India’s Finest

Far away from the ‘manufactured passions’ of the India-versus-Bharat nomenclature, Colonel Manpreet Singh, Major Aashish Dhonchak and DSP Humayun Muzammil…

India’s Finest


Far away from the ‘manufactured passions’ of the India-versus-Bharat nomenclature, Colonel Manpreet Singh, Major Aashish Dhonchak and DSP Humayun Muzammil Bhat all came back wrapped in the Tiranga, after fighting their last battle.

They paid the ‘ultimate price’ for our freedom. Beyond the meaningless divides of religions, castes, and regions, these noble sons of the diversity that is our civilisational land lived, dreamt, fought and died for the nation. Period. While politicians may still be too preoccupied with their own petty agendas to recognise, acknowledge and honour their sacrifice, these selfless warriors leave behind grieving families with small children, aging parents, and a very grateful nation.

To reiterate the obvious, these men were ‘leaders’ of their respective uniforms who could have conducted the operations from the ringside, but instead chose to lead in the line of fire literally, morally, and physically. That takes courage and integrity, beyond words. As General Norman Schwarzkopf once said, “It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle”.


These men were therefore real men of steel, not straws in the wind, like the supposedly nationalistic rhetoric of those who will never come near the sacrifices that these fine men did. There is perhaps a reason why these men walked the exact same path as Colonel Ashutosh Sharma (Commanding Officer, 21 Rashtriya Rifles), Colonel MN Rai (Commanding Officer, 42 Rashtriya Rifles), Colonel Santosh Mahadik (Commanding Officer, 41 Rashtriya Rifles) and countless others, who simply put, led from the front irrespective of the obvious dangers to themselves.

That reason is the indescribable spirit of purpose, camaraderie, rousing josh and regimentation that besets their instincts ~ they are cut from a very different cloth. These are not accidental heroes, but those who seek to stare the ‘enemy’ in the eye. Both Colonel Manpreet Singh and Major Aashish Dhonchak had been awarded the Sena Medal for gallantry, earlier.

As is the wont of such natural warriors, Colonel Manpreet Singh had ‘opted’ to take over the command of a battalion in an operational area, when he could have sought a non-operational tenure, given that he had already served his term as a second-in-command of the fine and gallant Rashtriya Rifles unit i.e., 19 Rashtriya Rifles. There is obviously something special in the heartlands of India, be it in the nondescript Mullanpur village of Col Manpreet Singh, village Binjhol of Major Aashish Donchak, or the Tral region of Pulwama, from where DSP Humayun Bhat hailed.

The heart of India continues to beat only owing to the often unseen, unheard, and unrecognised fire of true patriotism that still burns bright in rural India. These are also the traditional catchment areas of recruitment into the hallowed profession-of-arms, as in the case of the justifiably proud and distinguished ‘military family’ of Colonel Manpreet Singh (his father was a non-commissioned officer), as also in the case of DSP Humayun Bhat, whose father was Inspector General of Jammu and Kashmir Police.

There is something to be said about the larger comity of 19 Rashtriya Rifles which is populated by, and affiliated to the thoroughly distinguished, decorated, and illustrious, Sikh Light Infantry. Composed of the valorous Ramadasias and Mazhabi Sikhs (named by the revered tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singhji) for their unstinted and unwavering faithfulness towards always doing good, they are arguably the most large-hearted, devil-may-care, loyal, but fierce combatants who truly personify the spirit of ‘Chardi Kala’ (eternal optimism). Tracing their ancestry to the bold ‘Akali Nihangs’, they wear their regimental motto of ‘Deg Teg Fateh’ (Prosperity in peace and victory in war) on their hearts and sleeves. The sight of them saying their ‘ardaas’ (prayers) before committing to a battle is one to behold. This sacred practice is then followed by their fearsome charge with war cries of ‘Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal’ (He who recites the name of the lord, shall forever remain victorious), which sends shivers down the spine of the ‘enemy’ in terms of its sheer ferocity, audacity, and temerity.

This very paltan i.e., 19 Rashtriya Rifles of the Sikh Light Infantry had earlier neutralized terrorist Burhan Wani who had dared to threaten the integrity and dignity of the ‘Tiranga’. These simple but hardy folks have seemingly internalized a missionary-like responsibility to defend their land and faith as an inviolable covenant given that it has stretched back to centuries of selfless soldering culture. It is to this sacred fount and calling, that Colonel Manpreet Singh and Major Aashish Dhonchak, owed their indomitable spirit.

Where does such strength of conviction, personal code and purpose that defined the short but honourable and inspirational lives of Col Manpreet, Major Aashish and DSP Humayun Bhat, come from? It only comes from the palpable atmospherics, normalised ethos, and rarefied air where plain words like honour, discipline and commitment are not just empty words but something worth giving their lives for.

These men on the forefront of defending our land are beyond the smallness of empty postures, ‘divides’ and hate mongering that has consumed so many in terms of regions, religions etc., ~ but not so for these true sons of India, who still do what they do, despite the noise, dissonance and polarisation, in the name of nationalism. India and all its citizens owe them a huge debt and to their families that we will never be able to repay, ever.

But just knowing that, and trying to be better patriots who are just, constitutional, and gentler with each other, could be a starting point. The haunting and moving images of Colonel Manpreet’s six-year-old son (wearing military fatigues) saluting his fallenwarrior father’s hearse, Major Dhonchak’s inconsolable mother wailing but saluting her gallant son, or DSP Humayun Bhat’s fellow police officer and father laying a wreath on his braveheart son, ought to prick the distracted conscience of the nation.

As Mahmoud Darwish lamented, “The wars will end and the leaders will shake hands, and that old woman will remain waiting for her martyred son, and that girl will wait for her beloved husband, and the children will wait for their heroic father, I do not know who sold the homeland, but I know who paid the price”.

(The writer is Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), and former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry)