THE VALIANT DOGRA WHO SAVED PARADISE ON EARTH
By S.S. Chib
The Tribune - 08 December 2001
Dogras have been counted among the most ferocious warriors all over the world. One such quiet, unassuming, and dedicated Dogra soldier was Brigadier Rajinder Singh, who by his personal example, leadership of high order, indomitable courage and unflinching loyalty to his ruler laid down his life in the wee hours of October 27, 1947, and saved paradise on earth from being grabbed by Pakistan. On 30 December 1949, Brigadier Rajinder Singh was posthumously decorated as the first recipient of independent India's gallantry award Maha Vir Chakra.
Brigadier Rajinder Singh was born on 14 June 1899, in Bagoona village, 35 km east of Jammu city in Samba Tehsil. Almost a century ago, his ancestor General Baj Singh, who served under Maharaja Gulab Singh, made the supreme sacrifice of fighting the enemy to his last breath in defence of Chitral. His grandfather, Hamir Singh, was a war veteran who had seven battle scars on his body. His father Subedar Lakha Singh had also served the motherland as a loyal soldier. Due to the untimely death of his father, Rajinder Singh was brought up under the care of his uncle, Lt. Colonel Govind Singh, since he was just six months old.
Rajinder Singh grew up to be a sober, studious, and a withdrawn young man. On completing his graduation from Prince of Wales College (Now GGM Science College), Jammu, he was commissioned on 14 June 1921, in the J&K Armed Forces. Devoting all his energies to his work, he developed into a towering personality and cultivated all the qualities of a trusted and capable army officer. Rajinder Singh rose to the rank of Brigadier in May 1942. He had been approved for the rank of Major General when he became the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) of the J&K Forces on 25 September 1947. He had taken charge from Major General H.L. Scott. It was a time when the state was in a deep military and political crisis.
The Indian subcontinent had been partitioned into India and Pakistan. The ruler of J&K, Maharaja Hari Singh, was finding it difficult to arrive at a decision - whether to join one of the two dominions or to stay as an independent country. Finding himself in a fix, the Maharaja offered to sign a stand still agreement with India and Pakistan. The latter agreed but India did not. Behind this feigned friendship, Pakistan sneakingly began to prepare a military adventure to occupy the Kashmir valley by force.
On 03 September 1947, under Operation Gulmarg, Pakistan initiated its raids across the state borders. This was a forerunner to the major operation to capture Srinagar, the seat of the ruler at that time. The state administration was in a shambles and the unending streams of refugees from Pakistan created many problems for the ruler. The state army had been rocked by the mutiny against it by a large section of Poonchhie and Punjabi Muslim officers & soldiers. The then British C-in-C of the Pakistan Army himself signed and cleared Operation Gulmarg to take control of Kashmir. The invading force consisted of nearly 6000 tribals, who were mostly Afridis, Mashuds, Wazirs and Swatis. Besides these tribals, there were regular Pakistani troops. The 6000-strong force was divided into six lashkars of 1000 raiders each. The Pakistani regulars joined the invaders as stiffners. Each lashkar headed by a Malik was provided with one Major, one Captain and 10 JCOs.
The entire force was commanded by Major-General Akbar Khan, who was assisted by Brigadier Sher Khan. Akbar Khan, who was a native of J&K, was very familiar with the terrain of the state. The main force of the tribals was led by Khurshid Anwar, who was earlier an emergency commissioned officer of the Indian Army. Now he was Chief of Pakistan's Muslim League National Guards. The main thrust of the operation was to capture Srinagar and declare the formation of the 'People's Government' from the state capital. While six lashkars proceeded on the Rawalpindi-Srinagar road via Muzaffarabad, Domel, Uri and Baramulla, two lashkars each had to subsequently move via Hajipur to Gulmarg and to Bandipore. At the same time the 7th Division of the Pakistan Army was ordered to be ready to move via Murree-Abbotabad to provide support to the lashkars to consolidate hold over the entire valley.
On the intervening night of October 21st and 22nd, the main thrust force stationed itself on the other side of the then international border near Muzzafarabad. Akbar Khan along with his trusted lieutenants, including Khurshid Anwar, established contact with the two companies of the 4 JAK Regiment, consisting of Poonchhie Muslims. In the name of jehad, they succeeded in instigating the Muslim men in uniform against their fellow soldiers. These Muslims betrayed the confidence of their Commanding Officer, Lt. Colonel Narain Singh, who had vouched for the loyalty and devotion of these persons, setting aside all intelligence reports and rebuking the reporting agency by stating that he trusted his Muslim men more than the Dogra soldiers. These soldiers in the wee hours of October 22nd (Dasehra day that year), drawing arms from the armoury, killed all Dogra men and officers who were asleep in their barracks, including Lt. Col. Narain Singh and his Adjutant, Captain Ram Singh. The rebels joined the invaders and guided them at every step. The Pak force entered the strategic town of Muzaffarabad and wreaked havoc on the settlement. Besides looting and raping women, they brutally killed civilians, including children. These marauders had to be persuaded to move forward, where they were told they would get more booty and far more beautiful Kashmiri damsels. This force was equipped with arms that were more sophisticated than the ones possessed by the state forces.
This news reached the capital late in the afternoon. The Maharaja got worried and decided to cede to India. He dressed up in uniform and decided to lead his force at the border. Before proceeding, he summoned his COAS to brief him. Brigadier Rajinder Singh reached the palace, dissuaded the Maharaja from leading the forces and offered to lead instead. He was ordered to halt the march of the enemy till the Indian troops reached there, for which the Maharaja's emissary had already been sent to Delhi. He was asked to collect as many men and officers from the Badamibagh cantonment and proceed immediately towards Uri. He could collect only about 150 men with their obsolete weapons. Since there was shortage of petrol (Pakistan had blocked all supplies to Kashmir) and no vehicle was readily available, the COAS and his men used private transport (buses and trucks) and left Srinagar at 6:30 p.m. The rain, slippery roads and old vehicles slowed their movement. The group reached Uri at 2 a.m. on 23 October 1947. Leaving a platoon at Uri nullah, he proceeded to Garhi.
At Garhi a fierce battle was fought. In the first phase, heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy. By virtue of their numbers and far superior weapons, the enemy ultimately had the upper hand. The Brigadier realised that to halt the invading raiders, it would be better to withdraw to Uri and hold a defensive position. The raiders, however, entered the settlement to repeat the sordid drama they had enacted in Muzaffarabad. As Ashok Jairath observes, "Those who assisted these tribals, considering the ethnic similarity were subjected to humiliation as they, the tribals, not only stayed at their dwellings at night-fall but also raped their womenfolk and while leaving their dwellings, they plundered what could have been their assets and the dwellings were set on fire roasting their womenfolk and children on the spot. It is the history that who betrayed and invited these rustics were subjected to mental agony and perished in due course of time as their kith and kin boycotted them on all fronts." The small defensive force could hardly come to the rescue of the helpless people. The Brigadier went to Baramulla to communicate the happenings to his HQ and asked for supplementary support in terms of men and material. Brigadier Faquir Singh at the HQ promised to send 70-80 men.
In the capital, the ruler finding the situation getting out of hand took over command of the Army HQ at Srinagar. He sent a written army order to Brigadier Rajinder Singh through Captain Jwala Singh on 23 October 1947.
"Brigadier Rajinder Singh is commanded to hold the enemy at Uri at all costs and to the last man. Reinforcement is sent with Captain Jwala Singh. If Brigadier Rajinder Singh is not contacted, Captain Jwala Singh is commanded to hold the enemy at all costs and to the last man. He will do his best to contact Brigadier Rajinder Singh."
Captain Jwala Singh reached Uri at 3:00 am on October 24th with a small contingent of reinforcement and handed over the Maharaja's army order to Brigadier Rajinder Singh. Finding the situation quite precarious and the defending force quite small in comparison to the swarming tribals, the Brigadier ordered Captain Nasib Singh to blow up the steep girder bridge over the Uri stream. This act led to a wide yawning gap on the far side of the bridge, sufficient to halt the march of the enemy for quite some time. Firing ensued from both banks. The enemy suffered heavy casualties and fell back. After about a couple of hours, the enemy launched another massive attack and the tribal raiders seemed to be everywhere. The defensive force fell back to Mahura for another defensive position. The Brigadier and his men reached Mahura at 10 p.m. He had, no doubt, in the literal sense, disobeyed the order of the ruler to halt the onward march of raiders to Srinagar, but it was a prudent decision.
The enemy resumed attack at 7:00 a.m. on October 25th. The defence was so effective that the raiders sent some columns to cross the Jhelum upstream on footbridges to attack the defense from the rear. Brigadier Rajinder Singh, sensing the move, asked Captain Jwala Singh to move upstream and blow up the bridges. The task was completed by 4:30 p.m. but by then some enemy troops had already crossed over to this side. Again the Brigadier moved to Rampur to put up a defence near the Pathar ruins. Trenches were hastily dug and the troops could not rest throughout the night as they had to dig waist deep bunkers. On 26th morning the enemy firing started from all sides. The defence was, once again, so effective that throughout the day raiders could not launch an assault. Then they planned to put up road blocks to block even the tactical retreat. The Brigadier, at dusk, ordered a withdrawal to Seri bridge just west of Baramulla to put another halt to the enemy move. Retreating vehicles moved at 1:00 a.m. on October 27 and enemy fire again started from all sides. The first roadblock was cleared without any loss but at the second one near Dewan Mandir (Buniyar), the leading driver was hit and killed. The convoy halted.
When Captain Jwala Singh got down to clear the block, he found that the drivers of the first three vehicles had been killed. Somehow he managed to get these three vehicles pushed aside and made four vehicles move on but the Brigadier was in none of them and Captain decided to retreat to Baramulla. In fact at the second road block the Brigadiers' driver had been killed and then Brigadier Rajinder Singh himself took control of the steering of his vehicle which was number two in the small convoy. In no time he was also mortally wounded in the right leg from the MMG fire, thus impeding the plan. He forcefully ordered his men to put him under the culvert with a revolver since he had promised his ruler that the enemy would advance only over his dead body and ordered them to swiftly and safely move to the planned defensive position to check the movement of the enemy towards Srinagar.
Thereafter nothing more was heard of this brave and fearless soldier who always placed duty and country before self. It was at about 2:00 am on 27 October 1947, that he lay down his life, so that the coming generations could enjoy the fruits of freedom. The Maharaja's plea for acceding to India was accepted and endorsed on the evening of October 26th. It was within a couple of hours of the supreme sacrifice of this noble and brave Dogra soldier that Indian troops landed in the state saved it from the tribal hordes, abetted and assisted by the Pakistani troops. Brigadier Rajinder Singh was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC). The first Indian COAS of the Indian Army, General (later Field Marshal) K.M. Cariappa, presented the award at Srinagar to Ram Dei, widow of Late Brigadier Rajinder Singh, on 30 December 1949.
With an active participation in the operation, Brigadier Rajinder Singh inspired his men to follow the Maharaja's order to keep the invaders away from the capital. His quick decisions to dismantle bridges and put up effective defenses, not only hampered the march of the enemy but delayed the thrust for full four days. In fact, his decision to blow up the bridges, particularly the one across the Uri stream, has been hailed as a masterstroke that immediately halted the march of the raiding hordes. During these crucial four days not only were the formalities with regard to the state's accession to India completed and Indian troops airlifted to reach the spot, but Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah also got sufficient time to raise a force of Kashmiris to fight and repulse the invaders. Although the settlements of Muzaffarabad, Garhi, Uri and Baramulla suffered heavy losses, the capital city and the rest of the areas were saved. Brigadier Rajinder Singh's action prepared the grounds for Colonel Ranjit Rai and others to drive away the encroachers from many of the occupied areas and put an end to their onward march. On 27 October 2001, Jammu & Kashmir became an integral part of the Indian Union. Not only the state of Jammu & Kashmir, but the whole of India, must observe the martyrdom day of Brigadier Rajinder Singh in a befitting manner every year.