Battle of Tiger Hill: ‘Vajpayee announced victory in advance, would’ve been embarrassing if we failed’
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Battle of Tiger Hill: ‘Vajpayee announced victory in advance, would’ve been embarrassing if we failed’

“It would have been very embarrassing (if things happened otherwise). However, we won later,” said Brig MPS Bajwa (retd).

punjab Updated: Jul 20, 2017 14:35 IST
Bhartesh Singh Thakur
Bhartesh Singh Thakur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Battle of Tiger Hill,Tiger Hill,Vajpayee
Brigadier MPS Bajwa talking about the battle of Tiger Hill and the Kargil War at Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) in Chandigarh on Wednesday. (Karun Sharma/HT)

At the height of the Kargil War, on the evening of July 3, 1999, the Indian Army started the operation to recapture Tiger Hill. However, the very next day during a public rally in Haryana, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced the army’s success. This was at a time when Indian soldiers had just got a foothold over the feature.

“It would have been very embarrassing (if things happened otherwise). However, we won later,” said Brig MPS Bajwa (retd), during the third Maj Gen KS Bajwa Memorial-Regiment of Artillery War Experiences Talk, organised by the Centre for Indian Military History, Sector-19, Chandigarh on Wednesday.

Brig Bajwa was the brigade commander of the battle to recapture Tiger Hill from Pakistan. On Wednesday, he was narrating his wartime experience in recapturing this important strategic feature that is the highest mountaintop in the vicinity. During the Kargil War, enemy position atop Tiger Hill was dominating parts of the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway.

The day when Vajpayee made the announcement, Nawaz Sharif was to meet US President Bill Clinton. “The issue took a political turn,” Brig Bajwa said, adding that it was the turning point of the war. “Soon Pakistan decided to withdraw its troops.”

Intelligence failure, misplaced priorities

During the course of his talk, Brig Bajwa accepted that Pakistan was successful to incur upon Indian territory owing to an intelligence failure, as neither the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the Intelligence Bureau (IB) nor the field formations knew anything about it. “RAW had dedicated aircraft (to gather intelligence) but they were diverted for some other purpose related to the Prime Minister’s Office,” he said.

“The priorities of Corps Commander Lt Gen Krishan Pal, GOC of 15 Corps, were different. If you don’t send regular patrols to the heights but to drains, then this is what happens. On May 3, 1999, he was in New Delhi to supervise his wife’s surgery,” he said. He also pointed out that the Bajrang Post in Kaksar Sector was never to be vacated. Lt Saurabh Kalia, while leading a surveillance patrol, was abducted from this area. Later, his mutilated body was found.

He informed that on May 23, 1999, the then army chief Gen VP Malik asked the ground forces not to cross the Line of Control (LoC). “Had we crossed the LoC, we could have had an advantage with additional forces,” Brig Bajwa said.

‘Fought hard for 8 Sikh’s decoration’

To recapture Tiger Hill, Brig Bajwa was provided the 18 Grenadiers and the 8 Sikh. In his talk, he narrated how the 52 soldiers of 8 Sikh, along with Lt RK Sehrawat and Major Ravinder Singh, repulsed counter attacks during the battle. He also praised Captain Karnal Sher Khan of the 12 Northern Light Infantry of Pakistan, who was later decorated with the Nishan-e-Haidar for his heroics.

However, Brig Bajwa admitted that despite his recommendations, the 8 Sikh did not get its due in terms of military decorations. “I fought hard. But I was told why are you making a small manoeuvre a big deal,” he said, adding that Subedar Nirmal Singh just awarded a Vir Chakra. Subedar Singh had led the attack platoon and was engaged in a hand-to-hand fight till the end.

Brig Bajwa also pointed that evacuations of casualties and replenishments of ammunition were poor. Furthermore, we did not have any mountain gear for the battle to recapture Tiger Hill, he said.

First Published: Jul 20, 2017 14:24 IST