Army Honours Col Santosh Mahadik

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Jammu: Colonel Santosh Mahadik was honoured by the Indian Army who was martyred fighting militants in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district on Tuesday, at a ceremony in Srinagar on Wednesday morning. The 38-year-old was the second Army commanding officer to die in a terrorist encounter this year.

As an officer of the elite 21 Para-Special Forces unit, Col Mahadik led many “successful operations” against militants and their hideouts in Jammu and Kashmir and in the northeast for over a decade.

At around 2pm on Tuesday, Col Mahadik and his troops were again combing the area when the terrorists opened heavy fire, and then fled deeper into the forest. “Col Mahadik was hit on the head… he was evacuated to the Durgmulla military hospital but succumbed despite medical intervention. Two other security personnel were injured. The operation is still continuing,” said the officer.

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Awarded a Sena Medal for gallantry during Operation Rhino in the north-east in 2003, he did not want to rest on his laurels even after becoming a Colonel. He volunteered to command a battalion of the Rashtriya Rifles, the Army’s specialised counter-insurgency force in J&K. On Tuesday , Col Mahadik was leading his troops from 41 RR in a chase against heavily-armed terrorists, who had infiltrated across the LoC.

In January, Colonel Munindra Rai of Gorkha Rifles died in Jammu and Kashmir’s Tral in a similar operation. “Over the last two days, as many as three `contacts’ had been established with this group of terrorists in the inhospitable terrain… but they managed to evade,” said a senior officer.

Col Mahadik, who studied in the Sainik School in his hometown Satara in Maharashtra, leaves behind his wife Sashwati, an 11-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son. “We are proud of our young officers like him who lead from the front and do not hesitate to sacrifice their lives for the nation,” defence minister Manohar Parrikar said.

The Army has always had the sterling tradition of its officers leading from the front, which is enshrined in the gallantry awards list year after year. But it’s relatively rare for battalion commanding officers to die in counter-insurgency operations.