What constitutes a nation is not speaking the same tongue or belonging to the same ethnic group, but having accomplished great things in common in the past and the wish to accomplish them in future.

Ernest Rennan

Peter and Saily Keishing live in a small double storey house in a narrow, steep sloping street of Shillong. When my wife and I visited their home recently, the whole family (two sons, daughters in law, grandchildren) was present to give us a warm reception. Our conversation was mostly about their late third (middle) son, Nongrum, who had created history in Meghalaya by getting commission into the Army and leading his men of the 12 JAK Light Infantry in Kargil war. Captain Nongrum had demonstrated outstanding gallantry while leading his men to capture Point 4812 and was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) posthumously. His battalion captured the first Pakistan Army prisoner of war, Naik Inayat Ali, which ended all misinformation about mujahideen being the infiltrators. 

The Keishings maintain Nongrum’s room with almost everything that he left behind, including photographs from a film roll which was in his camera when he sacrificed his life for the nation. All awards, presentations, write-ups in the media are kept in this room. The Keishings have lost their son but his gallantry and sacrifice for the nation live on for the family and their friends.

Gopi Chand and Mohini Pandey too maintain a separate room with all the memorabilia of their son Manoj in their small house in Gomti Nagar, Lucknow. “He continues to live with us”, said his proud sister when we visited their home. Her brother Lieutenant Manoj Pandey of the 1/11 Gorkha Rifles participated in a series of attacks at Khalubar.  On the night of 2–3 July 1999, when Manoj's platoon approached the final objective under intense enemy fire, it was nominated to clear the interfering enemy bunkers. While clearing the third bunker by hurling a grenade inside, he sustained a machine-gun burst at point-blank range, to which he succumbed. His daredevil act, however, enabled the Gorkhas to capture Khalubar.

Manoj Pandey was awarded the Param Vir Chakra for his outstanding acts of bravery. In his last letter to a friend, Manoj had written: “I don’t know what will happen at the next moment, but I can assure you and all countrymen that certainly we will push back the intruders at whatever cost.”  A copy of that letter is with me.

In every martyr’s home that I have visited after the Kargil war, there is a room, or a corner full of memories, which gives pride and sustains the family. It reminds the family and friends of the gallantry, selflessness and nationalist spirit of the soldiers who fought spirited battles in different sectors of the Kargil war. 

Captain Vikram Batra, awarded the Param Vir Chakra (PVC) for his actions at Point 5140 and Point 4875, reminds me of his success signal “Yeh Dil Mange More”.

Grenadier Yogendra Yadav, also awarded PVC, led the assault to fix a rope for his colleagues on top of Tiger Hill. Captain Vijayant Thapar, in his last letter to his parents, wrote, “By the time you get this letter, I will be enjoying the company of Apsaras in the sky.” He ended up his letter with “OK then, it is time for me to join my assault party of the dirty dozen.” The Vir Chakra in Vijayant’s room is the pride of the family.

Sudhir Kumar, my ADC, volunteered to join his battalion 9 Para. Without acclimatisation, he led his troops to capture Zulu Top, almost the last battle in Kargil war. Hanif-ud-din led his team of 11 Rajputana Rifles to capture Point 5590. He succumbed to his injuries and fell in a crevice. His mother had to wait for several days before we could recover his body and hand it over to her. Captain Kengruse scaled a sheer rock face at Three Pimples barefooted, literally hanging on by his fingers and toes. After reaching the top, he killed two enemy soldiers with his commando knife before he was fatally wounded. Thousands of people along the road between Dimapur and Kohima spent long hours to salute his body on its last homeward journey. 1 Bihar lost Major Sarvanan in a failed assault on Point 4924 in Jubar complex on May 29. Determined to recover his body, the battalion captured this feature finally on July 8. The battalion recovered his body along with a large cache of enemy arms and ammunition apart from the dead bodies of a number of Pakistani soldiers. At this time, our national spirit and respect for the soldiers were so high that a Union minister, the late Ranganathan Kumaramangalam, personally escorted Saravanan’s body to his hometown in Tamil Nadu, where a solemn farewell was given. There were countless acts of gallantry, displays of steely resilience, single-minded devotion to duty and sacrifices.

A war is the ultimate test for armies and their soldiers. Victory in war is achieved because battles are won. At the cutting edge of every battle, besides the quality of the weapons and equipment available, are factors such as the military skill of troops, camaraderie, regimental spirit, and, above all, the willpower and the resolve to win. The Indian Army can be proud of its ancient and unequalled tradition of selflessness, devotion to duty, sacrifice and valour. The Indian soldier is a remarkable human being: spiritually evolved, mentally stoic and sharp, physically hardy and skilled. Whenever well led, he has given everything he is capable of. The war in Kargil saw unalloyed heroism which will remain a benchmark for valour whenever the security of our nation is threatened. All units responded with alacrity and with their characteristic steadfastness and perseverance.

Much of the credit for the victory in Kargil, quite deservedly, goes to the bravery and dedication shown on the battlefield by our soldiers and young officers. They were upfront, not hesitating to make any sacrifice to uphold the regimental and national pride and dignity. On the basis of the great determination, high morale and brilliant junior leadership, our troops performed superbly. 

These tactical battles were a follow up of a simple war strategy. At the grand strategy level, the approach was that India was a victim of intrusion and yet was willing to exercise restraint by not crossing the Line of Control (LoC) or border. That notwithstanding, it would take all measures, including military, to ensure that the intruded area is vacated. The military strategy was to threaten and maintain pressure on Pakistan throughout land, air and sea border with a view to creating a strategic imbalance for Pakistan and to reduce enemy pressure on Kargil sector. 

We were prepared to escalate the situation and launch forces across the border or LoC, if necessary. All formations tasked for the Western border were deployed on the front or located close to it. Our strike formations were ready to cross into Pakistan at short notice. These formations, their equipment and ammunition--over 19000 tons--were moved in 446 military special trains. A brigade moved for amphibious operation from A & N Islands to the western coast. A part of Eastern Naval Fleet moved to the Arabian Sea. Indian Navy deployed warships from the Gulf to the western Indian coastline. IAF prepared all its bases and aircraft for war. 

In the Kargil War, the Pakistan Army had taken the initiative and surprised us. We were reacting to a situation like we had done in 1947–48, 1962 and 1965 when attacked by the enemy. The political objective was to ‘get the Kargil intrusion vacated and restore the sanctity of the LoC’ with a rider not to cross the LoC or border. We achieved that on 26 July when Pakistani troops were either thrown out physically or withdrew from some occupied positions on our terms and conditions. Diplomatically, Pakistan was isolated with its credibility in the international fora touching an all-time low. At the same time, India enhanced its status internationally. [ADNI]

Gen (Retd) VP Malik was Indian Army Chief during the Kargil War