Bhairon Singh Rathore, a BSF veteran of the 1971 India-Pakistan war whose bravery at Rajasthan’s Longewala post was portrayed by actor Suniel Shetty in the Bollywood movie ‘Border’, died in Jodhpur on Monday.
He was 81.
“The braveheart took his last breath at AIIMS, Jodhpur, today. DG BSF and all ranks condole the passing of Naik (Retd.) Bhairon Singh, Sena Medal, the hero of the Longewala battle during the 1971 war. BSF salutes his intrepid bravery, courage, and dedication towards his duty,” the force said in a tweet.
Rathore’s son Sawai Singh told PTI on Saturday that his father was admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) at Jodhpur on December 14, two days before the 51st anniversary of the war, after his health deteriorated and his limbs got affected in what seemed like a paralysis.
“Doctors told us that my father possibly suffered a brain stroke. He was in and out of ICU over the last few days,” Singh said. The Rathore family lives in Solankiatala village, about 100 km from Jodhpur.
A BSF spokesperson said Bhairon Singh Rathore’s body is being taken to a training centre of the force in Jodhpur where a wreath-laying ceremony will be held after which cremation will be conducted in his village with full military honours.
Rathore was deployed at the Longewala post in the Thar desert of Jaisalmer, commanding a small BSF unit of six to seven personnel that was accompanied by a 120 men company of the Army’s 23 Punjab regiment. It was the bravery of these men that decimated an assaulting Pakistani brigade and tank regiment at this location on December 5, 1971.
He received the Sena Medal in 1972 for his gallant action. Posted with the 14th BSF battalion during the war, Bhairon Singh Rathore retired from service as a Naik in 1987.
BSF records about the Longewala battle state, “When one of the 23 Punjab boys was killed, Lance Naik Bhairon Singh took his light machine gun and inflicted heavy casualties on the advancing enemy.”
“It was only their courage and determination to do or die that won the day and Lance Naik Bhairon Singh became a great inspiration to his other comrades on the post,” official records state.
Bhairon Singh Rathore’s role was essayed by actor Suniel Shetty in the 1997 movie ‘Border’.
Shetty paid tribute to Rathore on Twitter. “Rest in power Naik Bhairon Singh Ji. Heartfelt condolences to the family,” he tweeted.
The war veteran, during his past interaction with reporters, had said that he watched the movie certain things about Longewala were shown correctly, like the Army taking over their post in the run-up to the war and he along with his men taking the then Army commanders Captain Dharamveer Singh (role played by actor Akshaye Khanna) and Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri (played by Sunny Deol) to show the area during a two-day patrol.
He had said it was Captain Dharamveer, sent for a reconnaissance of the forward area, who relayed over the wireless information of the advancing Pakistani tank and foot columns to his commanders back at the Longewala post. Rathore had also confirmed that when Pakistan launched heavy artillery in the area, to conceal the sound of the advancing tank regiment, he had rushed inside the house of a reluctant local to fetch the holy Quran so that they could leave the war zone.
He, however, said he got married a year after the 1971 war and not as shown in the movie where his character (Shetty) rushed to the border immediately after his wedding.
The retired soldier said he and his men posted at Longewala had immense faith in ‘Tanot Mata’ whose temple is close to the post in Jaisalmer and has also been depicted in the war film.
Rathore continued to tell the tale of guts, glory, and courage undertaken by the soldiers in one of India’s biggest military victories for 51 years, as against his reel version getting killed in action.