By Colonel Awadhesh Kumar, Veteran Special Forces
The other day I read two articles on the Net dealing with the Naming Game. One was regarding the procedure followed by the Indian Navy for naming of the Naval Ships. It was interesting though not very clear on certain aspects. The second article dealt with the hilarious attempt made by the Mighty Chinese to claim the Indian State of Arunachal by giving Chinese names to six towns in the State.
Even as a five year old, I was quite familiar with some of the names like INS VIKRANT, INS DELHI, INS MYSORE and even INS SHIVAJI which I knew had to something with an Engineering College at Lonavala but that was all. All this was thanks to my uncle Satish Kumar Singh, then a young Naval Lieutenant. Even when I boarded a Naval ship for the first time, INS AMBA followed by a submarine INS KALVARI, as a wide eyed school boy, no thought was given by me to their names. However a few weeks later in June 1969, when I boarded the then latest arrival INS KHANDERI at Vishakhapatnam, I got mighty curious about their names. Looking at the crests of the Ship and the two submarines, they themselves clarified the origin of their names. Remaining doubts on the Naming Procedure were clarified in the Wardroom of INS AMBA by the Submariners present, while I sipped some canned coca cola. Among the Submariners were Commander V S Shekhawat who later became the Naval Chief. Commander Arun Auditto who as a young Lieutenant had led the Naval landing party on to Anjdiv Island during the capture of Goa in 1961 and later became the first Flag Officer Submarines. Then there was Lt R N Ganesh who went on to commanded INS CHAKRA, the first nuclear powered submarine operated by India by taking it on lease from USSR. He also commanded an Aircraft Carrier INS VIKRANT, a unique distinction held by very few in this world. After being the C-IN-C of Southern Naval Command, he was again roped in by the Govt. It’s largely thanks to him that our floundering nuclear submarine project remained on track and finally resulted in INS ARIHANT. There were several more officers present including my uncle Lt Commander S K Singh
The first INS Kalvari had been commissioned in December 1967. Hopefully by June this year, a brand new submarine INS KALVARI will be getting commissioned once more, marking the 50th year of the Submarine Arm. Alas Commander S k Singh will not be there to see the resurrection as he passed away in June 2010. In the Navy old ships are never forgotten and there is periodical rebirth. Therefore by end of next year we should once again have INS KHANDERI, INS KARANJ and INS KARSURA on Naval Patrols. The nuclear submarine leased from Russia is called INS CHAKRA, continuing with the name given to the first nuclear submarine which had been leased from USSR and later returned on expiry of lease. Whereas our own first indigenous nuclear submarine has been named INS Arihant, and the next one, INS Aridhaman. For deciding these names, a proper procedure is followed. The selection of names of ships and submarines of the Indian Navy is done by the Internal Nomenclature Committee of the Defence Ministry. The INC is headed by the Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff (Policy & Plans), a Rear Admiral. He has representatives from the Defence Ministry, the Ministry of Surface Transport and Ministry of Human Resource Development among others. As per the policy, the recommendations of this committee are then put up to the Navy Chief. Names, crests and mottos of the Ships thereafter go to the Supreme Commander for final approval. Army and the Air Force to follow naming procedures, more or less, in the similar manner. All these procedural matters were crammed in while going thru the piles of pamphlets hurled at the students while at Defence Services Staff College.
To maintain uniformity in the names of ships of one type and same design certain broad pattern are followed. So INS GODAVARI, INS GANGA and INS GOMTI all indigenous Frigates of one design having names starting with letter G and all being names of Indian Rivers. Similarly we have Frigates INS SHIVALIK, INS SATPURA and INS SAHYADRI all mountain ranges starting with letter S. Though we have the Destroyers where the first letters of the names are not the same INS DELHI, INS MYSORE and INS MUMBAI, but the common theme is there that they are names of big cities. They are also resurrections of previous such Cruisers/ Destroyers. The next series of Destroyers have been named as INS KOLKATA, INS KOCHI and INS CHENNAI. The first of the follow on design has been named as INS VISHAKHAPATNAM. The first indigenous aircraft carrier likely to be commissioned next year has already been given the old name INS VIKRANT, though it is still not final whether the next one will be INS VIRAAT or VISHAL. It may be interesting to know that for INS Vikramaditya the first choice had been VISHWA VIJAYI .However a merchant ship had already been allotted the name Vishwa-Vijay .The INC then received various names like Vishaant, Vishwavijayi, Vishaal, Vikraal, Vaibhav, Vishwajeet, Viddhwansh, Veerendra and Visrujant. After deliberation Vikramaditya was the unanimous choice, as a name that befits a large aircraft carrier. Interestingly even the Shore establishments of the Navy have properly designated names with prefix INS. Only after this had become clear at Vizag in 1969, did I stopped wondering as to how INS SHIVAJI , a ship ,had been moved to the Naval Engineering College at LONAVALA .
It was a bright clear day of January 1988 and already nearing lunch time at Palaly Airbase, when Commander, SPECIAL FORCES, entered the operations room of his HQ. He quickly gave a run down on the success of the trials carried out for turning the Army Aviation’s CHEETAH helicopter into an Armed Helicopter. Seeing the Sri Lankans using their BEL 212 in an amazing way to provide fire support during close combat, the Indian Para commandos too decided for some quick JUGGAD. After receiving the GO AHEAD from Military Operations, New Delhi, the lone CHEETAH helicopter under command Adhoc HQ Special Forces or was it still being called HQ Para Commando Task Force, began getting converted into ZIMZIM…..the nickname used by the Sri Lankans for their armed BEL 212. Now the final trials that too in actual combat was over. During the final trials, the Commander Colonel Rostum K Nanavatty [though approved for the next rank, he was yet to put on his Brigadier’s pips ] had himself manned and fired one of the medium machine guns, spraying a few non army vehicles in the declared combat Zone carrying armed men . Nanavatty had to replace one of the specialized MMG gunners because Army HQ wanted that he must certify the efficacy of this JUGGAD. However there was no way that the CHEETAH could carry him in addition to the two MMGs and the two gunners.
Before leaving the Operations Room, Commander asked me to forward a signal to Military Operations on the subject with a line that detailed report would follow. He also asked me to suggest a name for this JUGGAD. Since IAF’S MI 24 helicopters officially called AKBAR were operating at Palaly, without giving a second thought, my recommendation was SALIM. So the signal which was signed by me ten minutes later started with…. FINAL TRIALS SALIM HEPTR (.) and ended with SALIM TO BE — USED FOR COMBAT MISSIONS WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT (.) DETAILED REPORT WILL FOLLOW, Thereafter for next two or three weeks everyone in the IPKF, Southern Command and Military Operations too were merrily using the name SALIM in all official correspondence. Till a terse signal from Additional Directorate General at Army HQ asked HQ IPKF as to who the hell had given this name. This was soon followed with a letter stating that the official name to be used for armed CHEETAH (as a few more got modified) was RANJIT. Naturally we just kept quiet and followed the given instructions. Just to complete the story it must be added that while having lunch that day in the Officers Mess of 10 PARA CDO, located within the airfield, Colonel Nanavatty was narrating about the Trials and the firing and how he missed the target.
Colonel Dalvir Singh, Commanding Officer and others present were listening attentively when in walked Captain R S Bhaduria and Captain M M Sandhu , known as Mad Mike They had just returned from a “three day” mission and therefore they immediately started narrating their exploits. They began telling about how they had made use of some civil vehicles to go after the LTTE “when some idiots from the Indian Army began shooting at US from CHEETAH helicopter but they missed.” There was pin drop silence, broken by the Commander stating “well, I was that idiot and I am glad that I missed. Next time luck may change.” Naturally, after that it became one of my headaches to ensure full coordination prior to SALIM /RANJIT taking off for any mission. Captain Robin Cherian who was one of the piolts had been my roommate when we were doing Junior Command Course at Army War College, Mhow or was it still College of Combat. He was a big help.
Fast forwarding to 1994, sometime in August or September, instructions were received from DGMO regarding conversion of 21 MARATHA LI into a Special Forces Battalion. This was now the actual HQ SPECIAL FORCES, though still with an interim War Establishment. I was now a Major looking after all the aspects of General Staff except Intelligence which was being looked after by another officer from the Intelligence Corps, quite senior to me, Lt Colonel Puran Singh Bora (later Brigadier). When the letter arrived, Brigadier S S MANN had just moved out due to certain unforeseen circumstances and his replacement was not yet posted in. The Commandant Special Forces Training School had to report post haste to his new assignment at Army HQ and the new Commandant was yet to report. Even Colonel Bora was on casual leave.
A detailed Movement Schedule was required to be worked out and issued to all concerned for strict implementation. Further the Move In of 21 MARATHA LI was connected with the move out of 1 PARA SF and therefore instructions for calling in a composite Advance Party of 21 MARATHA LI by a certain date had to be issued forthwith. By now, I was already debating in my mind as to what should be the name of this fourth Special Forces battalion of the Indian Army. Choices according to me were 4 SPECIAL FORCES……because it was going to be the 4th battalion of the Special Forces Regiment , the new Indian Army Regiment for whose raising the President had already been pleased. Next choice was 11 PARA SF ………..because presently we were still part of the Parachute Regiment whose youngest unit till that time was 10 PARA SF and this was going to be the next one. Then there was one more choice 21 SPECIAL FORCES, why this name?? The reason will be clear to the readers in the next paragraph. Finally without caring what the DGMO , then Lt General Vijai Oberoi , Colonel of Maratha Light Regiment and Ex Officio Colonel Designate Special Forces Regiment would think ( incidentally he was also my Senior Reviewing Officer) and what would Major General R P Limaye, Colonel of Parachute Regiment think or what would all others think , I just zeroed on the last name. The Heading of the first letter on the subject issued by HQ Special Forces was MOVE OF ADVANCE PARTY 21 SPECIAL FORCES. Thereafter all subsequent letters and signals issued by all and sundry throughout the Indian Army on this subject referred the unit as 21 SF only. I was banking on this, based on my knowledge of Staff Duties, dealing with all types of HQ right up to Army HQ. I also had the practical experience of shuttling between HQ Northern Command and HQ 71 Sub Area, nearly on daily basis right from the days of being a 2/LT. I knew that only one person was likely to question my decision and that would be General Vijay Oberoi. He never did, not even when he visited us and I gave a detailed presentation to him on the CONVERSION TRAINING 21 SF. A year letter ,it seems even the Supreme Commander had been pleased because the unit joined the Parachute Regiment as 21 PARA SF , as the Special Forces Regiment remained a stillborn child. By then I had already moved out of HQ SF to a more exotic sounding name SFF, on posting and promotion.
Coming back to the Naming Game of the youngest PARA SF unit, why this name? Going back a few more years, it was June 1987, when a COMMANDO CELL was created within the Directorate General of Military Operations. Colonel S S Mann, former CO 1 PARA SF and who had just been the COLONEL GENERAL STAFF at a HQ Armoured Division were posted as the first Director. From somewhere inside the Zanskar Valley, virtually overnight, I found myself in New Delhi attached to this Cell, even before the arrival of the Director. All this thanks to the thinking of our Tiger, Colonel Tej Pathak that wherever there was action (any type), 9 must be represented. Sukhi Mann again had the reputation of a great bullshitter and a very hard task master. Though the most important thing for a NINER, he was from 1 PARA SF. So after his arrival a week later, I did evaluate this TIGER, against naturally, the TIGER 9 as the benchmark. Though in the Pure Art of Bullshitting (totally different from just using your rank and shouting at a junior), Sukhi Mann may have been just a notch below but he too had a distinct style. More so, I witnessed at times his near ”bullshitting ”of much senior officers including Major Generals and getting away. Awe struck initially, he put me at ease at once and soon the staff work began. One day, on coming out of the office of the DGMO, he asked me to prepare a hand written DRAFT GOVT LETTER pronto, for Raising of the Army Special Forces Regiment. Since DSSC Wellington was still three years away, I was perplexed for a few seconds. Then in true army style, I just got hold of a file having several Govt letters on various subjects. Trying to show my efficiency, I did produce a draft in less than 20 minutes. Colonel Mann then took that draft letter to one of the Additional Secretary in the MoD, whom he knew closely. After an hour he was back and I felt elated because in that draft there were no changes made except deletion of just one word…..Army Special Forces (ASF) had been changed to Special Forces (SF), the reason now I do not remember and alas Brigadier S S Mann, a great soldier is no more. He would have made a great Army Commander or a Chief. He passed away way back in 2006 as a broken man…..well that’s another story for may be another day. Suddenly War clouds were building up in the form of OPERATION QAIDAT from Paki side and OPERATION VAJRA SHAKTI from own side. In Delhi there was also some talk of our PM going to Sri Lanka. One day there was great flurry in the Operations Room and towards 1600h Sukhi Mann came back to the Cell and mentioned that PM was going to Colombo to be followed by the IPKF to Jaffna. He also said loudly ‘‘Hope we do not end up fighting the LTTE.” A week or two later I moved back to Udhampur because of VAJRASHAKTI , though Sukhi Mann had opined that NO OPERATION would take place based on the satellite/ aerial shots of Saltoro on the both sides. Nevertheless at that moment I didn’t know that I will be serving again under Sukhi Mann twice more in not too distant a future in Sri Lanka in the Adhoc HQ SF and then few years later in the proper HQ SF.
The Naming Game part is still not over. We had moved out of Udhampur and now located in the Kashmir Valley, in fact in the unit lines of 8 JAK LI as they were away defending the Northern Glacier in Siachen including the BANA POST. Every day was busy day with toughness training and planning and preparation for the impending operations. Even the final briefing was given and then came the anti-climax NO GO. Of course after a few days of some celebrations among the juniors, Tiger went hyper and thus commenced some bewildering sets of training events. In between one evening when for a change every one was in the Officers ‘Mess, a file came for the CO. As the CO read the letter loudly there was cheering all around ….it was the Govt letter for Raising of the Special Forces Regiment. I had forgotten all about it. Now as I was about to take the credit for drafting this letter, someone protested loudly and then soon everyone was cursing Sukhi Mann and General Sunderji and 1 PARA and what not with tempers rising. The letter had gone on to mention , just as I had written it , that 1 PARA COMMANDO , 9 PARA COMMANDO and 10 PARA COMMANDO will form part of the Special Forces Regiment and be renamed as 1 SF, 2 SF and 3 SF respectively. While drafting, no history, geography or any other thought had crossed my mind and the three names had been just placed in a serial order. However now everyone was protesting loudly that 9 which had been raised as the first Commando unit and fought the 1971 War as a Commando unit had been deliberately pushed to the second place by the great scheming officers of 1 PARA in general and Colonel Sukhi Mann and Colonel Arjun Katoch in particular. Seeing all this , I just sealed my mouth , knowing there was no point in defending Sukhi Mann…..though fate willed that it had to be done for justice sake at some other place , at another time.
Later we came to know that in 10 PARA, on receipt of the letter, people had become angry 10 times over. His Highness Brigadier Bhawani Singh of Jaipur , who had commanded the Unit in 1971 War and decorated with a MVC , at once took up the issue at various levels of the Govt and Army HQ including the PM and the Chief. However now 1 PARA CDO could not be made 3 SF, after all it was the Second oldest battalion of the Indian Army, so the honourable way out was that each unit was allowed to retain its original name 1SF, 9 SF and 10 SF .By the time the three units landed together in Sri Lanka for OP PAWAN, President was pleased once again and a new a new Govt Letter was issued while cancelling the previous one. This was the reason why I chose to stick to 21 SF for the fourth SF unit. For later conversions of 2 PARA, 3 PARA and 4 PARA from standard para to SF they all naturally retained their names as 2 PARA SF and so on because the Special Forces Regiment itself remained unborn. Then later on for new raisings the Regiment chose 11 PARA SF and 12 PARA SF. While for conversion of 27 RAJPUT and 29 RAJ RIFLES into standard Parachute units, the names chosen were 27 PARA and 29 PARA respectively.
Finally we come to the latest episode of Chinese playing the Naming Game by giving their own Chinese names to six towns in Arunachal Pradesh because they claim that not only Tawang but entire Arunachal belongs to them. As per them once it had been part of Tibet and was known as Southern Tibet. I too have served in Arunachal with HQ 5 Mountain Division. One fine day I was suddenly told by the Colonel General Staff that he would be proceeding on two months leave a few days later due to some serious family problems and I was to officiate in his place. Knowing the GOC, I knew a nightmare I was looming ahead, instead facing the Chinese would have been much better .Meeting them at Bumla and earlier at Chusul, they actually seemed to be nice people. Seeing my expressions, Colonel D S Sidhhu, later Lt Gen and DG Armoured & Mech Forces, just smiled, as nothing could be done, these were the orders of the GOC.
For the next two months, General N D Jetly and self-did not bother each other much as we continued to function in our own styles . The only bug bear was the daily evening report to be given to the GOC with respect to the entire Division and particularly the Divisional Front. The GOC had earlier served in this area twice before and now as the Boss was an expert, knowing names of all the peaks and the posts and what not. On the other hand, these names were quite strange sounding and confusing to me. Also till now I had not even bothered to remember any of the names, though I had visited all the forward posts. However one day while flying in a chopper, I had queried about two strange looking peaks and had even followed them up on the map. The names had facinated me…KHALUNG and JALUNG. I remembered Colonel E Macarious , an officer from my Unit having served in this area mentioning these names. Therefore I when I used Khalun Jalung for my first Evening Report even General Jetly was caught a bit off guard. Thereafter for all my briefings Khalung and Jalung remained the main reference points. So much so that even 4 Corps Operations Branch got totally Khalunged and Jalunged. They also never bothered me because I had given them full 9 SF guarantees that Chinese will not be allowed to cross the MacMahon Line till the return of actual COL GS, Col Sidhhu. Now it is the turn of the Chinese to get Khalunged and Jalunged. Before that they have to first locate Khalung and Jalung and then find suitable Chinese names and rename the peaks. By the time they are able to do it, 17 Corps will be fully ready, may be as the strike Corps for both the new North Eastern Command and the East Central Command, created by bifurcation of present Eastern Command.