Supreme sacrifice of a brave Commando (1977- 2008)

Born on 15 March 1977, Sandeep Unikrsihnan was the only son of K. Unnikrishnan, an ISRO officer who had moved to Bangalore from Kozhikode. He studied at Frank Anthony School at Bangalore. A good athlete since his school days, Sandeep was keen to join the Army and always sported a crew cut. He joined the National Defence Academy at Pune in 1995 and was commissioned into 7 Bihar on 12 July 1999.His friends remember him as selfless, calm and generous.

Sandeep served in various stations and took part in counterinsurgency operations. He was selected to join the elite National SecurityGuards (NSG). He topped in the course at Commando Wing, (Infantry School, Belgaum), earning an instructor grading and commendation. He joined NSG Commando Service in 2006 and was posted to the Special Action Group(SAG) in January 2007.

On 26 November 2008, few buildings including the iconic Hotel Taj in South Mumbai were attacked by terrorists in which some staff members and guests were held as hostages.

Sandeep, then commander of 51 SAG, was given the task to clear the Hotel of the militants and rescue the hostages. He led his team of ten commandos at 1 a.m. on 28 November through the staircase which was pitch dark and water poured by the fire brigade was dripping down. The carpet fastened to the staircase was soggy and the boots of the commandos made a squishing sound. On the third floor, they found a room locked from inside and asked the occupants to open it. The guests were reluctant to open the door even when the commandos announced that they were police. The commandos broke open the door and rescued 14 hostages.

The terrorists were firing at them from above. Sandeep instructed two commandos to move near the door and clear the Palm lounge by throwing grenades. Just then the team came under grenades attack from the militants in which one commando was badly wounded. Sandeep arranged for his evacuation and went to the lounge alone. He threw a grenade and fired a burst as he bounded up the staircase. It was a terribly risky step as he did not have anyone to cover him. He headed to the ballroom which had two sofas and a circular table. He noticed a flash from under the table and a volley of bullets hit him. He was badly wounded and succumbed to the injury. His last words to his team mates were “Do not comeup. I will handle them alone.”

His Commanding Officer, Col Sheoran, tried to call him on mobile and got no reply. By 3 a.m. on 28 November, all the 21 floors had been cleared and the tower was handed over to the police after which the search for Sandeep began. Major Kandwal and Major Jasrotia retraced Sandeep’s movements and noticed a figure on the marble floor, face up. Sandeep`s body was riddled with bullets.

Sandeep sacrificed his life on 28 November and became the first officer in NSG to become a martyr. During the operation, his team had come under intense fire and one of his colleagues was grievously wounded. He pinned down the terrorists with accurate fire and rescued the injured commando. Despite being hit by a bullet in his arm, he continued to fight the terrorists till his last breath. Sandeep displayed exemplary bravery and leadership of the highest order and made a supreme sacrifice for the nation for which he was awarded the Ashok Chakra (AC).

The news of Sandeep`s death shocked his parents and wife. Thousands of people lined up along the route at his funeral shouting “Sandeep amar rahe.”  The road from Federal Mogulon Doddaballapur Road to MS Palya junction, Bengaluru, has been renamed Sandeep Unnikrishnan Road in his honour. His bust has also been installed at Ramamurthy Nagar – Outer Ring Road junction in Bengaluru.

Sandeep is survived by his wife and a daughter.

Brigadier Suresh Chandra Sharma (retd.)