Lt. Col Rajeev Bakshi, 13 Dogra Regiment: The Tiger of Tipaimukh

(From Panchkula to Parbung - Duty unto death) - Daniel Leiri

The two places of Panchkula & Parbung are miles apart from each other; a distance of more than 2000 kilometers separates the two. Panchkula is a well planned city and is also the district headquarters of Panchkula District, under Ambala Division of the state of Haryana, in the northern part of India. It was established as a district in the year 1995, it has a population of 561,293 (2011 census). Panchkula & Mohali in Punjab are the two satellites cities of the Union Territory of Chandigarh. These 3 cities are collectively known as Chandigarh Tri-city, with a combined population of over 20 lakhs (2 million). Panchkula district is bestowed with rich water resources, both surface as well as ground water resources. The ground water is major sources of irrigation in the district, with the net irrigated area & the gross irrigated area accounting for 80Km2 and 180 Km2 respectively. The name Panchkula is derived from a combination of two words panch (5) & kul (canal), meaning the city of five canals; it has a total area build-up of 898km2, with an elevation of 365 metres. 

                                                                            Pu Bakshi

Parbung, on the other hand is a village in the Parbung sub-division (also known as Tipaimukh) of Pherzawl district, in the remote part of the state of Manipur. The village has 518 houses and 2,597 inhabitants, and is approximately 273.9 KM away from Imphal, the capital of Manipur. It is also the administrative seat of the Parbung sub-division/block, housing the SDO Office, PHC, etc.  The Parbung sub-division comprises of 55 villages, with a total geographical area of 789.48 km2, and a population of 28,795 (2011 Census), with a literacy rate of 84.29%. Just as Panchkula city is the headquarters of the Panchkula district; the Parbung village is also the administrative headquarters of the Parbung Sub-division, Pherzawl district, Manipur.  Parbung is relatively arid in comparison to Panchkula, but it is a village, beautifully cradled in the lap of nature, where forest & pristine air abounds, a place where people live in conversant with nature. For the uninitiated, Parbung may seem like a nondescript village, but this tiny village has produced professionals in different fields, who had rendered and are rendering yeoman service in different capacities to the Nation.

These two places – Panchkula & Parbung, though intrinsically different in set-up & composition are inextricably linked by a valiant act of an Indian Army Officer, who hailed from Panchkula, (L) Lt. Col. Rajeev Bakshi. The heroic Indian Army officer laid down his life on the 20th January 2006, at Parbung while combating militants of the UNLF, in the southern part of Manipur.

In the mid 2000’s, more than 8,900 square kilometers of Manipur was like a “liberated zone/liberated area”, where the militants call the shots, running the show, there was no sign or presence of any of the state/government apparatus. Reports indicated that the writ of the militants was the law in this liberated area, and the state government was in no position to enforce its will or the rule of law. The liberated are covered about 9 subdivisions of the state, inclusive of the whole of Churachandpur district (5 subdivisions), the areas of Tamenglong district starting from Barak bridge to Jiribam (along the national highway), from Chapikarong to the international border in Chandel district, Loktak Lake, and the areas beyond Moirang upto the southern hill slopes of Churachandpur district. It may be apt to mention here that Karang, in the centre of Loktak lake was / used to be the main hideout of the insurgents in the valley area of the state. The various extremist organizations had taken advantage of poor connectivity and consolidated their positions in this “liberated area”.

The Government of India advised the Manipur state government to initiate measures to regain control of the so called “liberated area”, and to come up with formal machineries to supervise & to coordinate the efforts of the Indian Army and the other central & state security agencies/ forces operating in the state. Consequently two committees were formed towards this end: - 1) Combined Headquarters (CH), 2) Strategic Operations Group (SOG).

 The Combined Headquarters was formed to function under the Chief Minister with the Chief Secretary, Corps Commander (Indian Army), GOC, 57 Mountain Division (Leimakhong), IGAR (S) Assam Rifles, IGP CRPF, Jt.Director of Intelligence Bureau.  The CH would hold a review meeting once in a month – wherein framework of coordination between the various security agencies will be discussed; and any concerns & issues thereof between the security agencies will be addressed in a bid to ensure better synchronization and efficacy. Likewise, the Strategic Operations Group also functioned under the Chief Secretary, and included the operational commanders from the Indian Army, Assam Rifles, State Police, the Home Department & the Intelligence Bureau. This committee comprises of Officers who are in the fields, who were engaged in the day – to –day operations against the militants. The Strategic Operations Group meets as & when required to assess the ground situation and work out any issues which could hinders effective coordination between the personnel of the security forces operating in the fields.

It was in the backdrop of this new security arrangement, that the Indian Army launched a number of operations against the extremist organisations operating in the state of Manipur, from the year 2004 to 2009. These operations were crucial & decisive, as these brought about a dramatic turnaround in the destiny of a large section of society, with vast “liberated zones” being reintegrated into the national mainstream. The operations, to name a few, were – Operation All Clear (2004), Operation Jawala (2004), Operation Stinger (October 2005), Operation Tornado (October 2005), Operation Dragnet (January 2006), Operation Khengjoy – Somtal 1 (December 2006), Operation Somtal II (November 2007), Operation Summer Storm (2009). 

The Indian Army launched Operation Dragnet in January 2006, the objective of the operation was to clear & secure the two remaining sub-divisions of Tipaimukh (Parbung) & Thanlon, from the stranglehold of the two militant organizations. Tipaimukh is located in the extreme corner of Manipur adjoining the state of Mizoram. It is one of the most remote sub-divisions in Manipur state, and suffered the blithe of neglect, it was this neglect which the valley based militant groups capitalised upon, and establish themselves. In a short span of time, the valley based extremist group entrenched itself in the Parbung/Tipaimukh sub-division, controlling the whole area and running their own parallel government. 

             In the early part of 2006, reports of mass rape of local girls started to emerge, apart from reliable reports of torture and physical harassment of villagers living in the villages, falling under this sub-division. The militants had been letting loose a reign of violence and terror upon the people of the Tipaimukh (Parbung) sub-division. The situation only worsens with time, the villagers lived in constant fear & agony of the militants who were armed with the most modern & sophisticated weaponry. They were a law unto themselves, who treated the local populace with utter disdain and contempt; the villagers were forced to do their bidding and were used as human shields by the armed extremists. The militants had also planted a large number of IEDs in different places, in a bid to slow down the advance of the Indian Army, these IEDs instead led to the deaths of many villagers, and others were maimed for life.

The Operation Dragnet commenced on 16th January, 2006, a total of 8 teams were deployed, and these teams were tasked to go in for multiple objectives. It was part of the Indian Army’s continuing efforts to flush out militants from the Tipaimukh area. One of the strategies was to close in on Tipaimukh from all sides, so that the militants would be deprived of all possible escape routes. The operation got off to a shaky start, when one of the boats of the team infiltrating through the Barak River capsized, 4 soldiers were drowned. The teams must have been shaken by the incident, but not allowing themselves to be deterred, they carried on, egged on by the objectives of the operation and the concern they have for the villagers who were reeling under the diktats of the militants. After hiking through the thick jungles for 3 few days all the teams had closed in on their respective targets. 

On the 20th of January, 2006, at the break of day, the Army was able to address 6 of their objectives simultaneously in the Operation Dragnet. Lt. Col. Rajeev Bakshi’s team went in for Parbung, to rescue and secure the area from the grasp of the militants. The militants, who were holed up in the village, were taken aback by the swift & brutal attack. Needless to say, they were caught off-guard, and for quite some time, they had no clue whatsoever that they were engaging with a team of the Indian Army led by one courageous officer, who meant business. A fierce encounter ensued; the intense gun-fight left Lt.Col.Rajeev Bakshi critically wounded, and was evacuated by an Army Helicopter to the 160 Military hospital, Masimpur, Silchar, Assam, where he later breathed his last.

 In the absence of Lt. Col. Rajeev Bakshi, Lieutenant Pant stepped up to lead the operations, the team charged up by the injury sustained by their leader, fought with a new found zeal & vigour, stormed the area known as Church Hill in Parbung village. Within hours, around 15 militants had been extirpated, including the area commander of the militants, the attack further led to the recovery of huge cache of sophisticated arms & ammunition. The operation marked the culmination of 16 months of relentless offensive to purge South Manipur of insurgents. The area was safely secured and rid of armed extremists who had made the lives of the people miserable. In due process, natural justice in the form of the Indian Army had been meted out to the rapists. The sheer professionalism of Lt.Col.Rajeev Bakshi and his team ensured that the operation was clinically executed without any collateral damage. Lt. Col.Rajeev Bakshi displayed most conspicuous bravery, besides camaraderie and leadership of the highest order, and made the supreme sacrifice for the nation.

The other teams of the Indian Army in the Operation Dragnet, also struck at their respective targets with lethal accuracy, resulting in the obliteration of many hard-core militants, and by noon time, the whole area was fully safe & secured. Though the operation didn’t start off smoothly, at the end of the day, it turned out to be one of the most successful counter-insurgency operations conducted in the area, paving the way for the restoration of civil administration in the far flung remote areas of state of Manipur, and most importantly their integration with the national mainstream.

The late Rajeev Bakshi, was a third generation Army Officer, he was commissioned into the 13th Dogra Regiment in 1991. He has a younger brother Rajesh Bakshi, who is also an army officer; there is a difference of just months in the service of two brothers, their father Lt.Col. (Retd) JML Bakshi was the commanding officer of the same battalion i.e. the 13 Dogra regiment in the same area - Parbung in the mid 1970s. Their grandfather Major I.D.Bakshi had also served in the Indian Army. The Bakshis are a family with a glorious tradition of military service, all the men in the family had proudly donned the olive green in the service of the country with pride and a honour; a truly remarkable and exemplary patriotic family. 
 
            
            
I read that Lt.Col. Rajeev Bakshi, the then officiating CO 13 DOGRA, had personally volunteered to lead the two teams which were to deliver the final offensive upon the militants, who were hiding in Parbung. It is said that he insisted on leading the teams, despite his Commander telling him to delegate the responsibility to others. One wonders why the (L) Lt. Col. Rajeev Bakshi was so eager to lead the two columns which were assigned to cordon & secure Parbung from the militants. There could be only one logical explanation to that, which is, he identified himself with the people of Parbung (Tipaimukh) sub-division and empathize with their present predicament at the hands of the militants. His father had also commanded the same battalion in the same area. One can imagine that Rajeev & his siblings grew up hearing the name of Parbung quite often, during their childhood days, that the very name Parbung and the people there were an intrinsic part of their childhood memories. Hence, it was only natural that he wanted to personally lead his men from the front in the operation to liberate a place he was so familiar with, rather than overseeing the operation from the safety confines & comforts of his office room. 

The fearless Rajeev Bakshi’s ultimate sacrifice is etched in the hearts of the people, for whom he laid down his life, upholding the motto & legacy of the Dogra Regiment, which is, “Kartavyam Anvatma / Duty unto death” in the truest tradition of the battalion and also the Bakshi’s family. The grateful people of Parbung to immortalise Rajeev Bakshi, and as a mark of gratitude to the Indian Army have constructed a memorial to the (L) Lt. Col. Rajeev Bakshi on Church Hill, in the village and even renamed the place as Bakshi Hill. The memorial stands as a strong and silent reminder of the late Lt.Col. Rajeev Bakshi, who fought gallantly to liberate the people from the oppressive rule of the insurgents; and in the process, made the supreme sacrifice for the Nation. Rajeev Bakshi was only 39 years old, and had been involved in Counter Insurgency Operations for the last 3 years, and had been serving in Manipur for just about a year, at the time of his death. The brave Lieutenant Colonel Rajeev Bakshi was posthumously conferred the Sena Medal for his bravery, that very year, on the eve of Independence Day, 2006, by the then President APJ Abdul Kalam.

The mortal remains of Lt.Col. Rajeev Bakshi, was cremated with full military honours at 11 sector, Panchkula on the 22nd of January, 2006, in the presence of a large number of officers, friends and well wishers  who had turned up to pay their last respects. Lt. Col Rajeev Bakshi left behind his aged parents, Lt. Col (Retd) JML Bakshi & Usha Bakshi, his younger brother Lt. Col. Rajesh Bakshi, his sister Ranjana, and his wife Nandita (a teacher) and two daughters Arzoo & Amanat.

There were media reports surfacing in the year 2007 that the proposed memorial for Indian Army martyr Lt. Col. Rajeev Bakshi of the 13 Dogra Regiment, at Panchkula 10-11 sector roundabout, has been caught in the official red tape, and that the file containing the proposal plan had been lost by the Panchkula District Commissioner’s office. The file had reportedly gone missing! The apathy and callousness of the officials concerned, says so much about the shoddy treatment that the administration & the power that be, often metes out to our men in uniform. The callous manner in how we treat those who gave their lives for the country, reflects us poorly as a nation; this is indeed, truly unfortunate.

           What can we say? We are a nation who adores & worships Cricketers more than our Indian Soldiers who are posted all over the country, at the borders, in the most inhospitable terrains & extreme weather conditions, leaving their family for months & years at end. Far from their home and loved ones, our soldiers/our men in uniform sacrifice their comforts, their family time, their lives, so that the entire nation could lead a normal life & undertake various pursuits. The gallant sacrifices made on a daily basis, by our brave soldiers, can’t be compensated in anyway whatsoever.  One should always accord the highest of respect to our soldiers – our men in uniform, and should not shy away from giving the credit due to them, for their exemplary life of patriotism & selfless sacrifice.  I think it is a high time that we, as citizens of this great nation, needs to do a serious retrospection, a serious rethink of who the nation’s real heroes are.

The (L) Lt. Col. Rajeev Bakshi was an outstanding sportsperson and a gentleman officer, as remembered by his colleagues and friends. 

More than a decade on, nestled in the deep woods of Parbung the legacy of the Indian Army /Operation Dragnet and the memory of Lt.Col. Rajeev Bakshi lives on stronger than ever. It was the spirit of sacrifice which endeared the Hmars/the local people to Lt.Col. Rajeev Bakshi, for the simple reason, that it is a concept which is embedded in the Hmars & their cognate groups. It is in fact a philosophical heritage of these cognate groups of people.  It is in fact, a cultural trait; ‘a dharma’ encapsulated in the word “Tlawmngaina”, which is selflessness, altruism; for there is nothing more admirable than a person who could deny himself for the good and the welfare of others. It is viewed as an ethos which defines the Hmars & their related ethnic groups, and is valued highly as an ideal & standard behaviour. 

The grateful people of Parbung (Tipaimukh) sub-division have earnestly kept alive the memory of Lieutenant Colonel.Rajeev Bakshi, by organizing “Bakshi memorial football tournament” every year in the month of January, wherein teams from Parbung & nearby villages would compete for the top honours. The local people of the sub-division, in association with the Army/ the Assam Rifles local formation, have been organising this tournament from the year 2007, in honour of the late Lt. Colonel, who had refused to sound retreat or surrender, who died as a result of the fatal injury he sustained while courageously leading his men, like a true leader from the front, against the well armed insurgents, who had been terrorizing the people of the Parbung sub-division.

The life of the (L) Lt. Col. Rajeev Bakshi, could best be summed up in a passage from the  book of John in the Bible: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 King James Version).

On the 20th of January, each year, a special memorial service is solemnised by the locals, on this date, on the death anniversary of their beloved Lt. Col Rajeev Bakshi, the Parbung hills and the surrounding ridges would echo and resonate with the sounds of gongs. To all those who knows, for whom the gongs are sounded for, no matter where you are, even if you are thousands of miles away from the village of Parbung, in another city, in a different district, state, or country, would pause, stand in silence, in awe, remembering, recalling and reckoning why and for whom it tolls. 
            
            Panchkula may have chosen to forget its courageous son; but Parbung and her people will never forget the brave-heart, the Tiger of Tipaimukh –Lt. Col. Rajeev Bakshi.

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FOX JOURNAL: Lt. Col Rajeev Bakshi, 13 Dogra Regiment: The Tiger of Tipaimukh
Lt. Col Rajeev Bakshi, 13 Dogra Regiment: The Tiger of Tipaimukh
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