A FIGHTING GENERAL, A THINKING MAN

New Delhi June 6   An epitome of courage, Zorawar Chand Bakshi did not know the meaning of fear. As Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw would have said: He was either lying or he was a Gorkha

The pity is that despite India having fought many wars, skirmishes, counter insurgencies and counter-terrorism operations than any other country, it has not sufficiently recognised and acclaimed some of its greatest war heroes who have faded away unheralded, unglorified and unsung. Rarely do you find a genuine thinking General and even rarer, a fighting General. Locating a thinking and fighting General — a strategic practitioner and a warrior — falls in the rarest category. One such rarity, a soldiers’ General, faded away on May 24 quietly when India should have bestowed matching honours.

Lt Gen Zorawar Chand Bakshi, honoured with the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM), Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), Vishisht Seva Medal (VSM), Mention in Dispatches, MacGregor Medal, Dagger DSSC, Imperial War College UK (and these accomplishments could go on) was the only officer who fought in every war in his time — World War II, Kashmir 1947, India-Pakistan 1965 and 1971 and was rewarded with a gallantry medal for each. The only war that he missed was the war with China due to the fact that he was on a UN Peace Enforcement Mission in Katanga Congo.

Still at his cremation and the prayer meeting that followed there was no one from the Government or from the Army except the Colonel of the 5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force). The BJP is perennially crowing about surgical strikes, Doklam and OROP. But it did not find time to mourn the passing away of Zoru, as he was fondly called in the Army.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not even tweet his death. This woeful neglect is an omission which deserves high condemnation. But Zoru was very forgiving. Generals of a smaller calibre, more renowned and personal courage and bravery have had a halo put around them because they sacrificed their apolitical disposition for gainful laurels.

Zoru took command of 2/5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) and along with it, its two of three Victoria Cross winners, and took the battalion to Congo. Government orders forbade serving Victoria Cross winners from going into potential areas of combat but Zoru rightly said that Gaje Ghale and Agan Singh Rai would be morale boosters for troops in action. I would frequently translate their fan mail in Nepali.

When a helicopter carrying an Indian officer was shot down in enemy territory, Zoru, solo and unarmed, walked into Katangese enemy-held positions to negotiate the officer’s release. His personal courage and bravery was never in doubt. Even as a Brigade Major in Kashmir he won a Vir Chakra.

Earlier disguised as a trader, he travelled 400 miles into Tibet on a secret reconnaissance mission based on which Lt Gen Francis Tucker wrote his famous warning that Indian Army must pre-empt the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Zoru was awarded the MacGregor medal and the Indian Army still faces the music for that political and military omission.

In World War II, as a young Captain in the Baloch Regiment he was ordered to block Japanese advances along a forested hill. He ambushed their patrols several times and delayed their build up and advances.

For his daring and dextrous pattern of ambushes he was mentioned in Dispatches. He brought to the Military Operations Directorate all his battlefield skills and and soon was a hit with the DGMO who was no other than Brigadier Sam Manekshaw, later to become Field Marshal. Later, Zoru himself was to become a DGMO, the most prestigious staff appointment in the Army.

Zoru’s superlative grasp of ground and tenacity to surprise the enemy came alive in the storming of the Haji Pir Pass that he led from the front. I was in those days, a young Major commanding 4/5 GR when he came to my post to ‘recce’ a route to Haji Pir which was actually part of a deception plan.

For straightening out the Uri-Poonch bulge he was honoured with an MVC. Years later, he was to tell me that returning Haji Pir Pass to Pakistan was a blunder for which “we are paying through the nose to this day.” When he went to attend the Imperial Defence College in London he told the British how his Brigade surprised the defenders of the Haji Pir Pass.

From head to toe Zoru was immaculate in uniform, especially when it came to his brown Brogue shoes (not Church’s but French Shriner, the best in brogues). After the 1965 war and before the 1971 two front war he was promoted to Major General, commanding the Jammu division. With 3/5 Gorkhas from his own regiment under his command, he ran circles around the Pakistanis, cutting off the Chicken’s Neck.

The 1971 war and the second partition of the subcontinent added insult to an injury that Pakistan is determined to avenge. Pithily Zoru would say, “The Pak aided and abetted insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir is revenge for its defeat in the 1971 war.” After the capture of Bogra and the surrender of the Pakistani Army in East Pakistan, some officers from Pakistan’s 16 Infantry Division commanded by Maj Gen Nazir Hussain Shah were invited to lunch to the Officers’ Mess of Zoru’s own 2/5 GR. Almost every Pakistani officer wrote in the battalion’s Visitors Book: “Thank you for the excellent lunch. One day we will take our revenge for breaking up Pakistan.”

Zoru’s next assignment was to command the Nagaland Division where counter insurgency operations were in full swing. “It brought back my days fighting the Japanese in the jungles”, he would say. He performed with exemplary courage. Promoted to Lieutenant General, he was given the command of the fire and fury 2 Corps, the largest offensive formation of the time. Command of 2 Corps marked Zoru’s zenith.

The tyranny of age and the Indian promotion system halted his military career prematurely. But what an innings — Zoru fought in war (and UN peace enforcement) in every rank from Captain to Major General. Armed and in most cases with nothing more than his cane and a sharp eye — leading from the front. An epitome of courage, Zorawar Chand Bakshi did not know the meaning of fear. As Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw would have said: He was either lying or he was a Gorkha

Zoru was a very private person but with a bag of tricks and an infectious laughter. The shabby farewell given to him was blasphemous — for those who do not respect and honour their brave are destined to go to hell.

No other man in uniform was braver than Zoru and decorated for valour in every battle he fought. The Government should posthumously confer the rank of a four star General on Zorawar Chand Bakshi forthwith.