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HomePageTurnerBook ExcerptsHow Sehmat, the 'one daredevil woman' in Raazi, saved INS Vikrant

How Sehmat, the ‘one daredevil woman’ in Raazi, saved INS Vikrant

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Read this exclusive excerpt from Harinder Sikka’s book ‘Calling Sehmat’ to know what happened.

For the hundredth time, Mir read the note: Pakiz moving troops to Chumb. War inevitable. Subs setting sail to east coast. Attack on aircraft carrier imminent. Monitor following coordinates.

The implications were serious. He stroked his jaw in deep concentration as he carefully considered and analysed the dead reckoning (DR) positions where the subs were to be positioned. Transferring the positions on the chart, he encircled the areas and stepped back to take a macro view.

As per Sehmat’s information, Pakistani submarines were being stationed not only in the Arabian Sea that surrounded the heavily guarded Western Command of the Indian Navy, but also in the Bay of Bengal that housed warships under the Eastern Naval Command. The more he analysed the report, the more clear it became to Mir that Pakistan was bent upon confrontation. Reports of support from the American fleet, present in the vicinity of the Arabian Sea had possibly skyrocketed the Pakistani government’s morale.

Mir’s office was keeping a close watch on the rapidly rising graph of red pointers on the map. With each passing day, more Pakistani troops moved closer to the Indian border, with battle tanks and armoury, indicating the impending Pakistani attack. However, experts and war analysts on the Indian side remained divided on whether such a gathering of troops would lead to a full-fledged Indo-Pak war. ‘Pakistan does not have the wherewithal,’ they strongly felt. ‘Pakistan cannot open war on two fronts and survive,’ they repeatedly opined. And the analysts did have strong reasons in support of their arguments.

At that time, Pakistan was heavily engaged with its trouble-torn eastern state where the public at large had come out in revolt against the step-motherly treatment it had received at the hands of its rulers. To curb the uprising, the Pakistani government had stationed huge army contingents and paramilitary forces under a Lieutenant General at Dhaka.

Logistically however, it was a nightmare for the state, separated by the huge land mass of India on one side and an even bigger seafront on the other, to govern effectively. Poor communication systems, unmanageable expenditures and prolonged delays in providing logistical support to its massive contingent were enormous challenges in themselves.

Taking on a much larger country like India and at the same time militarily curbing the uprising in its own state located far away from mainland Pakistan logically appeared nothing short of suicidal. A seaward-bound submarine attack on Indian shores was even more difficult to fathom for the Indian think tank. Besides, climatically, winter was not best suited for war as the prevailing low temperatures in the northern region could cause untold miseries. The intelligence reports were thus viewed with suspicion and not taken at face value.

Despite their strong logic, Mir wasn’t convinced. Sehmat’s information, based on her first-hand knowledge, was too precise and accurate to be ignored. It was safer to assume that Pakistan was likely to engage India in the thickest of winters, much against past convention. The counter-view analysts argued that the Pakistani forces could utilize the surprise element and inflict maximum damage in quick succession before seeking the help of Western countries to enforce ceasefire. And there could be no bigger damage to the Indian pride than the sinking of its flagship, the mighty British-built aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant.

Pakistan was displaying its will to go to any extent to achieve its aim by sailing Ghazi, Hangor and Mangro into Indian waters even as it was engaged in a dialogue with the country. As if propelled by a sudden brainwave, Mir rushed to the Navy Chief. He looked like someone who had just solved a jigsaw puzzle. And it was all because of one daredevil woman, Sehmat.

‘I would give due weightage to the information and position Vikrant out of harm’s way, maybe over here, till we are fully assured of her safety,’ Mir said, picking up a small model of INS Vikrant, and placing it at the Cochin harbour which was well protected from the possible sub attacks. He then turned towards the Admiral with raised eyebrows, expecting to be commended for his valuable contribution.

It was now the Navy Chief’s turn to get in on the act. After all, the Indian intelligence services were not supposed to decide where and how the naval fleet would move. Analysing the enemy submarine positions on the chart, the Admiral lifted the model from its position at the Cochin harbour and positioned it at the Andaman harbour. His face displayed tension, unhappiness and wrinkles of dissatisfaction. ‘I hope your intelligence report is correct, Mir. The carrier has some boiler problems. This move will practically put her out of a job.’

‘The information is correct, Admiral,’ replied Mir almost immediately. ‘We are lucky to be forewarned, for these subs are not easy to detect.’ Mir’s mind was racing in all directions, his thoughts invariably hovering around Sehmat’s safety. He was almost certain that Sehmat was in grave danger. She couldn’t have transmitted such a long message so accurately without it getting picked up by enemy receivers as well. Plus her ‘do or die’ attitude over the past few days had further added to his fears. Excusing himself, he left the war room and rushed to his office. He tried to reach the Indian Embassy in Pakistan, but each time the call got disconnected. ‘Bastards!’ he spat aloud and pressed the intercom button as hard as he could with his right thumb.

Startled, Javed, his assistant, came running in. ‘Call the Indian Embassy. Tell the High Commissioner that I am reaching Islamabad by the first flight tomorrow.’

‘Yes, Sir,’ Javed replied and took the receiver from Mir’s hand, replacing it on the cradle. It was rare to see his boss, who always maintained his composure during trying circumstances, so shaken up. Without uttering a word, he left the room. Moments later, Javed was busy cancelling Mir’s appointments for the rest of the day, including the dinner that his boss was hosting for his daughter’s in-laws.

Back in the briefing room, the Navy Chief was huddled with the other Admirals, brainstorming on the numerous probabilities and options. In comparison to the army, theirs was a younger and more inexperienced force that had never been put to the test. The lone aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, was one of their main weapons, capable of launching air attacks from the middle of the ocean. But it was also vulnerable to submarine attack and thus needed to be protected first. Any damage to the floating airstrip could not only result in the loss of thousands of men on board, it could also demoralize and severely embarrass the armed forces. For Pakistan, on the other hand, Vikrant was the coveted trophy they aspired to acquire. Having faced defeat in every showdown in the past, its desperate Generals were pushing hard to level scores at any cost.

‘Calling Sehmat by Harinder Sikka’ has been published by Penguin Books. Excerpted with permission from the publisher.

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