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But in September 2016, when the Indian government officially announced that the army’s special forces units had conducted “surgical strikes” across the Line of Control, we knew that this was a story that needed to be told, not just in broad strokes, but in as much detail as humanly possible. Not in recent memory – and certainly not in this new digital world of ours – had a military operation galvanised and captivated an entire country. When we requested the Army to allow us access to top secret files on the surgical strikes, we expected to be laughed out of their headquarters. We heard nothing. For seven months, not a scrap of paper was shared with us. We knew it was a long shot. And that’s why nothing prepared us for the meeting we would be invited to in April this year in a basement chamber at South Block.
The man we met was an Army officer, one among thousands of Majors in service. Lean, dressed in brown boots, tan trousers and a full-sleeved white shirt with a tie, he sported a full beard and a half smile on his face. This was the man who had led the surgical strikes in 2016. Speaking for the first time to journalists about the mission, his words would be the first on-record account of what happened, recounted by the very man who led the explosive mission. The interview, which leads India’s Most Fearless, isn’t just the first official account, but provides depth and detail unknown earlier beyond a very small group of soldiers and officers.
Wing Commander Gaurav Bikram Singh Chauhan ( Courtesy India’s Most Fearless )
As we began to write about the surgical strikes, we remained immersed in the effortless heroism of the Major and the teams he led into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. It became our quest, therefore, to expand the scope of our book to tell as many stories as possible, shine a light on as many of modern India’s military heroes as we possibly could. Men who most of us know only very briefly when they receive gallantry awards on Republic Day – or when their stoic, grieving widows receive an Army salute at Delhi’s Parade Grounds. We therefore sought out a list of heroes from the Army, Navy and Air Force, of men whose breathtaking acts of dauntlessness we felt needed to be recorded and told before they were blurred by the passage of time. It wasn’t difficult to find these heroes.
Like the Lieutenant Colonel who led a terrifying cross-border attack into Myanmar in 2015 to avenge the massacre of Indian Army soldiers in Manipur that year. For this book, he too was permitted to speak for the first time. As Prime Minister Modi logged a historic visit to Myanmar this past week, this chapter acquires even greater significance as it captures in first-hand detail a mission that could have well ended in disaster on foreign soil. Both our countries will hear for the first time what happened during that legendary operation on Burmese territory.
The two surgical strikes chapters will raise many questions for observers and analysts, but they end all arguments on the government’s formal stand on them. Not only did they happen, but the world will now hear about them for the first time in full detail – not just beyond journalistic ‘sources’, but in the words of the very men who led the missions, speaking on the record. Speculation about the chapters has already led to a buzz and condemnation across the border in Pakistan, that has staunchly denied that the 2016 surgical strikes even happened. On the strength of these first hand accounts, it remains to be seen if the Modi government will decide to further proffer photographic or other proof of the operations. For now, these chapters propose the most direct wager to Islamabad