Kohima, Nagaland, 1995-97
From the perspective of learning, Kohima ranks at the top in my Army career. I reported for duty in May 95. In Mar 95 the Deputy Commissioner of Kohima had been shot dead by NSCN (IM). Prior to this tragic assassination was a very sad incident in Mar 95 when 16 RR convoy was passing through Kohima, a tyre burst had caused soldiers to panic and fire in the town which had led to the deaths of 7 civilians. This incident had been inquired into and the officer tending the appointment of the head of operations and intelligence posted out. I was to relieve him in a fairly tense environment.
In another incident in the recent past of my reporting to Kohima, an officer tending the same appointment in Manipur as I, had passed the same intelligence report to two battalions considering the report to be two separate reports. In this tragic incident the units had an exchange of fire and soldiers were killed.
AR is a deputation posting and field areas also are family stations. In these circumstances I reported with Shalini and 4 yr old Shikhar.
Tell Me Where to Sign
The officer I was to relieve was my senior. We have a 4 day handing/taking over formality in the Army. I inquired about a few things over two days of our interactions. I asked him, “How many air maintained posts do we have?” No answer. I randomly kept my finger on a point & asked, “If we have intelligence report of insurgents here, then who will be able to go for the operation & how much time it would take?” No answer. There were very few comprehensive answers that I got. I had realized that I will have to learn as I work and told my senior in two days, “Sir, Batao sign kahan karna hai”. I requested him to be available to answer some of my queries as and when they arose and he could rest at home. I don’t remember asking him anything. I had served in Mon, Konyak area & now I was in the Angami area. Kohima and Wokha were the two major townships under 5 Sector to which I was posted. We had five battalions under the sector and a floating number of CRPF companies for ROP duities for guarding NH-39. In due course 16 RR was replaced by 33 RR. The CO was from India Sqn, a tough and simple man who later went on to become the Chief, Gen Dalbir. We got along very well.
Sorting Out Systems
For 3 months I remember only working. There was a lot to do. Building systems:
· Intelligence reports came to me along with other signals and mail in a file. I started the process of intelligence reports being handled in a separate file. This file had to be given to me by the clerk by hand and not put in the “In tray”. I used to act immediately on it by explaining it to the Cdr & taking his orders.
· I made sketches of Kohima & Wokha Towns and our complete area of operations. I kept these always with me.
· There were a plethora of operations’ policies and the tour notes of the GOC and Corps Cdr. I studied them, made brief notes and made a note of the references.
· Situation report had to be prepared as at 4 PM daily. I used to compile & dispatch it by signal by 6 PM daily. This system of getting the written reports & then seeking clarifications from the 5 battalions under us as also other companies needed stream lining.
· We were to prepare monthly intelligence reviews and operations reviews. These were of a very low quality as per me. I made these go up drastically in quality.
· I needed to interact regularly with the SP, DC, at times Home Commissioner, heads of intelligence agencies. Army convoy ran twice a week. Its security was a big issue. The plan for road opening needed improvement. There were companies of CRPF which would come under us for operations for short durations and some rifle companies of infantry battalions as well. Clear operational orders had to be given to them. Please note that in CT operations there are no holidays and no designated working hours.
· We monitored radio conversations of terrorists. These could be in different languages: Nagamese, Angami, Sema, Tangkhul, Lotha, Chakesang and so on. We had to get suitable interpreters. Develop intelligence through these and act. Signals was a largish setup (dominated by Malyalis) directly under me.
· The head of Signals was a Lt who was an interesting guy. The setup was inefficient and I had to gear them up in a somewhat rough way. One interesting instance comes to mind. I told the Lt something and he said, “I will not obey you!” I was quite surprised. It was a Sunday morning and Cdr had not come to office. I rung him up & told him the situation & said that I have rarely needed advice from seniors on what to do but now I was in need of advice. He said, “Please keep the phone down and bang up this idiot”. The Lt heard the Cdr. I burst out laughing. I asked him, “Should I obey the orders of Cdr?” He never caused me any trouble later in my entire tenure.
· Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) was held daily. Once a week it was in our HQ. The general place was SP’s office. I attended it about twice a week.
· I always carried my weight training equipment and used to try & train for about 40 min every evening. I used to run around my house early morning in a manner that if there was a call my wife could call me in two min.
· In about 3 months I had put systems in place.
Brig Nagpal was the sector commander for a little over two months. He got posted out and was relieved by Brig Nair. In a sad incident Gen Nagpal died in an air crash in Arunachal Pradesh. He was a simple, ambitious and energetic guy but very unsystematic. Let me give you two examples:
· We received an intelligence report and he ordered an operation to be launched by a unit. I told him that it cannot be done because conducting this operation by the unit was not possible as there was an intervening water body, which the troops could not cross. He got annoyed and said that “I have spent almost 3 years in command & you have been here for not even one month and you are telling me that I do not understand my area of operations”. I told him, “Let us not argue sir. I will show you the map.” I showed him. We had numerous such instances. He used to say, “What should we do?” I used to suggest to him a practical solution. He used to be happy and then say, “Please pass orders!”
· The Corps Commander was to visit us in two days’ time. He told me that I should send him the box of slides maintained by the Intelligence Section for him to use them to brief the Corps Commander. I told him that those slides were of no use and we should brief the Corps Commander about the major intelligence reports received since he had last visited, the operations conducted, the successes obtained in the operations and what we were proposing to do? He said that it was a good idea but who will prepare this stuff in such a short time? I told him that I will do it. He said that how will he get the material to understand it in advance. I said “Sir, I will come & give it at your home”. He found it hard to believe. When I did it, he was so happy & grateful that he used to not only see me off from his house but ensured that he closed the door of my Gypsy whenever I went to his house.
Brig Nair was quite a competent person, with a massive ego, somewhat low on courage and quite focused on self-promotion. It took us one month to know each other well. We had a good man to man talk in the first month of his tenure. He asked me, “I doubt your loyalty to me”. I answered, “I am not loyal to you but to India and the Army”. He said, “I represent the Army”. I told him, “I have not come across any such officer till date. So long as you are working for the interests of the Army, I will be loyal to you & when you are not then I will be against you”. This attitude of mine kept a good check on his functioning. Let me give you an example:
The national press personnel were visiting Nagaland and a dinner was hosted by the CM in their honour. Brig Nair was also invited. A policy existed in the Corps that anyone who had intelligence was free to undertake an operation anywhere in the Corps Zone. The local cdr had to provide assistance and coordinate the operation. 3 PARA of adjacent brigade had intelligence about Kohima and wanted to launch an operation. Their team lead by a Maj came to me to coordinate. I informed Brig Nair on phone at the CM’s residence. He said that these people would create some trouble and we should dissuade them from the operation. He also added that at the time when we have the national press in Kohima it would earn us a bad name. I asked him as to whether he was clear about the policy about operations in the Corps? He confirmed that he was. I asked him that as Army was our job to conduct CT operations or be concerned about press & so on? He said that our job was to conduct CT operations. He then asked me, “What should we do?” I told him, “Let us do our job as per policy”. He meekly said, “Okay, go ahead”.
Interesting Corps Cdr
Soon after Brig Nair had become the Cdr we had a new Corps Cdr. He was really an interesting person: akin more to Punjab Police than the Army. He was from RIMC and was rejected by SSB multiple times and finally selected (in my view rejection was a correct decision & selection was a big mistake) Let me give few examples:
· He visited our Sect HQ soon after assuming command. Cdr began to brief him. He went off to sleep and heard practically nothing. Cdr cut short his briefing and said that “I have finished sir”. He woke up & started in Hindi mixed with “Maa-bahen” expressing ideas that we were scared of insurgents and not doing enough to counter them. Cdr tried to say something. He stopped him & said that, “If I heard you correctly, you said, ‘I have finished’. Now that you have finished, it is my turn to speak, so better listen”. I was sitting away from the lime light & said to myself, “Yeh barhia admi hai, maza ayega”. He never let me down.
· We had a bad incident in Kohima. His instructions were to “stop the publication of Nagaland Post newspaper” It was difficult to explain to him that in a democratic society such things cannot be done. He used to then start off his “Maa, bahen & you don’t obey my orders”.
· Cdr, once told me that speaking to him daily was a very stressful experience. He needed my advice. I advised him not to offer any logical arguments to whatever he said because logic can be discussed with only logical people. I don’t know what Cdr did with my advice.
· There were numerous examples of his hilarious deeds. This will suffice to give you evidence that we in the Defence Forces not only sometimes err in selection but also accentuate the error in our promotion policies as well!
CO Fainted, Cdr Proceeding on Leave
Things did sometime went quite bad. Let me quote two instances:
· One of our units had established a mobile check post near Kohima. It had intelligence about an armed insurgent traveling in a bus and an identifier with them. The insurgent was identified and he was being brought to the exit door by our soldier. At the door the insurgent fired a round in the air and ran downslope and was never caught. Our troops fired in an uncontrolled manner. This resulted in the death of the driver who was sleeping inside the bus. This created pressure on the CO.
· The same unit had gone for an operation in Kohima town into the house of a lawyer who was provided Police protection. In a sad incident, our troops killed two Policemen. When it was learned that the guys killed were Policemen and not terrorists, the CO fainted on the spot. The SP reached the spot quickly as also a Police IG and would not let our troops leave the location. I advised my Cdr to reach the spot and get our troops out from the place. He was reluctant to go there. He told me that it will take considerable time for his escort to get ready. I told him that, “Only you have to get ready Sir. I have already sent your escort party in the 4 vehicles. They are ready outside your home.” He went reluctantly but once he reached there he did a good job. Few days later I got a call from Gen Kadyan, the IG, inquiring about things in the sector in a very calm manner and ordering me to communicate any problems to him. I inquired as to why he was doing so. He said that your Cdr has gone on leave on medical advice! Cdr had never informed me.
My SOP when things went Bad
· Normally insurgent action report came before 10 PM. When information came after midnight it was invariably a botched up operation by our troops. I was mentally tuned to get to work within 3 rings of the phone. The first report I got often had 40 to 60 percent lies, except of course the number of people killed. I used to make a note of the information and give the unit 30 min to answer the questions I had raised and tell me the complete truth. 3 of the 5 Cos were quite scared in talking to me and practically all the Adjutants. Gen Dalbir and another CO never gave cooked up stories & earned my respect. When I got the post-midnight reports, I used to take 15 min to finish my bathroom duties. Once I gave the report to Cdr and IG HQ I never got time till 9:00 AM to do any such thing.
· I took pride in the fact that I was chosen to represent the Army in coordination conferences held by the Chief Secretary. After the conference was over I used to continue sitting in his office and draft out my signal of contents to the IG HQ and the Corps HQ. I used to go to the Signal Centre and handover the handwritten message for transmission and get the copy number of it and inform the higher HQ the same to get it from their Signal Centers. If I had not done so, the higher HQ guys would have eaten my brains.
Vehicle Driving Drill
I used to drive the Gypsy to office as also carry a 9 mm pistol. On normal days our OC Workshop used to accompany me. My wife said, “Why do you drive as also carry the pistol?” She was right. One should carry the weapon & other should drive. I told her: “Will you trust the Maj to either ram the vehicle into insurgents or use pistol well in case we are attacked?” She got her answer.
One Time I was Scared
I rarely wore uniform to office. On one occasion I had gone in uniform & soon there was a firing incident. On such times all activities in the town came to a halt. My son was in KG. His school was closed and I got a phone from the Principal to come and take him quickly. Going in uniform in the town at such a time with no protection was very risky. I could not tell my wife about the situation. Fortunately my Cdr’s PA was not in uniform. I sent him to fetch my son. Once my son was back with me I was my usual courageous self!
Home Commissioner, DGP, IGP (Intelligence), DC, SP and Others
The Home Commissioner’s office was quite close to my office. There were times when we had important intelligence. He used to call me to his office and without wasting any time share the intelligence with me. The SP often had good intelligence and he used to share it with the CO of 29 AR, the unit deployed in Kohima. I used to regularly interact at the Badminton Courts, which were near my house, with influential persons like Rio (present CM), DGP, IGP (Intelligence) and several others. I did get some valuable information from such people. I spoke to the SP and DC practically every day.
Major Casualties in Sector
In 1996 there was a border clash between Assam and Nagaland Police. The officiating CO of RR had to go to attend a meeting with our Cdr. He was a Lt Col. In an ambush by NSCN (IM) he along with some others was martyred. Cdr’s party was ambushed in 1995 in Kohima town in which one soldier was martyred and some injured. In Wokha town a Maj was martyred in an ambush. In Kohima town Col Sekhon was ambushed but survived after serious injuries.
Kohima Open Champion
I won the Kohima Open Tennis championship and Shalini lost in the final. The story I have covered earlier.
A regular fitness routine was difficult to manage but I tried my best to be regular. Till that time I used to carry my weight training equipment with me-starting from Capt days in Meerut. Often in the evenings when people spoke to me they used to ask me as to why am I panting. I used to be lifting weights before or after phone calls.
Toll on Health
The tenure had an adverse impact on my health. I developed chronic amebiasis. Shalini was even worse affected. The idea that her husband could die any day is difficult for anyone. I salute the brave Army ladies for undergoing this stress.
Posting to Sikkim
In Jul 97 my posting came back to 20 PUNJAB which had moved to Sikkim, super high altitude area. My Cdr was in a depression. He was quite dependent upon me for a lot of things despite our having very serious differences. I moved to Sikkim and Shalini to Meerut with Baba. Baba joined my school, St Mary’s Meerut. I finished my second Nagaland tenure as a much wiser and experienced man with far greater understanding of Indian politics and functioning of my own organization as well as the AR.