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Mortar attack made him battle-inoculated

MAJOR GENERAL (Retd) Mahendra Nath Rawat is agile even at the age of 77. He is active with several social organisations in Allahabad and runs a charitable trust in Anoopshahr (his hometown) in Bulandshahr district, giving merit scholarships to 14 bright students every year.

india Updated: Oct 29, 2006 00:52 IST

MAJOR GENERAL (Retd) Mahendra Nath Rawat is agile even at the age of 77. He is active with several social organisations in Allahabad and runs a charitable trust in Anoopshahr (his hometown) in Bulandshahr district, giving merit scholarships to 14 bright students every year.

An alumnus of Allahabad University, Maj Gen Rawat possesses Master's degree in National Security Management from the National Defence University, Washington and post-graduate degrees in Defence and Strategic Studies from Allahabad and Madras universities. Besides, he was one of the select Indian Army officers to obtain Honour-Graduate Degree from the US Army School, Fort Benning.

He had been instructor at the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla and Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. He commanded the prestigious Infantry School, Mhow and also had been the Additional Director General, Military Training at Army Headquarters, New Delhi. Having commanded an Infantry Brigade and Division, he took over as Chief-of-Staff at Headquarters, Central Command, Lucknow and Chief Military Advisor at Cabinet Secretariat, New Delhi.

He took part in the Chinese War of 1962 as Brigade Major at Bomdi La in NEFA, 1965 war in Chhamb- Jaurian Sector in Jammu and Kashmir and was awarded mention In Despatches in 1971 War in Sakargarh Sector.

He was decorated with the Param Vishisht Seva Medal, the highest peace-time award in the armed forces, as Chief of Staff Headquarters, Central Command, for handling Sikh Revolt post Operation Blue Star in an exemplary manner in 1984.

A widely travelled and well-read Major General Rawat is a keen scholar of Indian scriptures and books on military history as well as general history. However, he is not satisfied with the history being taught by the institutions. He feels military history has been ignored and no sincere effort has been made to understand the problems of national security. His articles have been published by several reputed newspapers and the United Services Institution (USI).

After retirement he had been the chairman of governing council of Bhawan's Institutions at Bharwari and president of the Prayag Sangeet Samiti. As the president of the Bharat Vikas Parishad, Prayag in 1992-93 he organised donation of a jeep to Banbasi Kalyan Kendra, Ranchi. His efforts with local social and educational institutions in 1999 Kargil War helped in extensive collections for the National Defence Fund.

The excerpts from the interview:

India never thought that China would attack it. But the neighbouring country had been preparing for the attack for some years and in October 1962, it captured Tawang. Then our 17 Infantry Division was sent from Ambala to Siliguri and its 48th Brigade was sent to Bomdi La. I was the Brigade Major. We reached Bomdi La on November 8, 1962 and started attack on November 15. We were ill-prepared but made best efforts to take on the Chinese troops.

One mortar shell passed over my head, got buried into the ground but did not burst as seen by my Brigade Commander Brigadier Gurubux Singh, the younger brother of renowned journalist Khushwant Singh. Due to shortage of ammunition, we were directed to withdraw.

I can never forget that in Tawang Valley, the Chinese troops were firing at us from three sides on November 19 morning. But, luckily, I escaped unhurt. During this three-day fighting, I became battle-inoculated and almost impervious to fear.

I got posted to the 1/1 Gorkha Rifles Battalion located at Belgaum after completing the advanced infantry course in USA. I went to Bombay to collect my baggage when my battalion was suddenly ordered to move to Jammu and Kashmir. Before even collecting my baggage, I boarded the special train at Bombay and my wife remained at Belgaum, a totally unknown place to her.

We were inducted into Akhnur-Jaurian sector on September 1 night. The next day we were deployed on the front to stem the advance of Pakistani forces, which had captured Chhamb and had come up to Jaurian inspection bungalow.

The next day, my company was attacked with a battalion supported by a squadron of tanks preceded by two-hour bombardment by Pakistani artillery. The Pakistani tanks did not advance on seeing 34 anti-tank mines of which only one had been armed and the Pak attack fizzled

In the subsequent skirmishes we recovered Pakistani 9 mm Browning machine-guns and a brand new company signal set which I used throughout 1965 war as my own set had been blown up in the initial bombardment.

Later, we moved to Kalidhar Range  where we attacked and recaptured Manani village and recovered more Pak weapons and signal equipment. I escaped a Pakistani 155 mm shell which burst exactly at the place in my  forward platoon and its quarter splinter was taken as a war trophy by the battalion.

After commanding the 1/1 Gorkha Rifles, I was posted as General Staff Officer (Operations) in Headquarters, Eastern Command, Kolkata.

While discussing the future plans in February 1969, I asked the then Army Commander Lt Gen Manekshaw "Why did we not  take any action against East Pakistan in 1965" as I had heard from a Brigade Commander at that time that he had driven unchecked up to 30 Km inside East Pakistan during 1965 operations.

Though Manekshaw remarked that it was a political decision, he sought to know my plans.

As per order, the next day I presented a draft plan and explained it for two hours.

The Army Commander brought out a number of difficulties pertaining to terrain and weather but he said that the plan was workable. He also remarked that with the background of his knowledge he could state that  even after being liberated East Pakistan would betray India in future. How correct was his estimate. In 1971 the revised plan was put into operation with the results known to all of us.

In an interesting incident during the 1971 war, when I was Colonel, General Staff of 54 Infantry Division, which fought the largest tank battle in Shakargarh sector, since the Pakistan forces had laid minefields, they were not expecting any attack but we went ahead and destroyed 47 Pak tanks. Two Param Veer Chakras and three Maha Veer Chakras were awarded to our men.