A true officer and a gentleman, 'Zoru' Bakshi, as he was popularly known, remains an icon, and a source of inspiration to the past and present generations of Army officers in India.
Zoru was born in 1921, in the Rawalpindi district of Punjab, now in Pakistan. He was commissioned into the Infantry arm of the Army in 1943, and joined the 16/10 Baluch Regiment, then deployed in Burma.
Almost as soon as he joined, in series of operations in quick succession, Zoru earned the admiration of the rank and file. One of these operations involved the capturing of a hill feature, and Zoru was ordered to lead a small team of men. At the end of a bloody fight, the hill was captured. It was under Zoru's leadership that Subedar Bhandari Ram fought gallantly and was seriously injured, and earned a Victoria Cross.
In 1945, Zoru fought in the Battle of Kangaw, one of the hardest fought battles of the Burma campaign. It was in this Battle that Zoru won the first of the series of decorations. He was 'Mentioned in Dispatches'
At the time of partition, Zoru was assigned to the Punjab Boundary Force, entrusted to maintain peace in Punjab. Contrary to plans, the Punjab Boundary Force was found inadequate to manage the situation arising out of the riots and disturbances. Responsibility of maintaining peace in the disturbed areas was handed over to the respective Governments, and the Punjab Boundary Force officially ceased to exist.
In 1948, in the J&K operations, Zoru fought valiantly, and was awarded the 'Vir Chakra'. What was unique about this achievement was that Zoru was a staff officer and staff officers rarely got an opportunity to be in a combat situation.
In 1949, Zoru was awarded his next medal - "Mac Gregor Memorial Medal'. This was instituted in memory of Major General Charles Metcalf Macgregor, and was awarded every year for the best military reconnaissance or journey of exploration or survey of remote areas of India. Zoru was assigned the task of conducting a very important strategic military reconnaissance of some areas of Tibet. Zoru, disguised as a Tibetan monk, covered a distance of 400 kms in 80 days, and traversed some of the highest mountain passes of the Himalayas. For successfully completing this assignment, Zoru was awarded this medal - the fist one after India's independence.
In 1951, Zoru was selected for the 4th course of the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington, and completed this with flying colours. He performed so well, that was recommended for an Instructional appointment. After completing Staff College, Zoru took up the assignment of Brigade Major – 121 Infantry Brigade. Zoru thus had the unique distinction of completing this assignment on two occasions.
After two quick stints – one as Instructor – Infantry School, Mhow, and then as Instructor Staff College (on promotion to Lt. Col.) Zoru got his command of a Battalion – that of 2/5 Gorkha Rifles which was in Calcutta. This was in 1951. Soon after, Bakshi’s Battalion sailed for Congo (erstwhile Zaire), for peacekeeping duties. For leading his battalion in effective implemtation of law and order and peace in Congo, Zoru was awarded the Vishisht Sewa Medal.
In 1965, Zoru was promoted to the rank of Brigadier, and posted as Commander 68 Infantry Brigade in Kashmir. The war clouds had gathered once again. Pakistani infiltration began just a few days after Zoru assumed command. While infiltration was being effectively addressed, it was felt that to prevent further ingress, by guerrillas and to block routes being used by them, some key tactical features had to be captured. The Hajipir Pass was one of them.
The Hajipir Pass was strategically very important as it provided one of the main routes of ingress into the Kashmir Valley. Zoru was assigned the mission to capture the Pass. In fact, so strong was the faith of the senior command in Zoru’s capability, that the whole operation was codenamed ‘Operation Bakshi’
In one of the most brilliantly executed operations in the 1965 conflict, Zoru captured the Hajipir Pass and wrote his name in the Indian Military history.
The credit for the capture went to Major Ranjit Dayal, who actually captured the feature, and to Zoru for planning and executing a bold plan, fraught with risk. There is no doubt that if this plan had failed, Zoru would have been solely held responsible, as he had not taken permission from his senior command to execute it. For his role as a commander in executing this mission, Brigadier Zoru Bakshi was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, India’s second highest medal for gallantry. With a Vir Chakra already under his belt, Zoru became the only Indian Army officer to have been awarded both medals.
In March 1967, Zoru was appointed Brigadier General Staff of the Eastern Command, where Lt. Gen. Manekshaw as the Army Commander. Soon after Zoru was selected to do the senior command course at the Imperial Defence College, London. Zoru passed the course with distinction. He returned, and after a brief stint in the Military Training Directorate, Zoru was promoted to Major General and posted at GOC 8 Mountain Division, in Nagaland, where insurgency had become a serious problem.
As GOC, Zoru experienced an incident which was to earn him the reputation of being a very strict disciplinarian. One of his Brigade Commanders was Brigadier SK Sinha, (who later rose to the position of Vice Chief of Army Staff), under whose command two Nagas were killed reportedly because they were hostile. Zoru personally got involved in the enquiry and soon the truth was out that one of the battalions, in a bid to notch up the counter insurgency score had actually tortured and killed two Nagas, and their bodies were disposed off.
Zoru was extremely upset. Since this happened under Sinha’s command, Sinha was informed by Zoru, that the recommendation for an AVSM for Sinha was not being withdrawn. The commanding officer of the Battalion was removed from command and demoted to the rank of Major. Two more officers were court martialled and either dismissed from service or imprisoned.
When the 1971 operations against Pakistan became imminent, Zoru was commanding 26 Infantry Division in Jammu. As part of a strategic initiative planned for 1 Corps, Zoru’s Division was assigned a strategically important mission which was to advance towards Sialkot, Pakistan. However, soon after hostilities commenced on December 3, 1971, the situation on the ground changed fast, and soon, the original plan to advance towards Sialkot had to shelved, and 26 Division was redeployed to defend Jammu.
Zoru proceeded to capture ‘Chicken’s Neck’ a phrase coined by Zoru himself, that was of extreme strategic importance. That Chicken’s Neck was captured within 48 hours of implementation of plans, is a feat in itself. It was an operation reminiscent of the capture of the Hajipir Pass. Zoru once again proved the point that it wasn’t numerical superiority, but daring and audacity that bring success.
After the war, Zoru was posted to the Directorate of Military Operations. On promotion to Lt. General Zoru took charge as Military Secretary, at the Army HQ.
In 1975 Zoru was assigned 2 Corps as Corps Commander, replacing Lt Genl TN Raina who moved to take over as Western Army Commander.Zoru undertook his responsibility in a most distinguished manner, till the time he retired in 1979.
Age was against Zoru, else (there is little doubt) that he would have moved right up to the top most position.
Zoru is one of the most well known Generals of the Indian Army. A highly decorated soldier, he was a very successful military leader. He was also a brilliant strategist and a tactician. In all missions assigned to him, he did not taste defeat even once, nor did he lose an inch of territory to the enemy. His courage on the battlefront was matched by his sense of fair play, upright behaviour and the courage to stand by his convictions.
Zoru – a true ‘son of the soil’ defended the honour of his motherland and of his command, always and every time.
(With help from “Leadership in the Indian Army” by Major General VK Singh)