The youngest recipient of Param Vir Chakra, Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal, is remembered for his bravery during the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Born on 14 October 1950 in Pune, Khetarpal had army blood running in his veins as he was going to be the fourth generation officer from his family.
With his 70th birth anniversary passed recently, a series of tributes have flooded the social media along with the picture of an infant holding the book on Khetarpal going viral on WhatsApp. This raises a question that what was Khetarpal’s role in the 1971 war, what made him a hero of the war?
In December 1971, the Indian Army was assisting Bangladeshi resistance under the leadership of Chief of Army Staff Sam Manekshaw and Indira Gandhi, which resulted in escalating tensions between India and Pakistan along the Western border.
Khetarpal, commissioned into the Poona Horse (17 Horse) armoured regiment earlier in August the same year, was given the job of operating a battle-tank. Pakistan Air Force launched pre-emptive strikes on eleven airfields across north-western India on 3 December.
At the same time, the 17 Horse was engaging the Pakistani Army in the Shakargarh Sector on the western border, where the warfare was concentrated around the river Basantar, a tributary that met the Ravi further south.
On 16 December, Pakistan launched an attack at Jarpal in the Shakargarh Sector, where Indian Army troops were outnumbered. Khetarpal moved his troops and led a ferocious attack. In the attack, the commander sustained grave injuries but alone in charge, he continued the attack. He chased the enemy tanks when they started pulling back and destroyed one of them.
Khetarpal, left with two remaining tanks, destroyed 10 Pakistani tanks. Amidst this Battle of Basantar, his tank was hit by fire and he was asked to abandon it. But the braveheart continued engaging in the fight and destroyed one more as else they would have gotten breakthrough
His tank was hit again in the second round of fighting but he kept attacking. His last words were: “No, Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My main gun is still working and I will get them”.
Last year, famous Bollywood director Sriram Raghavan announced a biopic on Khetarpal, which will feature actor Varun Dhawan. Khetarpal’s legacy lives on with the Centurion Mk7 Tank, the “Fama Gusta”, which was restored and is preserved at the Armed Corps Center and School in Ahemdabad.