The Maha Vir Chakra is India’s second highest military honor which is awarded to soldiers for displaying exceptional bravery in theaters of war without having concerns of going back home dead or alive. So far, it has been awarded to 212 individuals of which 6 have received it twice. Stories of these havoc-wreaking war lords, who shed their blood and made enemies bleed to defend our motherland, are nowhere seen in our textbooks but it’s imperative to know their outstanding moments of fearlessness, dedication and altruism towards nation building. The inspiration behind this post, Brigadier Rajinder Singh, is one among these audacious warriors who eternized himself as the first recipient of this gallantry award by securing the ‘paradise on earth’ from the Pakistani invaders in 1947.
Born into a military family on June 14, 1899, in Samba tehsil (now district) of Jammu, he was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the J&K State Forces on Jun 14, 1921. A remarkable officer of indomitable spirit, he was appointed as the Chief of Army Staff of the J&K State Forces on September 25, 1947, replacing Major General H.L. Scott.
Pakistan’s desire of occupying Kashmir
After India was partitioned to form the new Muslim state of Pakistan, all of the 565 princely states were given choice to join either of the two countries with no barriers of religious preferences. Maharaja Hari Singh, king of Jammu and Kashmir, had however decided to stay outside these dominions being a sovereign ruler. At the same time, Pakistan was gearing up to occupy this state by imposing trade barrier, contriving a series of raids and brainwashing local Muslims to defy their own ruler who was a Hindu. With blockage of kerosene, food, salt and other crucial items of daily usage which were imported from Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir slipped into deep trouble.
The plot to annex Jammu and Kashmir was designed by Major General Akbar Khan aka ‘General Jebel Tariq’, a communist sympathizer who also plotted to assassinate Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first Prime Minister. After partition, General Frank Messervy was appointed the Commander in Chief (C-in-C) of the Pakistani whereas his Indian counterpart was General Rob Lockhart with Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck being the Supreme Commander1 of both armies. It is believed that British officials were well aware of the ‘Operation Gulmarg’ and circumspectly endorsed the Pakistanis. On the other hand, Gulam Mohamed, the Director of Intelligence Bureau (IB) and most of this trusted lieutenants who were Muslims, switched to Pakistan, sabotaging counter-intelligence strength of India.
Major (later Major General) Onkar Singh Kalkat, who was attached with the Bannu Brigade in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, received a Demi-official letter on August 20, 1947, with Personal/Top Secret written on it. The letter was addressed to Brigadier C.P. Murray, his Commanding Officer who was on leave. Major Kalkat was authorized to open that envelope in his CO’s absence, and much to his shock, he found the details of ‘Operation Gulmarg’ inside which was signed by the C-in-C of Pakistan, General Frank Messervy.
When he informed his CO about Pakistan’s nefarious plan to strike J&K, Brigadier Murray ordered him to stay closemouthed otherwise it won’t be possible for him to leave Pakistan alive. The young Major was eventually detained by the Pakistani agencies and put under house arrest, but he pulled off a daring escape to Ambala from where he reached Delhi on 19thOctober and notified his seniors and Defence Minister Sardar Baldev Singh about the impending threat. Strange as it may sound, his claims were rejected!
Hindu soldiers betrayed by their Muslim brothers-in-arms
The Kashmir-Pakistan border at Muzaffarabad (now capital of PoK) was guarded by the 4 J&K Infantry which comprised Dogra Hindus and Poonchie Muslims in equal strength. When Pakistan started a series of skirmishes at bordering areas, the seniors of this battalion, with intelligence inputs, came to know that in some cases Poonchie Muslims were helpful to the enemy and concluded it would be entirely inappropriate to consider them trustworthy. It was advised to Lt. Col. Narain Singh, the commander of 4 J&K Infantry, to replace the 50 percent of Muslims with Dogras stationed in Srinagar. Lt. Col. Narain Singh who trusted his Muslim cohorts immensely, spurned the suggestion taking it as an insult.
His esprit di corps turned out wrong when his Muslim comrades rose up in the early hours of October 22 and brutally butchered the Hindu soldiers sleeping in the barrack. With no restrictions on border where the dead bodies of Lt. Col. Narain Singh and other Dogras were scattered, the tribal forces entered into Kashmir and started burning, looting, killing and raping whatever and whoever they found in their way. Some of the soldiers who survived the onslaught beating all odds, telephoned their headquarter in Srinagar informing about the barbarous event.
Brigadier Rajinder Singh marches in
As soon as the news reached to Brigadier Rajinder Singh in Srinagar, he gathered around 200 soldiers2 , piled up necessary ammunition and explosives, and dashed towards Domel from where the marauders were swarming in. After Lt. Col. Narain Singh and his men were massacred, the 110 mile long road to Srinagar from the bordering outpost lay wide open without any security personnel on it. The invaders could have reached Srinagar in a couple of hours and captured it easily before wreaking unimaginable hell.
Upon reaching Uri, a strategically important area nearly 60 miles away from Srinagar, he deployed a platoon to secure the connecting bridge, and rushed forward along the road to Domel where he encountered enemy troops. Despite invaders were equipped with better weapons and having numerical advantage over the unit of state forces, they were unable to fathom the battlefield savagery of Brigadier Rajinder Singh and his ruthless warriors. After inflicting massive causalities on the enemy, he made a strategic retreat to Uri with his boys and settled himself at a strongpoint on the other side of the bridge. When hordes of enemies started mobilizing on the other end of the bridge and were about to cross it, he blew it apart with explosives. The destruction of this bridge in Uri, which was the only motorable road leading to Srinagar, turned the tide in Brigadier Rajinder Singh’s favor by halting the advancement of Pakistanis for a considerable period.
However invaders kept rolling in with only option left to cross a footbridge built over Jhelum river and encircle the defending forces. Trapped in the battlefield and running low on ammunition, Brigadier Rajinder Singh decided to pull back to Mahura from where he withdrew further to Buniyar while his enemy met fierce resistance. Mortally wounded on an uneven terrain with bullets whizzing everywhere, he ordered his boys to retreat to Baramulla and himself slumped under a rock formation with a revolver. Fighting to the last drop of the blood with full guts and glory, Brigadier Rajinder Singh made the supreme sacrifice in line of duty. It was his extraordinary heroism that helped in upholding the dignity and honor of his state by delaying the movement of raiders.
Unable to thwart the enemy at the gate, Maharaja Hari Singh gave up his grand dream of staying a sovereign ruler and signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, acceding to India. It was only then that the Indian Armed Forces swooped down on Pakistanis and saved J&K from going in hands of predators coming from the other side of the wall.
On December 30, 1949, he was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for fighting a heroic last stand. The medal for his gallant actions was presented to his widow, Ram Devi, by General (later Field Marshal) K. M. Cariappa, the first native Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army.
- This post was created to oversee the impartial division ofthe Armed Forces of India and Pakistan. He had to work with officers of both countries to ensure that the objective is achieved efficiently. This post was dismantled in the end of November 1948.
- Lt. Gen. L.P. Sen writes about Brigadier Rajinder Singh in his book Slender Was The Thread (Kashmir Confrontation 1947-48): “Available to him in Badami Bagh Cantonment was a total of 1,850 officers and men of the Jammu & Kashmir State Forces of whom 500 were Poonchie Muslims. In view of what had taken place, he may have lost faith in the latter and decided not to put their loyalty to the test.”