I would like to start this blog with two questions:-
1) Can we name five freedom fighters who were not Congress Party members (with due respect to the congress party’s contribution to freedom struggle) and were also not involved in any kind of armed revolution?
2) Can we name the soldiers honoured with the Param Vir Chakra in the kargil war?
I am sure that majority of our people will not be able to answer any of the two questions. But, does our lack of knowledge nullify the contribution of these people or does their life become less worthwhile if we do not remember them today? I personally do not think so, but still, I feel that stories of such heroes should be repeatedly told so that we find some inspiration from their life and death.
I would like to once again tell the story of a hero who was in the Indian Army and made a difference at a very young age and in a very short life span.
Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal, PVC was born in Pune, Maharashtra, was an officer of the Indian Army and a posthumous recipient of the Param Vir Chakra. 2nd Lt Khetrapal fell in the Battle of Basantar or Battle of Barapind during the Bangladesh war where his actions earned him his honour.
His final words over the radio to a superior officer who had ordered him to abandon his burning tank were, "No Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My gun is still working and I will get these bastards." Then he set about destroying the remaining enemy tanks. The last enemy tank, which he shot, was barely 100 metres from his position. At this stage his tank received a second hit and he was mortally injured. The officer met his death denying the Pakistani Army the intended breakthrough.
Something very interesting happened 30 years later. The Commander of the Pakistan tank battalion is said to have met the Indian battalion commander after the battle and make enquiries about 2nd Lieutenant Khetarpal's tank since he was very impressed with the gallantry of 2nd Lieutenant Khetarpal.
In 2001, Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal, father of Arun Khetarpal, felt a strong desire to visit his birthplace at Sargodha, now in Pakistan. It was a wish that he thought that would never materialize, but when he voiced it to some friends engaged in the Twin Track Diplomacy, they arranged all his papers, visas, travel and staying arrangements in Pakistan so that he could go for the visit.
At Lahore airport, Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal was met by Brigadier Khwaja Mohammad Naser, who took it upon himself to be Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal host and guide. Brigadier Naser really went out of way to ensure that Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal had a satisfying and nostalgic visit to his old house in Sargodha. Upon his return to Lahore he was once again the guest of Brigadier Naser for three days.
Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal was overwhelmed by the extreme kindness, deference, courtesy and respect bestowed upon him by Brigadier Naser, all the members of his family and his many servants. As the countdown for the departure progressed, the bonds of friendship between the guests and the host grew stronger and stronger. However Brigadier Khetarpal felt that something was amiss but could not make out what it was. Was it the long silences that punctuated their animated conversation or was it the look of compassion in the eyes of the women in the family? He could not make out.
However, what was certain was that he would always remember the hospitality, warmth and affection of this Pakistani family who treated him as someone very special.
Finally, on the last night before Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal's departure, Brigadier Naser said 'Sir, there is something that I wanted to tell you for many years but I did not know how to get through to you. Finally, fate has intervened and sent you to me as an honoured guest. The last few days we have become close to one another and that has made my task even more difficult. It is regarding your son who is, of course, a national hero in India. However on that fateful day, your son and I were soldiers, unknown to one another, fighting for the respect and safety of our respective countries. I regret to tell you that your son died in my hands. Arun's courage was exemplary and he moved his tank with fearless courage and daring, totally unconcerned about his safety. Tank casualties were very high till finally there were just two of us left facing one another. We both fired simultaneously. It was destined that I was to live and he was to die.
It is only later that I got to know how young he was and who he was. We are trained to fight and kill without mercy or remorse. We do in war what we have to without thinking too much about it. However we are humans too and sometimes war takes a personal turn and makes an impact on the inner self.
I had all along thought that I would ask your forgiveness, but in telling the story I realize that there is nothing to forgive. Instead I salute your son for what he did at such a young age and I salute you too, because I know how he grew into such a young man. In the end it is character and values that matter."
What a proud moment for a father this could have been! Some will agree while others will disagree with this statement after reading the above story. Different people have different perspectives and this difference of perspective is the soul of a democracy.
But, one fact that remains unchanged is that it is because of valiant sons like 2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal and proud father’s like Brig ML Khetarpal that we are still a democracy! No doubts about the valor of Brig Naser as well.