‘Jagdamba ki Jai Ho! Those were the words spoken during the 1971 India-Pakistan war by a wounded yet determined and courageous 2nd Lt Arun Khetrapal, when he went on to destroy Pakistani battle tanks, undeterred by the injuries he had sustained.
Risaldar Prayag Singh, who was the driver of Khetrapal’s tank named ‘Famagusta’, during a conversation with IANS shared the details of the last day of the war.
“Khetrapal was a devotee of ‘Maa Jagdamba’ and raised these slogans to infuse motivation,” he said.
Narrating the war story, Singh said: “The 17 Poona Horse was assigned to the command of the 47th Infantry Brigade during the India-Pakistan War of 1971, which was involved in the Battle of Basantar in the Shakargarh sector. The brigade had to build a bridgehead across river Basantar. On December 15, it captured its objective, despite it being filled with extensive mines by the enemy, preventing deployment of tanks of Poona Horse.”
Singh from 17 Horse said: “It was a joint operation by 17 Horse, 4 Horse (two armoured regiments), 16 Madras and 3 Grenadiers. The engineers cleared the mines halfway while the Indian troops noticed alarming activity of the enemy armour asking for air support. At this juncture, the 17 Poona Horse decided to push through the minefield.”
“On December 16, Pakistani armour launched its first counter-attack. The commander of the squadron immediately called for reinforcements. Second Lt Arun Khetarpal from a squadron stationed close by responded promptly, along with the rest of his regiment and launched a ferocious counter attack.”
“He was able to subdue the enemy advance with his tanks successfully. However, during the battle, the commander of the second tank got injured. Left alone as the in-charge, Khetrapal continued his attack on the enemy. However, the enemy did not retreat despite heavy casualties. Khetrapal attacked the incoming Pakistani troops and tanks, taking down an enemy tank in the process. However, Pakistani forces counter-attacked. In the ensuing tank battle, Khetrapal with two remaining tanks held his ground and destroyed 10 enemy tanks.”
“However during the fierce tank battle, Khetrapal’s tank was hit by enemy fire, but he did not abandon the tank… instead, he kept fighting. The tank was hit by fire and he had injured his legs. I climbed on the tank and doused the fire. But in the meantime, he was martyred,” said Singh.
His final words over the radio to a superior officer who ordered him to abandon his burning tank were, “No Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My main gun is still working and I will get these b******s.”
Saying these words, 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 the shell entered the tank through its cupola, ripping his stomach. Khetarpal met a hero’s death, trying to deny the Pakistani Army the intended breakthrough.
The enemy could not get the passage it was so desperately seeking and not a single enemy tank could get past him.
“I also received bullet injury in my leg which slowly healed,” said Singh.
“While 2nd Lt Khetrapal got Param Vir Chakra, I got my name Mention-in Despatch which describes a member of the armed forces whose name appears in an official report written by a superior officer and sent to the high command, in which their gallant or meritorious action in the face of the enemy is described,” Singh said.