Alpha. In the bloody battle that ensued from May 20, 1999, the gallant soldiers of the 18 Grenadiers continued their forward march in the face of heavy shelling and enemy fire, with only victory on their mind. It was in this grave battle that Major Rajesh Adhikari displayed exemplary courage in single-handedly attacking the bunkers, fighting close combats, and eventually, laying down his life so that his men could move forward to raise the Indian flag at the top of Tololing. For this gallant act of his, Major Rajesh Adhikari was awarded India’s second-highest gallantry award Maha Veer Chakra posthumously.
Jubar Top, an operationally significant post, was snatched back from the grip of the rival in the wee hours of July 3, 1999 by the First battalion, 11 Gorkha Rifles, led by Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey, who, unmindful of his personal safety, charged at the adversary ahead of his troops facing a hail of bullets. Incurring grievous wounds, Captain Pandey rushed from bunker to bunker urging his men on. Inspired by their leader’s spontaneous valour, the troops charged at the enemy and fell upon them. Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey displayed rare bravery and leadership in the face of danger. For this heroic act in the war zone, Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra.
Subsequent realization of the magnitude of the intrusion and the discovery of Pakistan army regulars led to the need for a more comprehensive and coordinated action. Thirteenth Battalion, the Jammu and Kashmir rifles, led by the then Commanding Officer Col Y. K. Joshi was tasked to capture the strategic Point 4875.
‘Sher Shah’, India’s lion heart, Captain Vikram Batra, with the stealth and agility of a snow leopard, struck terror in the heart of the enemy, recapturing one post after the other, fighting fearlessly against all odds. Captain Batra and his Delta Company were tasked with the recapturing of Point 5140. To stupefy the enemy, Captain Batra, along with five of his men, attacked from the rear and after reaching the top, hurled two grenades at the machine gun post recovering a heavy machine gun and killing at least 8 Pakistani soldiers. In spite of the grievous injuries, Captain Batra continued fighting and led his team to capture Point 5140 at 0300 hours on June 20, 1999. Later, Captain Batra led his men to even more glorious victories with the recapture of Point 4750 and Point 4875.
Unfortunately, the brave son of India was martyred while saving a fallen comrade during an encounter on Point 4875 in the early morning hours of July 7, 1999. His last words were “Jai Mata Di.” For his sustained display of the most conspicuous personal bravery and junior leadership of the highest order in the face of the enemy, Captain Vikram Batra was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest medal for gallantry.
Two months of intense fighting in these barren heights reduced down to occasional fire as the then Pakistan Prime Minister asked his troops to withdraw, leaving behind a large number of dead bodies of Pakistani soldiers. True to the traditions of Indian Army and as a mark of respect to a brave soldier who laid his life in the battlefield, the Pakistani soldiers were given a respectful burial.