Friday, December 20, 2013

Himalayan Blunder

It is often said that history is written by the victor. However an objective reading of the truth of history requires us to step up and read all versions in order to gain a picture of at least a semblance of truth as to what may have happened. As I write this post, therefore I have to warn the reader that this is my reading of history and the Sino Indian war of 1962 based upon this book and there have been several books regarding the same.

Having said that, this book is special, because often it is the pawn which very intimately is witness to the war than any of the other pieces, or the king himself. This book was written by Brigadier John Parashuram Dalvi, who was the commander of 7 Infantry Brigade, which was at the epicenter of the Sino Indian Conflict of 1962. Post the one month long conflict, when Chinese force overran a lot of Indian territory on the NEFA border, the author was taken captive by the Chinese forces and later returned to India. It is during those months of captivity that he forms the outline for the book. It details elaborately the kind of imbalance in the preparation for the war, the political thought process in relations with China and the events that caused the conflict. It does not therefore hesitate to place the blame where present and identify all the failures of different people in charge at that time. It is therefore critical to note that the book was banned upon it's release and later allowed to be released.

In 1962, the Indian government was headed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the book dissects vividly Nehru's priorities for India and his global reputation in terms of crafting India's foreign policy and the non aligned movement. The book details the halo around Nehru's persona and the unquestioned authority with which Nehru ruled the country and his socialist steps to take the country forward and the neglect of the Armed forces. 

The book also details how a person like V.K.Krishna Menon who was the Defence Minister of the time, was often more interested in Foreign Affairs and details how his exploits at the U.N made him something of a maverick and thereby caused his interaction with the generals of the Defence Services leaving a lot to be desired. His disagreement with the great general K.S.Thimmayya being a case in point. Also it often argues against General B.M.Kaul's Forward Post Policy. As per this policy, Indian Armed forces had set up Indian Army check posts in disputed areas of Land, as China had not agreed to McMahon Line, set up during the British Administration of being the natural border between India and China. This erroneous policy costs us dearly as one of these posts at Dhola, becomes the trigger point of the conflict and was the first post which was attacked by the Chinese Army, thereby triggering the conflict. Indian Army had to then go through a lot of difficulty to secure these posts, and most often were in a militarily disadvantaged position and yet had to hold on to them due to political pressure.

While the book could have descended to a massive rant against the establishment, what prevents that from happening, is the author's patriotic and often practical analysis of the situation and his description of events as they happened and his logical questions, which history will find very difficult to answer. It is also his great insight into military strategy and knowledge of Indian history and his recommendations for the future which stand apart and make this a compelling and compulsive read for all Indians who are concerned of India's security and Military strength. While there were many guilty men of 1962, it is always better to understand what we can take back as lessons for the future instead of blaming the mistakes we made in the past. The author is intimately aware of this and therefore uses his words very wisely and often with rightful anger. The herculean hardship that the author as well as the soldiers of the forces he commanded during the short war until they gave their lives for their country remind us of the immense sacrifices made by a simple Indian Jawan. The author upon release comes back to the country after being released by the chinese and is looked upon with suspicion once he reaches India, as to whether he might have been brainwashed. After such travails, it would have been very easy for any normal human being to be highly vituperative, but it is testimony to the author's character that he is very objective, forthright and sincere in his description of the events that occurred.

The book is also enriched further by adding to it's appendix the letter written by Sardar Vallabhai
Patel to Jawaharlal Nehru, which is very insightful and sets the ground rules as to the precautions we need to take in our relations with China. It remains to be said that some of his observations later proved to be eerily true and continue to be relevant today.

Which brings me to the lessons that could be learned from the book for our future.

Civilian Military Interaction - As part of the Independence movement, a lot of the Congress leaders went to jail, participated and protests and fought for the country. While this was happening, the Indian Army was being administered and commanded by British Officers and generals. Post Independence, when Indians formed their own government, the Indian Army which was then respected the world over for it's efficiency was looked upon with mistrust in it's own home. The government enforced civil supremacy and was always suspicious of the Army and always feared a military coup. This forged together unhealthy relationship continued thereon, with often conflicts arising in the interaction between the civilian leaders of the day and military leadership. This culture is evident from the bitterness in the relationships between Krishna Menon and Gen. K.S. Thimmayya, Indira Gandhi and Sam Maneckshaw  and so on. This has sadly continued until recently with the Gen.V.K.Singh episode. While Military rule of a country may not be right, the civilian and military leadership of the day has to be friendly and one of mutual respect. In the Indian case, often civilian members of the bureaucracy have often been disrespectful of the Military leadership and there is a disconnect between the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces. We learn from the book that often important strategic military decisions were taken by civilian members of the rank of a Secretary and dished out as orders to the Armed Forces. This has to be therefore improved by making sure that there is minimum political interference with regard to strategic military decisions and at the same time provide complete support. This is best illustrated by our 1971 victory over Pakistan, during Lal Bahadur Shastri's reign. Political Leadership should never break the military chain of command or interfere in appointments of the Armed Forces. There is no role for Favoritism in appointment in Defence where the only criteria has to be performance, experience and capability.

Importance of Infrastructure - Thankfully we have advanced a lot since 1962 and the armed forces near the chinese border today have much better equipment, winter clothing and weapons. However the regions near the chinese border remain ill developed partly due to the difficult terrain and also because of lack of inhabiting population. Despite that, it is a must that we have proper roads built so that rapid movement of troops made possible,  without relying on Air dropped rations, like we did in 1962. The Border Roads Organisation which was set up for this purpose in 1960 has to be strengthened and budgets allocated so that the entire stretch of the Chinese border is well reachable and patrolled. Also such infrastructure will help our Intelligence apparatus as well greatly.

Role of Opposition and Public Opinion - During times of crisis, public opinion and opposition in government have to make sure they speak in an unified voice and irresponsible calls for immediate action should never be made, as a tactful military response must be well-planned and executed with a lot of time taken for the same. Sometimes, it may even be a strategic move for our forces to retreat, so that a more advantageous position could be reached, while attacking the enemy. The popular media of the day and Public opinion should always be channelled towards ably supporting our Armed Forces and standing by it's decisions.

Lastly, one important thread that runs throughout the book is that during 1962, though there was massive Chinese build up along the border, there was never any real fear of war on the Indian side, as it expected that Indian clout in global politics will deter the Chinese forces. Throughout that time both the political leadership as well as some generals of the Armed forces never seriously anticipated war. India, however now has to be always in a perpetual mode of war readiness and should always anticipate war because the recent Chinese incursions and activities along the border have been highly suspicious. Recently the Chinese Army arrested five Indians in Ladakh, while they were in Indian territory claiming that they crossed over. Such incidents should keep us in high alert mode and serious political thought given regarding the same. Also recently there have been allegations of Favoritism in the Indian Army. Such instances show us that we still have not completed learning lessons from the past. At least as a tribute to the great soldiers who laid down their lives in 1962 we have to make sure that we learn these lessons quickly and keep our country secure. For any Armed Forces aspirant, I would suggest they give this book a deep engrossed reading as well, as it often highlights the great qualities of an Indian Soldier.


4 comments:

Sucheth Sunil said...

looking forward to read this book.

Srijith Unni said...

Yes Sucheth, It is a must that tomorrow's youth like you read this book.!

deejthtraveller said...

a very well written review!

Srijith Unni said...

Thanks Deejith!