When the test of leadership came, Colonel Vishnu Prasad measured up.
The 38-year-old commanding officer of 12 Guards refused to report sick despite running high fever for several days during an exercise in Rajasthan as he wanted to be with his men. And when he was finally airlifted to a hospital, it was already too late.
Prasad died at a military hospital in Jodhpur on Thursday due to multiple organ failure caused by H1N1 swine flu, leaving behind wife Suchitra and a five-year-old daughter Pihu. The development comes weeks after Dhruv Yadav, a young major, was killed after being hit by a splinter during an exercise involving Arjun tanks at the Pokhran firing range in Rajasthan.
Prasad, the oldest of four siblings, grew up in an Odisha hamlet near Bhubaneswar before joining the National Defence Academy at Khadakwasla. For those who knew him, Prasad’s decision to stay back with the troops at the cost of ignoring his own health hardly comes as a surprise.
“He was made of sterner stuff and the well-being of his troops was always at the top of his concerns. He was a soldier who never complained,” said an officer who served with Prasad for several years. The colonel was cremated with full military honours on Friday at Jaisalmer where his unit is based. His brother lit the pyre.
At the unit, Prasad would often work on Sundays of his own volition. “Pihu was the only one who could persuade him to skip office on Sundays,” recalled a family friend of the Prasads.
The colonel’s death has led the army to ramp up its efforts to stop the swine flu’s spread, as the Guards’ community remains in a state of shock and disbelief over losing one of its bright officers.