In my forty years of service, if at all I have to remember a General whom I really admire and respect; he is Maj Gen Randhir Sinh. He was the Deputy Military Secretary when I was in the MS Branch and later, he was my GOC when I was the brigade commander in Poonch.
I have seen him from a close quarter both in the staff and also as a commander of troops. Personally courageous, he inspired sincerity and mission orientation in his command right from his first visit. Never say tired, he could walk from morning to evening and also continue in the same tempo for days with his zeal for the mission ever increasing. Addicted to his profession, he had no personal requirement and his honesty was legendary. He attracted loyalty from his command without having to make any effort towards it.
Personally, I was a bit haughty and believed and prided in my own professional competence. I was also arrogant with my superiors and my vanity always thought that a superior had been placed above me due to an accident of birth for being born earlier than me; otherwise, there is not much in him to be in that place. However, misplaced these thoughts were at that point in time; naively I believed in them, then.
However, with Gen Randhir, it was different. He was able to tame me by sheer unadulterated professionalism. If I argued over an issue, he would listen to me with a flicker of a smile playing over his countenance and show that my vehemence was uncalled for; and his superior thinking made its way. Alternatively, if he found some merit in my views; with the same twinkle in his eyes, he would say; “OK, try it out”: Now the problem was more challenging to me as he had turned the tables on me to prove my point in practice.
Once, in one of my animated arguments I said “If at all we do what you say the reputation of the Branch would shatter into smithereens like a chandelier on a marble floor”. We were in a meeting and the way he broke into laughter only showed his Generalship. He handled me with so much maturity and understanding, and by his sheer intellectual prowess, he educated me on the nuances of higher command. Gen Randhir, himself was a graduate of the Royal College of Defence Studies in London besides was a member of the Himalayan Club.
Standing by his principles
His moral standing was higher than anyone I can recount. His integrity and selflessness were so overwhelming to praise him is like pouring a cup of water into the ocean. He solemnised his son’s marriage and let alone presents, even bouquets of flowers were not allowed at the venue. After his tenure as GOC, during his farewell visit to my brigade, I thought that I would trap him with a book as a parting gift; as he was a voracious reader and a bibliophile.
He saw the book and he really liked it and saw the cover price and put the money on the table. I said “like hell! I will be a bookseller to you”, and took the book back and gave him back his money. That was General Randhir!
We had walked for miles on the ridges of Poonch from Pir Panjal downwards. These trudges across the Himalayas meeting troops in between for days were one of the most loving experiences we have had. He was a true soldier and never hesitated to punish his body through the most difficult terrain features.
Gen Randhir’s moral standing was higher than anyone I can recount. His integrity and selflessness were so overwhelming to praise him is like pouring a cup of water into the ocean.
Earlier, he was also the Brigade Commander of the Siachen Brigade and accomplished himself as a true commander of troops. Loved by troops, he was there with them unhesitatingly without any qualms in perilous situations. In one such visit, I remember; we climbed very steep slopes where we were exposed to enemy fire in patches during our three hours climb. At last, we reached the post where the post commander received and briefed us. After the briefing, we were served steaming cups of tea and hot pakoras. It was one of the best eats we have had and thereafter spoke to troops, cracked a couple of jokes which in more hospitable conditions would be termed PJs, gave a pat to the platoon commander, and started our descent.
All went fine till one day a month later, he called me appearing more amused than upset; his photograph devouring a big hot pakora with his mouth open; rather looking at the victim with eyes that displayed fondness was flashed across in his regimental magazine with a caption; Gen Randhir with troops at a forward post. Lo and behold! The magazine was even sent across to the Brigade of Gorkha Association in the UK and people started felicitating him; most commenting on his latent weakness to the rich fried snacks.
He was rightfully complaining that his walks from sunrise to sunset in high altitudes braving extreme weather, terrain, rarefied atmosphere, and enemy fire were all forgotten, and all that the magazine could print was when he was indulging in a well-deserved interlude. I could not help but laugh out loud but was quick to modify my response with a deep- throated seriousness and said that the gross lapse in security will be investigated. It was later traced to his own staff?
Calm under pressure
I have hundreds of incidents which can be narrated; however, I do remember that I used to drive him in the brigade sector for days meeting troops and unit and subunit commanders. He was a troop, General. In one of the drives up a steep slope, the snow had coagulated into ice and the entire Gipsy that I was driving was skidding.
I had a tough time controlling the steering as the ice under the tire was melting under the weight of our vehicle and was not able to grip the surface. The vehicle was skidding on every turn and I thought it was dangerous as one side of the mountain slope was a steep fall of several hundred meters and the other was the hillside. I looked at him with some trepidation; however, he was sitting calm and unperturbed without the slightest hint of concern. I think it was his way to inspire; thereafter, I continued driving till we reached the destination. His elephantine equanimity inspired others in dangerous situations.
He was the GOC of one of the largest divisions deployed on the LOC. He was holding the appointment for over three years, more so, when it was a norm to turnover in less than a two-year tenure. He saw through the Op Parakram in its entirety. It was literally the hottest seat with continuous shelling of arty, rockets, mortar, and small arms fire with thousands of rounds being fired on a daily basis.
Such continuous firing also took a toll on the troops and officers deployed. There was no post that he did not visit in the division; a rough estimate would be around a thousand. After each casualty, he would visit the post and inspire troops by showing his presence and talking to them. He had a natural flair for leadership.
What was intriguing and ironic; after a sterling performance as division commander, he was not making it to a three-star general? I believe that there was some observation in one of his pen pictures in his performance report. The Army Chief wanted to overrule it and asked Gen Randhir to put in his representation for countermanding the observation so that he could be cleared for a 3-star General.
Upright and forthright
It was typical of Gen Randhir; upright and forthright that he was, he politely declined the offer of the Chief of Army Staff. He felt that it was below his dignity to apply for such concessions. His nobility and ethics were fabled. I have not come across any General who would not take such an offer to get promoted to a three-star.
In the 1971 War, it was Lt Gen Sagat Singh who went beyond his mission and seized the fleeting opportunity in the battle to strike Dacca. It was the most spectacular decision in the entire war that ensured that the war ended in two weeks. Gen Sagat was a legendary general and his saga tells how one good commander can script the history of a nation. During the entire war before and beyond, his ADC was then Lt Randhir Sinh. No doubt, he picked up all the qualities of his mentor and excelled in them!
Gen Randhir hails from a family of martial traditions. His father, a veteran of the Second World War, Lt Col Duleep Sinh raised the 4th Battalion of the 3rd Gorkha Rifles in 1962. He had three sons Randhir, Yashoraj, and Bharat and all three joined the Indian Army. Randhir and Bharat were commissioned into their father’s battalion. Randhir’s son Abhay kept up the family traditions and joined the same battalion.
Duleep, Randhir, and Abhay all commanded the illustrious battalion in their times. Three generations of officers commanded the same battalion in their own times. If that is not enough, Gen Randhir’s maternal uncle served in the same unit and his son is presently a serving officer in the same unit. Great traditions that make the Indian Army invincible! Aren’t we amazed at the contribution of one family to the defence of the country?
Gen Randhir and some memories
Gen Randhir after his retirement settled down in his ancestral house, Ramgambir Mahal in Rajpipla near Baroda. He is an author of several books and articles; the chief among them was “A Talent for War; A Military Biography of Lt Gen Sagat Singh”. He has co-authored a fiction with his daughter-in-law, Karuna, a litterateur in her own right. Once, I playfully asked him if he had written in the introduction: “If not for Karuna’s help, I could have finished the book in half the time”; seemingly drawing a parallel from PG Wodehouse. He just laughed it out and said that she was brilliant.
In the last week of Dec 2021, he had made a trip to Bangalore to deliver his experiences of the 1971 War to the Airforce Training Command. I was in Pune and drove down to meet him. We just had an evening together and he invited us for dinner. He received my wife and I at the carpark. We had a lovely dinner and it was so nostalgic and invigorating to talk of our times: Veterans love to talk to each other about their operational experiences and laugh and rejoice in their past exploits. I bid him goodbye at the carpark.
Ominously; a thought flashed across my mind; will we ever meet again? It was an unwelcome thought and I quickly banished it with the contempt it deserved and hauteur I could command. Why did such a thought ever come? I have no answer.
The final verdict God gives to humans is the way they leave their mortal world. Great souls are absorbed in samadhi as God would not want to trouble them with illness and pain in death. On 21 Mar 2022, he was perfectly bright and went to bed as usual. The next morning, he did not get up as he had passed away in sleep
. The Noblest of souls are gifted with such deaths. In Gen Randhir’s case, if we human beings cannot miss out on his goodness; will God ever miss it? He leaves behind Gayatri, his wife who enabled him to be what he was. The world around him is poorer without him.
The values he treasured live in hundreds of officers and soldiers who have had the privilege to serve in his command. They would be passed on from generation to generation to keep the Indian Army dauntless in war. Om Shanti Om!