Brigadier who led the bloodied IPKF push at Jaffna, and never regretted it
Posted on January 12th, 2020

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina  courtesy The Indian Express

The name of the town of Jaffna has resonated for long in the Indian Army, particularly among the units that fought to capture it from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in October 1987 as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF).

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Brigadier Manjit Singh

Brig Manjit Singh, decorated with the nation’s second highest gallantry award, Mahavir Chakra, for his personal bravery during the dash to link up with Jaffna during Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka, passed away after a brief illness. He was 78.

The name of the town of Jaffna has resonated for long in the Indian Army, particularly among the units that fought to capture it from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in October 1987 as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). A stronghold of the LTTE, the battle to wrest Jaffna exacted a high toll on the units of 41 Infantry Brigade, which was commanded by Brig Singh.

Brig Singh’s push towards Jaffna later came in for criticism from his former subordinates as well former divisional commander who did not appreciate the hard handed methods employed by him in command of his brigade. He ended up sacking his Deputy Commander, Brigade Major, OC Brigade Signal Company and two battalion commanding officers.

However, he never regretted his decisions and had scathing comments to make about performance of several officers under his command. An outspoken officer, Brig Singh’s brusque manner tolerated few mistakes.

An alumnus of Khalsa College, Amritsar, Brig Singh had originally been commissioned in the Mahar Regiment. However, years later he was shifted to Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAK LI), an order which he bitterly resented at the time. True to his nature he had had a ‘run in’ with the then Colonel of the Mahar Regiment, Lt Gen KV Krishna Rao, who was at the time GOC-in-C Western Command and later the Army Chief.

The citation for his award of MVC details in brief the courage shown by him in battle for Jaffna.

It reads, Brigadier Manjit Singh while commanding an Infantry Brigade as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force, was tasked to establish a link-up with Jaffna Fort, along Western Pincer in the face of all-out efforts by the militants to thwart their advance. Brigadier Manjit Singh himself assumed charge of the leading elements. He broke through the desperate cordon of the militants and successfully established a link-up with PARA Commandos operating from Jaffna Fort. His leadership and demonstration of personal valour motivated his command to push back the enemy. Throughout the operation, Brigadier Manjit Singh displayed conspicuous courage and valiant leadership”.

Brig BK Unnikrishnan of the Corps of Signals, who was commanding a sub unit in Jaffna fort during the battle, has described the moment when Brig Singh reached the fort fighting through LTTE strongpoints. The account below gives an idea of how pitched the battle was:

The Brigade had faced very stiff opposition on its way; it was stalled at many places initially and had to stop the advance mid-way due to ambushes and heavy fire. It suffered heavy casualties. However Manjit took a bold decision to move forward with a small group comprising his GSO 3 and two infantry companies. It was a daring move and despite interference from the LTTE, Manjit managed to reach the Fort at night with a few dead bodies and several injured soldiers. Lt Col TPS Brar, CO, 1 MLI received him and took him to the Ops Room. I was present there along with Maj Shankar Murthy, my 2IC. Manjit and I had known each other very well but I found him dazed and unable to respond to my words. His combat dress was full of blood and he was in a terrible state of mind”.

In a statement to LA Times, who’s correspondent visited Jaffna after its capture, Brig Singh said of LTTE, They were stopping us at every place. Every time they checked us, we lost a lot of men. When we tried to move our vehicles, we were hit with land mines.”

In several accounts written by veterans of IPKF, Brig Singh has been criticised for his style of command. It was said that he was close to the then Chief of Army Staff, Gen K Sundarji, who was also originally from the Mahar Regiment and that he had managed to get the command of 41 Brigade due to this proximity.

Brig Singh, on other hand, had told this correspondent some years ago that he had been personally chosen by the Chief because he wanted results on ground. He said he did not regret any action of his and that he did what was the need of the hour.

After being passed over for promotion to the rank of Major General, the mercurial tempered Brig Singh did not stay on in the Army and took premature retirement. After spending many years in USA, he finally settled to his farm in Rahon, near Nawahshahar, where he gradually faded away.

Brig Manjit has presented his Mahavir Chakra to the JAK LI battalion that he commanded.

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