|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Thursday, November 18, 1999
to tax incentive war THEY had come to pour out their financial
woes and secure succour; instead the state Chief
Ministers and Finance Ministers received a central edict
to radically reform the sales tax structure.
COMBATING INSURGENCY IN J&K
prepared to face Y2K bug
End to tax incentive war
THEY had come to pour out their financial woes and secure succour; instead the state Chief Ministers and Finance Ministers received a central edict to radically reform the sales tax structure. Some of them sulked but everyone agreed to respect a minimum rate for all commodities traded in the market. From the beginning of next year the country will have four general rates and two special rates and thus the price difference brought about by uneven impost will vanish. The states can have a higher level of sales tax if they find it necessary or prudent, but obviously no one will exercise this freedom. More important is the consensus on existing concessional rates or outright tax waiver in the case of new industrial units. These will continue but the money the state government gives up will be renamed as subsidy. The Centre claims it is a historic step and will lead to the emergence of a common market within the country. That should be the first benefit of the tax harmonisation process, although the subsidy offer may lead to a lower price triggered by a lower or no tax. The hope is that eventually this too will disappear and manufacturers of the same product will genuinely have a level playing field. Union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha believes that waiving sales tax does not necessarily attract investment. It is difficult to agree with him entirely. Small scale units set up with hard-to-come-by capital and having a limited turnover may eye this gesture as the only source of profit. This is particularly true during the initial years when production and marketing are being streamlined. What the Minister says is true of big manufacturing units which mostly go by the policies of the Centre.
The package was hammered
out by a committee of Chief Ministers headed by Mr Jyoti
Basu in 1997 and the north Indian states implemented it
almost immediately. But their list consisted of only 15
articles, normally white goods and other items used by
the middle and upper classes. Haryana intensified its own
reform efforts earlier this month when it converted sales
tax concession to subsidy. That was excellent
anticipation. Punjab pioneered the process of signing a
commitment to restructure the tax rates and the Centre
released Rs 800 crore as part compensation for loss of
revenue and as part incentive. The latest is that the
state has stumbled on the way and may have to return the
money which it does not have. There is more to sales tax
than uniform rates. It is the second biggest source of
revenue in many states, the first being excise duty on
liquor. In the past when states had a budget surplus and
nobody had lost financial innocence, sales tax was often
a policy instrument to discourage consumption of
certain items or to tax those who could afford to pay.
These days it is merely a revenue raising measure and in
the New Year it will lose its flexibility. This cannot
but affect the revenue and the central promise of fully
recouping the loss indicates the existence of the
problem. In these high-tech days it is better to offer
top class infrastructure, including skilled manpower,
than puny carrots like a sales tax holiday to lure
investors. How does the Centre plan to help the states in
this regard? Mr Sinhas deputy will dismiss the
question as extraneous to tax reforms.
After the sack
ONE wrong normally cannot be set right by another but such refinement is not meant for Bihar. The Governor, Mr Suraj Bhan, seems to have precipitated a right royal constitutional crisis by dismissing the Horticulture, Weights and Measures Minister, Mr Rakesh Kumar alias Samrat Choudhary, from office and ordering his prosecution for forgery, misrepresentation and fake declaration regarding his age under the relevant sections of the penal code. The 21-page notification issued by the Governor says that he is underage and has ordered recovery of the pay and allowances paid to him during his tenure as minister. Ironically, he was to cease to be a Minister only three days later (November 19) on the completion of his six-month tenure because he is not a member either of the State Assembly or the Legislative Council. That there is a lot of hanky-panky involved in his actual date of birth is undeniable. His school-leaving certificate says he is full 31 years old. The voter list shows he is 24 and the horoscope puts it at 26 at the time of assuming the office of Minister on May 19. But an affidavit filed by the minister in a criminal case before the Munger Sub-Divisional Magistrate in 1995 shows that he was 16 years old at that time, making him 20 now. Even the age of his elder brother, who is an engineering student, has been found to be only 22. His appointment to the ministry also took place in highly unethical circumstances. He was appointed on May 19 after his mother, along with some other Samata Party MLAs, switched loyalty to the ruling RJD and subsequently his father and former MP Choudhary also changed sides. The Governor calls it a bad precedent. But the manner in which he has set about undoing the "wrong" does not set a very healthy precedent.
The entire focus will
now shift to the question whether the Governor has the
powers to sack a minister without the advice of the Chief
Minister directly. This is an unprecedented case and
opinions are bound to be sharply divided. As a result, a
clear-enough case of determining a particular person's
actual age will get converted into an unnecessary
controversy. Mr Suraj Bhan will have to clarify as to
what legal advice helped him determine the real age of
the minister in question. The Chief Minister, Mrs Rabri
Devi, has already branded it as a case of political
vendetta. It is not clear what was the urgency behind the
desire to sack the minister on November 16 when he was to
be bundled out in any case a few days later. The sum
total of it all is that the youthful minister, whose
claim to fame so far was only a number of criminal cases
registered against him, will get to wear a martyr's halo,
which does not belong to him at all by any stretch of the
Darkness at noon!
GUDIA'S story as reported by a Delhi newspaper would easily qualify for entry in Ripley's "Believe it or Not" compilation of strange incidents. According to the report Gudia is physically challenged and has spent all her life locked up in a totally dark room in the busy Kashmiri Gate area of Delhi. She is nearly 20-year-old now but no one in the neigbhourhood knew about the "dark secret" of the family until Saturday when the landlord came armed with the eviction order after fighting a court case for 16 years. Even he was not aware of the girl's presence. The fact of the matter is that no one would have got wise to the abuse of the physically challenged girl had she not screamed in pain on being exposed to sunlight! It is surprising that she has survived the brutality of being denied a normal upbringing. That the revolting crime was committed by her own family has given a gruesome dimension to Gudia's tale. The abnormal upbringing has not only made her detest sunlight but has also stunted her physical and mental growth. Ironically her plight came to light a day before the nation celebrated Children's Day with the usual pomp and pageantry with a heavy dose of speech-making by politicians thrown in for good measure on the theme of the rights of children. It is doubtful whether the shocking tale of the ill-treatment of Gudia would jog the collective conscience of the nation and make it rededicate itself to the promise of making secure the future of the girl child.
It is a commitment which
not only India but all the members of the South Asian
Association of Regional Cooperation have made from time
to time. Yet South Asia continues to head the region
where crimes against the girl child have shown a
disturbing upward trend. It is all very well to talk
about the need to develop the child as a societal
investment for the future by ensuring that every child
achieves its full potential without actually doing much
for protecting at least girls from being neglected and
sexually abused. The SAARC had declared with great
fanfare the 90s as the "Decade of the Girl
Child". But Amnesty International and other global
watchdog bodies have nothing positive to report from
either India or the remaining SAARC members. The regional
grouping has thought up a more ambitious title of
"The Decade of the Rights of the Child" for the
new millennium without completing work on the agenda for
the 90s. At present there are nearly 75 million
malnourished female children below the age of five in the
country. Out of these about 60,000 go blind for want of
vitamin A in whatever food they get to eat. It is evident
that the nation cannot avoid walking into the next
millennium with the stigma of having done little to end
the system of bonded labour, the practice of female
infanticide and continued abuse of the girl child. If the
story of Gudia who lived in a busy locality of Delhi can
remain unnoticed for close to 20 years, it would not be
unfair to presume that countless similar tales of horror
in remote areas may never see the light of day.
COMBATING INSURGENCY IN J&K
THE latest attack by Lashkar-e-Toiyaba militants on the Armys Public Relations Office at the periphery of the Badamibagh cantonment area in Srinagar and killing the PRO, his staff and a few others is the third incident of its type in recent months. Many a defence commentator and others in the past have tried to dismiss these as acts of desperation aimed at shoring up the sagging morale of militants. From time to time there have been assessments that near normalcy has come about in the valley. The tourists are back and so is the Mumbais film industry. But the sort of fear the militants continue to instil among the locals was best seen during the recently held elections to the Lok Sabha where the voter turnout was indeed dismal. Whatever was the number of those who did come forward to vote had been coaxed by the military to exercise their right.
Insurgency movements follow a pattern, and there is a constant matching of wits and changing of tactics and techniques between the militants/insurgents on the one hand and the security forces on the other. There is always a relentless struggle towards gaining and retaining of the initiative. The side that is successful in this tug-of-war for maintaining the initiative forces the other to the defensive and consequently into a reactive mode, with all the disadvantages and drawbacks that accompany it. The insurgency in J and K has passed into a more desperate stage where terrorist outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Toiyaba, the Hizbul Mujahideen, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, etc, aided and abetted by Pakistan, will keep sending suicide squads to strike at even hard targets. Initiative and surprise are on the side of the militants and, therefore, some amount of success is possible unless disproportionate deployment is made merely on protection duties.
For the Defence Minister to order an enquiry directly is to break the well-established chain of command. It is fraught with many possibilities. The media and others to throw up headlines in national dailies that 15 Corps HQ has been attacked by the militants and that it is a case of serious security lapse is to generate wrong signals which can only result in the deployment of greater numbers to protect the camps rather than chase the militants. The PRO barrack where the suicide squad mounted the attack is just 30 mtr from the national highway and on the fringe of Badamibagh and a good kilometre away for 15 Corps HQ. In an insurgency of the type prevalent in J and K, isolated cases of attack on small detachments, more so by suicide squads, are always possible. It must go to the credit of troops in Badamibagh that they lost no time in knocking out two of the offending militants and the third too would be rounded up soon. However, the kind of reaction that we noticed from the Press and the Defence Minister could lead to a syndrome of no chance and zero error. Consequently, commanders would be inclined to deploy larger forces on protection duties, leaving less for flushing out militants from towns/villages, and hunting them down in the countryside, across the mountains and through thick forests.
Take the case of the police in Delhi where bulk of the force is deployed to protect the VIPs and not-so-VIPs, manning their movement routes, etc, with the result that not much manpower is left to undertake normal policing work, resulting in an exponential increase in crime. Delhis VIPs can be housed in one complex or two and provided collective security, but such a move would impair their VIP aura! During the early nineties on my visit to Srinagar to meet the Governor I discovered that a complete CRPF battalion had been deployed to provide protection to Raj Bhavan. Such over-protection cannot be justified and invariably leads to a shortfall of resources for equally compelling counter-insurgency tasks. In the prevailing situation in J and K, security forces need to pull in the smaller detachments within the larger camps where adequate protective arrangements are available.
There is no gainsaying that the level of vigilance, tightening of security arrangements and reaction capability in military camps and establishments will need to be vastly enhanced. This policy may have to be followed till the initiative is completely wrested from militants. Intelligence continues to be the weakest link in the chain of counter-insurgency operations and in the absence of a proper unified command the battle against insurgency will remain disjointed and disoriented. Then there is the connection between militant groups and the lower bureaucracy, in many cases because of fear as also due to sympathy.
The incident of attack on the PROs office highlights failures in many areas and at numerous levels. The militants were believed to be in Pakistani militia uniforms carrying rifles and grenades. They got into a bus in the town and en route reportedly threw grenades and opened fire on other passing vehicles and pedestrians, killing one BSF jawan in the process. No one intercepted them in the town and in the bus during its journey when the town is bristling with security forces and pickets. Nor were any intelligence warning of an attack of such daring in the Srinagar cantonment area itself available. The quick reaction team (QRT) at corps HQ should have come into play and liquidated all the three militants.
With the military takeover in Pakistan, Gen Pervez Musharrafs recent pronouncements on the Kashmir issue, the earlier reference to many more Kargils to come, Pakistans support to militancy in J and K is more likely to increase during the coming months. The Chief Executive would be inclined to follow this policy till the time he can consolidate his hold in Pakistan. Till then he is likely to keep various militant outfits and fundamentalists in good humour. Allowing the ijtima(annual congregation) of the Lashkar-e-Toiyaba at Lahore and his somewhat belligerent pronouncements at his first Press conference falls in that pattern.
Certain senior journalists seem to be straining their auditory perceptions as they lay claim to hearing the sound of distant war-drums when General Musharraf says that hostility will be met by hostility and peace will be met by peace. Nobody threatens us without getting a response, anyone. While we need to keep the powder dry there is no reason to give credence to imaginary fears. However, after getting a bloody nose at Kargil the military in Pakistan may continue with the cheaper option and merely increase the tempo of militancy in J and K resulting in more and more desperate attacks on security forces.
The military takeover in Pakistan is an unfortunate development, particularly at times such as these. Yet it is not something over which India needs to lose much sleep. It would be wrong to predict greater instability or Talibanisation than what existed before the coup. Nor should India dream up visions of military fingers on nuclear buttons nor of many more Kargils (intrusions on that scale) or larger conflagration. As far as Pakistan is concerned, no government or dispensation can sink the country deeper into the financial morass, corruption, nepotism and lawlessness, or can simply take it closer to instability than what Mr Nawaz Sharif did. Nor can relations with India see more downward swing than in the aftermath of the Kargil deceit. Military control or democracy is of less relevance to us than stability in Pakistan.
General Musharraf did well to move his troops deployed along the international border back to the barracks. To expect him or, for that matter, India to thin out along the LoC in J and K is unrealistic and shows lack of understanding of the issues and the very nature of the alignment and its history. A similar deficiency in the comprehension of the ground realities in Pakistan surfaces when some people in India express dismay and disappointment at the Generals reiteration of moral, diplomatic and other kinds of support for the so-called freedom fighters in J and K. However, a unilateral ceasefire along the LoC is something which would be a welcome step and is what he can offer to India to expect favourable response from us. But this he can do only when his hold on the reigns of power is more firm.
That brings us to the issue of doing business with the Chief Executive. How far are we right in demanding the end of support to militancy from across the border as a precondition for starting any dialogue with Pakistan? Such rigidity smacks of the Allies inflexible pre-condition for an unconditional surrender by the Axis powers, to end World War II. This policy needlessly extended the war with the attendant death and destruction, including the eventual use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After all, when the Lahore process was started, there was no let-up in Pakistans mischief in J and K.
Indias hesitation to do business with General Musharraf was less expected from a suave and pragmatic Foreign Minister. It has been our abiding belief that in Pakistan it is the Army that calls the shots, then why not talk directly with the Army. We should not over-worry about the colour of the cat but show our concern more with the elimination of the mice. The economic offences being pinned on Mr Nawaz Sharif and his other wheeling-dealing do indeed bring him out in very poor light. We did get to see the seamy side of him at Lahore where on the one hand he was engaging the Indian Prime Minister in a bear hug and on the other daggers were out at Kargil. So, dealing with General Musharraf may be no worse, if not better. Military men are known to be more pragmatic and realists than others.
Threats from landmines &
IT has been reported that landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have caused maximum casualties of civilians as well as security personnel in Indias Jammu and Kashmir, Vietnam, Serbia, Kosovo, Chechnya, East Timor, Algeria, Ethiopia, etc. Millions of innocent people have either died or got incapacitated due to landminesa major cause for concern for all right-thinking nations.
In 1948 landmines had been laid by Pakistani troops before withdrawing from their positions because of the pressure from the Indian Army during the Indo-Pak operations in J&K. Even during the 1965 and 1971 operations landmines had been laid extensively by both sides to safeguard their positions. The IEDs entered the scene later, in the 1990.
A large number of our soldiers, civilians and cattle lost their lives due to the drifting of the mines from steep mountainous slopes during the rainy season. The damage caused to human as well as animal lives was colossal as they lost their legs in most of the cases. The sufferings due to mine blasts are terrible. This must stop after the Global Treaty on the Ban of Landminesa convention on the use of landmines in non-war zones. J&K has any number of landmines and IEDs laid by militants after the ISI-sponsored militancy was unleashed in 1989.
The use of landmines by insurgents has been on the increase. This has been confirmed by the documentary proof available from foreign mercenaries, specially militants from Afghanistan.
At a seminar on Ban Anti-Personnel Landmines, organised by the Indian Institute of Peace, Disarmament and Environment Protection at Srinagar recently, it was brought out by the speakers that Tamil Tigers with their indigenous Johnny Mines were the most competent people in the world in explosive devices.
The second name that figured was that of Taliban militiamen operating in the valley with the help of the ISI. They are causing considerable damage to the security forces, especially with the use of IEDs, very effective in mountainous areas.
Landmine handling has been an integral part of the defence doctrines of both India and Pakistan. Both have sappers skilled in mine-laying and lifting techniques. Even an infantry battalion has a pioneer section for mine-laying, detection and lifting jobs. Militants are using anti-personnel and anti-tank mines in large numbers. These are used in the ratio of 1:1.
The Indian Army has four types of landminestwo anti-personnel varieties and the rest M-14 and M-16 claymore (fragmentation) mines. These are similar to M-14 of the USA and have a very low content of metal. These are also known as plastic mines, which cannot be detected by mine-detectors easily. These were used extensively by the USA during the Vietnam war though unsuccessfully. The M-16 has a cast iron fragmentation sleeve inside a steel outer casting, and is extremely lethal in a radius of 35 metres.
Against Indias two varieties of anti-personnel mines, Pakistan has six typesP3, MK2, P2, MK2, P5MK1, P5MK2, P4MK1 and P7MK1, P2MK2 and P4MK1 are difficult to detect with hand-held mine-detectors because of a negligible metal content. These have been extensively used by Pakistani troops as well as the Mujahideen during the Kargil operations.
In the 1965 war, Pakistan had laid 10,000 anti-tank mines and 40,600 anti-personnel mines. In 1971, too, the Pakistan Army laid mines in East Pakistan and J&K indiscriminately. Many of these minefields could not be cleared as Pakistani soldiers were all imprisoned and the Indian Army withdrew from the area now called Bangladesh, resulting in heavy civilian casualties. There are 5,000 mines in the area of 12 km and 51 minefields in Kupwara near the LoC to protect the Indian territories from the enemy advances, claimed a paper during the seminar.
At the international level there have been a number of treaties to impose a total ban on landmines, keeping in view the extent of the suffering to human beings due to these small explosive devices. There has been an African landmines treaty advocating a total ban on landmines. Another move was started after the death of Princess Diana resulting in the Diana Memorial Treaty Landmines Ban. According to this treaty, everyone should abhor the use of landmines of any type. This treaty remains only on paper. The unfinished task needs to be completed at the earliest.
A global treaty to ban landmines is the moral responsibility of all nations. The Ottawa Landmine Treaty was signed on December 3-4, 1997 at Geneva. Almost all countries signed this treaty. It is the first step towards alleviating the human suffering due to landmines. People and governments all over the world should accept the treaty banning the landmines in true spirit to save millions of innocent lives lost every year.
THE pavement in front of our house is the favourite haunt of two hawkers of fruit and vegetables. Lately, there has been an addition to their number. The newcomer, however, does not sell fruit or vegetables. He sits on the pavement displaying a few drawing sheets with flowers-and-leaves motifs painted on them, henna paste in a container, a stool for his clients to sit on, and a smallish signboard on which appears in Hindi: Yahan haath aur paon par mehndi lagane ka kaam kalatmak dhang se kiya jata hai (Here henna is applied on hands and feet in an artistic way.)
The Mehndiwala, who is hardly 18, is making rapid progress. At any time of the day, when I happen to look out of the window of my room, I find him bending over an outstretched female hand, drawing on it some floral pattern with henna paste.
The other day my wife said: The festival of Teej is approaching. Wont you ask that roadside Mehndiwala to come to our house to do henna work on my hands? I dont like standing there on the pavement with my hand stretched out.
A couple of days later, the Mehndiwala came to our house. Madam, he said to my wife, as he put his things on a table, would you like floral pattern or the palanquin-with-bells motif?
My wife opting for the simple floral pattern, he soon set about his task. I noticed that his work required concentration. When he finished, my wife asked him, How much?
Itll be Rs 30, he replied. As she paid him, I casually asked: How is your business?
Doing pretty well, sir, he said. In fact, far better than I would have as a clerk in some government office.
What, you were working as clerk in a government office before taking to this work? asked my wife, surprised.
No, not working as a clerk, he corrected her, but wasting a lot of my time looking for the job of a clerk, which I never got because I had no sifarish.
Then how did it strike you to do this work? she asked.
When I was tired of attending interviews, he replied, I asked myself, Is there no alternative for me? And it was then that I heard someone say that beauty parlour charged Rs 1,000 for doing henna work on a girls hands and feet. I made a silent resolution I would learn this craft and open my own beauty parlour.
Without telling anyone at home, I joined classes at a big beauty parlour. In just two months, I learnt not only henna work but a good many other things too. But opening a beauty parlour requires a lot of money. So, for the time being, I have started operating from the pavement. Of course, Ill open my own beauty parlour when I have earned enough.
Youre indeed an enterprising boy, said my wife.
The boy smiled shyly, and then, to our surprise, said, Ill earn four to five times more than I do now when I have my own beauty parlour.
How? I asked, perplexed.
India prepared to face Y2K bug
NEW DELHI: The Government has begun a final review to see just how prepared Indias critical sectors ranging from atomic energy to banking, are to ward off any threat from the millenniums biggest potential party-breaker the Y2K bug at the roll-over into 2000.
A top-level official team headed by Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar has begun the review and is expected to turn in a report expressing satisfaction with the preparations made so far by government departments, the private sector and state governments.
The Y2K problem stems from the fact that most computer systems use a two-digit field to represent the year. So when 2000 rings in, the computers would read it only 00 and presume it to be 1900.
The government set up a high-level action force to ensure that 11 critical sectors identified as being specially vulnerable to the situation are ready to conduct business as usual when the millennium changes over from midnight of December 31, to New Years Day. The sectors range from atomic energy, space, power and telecommunications to the financial sector, including banks, insurance and stock exchanges, railways, ports, civil aviation, defence and petroleum.
According to S. Narendra, who coordinated the activities of the action force, all 11 sectors have reported that they have achieved 100 per cent readiness to tackle the Y2K problem. The sole exception being private sector operators in the telecom field who have not supplied any information yet, he said.
Mr Narendra, Principal Adviser to the Planning Commission, said the governments both in New Delhi and in the states, would set up control rooms which would become operational from the midnight of December 30 to 6 a.m. on January 2 to oversee the transition. The government has asked all personnel right down to the district level to forgo leave and report for duty during the critical period.
Alongside, the government has mounted an extensive awareness campaign through the print and electronic media to educate the general public, trade and industry on the details of Y2K readiness and contingency planning to deal with unforeseen problems.
The action force has pointed out in its report, published last month, that in spite of the best efforts of the government and industry, there can be no iron-clad guarantees that there will be no problems related to Y2K.
This is the situation all over the world, even in the most advanced countries, such as the USA. It is simply not possible to be 100 per cent certain that every computer and computer application will be fixed and some of those that have been remedied and tested could still experience unexpected problems, the report noted.
As for the critical sectors, the Indian Railways already has reserved seats on November 1 for travel on January 1 and apprehends no trouble. The International Civil Aviation Organisation has certified that the Indian aviation sector is fully Y2K compliant. Major hotels which are computer-dependent for reservations have also declared they would not face any problems in carrying out bookings from January 1.
The banking sector has informed the government that it is fully prepared to meet the Y2K problem. But, as a measure of caution, all banks have been advised to minimise transactions during the critical period of almost a week so that they do not face any problem. The Reserve Bank of India has taken steps to ensure adequate liquidity at all major centres so that the banks can deal with unforeseen circumstances by keeping ready cash in their tills.
The government has also made arrangements to pay salaries to staff (normally, the 1st of the month is pay day) from December 26 to 28 to ensure that there is no heavy load on the cash chests of banks on January 1. Banks will observe New Years Day as a holiday.
Mr Narendra said industry associations such as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) have informed the government that their members are all Y2K compliant. But there is some concern over units in the small-scale sector and some medium-sized units as information about their readiness to meet the situation is not available.
A substantial portion of the utilities and infrastructure sectors such as power, sewerage, road transport and health fall in the state sector and the action to meet the Y2K challenge has to be taken by the state governments.
The National Informatics Centre (NIC), which heads the governments information technology (IT) network through NICNET, has its presence in every state capital and district and is engaged in helping them tackle the Y2K problem. But nothing can be done at this stage about Orissa, which was devastated by the super-cyclone on October 29.
Government sources here say part of the misapprehensions about Indias readiness to face the Y2K challenge sprang from mid-year reports by such organisations as Merrill Lynch and Jardine Fleming.
Merrill Lynch, for
instance, expresssed serious concern over the shortage of
manpower to solve the Y2K problem, saying: India
focused a great deal on Y2K: the opportunity
and overlooked the Y2K problem in its own backyard.
But the government points out that the country has a very
large pool of software talent to cater to the domestic
needs as well. India Abroad News Service
Injustice to Ahir martyrs of 1962
BY 1962 the euphoria of Hindi-Chini bhai bhai had died down. Consequently, tension on the Sino-Indian border started mounting. After consciously ignoring the security of the long northern border stretching over thousands of kilometres over mountainous, snowy, uninhabitable and unapproachable terrain, the Defence Ministry had suddenly become overactive as if awakening from a deep slumber. To quote Neville Maxwell: The 1950s have been a decade of neglect for the Indian armed forces. The general mood was that expenditure on the defence forces must be kept to the barest practicable minimum so that the resources available for development would not be spent unproductively and unnecessarily.
A suggestion that an infantry manual on Chinese battle tactics be prepared, was rejected. As late as 1958 to the utter amazement and consternation of the Indian Army, a high-ranking Chinese military mission was taken round major defence establishments and was privy to demonstration of fire support for an infantry assault.
After border skirmishes in the eastern sector during September 1962, a full-scale war broke out with the Chinese attack on Namka Chu on October 20, 1962. Consequently troops deployed in the plains in summer uniforms and under-armed were rushed to the northern border. Unacclimatised, the troops were as exposed to the elements of the nature as to the enemy. On the other hand, the Chinese troops were fully acclimatised and comfortable in their thick, padded uniforms and were confident of their numbers and superior weapons.
On October 24, 120 officers and jawans of the Ahir Charlie Company of 13 Kumaon Regiment, almost all of them hailing from the Ahirwal region (southern Haryana), were airlifted from Hyderabad to the Chushul sector. They were deployed on the Rezang La Ridge to defend the highest air strip in the world located at 16,000 feet just across the Chinese claim line. Nevertheless, positions of some strength had been built up by November 17.
The next day as the country was celebrating Divali, a different scenario was unfolding in the Chushul sector. Chinese infantry in strength was seen moving up. In the early hours of November 18, fighting broke out.
Maxwell has given a vivid account. Artillery bombardment of the Indian outposts, airfield and brigade positions in the valley began in the small hours of November 18 and at first light infantry assaulted the Indians in their hill positions. Heavy mortars, recoilless guns and rockets softened the shallow Indian entrenchments, beaten off in frontal attacks. The Chinese moved to envelop the Indian positions, taking them from the flank or rear after savage hand-to-hand fighting... Of the Charlie Company, three of the wounded reached Battalion HQ in the valley, five were taken prisoner, the rest of the company were still in their positions when an Indian party climbed to Rezang La three months later (February 11, 1963) frozen as they died with weapons in hand. Only the Chinese dead had been removed, and evidence of the battle showed that of those there had been many.
It was an unequal fight. The Chinese troops, outnumbering the Indians by nearly 20 to one, regged and underarmed as the Indians might be, they were still skilled and determined soldiers who fought back fiercely against the overwhelming odds enormous Chinese advantage in fire-power and number showing unparalleled chivalry and undaunted courage. It was natural that the Chinese suffered heavy casualties.
At one stage, having run out of ammunition, several jawans came out of the pickets and charged the enemy with bare hands Lance Naik Singh Ram killing several Chinese soldiers after lifting and hitting them against the rocks. The brave Ahirs fought to the finish to the last bullet and the last man till the last breath. Even the enemy was so moved by their bravery that while retreating they covered the bodies of Naik Gulab Singh, Lance Naik Singh Ram and others with blankets and posted their rifles and bayonets by their bodies as a mark of respect.
The body of Major Shaitan Singh, Company Commander, was flown to Jodhpur where he was cremated with full military honours. Other bodies were laid to rest at Chushul itself where, later on, a memorial was erected.
Major Shaitan Singh was posthumously decorated with Param Vir Chakra, the highest gallantry award, whereas Jamadars Soorja Ram and Hari Ram, Naiks Hukam Chand and Ram Kanwar, Lance Naik Singh Ram and sepoy Dharam Pal were posthumously awarded the Vir Chakra. Several others were honoured with Sena Medals.
The battle of Chushul was a saga of unprecedented courage, valour and supreme sacrifice. Never before had so many officers and jawans (114 out of 120) laid down their lives in one battle. You rarely come across such example in the annals of world military history when braving such heavy odds the men fought till the last bullet and the last man, said Gen T.N. Raina, paying tributes to the heroes of Chushul, Certainly the battle of Rezang La is such a shining example.
I had said many years ago that the Army must have a Ahir Regiment. The supreme sacrifice of the Charlie Company has fulfilled my expectations. I hope a suitable memorial will be built in Ahirwal in their memory so that the generations to come may seek inspiration from the immense courage and valour of their forefathers, remarked Gen K.S. Thimayya, one of the most distinguished soldiers.
SINCE a related news item was in type, a telegram has been received from the Associated Press to the effect that an agreement has been reached between the Swarajists and Mr Gandhi on the question of the spinning franchise.
If this statement turns out to be correct, as we sincerely hope it will, then it will be a matter at which the whole country will rejoice, for nothing is more urgently needed at the present moment than unity among the various sections of political workers, more particularly between the two wings into which the Congress has been divided since the Gaya session.
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