One of the most glorious moments of the Indian Army, the victory in the Battle of Longewala in the 1971 war with Pakistan, is based on blatant falsehood, claims an upcoming book by a general decorated in the same operations.
The battle was immortalised by the 1997 Bollywood blockbuster "Border", starring Sunny Deol as victorious army hero major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri. In a tell-all account of one of the first engagements in the western sector during the 14-day war, major general Atma Singh (retd) has alleged that the army's version of the battle is built on "exaggerated claims" when it had little to do with crushing Pakistani forces.
Atma Singh, then a major, has credited the Indian Air Force for saving the day for the country. He was commanding the No. 12 Air Observation Post (AOP) flight, tasked with directing close air support firepower toward enemy targets. AOP units were under the IAF. "If our own troops had vacated the post (Longewala) at first light on December 5, then when and where was the big battle of Longewala fought?" he questions in his book, "Battle of Longewala: The Real Story", which will hit the stands on December 3, the day the war began 42 years ago.
The first six Pakistani tanks were sighted in the Kharotar area, 5 kilometres from the Longewala post, general Atma Singh writes in the book. "It was at the crack of dawn on December 5, after the army had vacated the post. The Pakistani tanks were bombed by the IAF's Hunter jets," he further wrote.
The author's version can't be taken lightly, as he was decorated with Vir Chakra, country's third highest gallantry award for bravery, in that war. Colonel PS Sangha (retd), who also served 12 AOP and earned Vir Chakra, has backed the version of general Atma Singh.
In the army's version, major KS Chandpuri (later brigadier) along with 100 men from 23 Punjab had frustrated an attack by a Pakistani brigade (some 2,800 troops) backed by an armoured regiment of 45 tanks.
Chandpuri received Maha Vir Chakra, country's second-highest award for bravery in the battlefield.
"It's about taking credit where little is due," said general Atma Singh, adding: "Can troops equipped with recoilless guns, medium machine guns and mortars beat off an armoured attack? I hope the book will lay the lies of the battle to rest."
Fighter pilots won eight Vir Chakras in that battle. A senior officer in the army headquarters, however, said soldiers from 23 Punjab had also played a valuable role of holding on to their positions and delaying the enemy's armoured thrust until the IAF had arrived on the scene.
Brigadier Chandpuri comments on book
Brigadier Kuldip Singh Chandpuri, acclaimed hero of Longewala, said he didn't want any certificate from Atma Singh "who himself was major at that time". "Ask him who held the enemy the entire night. He can write anything now when all the defence officers of that time are no more. Even the-then air chief marshal PC Lal in his book had praised the efforts of 23 Punjab under my command."