Army on Wednesday paid glowing tributes to Colonel M N Rai, who died fighting militants in Jammu and Kashmir, recalling his efforts to reach out to youths in the militancy-hit region and said such sacrifice only strengthens its resolve to fight elements inimical to peace.
"Col Rai always led from the front in multiple operations that he carried out in 2014 and also in 2015. He combined bravery with compassion and people in Tral knew him very well for his several initiatives," General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar-based Chinar Corps Lt Gen Subrata Saha told media persons after the wreath laying ceremony at Badami Bagh Cantonment in Srinagar.
"The supreme sacrifice of the brave men only strengthens our resolve to fight all elements inimical to security of Kashmir," he said as friends and colleagues recalled the contribution of Rai, one of the senior-most officers to be killed in last one year.
Rai, 39, commanding officer of 42 Rashtriya Rifles, and head constable Sanjeev Kumar Singh Special Operations Group of Jammu and Kashmir Police were killed during the encounter in Tral in Pulawama district yesterday, in which two militants were also gunned down.
Saha said once the house where the militants were hiding was cordoned off, the father and brother of one of the terrorists approached Rai claiming that the ultra wanted to surrender. But even as Rai gave them an opportunity to do so, the militants came out of the house firing indiscriminately leading to the gunbattle.
The officer's swift actions prevented many civilian casualties during the operation, Saha said and noted that Rai had taken "a number of initiatives for the positive engagement of youth like organising cricket and football tournaments".
"Clearly under his leadership, we could say that the narrative in Tral was changing. He earned the admiration of all the administration for his meticulous planning and we have seen how Tral turned out to vote," Lt Gen Saha said.
Rai was conferred the Yudh Seva medal on the eve of Republic Day for outstanding contribution in planning and conduct of operations including a gun battle with militants in south Kashmir last year.
Saha said the security in the Kashmir Valley was being ensured with a "colossal effort" by the army and added it was a collective responsibility of all the concerned agencies to keep the local youth away from militancy.
To another question about casualties among high-ranked officers of the army during the anti-militancy encounters, Lt Gen Saha said it was because Indian army officers always led from the front.
"Clearly because traditionally and as per our ethos, Indian army officers always led from the front and it is a matter of pride for us that we have officers of such calibre and such commitment who, even at the rank of the commanding officer, very senior rank, chose to fight from the front with their men at all times," he said.
Saha also said the army would always give an opportunity to the militants to surrender wherever such a situation comes up.
"We have been giving this opportunity wherever the parents or relations do come up to try and say that they would like to ask their son or relation to surrender. So in all fairness, we try to give them this opportunity and I would not try to add any further motives to that," he said.
Praising Rai, Saha said, "he was always in the frontline, leading his men to deliver exceedingly well. Even in the operation yesterday, soon after the cordon was established, the commanding officer was in-charge right in the front when he was approached
"He asked him to go ahead and get him to surrender. At the same time, the terrorist's brother also approached and under these circumstances, both militants rushed out of the house that they were hiding in and fired rampantly," he said.
The army commander said it was to the credit of the very quick response and very quick thinking of Col Rai that he retaliated immediately and in a very brief and intense gunbattle, the two militants were killed.
"If it were not for his quick response, quite clearly, there could have been causalities on the civilians who were there in the vicinity along with his brother and others.
"So, it is the very swift response of Col Rai and the men under his command, that the terrorists -- one of them a district commander and the other one quite a young recruit -- both were eliminated," he said.
He said pro-active actions are being taken by the army to ensure that the security conditions remain stable and to ensure that the mandate which has been given by the people comes in a situation of high security stability.
"I have always maintained the way to keep the local youth away from militancy is to have them proactively engaged, to have them positively engaged.
"You are perhaps aware of the number of initiatives taken, especially sports activities, to keep them positively and proactively engaged but really it is a collective responsibility and every agency has to come together to be sure that the youth do not stray into the ranks of militancy," he said.
Saha said the families of both Col Rai and head constable Singh "were uppermost our prayers today. We stand by them in this hour of grief and all times to come."
Col Rai's body is being flown to Delhi and it will be kept at the Delhi cantonment crematorium.
His last rites will take place on Thursday. Top officers of the army and other security agencies were present here to pay tributes to the slain officer.
Col Rai, a native of Ghazipur area of Uttar Pradesh, is survived by wife, a son and two daughters.
The army commander said the primary reason in spurt in the number of encounters recently has been that the army has been pro-active to ensure that the security situation remains stable
"If you see in south Kashmir, seven terrorist were eliminated -- five earlier in the area of Shopian and two here (in Tral) and in north Kashmir three of them in and around Sopore and in addition to these ten terrorists eliminated, two others were also apprehended from different places.
"If you see the figures, in one month, it is little on the higher side as it appears, but if you were to compare it with last year particularly when 101 terrorists were eliminated and 45 others apprehended, so really speaking the figures average out to be more or less same and in that sense yes the security is being ensured at a colossal effort of the army," he said.
Asked whether the reason for more encounters in south Kashmir was because the militants had shifted their base from north Kashmir, the army commander said though there has been a decrease in such incidents in north, it can't be said that the ultras had vacated their base from one place and settled at the other.
"Most of the encounters in north Kashmir have been during the counter-infiltration process, while in south, they have happened in the hinterland. We cannot say that they (militants) have vacated one base for the other, but if you see it from the point of view of the numbers, then there is less in north and more in south," he said.