A young, lean and lithe Indian Army Lieutenant delivered a hard punch to a burly Major of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on Saturday afternoon, sending him sprawling to the rocky and sandy ground at Naku La in Northern Sikkim.
The punch left the Major with a bloody nose, but it badly bruised the collective ego of the formidable PLA. Especially since it was delivered by a very young officer who was commissioned into the army barely a year ago.
According to a senior officer at the Army’s East Command headquarters in Kolkata’s Fort William, the young Lieutenant* was provoked into the act by the PLA Major’s loud claim that Sikkim belonged to China and that the Indian Army had ‘transgressed’ into Chinese territory.
This incident was the high point of the hours-long face-off and fist-fights between Indian and Chinese soldiers at Naku La, which is close to the Line Of Actual Control (LAC) in North Sikkim, on Saturday (May 9) morning. A few Indian and Chinese soldiers sustained injuries in the standoff that was ultimately resolved after senior officers of both the sides intervened.
It is learnt that the PLA Major was shouting and moving menacingly towards another young Indian Army officer of the rank of Captain. The young Lieutenant intervened and threw a punch at the Major, who went reeling and fell on the ground. Even his name tag came off. The young Lieutenant was in the mood for landing a few more punches, but his colleagues pulled him away.
He was later admonished by his seniors who told him that the humiliating punch could have provoked the Chinese more. But they also lauded him in private. Those who know the young Lieutenant would realise that he did what his father had done way back in 1986 at Sumdorong Chu in western Arunachal Pradesh.
His father, Colonel (retired) Ashish Das had, in the early winter of that year, also given the Chinese a bloody nose there. The Colonel, who was a young Captain then, had led a fierce attack on the Chinese who had transgressed into Indian territory and built permanent structures at Zemithang in Arunachal Pradesh.
That operation was part of the legendary ‘Operation Falcon’ masterminded by then Army Chief General Krishnaswamy Sundarji. The bravery of Das, who was commissioned into the Assam Regiment, led to the recapturing of a strategically important ridgetop, which was subsequently named after him as ‘Ashish Top’. Ashish Das’ father, Master Warrant Officer (MWO) B.B. Das, served in the Royal Air Force and then the Indian Air Force.
He was stationed in Lahore during World War I and also saw action in the Bangladesh War of 1971. He retired from a Signals unit in Barrackpur. There is an interesting story about how Colonel Das’ daughter, also an Army officer (in the Judge Advocate General Branch, which is the legal arm of the Army), discovered that the ridgetop in Arunachal Pradesh is named after her father.
As a young Lieutenant posted at Tenga (on the way to Tawang in western Arunachal Pradesh) in early 2018, she was on an initiation tour to forward posts. One such post she visited was ‘Ashish Top’. She wondered how the post got its name, and was told about the valour of a young captain by the name of Ashish Das who captured it from the Chinese.
She realised it was her father whose valour had been commemorated by naming the strategic feature after him. She broke down and the commanding officer of the unit manning the post called up Colonel Das at home in Kolkata’s Kalighat area. Incidentally, the retired Colonel’s son, a technical graduate from Bengaluru, was also commissioned into the Assam Regiment.
Colonel Das also served in the IPKF at Jaffna in Sri Lanka, and in the Poonch sector in Kashmir from 1988 to 1990 when terrorism had just started there. He retired from the army in 2009. The Das’ family home in Kolkata proudly displays many gallantry medals won by MWO Das and his son Colonel Ashish Das.
The young lieutenant grew up admiring those and fervently wishing to add to the proud collection. He may have just won one on Saturday. After all, it takes a lot of courage to punch a mightier adversary on his nose and send him sprawling to the ground.