The more I stare at her, the deeper I fall in love with her. What a ship! Elegant, majestic, slender and graceful, she looks regal as she magnificently glides on the deep blue seas. INS Rajput, the pride of the Indian Navy, bid goodbye on 21 May after a glorious stint of 41 years. It evoked an overwhelming flood of emotions, pride and sadness, as I watched the decommissioning ceremony online. I was first introduced to her in November 1986, as the wife of a naval officer who was serving on the ship. There she was! Majestic, gently swaying at the jetty in Vishakhapatnam.
I delightfully recall my excitement as I set foot on the gangway to be welcomed by the officer on duty with a proud salute, ‘Jai Hind’, to be followed by rich Naval traditions. The following two years I saw very little of my husband; Rajput had taken over his life. But never did I feel even a hint of anger or envy. INS Rajput D51, the number I eagerly looked for amongst an array of ships at the jetties, had engulfed my life too. For 41 years she served the nation with unparalleled dedication. With the motto “Raj Karegi Rajput”, she braved the rough seas with toughness and remained ever vigilant to protect maritime interests and sovereignty of the nation.
Since being commissioned, Rajput has sailed over 7,87,194 nautical miles which is equivalent to navigating the world 36.5 times and 3.8 times the distance from Earth to Moon. Rajput’s tenure is replete with a grand record of achievements. In 1986, she participated in Operation Brasstacks, when the nation was at the brink of a war with our Western neighbor. In 2019, Rajput was the first ship to engage in underwater SPURT (Self Propelled Underwater Reusable Target) target torpedo firing. She was also the first ship to fire the supersonic Brahmos cruise missile.
She has been a symbol of the Indian Navy’s transition to the formidable force that it is today. Whether it was Operation Pawan against the LTTE in Sri Lanka, Operation Cactus off the coast of the Maldives, the numerous bilateral and multinational relief operations, antipiracy operations in the Gulf of Eden, relief operations during the cyclone in Orissa, the tsunami in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands or earthquake in Jakarta, INS Rajput rose beyond expectations. “INS Rajput has been singularly instrumental in bringing about a sea change in the outlook of the Indian Navy.
The exacting standards set for the commissioning crew have been followed to this very day”, the Commanding officer said in his farewell speech. From the time she was acquired till she was decommissioned, INS Rajput has been the fastest ship in the Indian Navy. No wonder they called her the Usain Bolt of the Navy. An Indian Naval delegation visited Moscow in 1974 in search of screening vessels for aircraft carriers. The team was impressed with the large anti-submarine vessel which was then in service with the Soviet Navy.
The Indian Navy wanted gunnery and missile weapons on board to be augmented and an ASW (antisubmarine warfare) helicopter to be included. The Soviet designer created a completely new design to include these requirements. What emerged was a very modern vessel; the fastest and most powerful ship propelled by gas turbines. The ship was equipped with an array of sensors and weapons; long range radars and sonars, surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles, antiaircraft guns, torpedoes, and antisubmarine rocket launchers.
INS Rajput was commissioned on 4 May 1980, at Poti, Georgia (erstwhile USSR), with Capt. G. M. Hiranandani as her first Commanding Officer. The commissioning crew was sent to Soviet Russia for intense training. “Capt Hiranandani had handpicked the crew and we felt motivated, it was a great honour. Life in the Soviet Union wasn’t easy, it was a communist regime with strict surveillance. Looking back, it was a great experience, but when we went through it we felt I didn’t bargain for this”, recalls Capt. S.N.Singh (retd) who was part of the commissioning crew.
“Sailing back was fun, we were very excited to come back home. We entered Mumbai on 26 September 1980 traversing through the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea and Arabian Sea. From the time we left the Soviet Union and reached India we were tailed by American aircraft; there were maritime reconnaissance planes monitoring our progress”, Capt. Singh continues. INS Rajput arrived in erstwhile Bombay to a rousing welcome. “We were escorted by a lot of ships, CNS Admiral Dawson visited the ship, Mrs. Gandhi came on board, and thereafter every second day we had a lot of dignitaries coming on board”, states Capt. Singh.
Between 1980 and 1988, INS Rajput was joined by her siblings INS Rana, INS Ranjit, INS Ranvir and INS Ranvijay; collectively known as Rajput class destroyers. The prestigious Rajput regiment of the Indian Army aligned with INS Rajput, set a new trend. Wherever the ship would sail, before reaching the port, a tall well-built sailor in traditional Rajput attire with a sword in his hand would stand on the bow of the ship; he was like a mascot. Decommissioning is an emotional moment for those associated with a ship. She was bid farewell in a solemn ceremony honouring her for the services rendered to the nation.
A ship is decommissioned at sunset, when the pennant and flag are brought down from the mast to the tunes of the Last Post. Every warship carries a commissioning pennant, indicating she is a ‘man of war’. Pennant is a flag that is hoisted on the main mast of the ship during the commissioning ceremony. The pennant flies on the mast as long as the ship is in service. On decommissioning, the pennant is brought down signaling that her service has concluded.
A special pennant equal to the length of the ship is made for the decommissioning ceremony. Decommissioning the ship is an event that is replete with sentiment and strong memories of attachment, challenges and accomplishments. Watching the ceremony online brought a flood of memories. The chat box was agog with participants recalling their experiences, some hilarious and some intense with technological details. Commander G.V.K. Unnithan (retd), who was commanding INS Prachand recalls a comical incident from early 1984, which could well be straight out of a movie. “During one of the exercises, the then Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Dawson was on board another vessel.
He commanded that the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff, (the rank of Vice Admiral) should immediately be brought on board Rajput. I took my ship to bring him and he had to cross over to Rajput by jumping over the bars mid sea. It was at sea state three. We bring the ships so close to each other in what is termed a ‘postman’s knock’. That a Vice admiral had to cross over in such a fashion was indeed a sight. His suitcase was thrown across from one ship to the other. Fortunately it was not the age of mobile cameras”. “We are all very happy that Rajput made her exit while she was in her complete fitness, she exited in style while in full form, like a Dhoni or Tendulkar”, says a senior officer of INS Rajput. The legend of INS Rajput is not over, the nation awaits the third generation of Rajput.
(The writer is an independent journalist)