He had been decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra, Vir Chakra, Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal and the little known but highly prized MacGregor Memorial Medal! Is it any surprise that he is India’s most decorated officer?
Fondly called “Zoru” by his friends and colleagues, Lt General Bakshi, was born in 1921 in Gulyana town, Rawalpindi district, Pakistan. His father, Bahadur Bakshi Lal Chand Lau, was a decorated soldier with the British Indian Army. Like his father, Lt General Bakshi enlisted in the British Indian Army, fighting the Japanese with the Baloch Regiment in Burma during World War II. His name was mentioned in dispatches by the British government, for conducting successful ambushes against the Japanese, says this tribute by Major General Ashok Mehta published in The Indian Express.
Following the Partition of India, while his family moved out of Pakistan and into India, he served on the Punjab Boundary Force—an ad hoc military force set up to restore law and order during the bloody communal clashes that took place along the Punjab border. After the partition, he was commissioned into the 5th Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) as a Brigade Major, and for his efforts in the war for Kashmir in 1947-48, he was awarded the Vir Chakra.
Two years later in 1949, Major Bakshi undertook a military reconnaissance mission into Tibet reportedly on the orders of Sardar Patel, the then Home Minister. He trekked a distance of 400 km over 80 days disguised as a Buddhist monk; traversing along some of the highest mountain passes in the world on foot. It is imperative to remember that this was a time when no foreigners were allowed inside Tibet. Entering Tibet via the famous Nathu-La pass, he brought back with him critical strategic intelligence. For his successful mission, Major Bakshi was awarded the MacGregor Memorial Medal.
In the early 1960s, he led the battalion on a United Nations peacekeeping mission in civil war-ravaged Congo. Finally, in December 1962, the Indian forces sent on behalf of the United Nations ran through Tshombe’s army in a major offensive called the Operation Grand Slam. The following year, he was awarded the distinguished Vishisht Seva Medal.
However, Lt General Bakshi’s most notable achievement was the capture of the Haji Pir Pass, a critical access point connecting Poonch to Uri in the Kashmir Valley during the 1965 war against Pakistan. It was Operation Bakshi—codenamed after him—which led to the capture of the Haji Par Pass and proved to be a significant turning point for the Indian forces. For his efforts, he was awarded the prestigious Maha Vir Chakra, the second highest gallantry award, along with the heroic Major Ranjit Singh Dayal.
Next on the list of achievements was his role as Divisional Commander during the 1971 War against Pakistan, where he led his forces to capture the narrow strip of Pakistani territory (approximately 170 miles) that extended into the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir south of Akhnoor, which Lt General Bakshi called it the ‘Chicken’s neck’ and sought to snap it into two and push the Pakistani forces back. As predicted, he was successful in making it happen, and once again led a moment that would turn the tide of the war in India’s favour. He was awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal for his efforts. After leading counter-insurgency operations in Nagaland, he retired in 1979. Lieutenant General Bakshi passed away on 24th May 2018 at the ripe old age of 97. He leaves behind a remarkable legacy, fighting and serving across different theatres of battle both at home and abroad.