It was dark and freezing cold. The snow-white expanses of the mountains glistened with fear and valour. The operation was too dangerous to be carried out during the day. It was not going to be easy.
Lieutenant Vikram Batra was determined to complete his mission successfully.
Peak 5140 in Jammu and Kashmir was the highest point on the Tololing Ridge. In the Dras region, it was one of the most crucial peaks because if it fell, it would clear the Pakistani invaders from that sector. This would pave the way for more victories ahead.
The mission was successful. All the men made it alive.
“Ye dil maange more”,” Vikram told his commander at base camp. His words became the catchline for the Kargil War.
Vikram Batra, later promoted to captain on the battlefield, led an intense operation in one of India’s toughest campaigns in mountain warfare.
He was known as Sher Shaah (Lion King).
The Kargil War was an armed conflict between India and Pakistan between May to July 1999 in the Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere along the Line of Control. The conflict is also known as Operation Vijay in India.
The war began after the infiltration of Pakistani troops—disguised as Kashmiri militants—into positions on the Indian side of the Line of Control.
During the war, Vikram Batra bravely exposed himself to enemy fire to pull an injured soldier to safety and lost his life in the process.
“We were identical twins,” Vishal Batra, Vikram’s brother, told NRI Vision. “Our childhood was filled with fun and laughter. We would buy clothes and shoes of the same colour. There weren’t any secrets between Vikram and me.”
“We grew up playing table tennis together and were very passionate about it. We played at school too. I remember walking to school together every day and coming back together. I remember our picnics fondly. We were inseparable and did everything together until I lost him,” he added.
On September 9, 1974, Vikram Batra was born in a small town in Himachal Pradesh’s Palampur. Besides academics, Vikram was brilliant at sports and represented his school at the national level during the Youth Parliamentary competitions in Delhi.
“When we grew up, we went to the Allahabad SSB Centre for our SSB exam. Vikram’s exam was before mine, so he helped with the probable questions and answers to prepare well. We would also sneak out and roam about in the Allahabad market whenever we could grab an opportunity,” Vishal said.
“When the results came out, my batch was a washout, but Vikram had made it. When I look back on those days now, I realise how passionate my brother was about everything he did, which was why all of us remember him so fondly today,” Vishal added.
In the SSB exam, Vikram was among the top 35 candidates in the Order of Merit. He soon joined the Indian Military Academy (IMA) at Dehradun in June 1996 in the Manekshaw Battalion.
“Vikram knew that I had also wanted to become a fauji, so he would share his experiences with me in detail every time he came home. He was supportive, loving and everything that you could look for in a good brother,” said Vishal.
“The last time I met him, we spent about five hours together, talking about old days, army life and everything in between. Today I proudly carry his legacy forward. ”
Shershaah released in India on August 12, 2021. The film, directed by Vishnuvardhan in his Bollywood debut and written by Sandeep Shrivastava, was widely appreciated. Actor Sidharth Malhotra plays the role of Vikram Batra in the film, which traces the soldier’s life from his first posting in the army to his death in the Kargil War.
The film has been produced by Dharma Productions and Kaash Entertainment, with Hiroo Yash Johar, Karan Johar, Apoorva Mehta, Shabbir Boxwala, Ajay Shah and Himanshu Gandhi serving as co-producers.
“When Shabbir Boxwala approached us, we were happy to share Vikram’s story. As the film was made over the months, I was always involved with them. I always wanted the world to know Vikram’s story, and I think Sidharth Malhotra did a very good job,” said Vishal.
“I met Sidharth about four years back and had a conversation with him. I instantly liked him because he was humble and down-to-earth, and I thought he would do a good job if he stepped into my brother’s shoes in the film. In the course of the months, Sidharth would sit with me and ask me about Vikram, his hobbies and likes and dislikes. While everyone knows Vikram as Shershaah, the courageous soldier, I wanted to tell everyone how Vikram was as an individual when he was not in his uniform. That side of Vikram has been shown well in the film,” he added.
Shershaah wonderfully depicts Vikram and Dimple Cheema’s love story.
“I am still in touch with Dimple. She is like a sister,” Vishal said.
“Losing Vikram has not been easy, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about my brother. There is a photo of him at my house, which I had clicked. Whenever I leave my house, I salute him. There is also a picture of Vikram in my office. I touch his feet when I enter my office, and again when I leave,” Vishal says.
“There was a point in time when I was struggling in my career. In one of his letters to me, Vikram had asked me not to worry and said that he believes in me and will rise very high in my life. Today, I am doing very well in my career, and I hope he is seeing me,” Vishal concludes.
Vishal Batra is now the Retail Business Head at ICICI Bank.
Vikram Batra was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest military honour, on August 15, 1999, the 52nd anniversary of India’s independence.
Images received from Vishal Batra: