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Army’s Living Legend Wades Into Public Life Post-retirement But Turns Down Offers To Contest UP Elections

Hero of Tiger Hill Yogendra Yadav is wary of partisan politics but open to a Rajya Sabha nomination as he seeks ‘nation building role’

Photo Credit : Indian Army

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Honorary Captain Yogendra Yadav at a farewell function on December 31, 2021

One of India’s greatest living military heroes, Honorary Captain Yogendra Singh Yadav - the hero of Tiger Hill - is cautiously wading into public life after his retirement last month from a glorious military career.  

He is one among the only three awardees of the nation’s highest wartime gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), who are still alive. His heroics as a 19-year-old in the battle for Tiger Hill is the stuff of military folklore.

“This is a second life, post-retirement. I want to dedicate it to nation building,” Captain Yadav told BW Businessworld in his first media interview after retirement on December 31. He believes that his new role - and his “second life” - can be enabled by a Government position.

But in seeking this new role, he wants, as of now, to keep away from rough and tumble of political contest. The bravest of the brave realises that stepping on to a political minefield can be trickier than climbing an icy, 1,000-foot cliff face at Kargil in the face of machine gun fire from an enemy entrenched in bunkers on the heights.  

Yadav, a native of village Aurangabad Ahir in Bulandshahr district of poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, has spurned competitive political offers. “I was approached by the Samajwadi Party and the Bhartiya Janata Party to join and contest elections,” he revealed to this reporter.  

But the military hero seeks higher ground for post-retirement public service and wants to steer clear of electoral politics. “I will not contest elections. Partisan politics is deeply divisive. National heroes should be kept away from partisanship,” says the 41-year-old, as he steps out of the high ground of military Cantonments.  

Even though he has definite political views, Captain Yadav is deeply aware of his status as a national hero and has a well-articulated reason for steering clear of competitive politics. “A Param Vir Chakra awardee belongs to the entire Nation. He is the Nation’s pride. He cannot belong to a political party. He needs a special place,” he reasons, aware of the pedestal the PVC gives him.  

But I’m open to a Rajya Sabha nomination, or appointment as a chairman of a Government body. Such platforms are a force multiplier in public service,” he says. “A national hero like a PVC awardee should not be elected but selected,” he suggests.  

At age 19, Grenadier Yogendra Singh Yadav of 18 Grenadiers battalion was the youngest PVC awardee. His role in the recapture of Tiger Hill, a turning point in the 1999 Kargil War, turned him into a living legend. He regards his 21-years of military service after the Kargil War as a glorious chapter in his life.  

His wariness of stepping into the political minefield does not hold him back from expressing political approval of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “I regard him as a rashtra bhakta (nationalist),” he says approvingly, recalling with nostalgia his meeting with Modi when the latter was Chief Minister of Gujarat.  

Captain Yadav’s views on contemporary political issues involving the military are an endorsement of the Modi Government’s position.  

“The merger of the Amar Jawan Jyoti with the eternal flame at the National War Memorial has made it brighter,” he says. “Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose is India’s first and foremost Sena Nayak (military leader) and a national inspiration,” he adds.  

Captain Yadav sees punitive cross-border military strikes at Balakote and Uri as “the new responses of a changing nation”. He dismisses political criticism of these military initiatives and believes that India is well poised in the face of the challenge from China. “There are (political) differences but trust your forces. The josh is high. Whenever there is a threat, the Nation is with the soldier. It is the Nation’s Army and not a party’s,” he says.  

For a living military legend, Captain Yadav’s retirement from the Army was surprisingly low-key. He bid farewell to arms at Bareilly, where he was posted as an instructor at the Army’s junior leaders school. But he was back in uniform at the Republic Day Parade, and is aware that his association with the military is for all times.  

While he’s lived the life of a hero in the Army which kept him on a pedestal, there’s one issue which rankles: That he was not made an officer in an organisation where hierarchy counts for a lot. His rank of Captain is an honorary one, and he retired as a Subedar Major.  

“Because of injuries sustained in the Kargil War (he survived 12 bullet wounds and  impossible odds), I was not deemed medically and physically fit to be an officer,” the PVC awardee says with a tinge of regret. “I did BA and BEd and two Army courses after the Kargil War,” he recounts, suggesting that he did earn the educational qualifications to be an officer.  

“My suggestion is to make war heroes and outstanding achievers officers. Subedar Neeraj Chopra should be made an officer after winning an Olympic Gold Medal. State Governments appoint outstanding achievers like him Deputy Superintendent if Police or a Class I Government officer. Why should this not be done in the Army? This will benefit the Army,” he says.  

But this is the only life Captain Yogendra Yadav has known. Before him, his father Karan Singh served in the Army’s Kumaon Regiment. And his 16-year-old son Vishant is now preparing to compete for a place at the National Defence Academy (NDA) to a serve as an officer and chase military glory.