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War saga moves minister but its hero feels helpless

War saga moves minister but its hero feels helpless

Author: Rahul Singh, Laungewala (Jaisalmer)
Publication: Hindustan Times
Dated: February 25, 2008

Introduction: 1971 Indo-Pak war veteran says India treats its soldiers shabbily

Laungewala, The scene of some of the bloodiest fighting during the 1971 Indo-Pak war, has stirred patriotism and pride in Defence Minister A.K. Antony's heart.

Barely 20 km from the border with Pakistan, the Army took him 36 years back in time and presented to Antony a blow-by-blow account of how a young major leading just 100 men triumphed over a formidable attack by a Pakistani brigade (some 2,800 troops) backed by an armoured regiment of 45 tanks.

The Battle of Laungewala (December 3-6) goes down in the annals of military history as a classic case of human resolve and motivation in the face of heavy odds. The saga of Major K.S. Chandpuri (later brigadier), who etched his name in war folklore after being awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, touched Antony. Just as it had inspired film director J.P. Dutta to make Bollywood blockbuster Border.

The defence minister said on Sunday, "Major Chandpuri and his men are a shining example of valour and sacrifice. By sheer determination they triumphed over heavy odds." But the man who scripted that historic victory says he is saddened by the way India treats her war heroes.

Brigadier Chandpuri (retd) told the Hindustan Times, "War heroes are not getting their due. Take the case of Subedar Bana Singh (a Param Vir Chakra awardee), who gets a measly monthly allowance of Rs 160 or so. There are so many others like him. I feel helpless. If the tradition of gallantry has to be kept alive, the country has to learn to honour its soldiers."

Chandpuri's Alpha company (23 Punjab) - equipped with merely jeeps with recoilless guns, medium machine guns, 81 mm mortars and small arms -inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. The combat ratio of 27:1, as regards manpower and equipment, was in favour of the Pakistanis. IAF support also proved crucial.

The scary prospect of being overrun by the enemy had made Chandpuri's men edgy. He told them at the beginning of the battle in chaste Punjabi, "Anyone who is afraid to face the enemy is free to run away now, although it will bring shame to the battalion and its ancestors. But remember I intend to stand and fight to the last." His leadership and dedication motivated his men to fight to finish.

Antony dubbed it a "fascinating battle," after taking a ride on a T-90 tank, along with Army chief General Deepak Kapoor, on same shifting sands of Thar where Pakistanis suffered a bloody defeat at the hands of Chandpuri and his men, six of whom were given gallantry awards.

Chandpuri said, "I do not want to take any credit. I have no regrets. But war heroes are a fast diminishing community. How many PVC winners from previous wars are alive? Lets honour our heroes while they are still around."

- rahul.singh@hindustantimes.com

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