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Captain Vikram Batra, PVC (9 September 1974 – 7 July 1999) was an officer of the Indian Army, posthumously awarded with the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest and most prestigious award for valour, for his actions during the 1999 Kargil War in Kashmir between India and Pakistan. He led one of the toughest operations in mountain warfare in Indian history. He was often referred to as ‘Sher Shah’ (“Lion King”) in the intercepted messages of the Pakistan Army.
Batra joined the Indian Military Academy (IMA) at Dehradun, in June 1996 in the Manekshaw Battalion. After completing his 19-month training course, he passed out from the IMA on 6 December 1997 and was commissioned as a lieutenant into the Indian Army. He was commissioned into the 13th battalion of the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles (13 JAK Rif). After commissioning, he was sent to Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh for regimental training. The training lasted one month, from December, 1997 to the end of January, 1998.
On completion of this training he got his first posting at Sopore in Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir, an area with significant militant activity. In mid-March 1998, he was sent to the Infantry School at Mhow, Madhya Pradesh, where young Army officers are trained, for the Young Officer’s Course. This training lasted five months until September 1998. Following completion of the course and being awarded alpha grading, he joined his battalion in Sopore in October 1998.
During his posting in Sopore, Batra had several encounters with militants. In one of those encounters when Batra was leading an ambush with his platoon into an area of dense forest, he had a miraculous escape when a bullet fired by a militant grazed his shoulder and struck one of Batra’s men behind him, killing the soldier. Believing that the bullet was meant for him and not his colleague, he ordered his men to nab the militants, and by morning all of the militants were killed.Batra, however, was saddened, because he knew that the bullet was meant for him. “Didi, it was meant for me and I lost my man” he had told his elder sister over the phone.
In January 1999, Batra was sent on a Commando Course at Belgaum Karnataka where he excelled. The course lasted for two months and at the end of it, he was awarded the highest grading — the Instructor’s Grade.
Every time when he came home to Palampur on leave, he would visit the Neugal Café. Batra last came home on leave from the army in 1999, during the Holi festival for a few days. During that time, when he went to the Café for a coffee, he met an acquaintance who told him to be careful in the war, to which Batra replied:
I’ll either come back after raising the Indian flag in victory or return wrapped in it. But I’ll come for sure.
After his leave, he returned to join his battalion in Sopore. The 13 JAK Rif, after completing its CI Ops (counter-insurgency operations) tenure in Kashmir under 192 Mountain Brigade of 8 Mountain Division, received orders to proceed to Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh. The battalion’s advance party under Major Yogesh Kumar Joshi had reached its destination, when on 5 June, because of the outbreak of the war, its deployment orders were changed and the battalion received orders to move to Dras.
Batra informed his parents about his movement and assured them that they need not worry about him. He would call his parents at least once in ten days.The last phone call he made was on 29 June 1999, in which he said “Mommy, ek dum fit hoon, fikar mat karna”, (“I’m absolutely fine. Don’t you worry”) This was the last time that Batra spoke to his mother.
Beginning his service as a lieutenant, he rose to the rank of Captain.
Batra’s battalion, the 13 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles (13 JAK Rif), reached Dras on 6 June, was placed under the command of 56 Mountain Brigade, and was given orders to act as reserves to the 2nd battalion of the Rajputana Rifles (2 Raj Rif) during their attack on Tololing mountain. The 18th battalion of The Grenadiers (18 Grenadiers) first attacked Tololing on 22 May, but were unable to capture the peak. 18 Grenadiers made four attempts to capture Tololing, but could only succeed in securing the lower slopes, while suffering heavy casualties. Eventually, 2 Raj Rif was assigned the mission of capturing Tololing and they did so on 13 June 1999.
After the capture of Tololing, 13 JAK Rif marched from Dras to Tololing, reaching their destination in 12 hours. Upon reaching, Alpha company of 13 JAK Rif took over Tololing and a portion of the Hump Complex from 18 Grenadiers.