INDIA: Mumbai: A wreath-laying ceremony was held across the country on Sunday at the National War Memorials to pay homage to the memory of the seven departed comrades of the ‘Born to Battle’ course of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of fire in the 1971 War.
Major General Rohit Kalia laid the wreath on behalf of the entire members of the ” Born to Battle Course” and their families and signed the visitors’ book at IMA, Dehradun (Uttarakhand). Similarly Lieutenant General Deepak Raj (Retd) laid a wreath at National War Memorial in Pune (Southern Command). Over the years, the Course has also lost several brothers to other causes, some as recently as during the current pandemic.
50 years ago, on June 13, 1971, 349 gentlemen cadets, 307 from the 47th Regular and 42 from 31st Technical Course, had passed out of the portals of the IMA, Dehradun, to be commissioned as Second Lieutenants in various branches of the Indian Army. That was a momentous period in the history of India. Late Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had declared the independence of the Eastern wing of Pakistan. The Pakistani army had declared war on its citizens and let loose a reign of terror, loot, rape, and murder, some of the war veterans said. Refugees poured into India by the millions, and it was clear that, willy-nilly, India was going to be drawn into the conflict. The question was no longer if, but when.
Within 6 months of commissioning, the officers were inducted into battle to participate in the 1971 war against Pakistan. The Course was baptized by fire in the truest sense of the term and for this reason, the 47th Regular and 31st Technical Course has been dubbed as the “Born to Battle” Course. Officers of the course lived up to the expectations of their alma mater and made the country proud.
The “Born to Battle” course has the unique distinction of being the only course to have been awarded the highest awards for gallantry both in war and peace, the Param Vir Chakra (PVC) and the Ashok Chakra (AC) to 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal and Col NJC Nair, respectively. In addition, officers were also awarded 3 Shaurya Chakras and 4 Sena Medals for gallantry apart from a host of other decorations.
2/Lt Arun Khetarpal, PVC
On commissioning, 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal joined his Regiment, 17 Poona Horse amid the Indo-Pak War. On December 16, 1971, in the process of establishing a bridgehead, he came across a heavy anti-tank fire. However, he not only destroyed the interfering Pakistani position but in the tank battle that followed, he destroyed four enemy tanks. He embraced death by denying the enemy their intended breakthrough. For this act of exceptional bravery going well beyond the call of duty, he was posthumously awarded the nation’s highest war-time gallantry award, the PVC.
Col NJC Nair AC, Kirti Chakra
Col NJC Nair, KC was commanding the 16 Maratha Light Infantry which was deployed for mobile counter-insurgency operations in Northern and Central Nagaland. On December 20, 1993, while leading the advance party on the Mokokchung-Mariani Road, he and his men were ambushed by insurgents. A JCO and 13 Jawans were killed in the firing and Nair was seriously injured. However, caring little for his safety, he crawled across the road and killed an insurgent. Shaken by such raw courage, the insurgents broke ranks and fled. Nair later succumbed to his injuries. For this act of exceptional bravery going well beyond the call of duty, he was posthumously awarded the nation’s highest peace-time gallantry award, the Ashok Chakra.
Apart from distinguishing themselves on the battlefield and in the senior ranks, officers of “Born to Battle Course” have also excelled in the field of sports, mountaineering, sailing, entrepreneurship, and aviation. Of special mention are Captains PS Bedi and NS Grewal in sailing, Captain Jai Bahuguna who lost his life while attempting to climb Mount Everest, Captain Gopinath, and Colonel Samuel who pioneered affordable helicopter and aviation services in India.
Col (retd) Vinay Dalvi
Speaking to the “Transcontinental Times”, Colonel (retired) Vinay Dalvi said that “ I am proud to be associated with the most prestigious course “ Born to Battle Course”, under which officers did exceedingly well at the young age and bagged the highest national awards. No other school took the students to such highest level. Throughout service, the Course performed consistently well with 77 officers attaining flag rank, with 10 in the three-star category. Apart from distinguishing themselves on the battlefield and in the senior ranks. officers of “Born to Battle Course” have also excelled in the field of sports, mountaineering, sailing, entrepreneurship, and aviation”.
“Our academy had Creme de la Creme from the best schools across the country. I am a third-generation officer. I joined the course before completing 20 years of age and within 6 months I was posted in the Rajasthan sector during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Having faced the war at such a young age, changed our outlook. During those days we had the best leadership. Late Colonel NJC Nair and I were together in the 16 Maratha Light Infantry. 50 years on and now in our 70s. We can vividly recall the long, eventful journey. One feels truly blessed and honoured to be part of this famed course. By now we have lost about 70 batch mates, due to age old sickness and recent COVID-19 pandemic. I cherish the memories of my batch mates”, Col Dalvi added.