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COURAGE AND CONVICTION


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COURAGE AND CONVICTION An Autobiography

General VK SINGH with Kunal Verma


ALEPH BOOK COMPANY An independent publishing firm promoted by Rupa Publications India First published in India in 2013 by Aleph Book Company 7/16 Ansari Road, Daryaganj New Delhi 110 002 Copyright Š General (Retd) Vijay Kumar Singh, 2013 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system, in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from Aleph Book Company. ISBN: 978-93-82277-57-6 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 Printed and bound in India by This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published.


Dedicated to Bharti, who embarked on this journey with me. Our daughters, Mrinalini and Yogja, whose love and affection made this possible. And to all the brave men and officers of the Indian Army whose unflinching support and courage enabled me to soar.


‘Few men for the right cause brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues and the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change the world which yields most painfully to change.’ The Day of Affirmation Speech, Robert F. Kennedy


cour a g e a nd conv i c t i on

Intelligence-Based Ops The thin line between ‘triumph and disaster’ is intelligence. 57 Division, under General TP Singh, understood this very clearly and there were SOPs in place to minimize one-upmanship. Previously, while operating with 76 Brigade under 54 and later 36 Division, we would be obliged to forewarn a neighbouring battalion in case we thought we might stray into their AOR. Sometimes, out of sheer enthusiasm to beat you to the draw, the local CO would churn up the region and we would draw a complete blank. TP Singh was pragmatic enough to understand the fragility of human egos. New orders were accordingly issued. We no longer needed to forewarn the battalion whose turf we were heading into; rather, we could inform them once we were already there. This simple change in policy paid extremely handsome dividends. The emphasis was entirely on ‘intelligence-based operations’. At the top, there was deep distrust between the R&AW (Research and Analysis Wing) and other ‘higher level’ intelligence groups. We would quite often receive information from Delhi to check out X, Y or Z location. More often than not, our own sources would have already led us to those locales well before this information trickled down to us, but given the ‘top heavy’ nature of this information, we often had to go through the motions all over again. In the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka, there was little mixing between the communities, and even within the Tamil community Hindu villages and Muslim villages would be segregated. The Tamils studied in Tamil schools, the Sinhalese in their own Sinhala institutions while Tamil Muslims made sure their children were educated in their madrasas. This type of division only enhanced differences amongst communities. In such a divided community, our best sources of information were invariably rival Tamil groups and locals who were fed up of Tamil Tigers enforcing the writ of LTTE on them. Sometimes we really got lucky. 13 Guards was based around Kalmunai and they were conducting a large cordon and search operation. As Colonel Ram Singh, their CO, wanted additional troops, 24 Brigade allocated one company from 25 Rajput to provide the Guards battalion with support. My task was to deploy my troops on two exit points in case anyone made a break for it. Just then, one of my sources gave me information about a LTTE recruitment drive in a nearby area. I contacted the 13 Guards CO and told him I had what I considered solid intel about the LTTE.


i p k f a nd t h e unconv e n t i on a l wa r

‘You get on with your task. You are attached to us,’ said Ram Singh, preoccupied with the job at hand. I thought about it for a few minutes and then decided to take a calculated risk. I thinned down my stops and culled out a platoon worth of manpower. The men quickly changed into civilian clothes while three local vehicles were commandeered. Though I was convinced my source was solid, there was a possibility of looking quite silly if this turned out to be a red herring. We roared into a local sports stadium where five senior officials of the LTTE were on a scouting mission. The element of surprise was absolute, and the five LTTE men began to run helter-skelter. Two of them were tackled and brought to ground in front of the entire stadium, while the remaining three were grabbed as they tried to escape into surrounding houses. I knew two of the captured Tigers—one of them had been the senior military leader who used to liaise with me in Kalmunai before hostilities broke out. The other was the military leader’s second in command. The others included the ‘political boss’, the ‘financial boss’ and the leader of Beirut Base—which was their training base and also served as a major arms cache. The news of their capture was flashed all over the world by the international media, with the BBC running a special report on the operation. In the meantime, the cordon and search had drawn a blank. I called Nanjappa and told him we had busted five top leaders. Colonel Ram Singh, whose telephone I was using, was most morose. ‘We got nobody,’ he said sadly. ‘I didn’t think you would,’ I replied frankly. ‘The larger the operation, the lower the chance of nabbing these guys.’ The Indian Army took a while to learn this valuable lesson. I, for one, never forgot it, and passed it on to whomsoever I could. Work on your intelligence sources and stay sharp and focused. This was to be my mantra even when I was to command Victor Force in the Kashmir Valley many years later. It did not always work though, for luck played a major part. The other big fish we were after was Karuna, one of Prabhakaran’s key lieutenants who would make waves later when he defected from the LTTE. The GOC, General TP Singh, was frank to the point of bluntness. ‘Forty-eight hours. I want you to get me Karuna.’ I grinned. Karuna wasn’t exactly a coconut hanging from a tree waiting to be plucked. Besides, the entire Indian Army had been looking for him for almost a year. ‘You find that amusing?’ growled the GOC. ‘No, sir,’ I quickly put on my ‘I’ll get Karuna’ look.


cour a g e a nd conv i c t i on

I almost had him, not once but four times. His karma on those days was good, my luck wasn’t quite holding. ‘Well?’ asked TP, when I ran into him next, well past my forty-eight-hour deadline. I told him the facts pertaining to all the narrow misses. In turn, I got a lecture on how to conduct successful operations and carte blanche to encroach on any unit’s AOR in my quest for Karuna. Alas, it was not to be.


An extract from 'Courage and Conviction: An Autobiography'