NEW DELHI: “I can’t forget the picture of two of my colleagues, from the navy and air force, and I walking off the Malé jetty, It was a classic tri-service operation,” says Lt Gen. Vinod Bhatia (Retd), who was the Brigade Major 50(I) Parachute Brigade during Operation Cactus that put down the 1988 coup in the Maldives, which rescued, protected and restored the government of then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. He recounted the planning and execution of India’s intervention that was successfully implemented within 16 hours of intimation of the operation by all three services. ‘Hadiya,’ he said, which means ‘gift’ in Dhivehi, was the codeword for Indian aircraft to land and secure the airfield. Lt Gen. Bhatia recounted how ‘Janes’ Magazine noted in December 1988, “India now has the capability of protecting its strategic interests. The massive operation “operation cactus” which came as the year was closing, demonstrated that the three services, the Army, the Air Force and the Navy, had acted in perfect coordination. The Maldives Operation has been a showpiece in military strategy.” ‘Time’ Magazine also devoted an April 1989 cover-story to the operation with a picture of the Indian Naval Ship, INS Godavari, which intercepted the fleeing coup plotters in a hijacked merchant vessel and rescued hostages including a cabinet minister and his family. The cover title read, “Super India, The Next Military Power.”
Lt Gen. Bhatia, who served as Director General, Military Operations, in this conversation with StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi recounted vividly with the help of maps and pictures he provided, how India responded first though the President had reportedly approached the U.S., then Soviet Union and Pakistan too. He also talked about how the U.S. Navy landed up after the operation was over and what then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi apparently said when told all hostages including the minister and his mother-in-law had been rescued. Currently, Director of the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies, Lt Gen. Bhatia narrated why the brief from bringing back then President Gayoom to India changed, how there were no Maldivian or Indian casualties post the troops landing, and a subsequent letter of appreciation written by the head of state to PM Gandhi.