By Veteran Colonel Josey Joseph
One Monday morning of 1995, all hell broke loose at the Northern Command HQ during the Army Commander’s morning prayer. Many Major Generals thundered that a Major had hijacked the Transit Camp Bus, leaving behind their PAs and Clerks. “How can the officer leave the soldiers behind. The officer got to be fixed. It should be a lesson for all,” opined various two starred Generals.
What lead to all these upheavals?
The young officers of Udhampur station were always critical of the Officers’ Transit Camp Bus plying between Udhampur and Jammu. Their grudge was that the senior officers, Colonels and above, travelled to Jammu on leave in Jeep, leaving the lesser mortals to travel by the Army Bus starting from the Officers’ Transit camp.
This bus was preferred by the sizeable number of clerical staff and sahayaks (helpers) of Command HQ. Every Saturday, they travelled by this bus to Jammu, spent the weekend with their families and returned Monday morning.
On Saturdays, by the time the officers reached the transit camp, all seats were occupied by these VIPs and it was a herculean task to remove them. The VIPs were stuck to their seats with bond stronger than that of Fevicol. If an officer requested for a seat, these VIPs turned their head in the opposite direction. Fevicol was not allowing them to get up and their ego of being the personal staff of Generals did not permit them to move. The bus driver and conductor remained helpless and the transit camp NCO responsible for allotment of seats tactically vanished from the scene. No one wanted to annoy the VIPs, typically following the famous Malayalam saying, You must be equally scared of the elephant shit as much as the real elephant.
On social occasions, after a few drinks, young officers of Udhampur did vent their ire on Army Service Corps (ASC) Officers and after few more drinks cursed the ASC as the bus was from one of the ASC battalions in Udhampur. It made no difference to them if the officer was from the Animal Transport Battalion. They said “Yes, AT and MT are same. Both are transport only.” Now, who would argue that Animal Transport had mules and that the technology was ages behind Motor Transport?
On that fateful Saturday, this Major reached the transit camp to travel to Jammu to see off his four-year-old daughter who had joined him for a week during Dussehra holidays. His wife, staying in SF accommodation in Delhi, had boarded her at the Delhi airport as an unaccompanied minor.
As the Major got into the bus, he found all seats occupied by the VIPs. His request to provide him a seat fell on deaf ears and the bus driver pleaded helplessness. Officers senior to him, seated in the bus did not take any action. The Major took a command decision and ordered all the JCOs/OR to get down. Reluctantly and expecting this to be some sort of prank, one by one, they came down from the bus. Finally, with the last VIP disembarked, the Major ordered the driver to start the bus and leave for Jammu. So, the officer, his daughter and another five officers left for Jammu in a bus with a seating capacity of 42 passengers.
The VIPs had been wronged! They vowed to fight together and avenge insult to their status!
“Mera 25 saal naukri mein aisa kabhi nahin hua,” (In my 25 years of service, it never happened like this,) declared the PA of Brig A. The rest nodded in agreement. “Iska kuch karna hoga,” (We got to do something about it,) and the rest again agreed. They then boarded a Shakthiman truck from the JCOs/OR transit camp, fuming at the insult to their status.
Bad news spreads fast but gossip spreads faster. My Company Second-in-Command (2IC,) receiver, and broadcaster of all gossip in Udhampur, came to me with the news that a Major had hijacked the Officer’s Bus and was moving to Jammu with the bus.
I laughed. The 2IC lost his senses. He stared at me as if I was also a hijacker. In between laughter, I assured him that the Major will come out of it. He still could not understand. He said, “Do you know, PA of Brig A had to travel in a Shakthiman truck?” I was soon identified as course-mate of the hijacker.
On that Monday, I was summoned by the DDST to enquire about the Major. With a straight face, I answered all his queries and found him to be appreciative of the Major. The Generals and Brigadiers wanted to order a Court of Inquiry and fix the officer. The Major requested for the same under Army Rule 180, wherein the person against whom allegations have been made has to be present and ask questions to the witnesses.
Since there were many loose ends and it was revealed that many of the Command HQ staff did not have official leave approval; the case was left to die a natural death.
The happiest were the ASC officers as we did not have to listen to complaints on social occasions. The ASC Branch was happy that someone had the guts to take such an action. Orders were passed that the Officers’ Transit Camp Bus was meant only for Officers and all the VIP JCOs and NCOs were barred from travelling in it, giving some relief and respect to young officers.
Two weeks later, the hijacker proceeded on Technical Staff Course at AIT, Pune and the case was finally closed.
You must be itching to know who the officer was?
None other than Reji Koduvath nick named ‘Kaduva’ (Meaning Tiger in Malayalam,) a veteran of several such battles. As a Lieutenant, while serving in Delhi, he had thrashed a Superintendent of Police and sorted out many senior Police officials.