The book review — Himalayan Blunder

This book was written by Brigadier John Parusharam Dalvi, the commander of the ill-fated 7th Indian Infantry Brigade, Indian Army. The motive of the book seemed to be pretty clear from the preface itself. It seems to have been born out of the deep anguish of the man who was charged to perform the unthinkable with the most meager resources allotted to him. Unlike that of a victory, the responsibility of a defeat is generally passed over to various people by each one who took part in the act. And, looks like the same happened in the aftermath of the acrimonious defeat of India in the 1962’s Sino-Indian war.

Several people in the chain of command of Indian Army and the political brass have put the blame squarely upon the shoulders of this brigadier who was leading the war (albeit a short one) from the forefront. Under normal workings, if there was a truth to it, that the defeat was largely due to the performance of the jawan, making them responsible would not have been unfair. However, in this comprehensive essay, the brigadier gave a detailed account of why and how the jawan should be absolved of any misgivings. This looked to be an attempt by the brigadier to clean the murky waters of the happenings during and leading to the Sino-Indian war.

The book seems to be very well written because it goes into the exact details along with the timelines of the events. The author took great pain in explaining his version of the events and articulated his views on the events leading to it. This seemed to be a very comprehensive analysis of the situation.

The book deals with the following points (and more) in a great detail.

  1. It starts off with the happenings in the political backdrop during the post-independence and before the fateful 1962. He goes into detail about the foreign policy adopted by India towards China specifically. The famous slogan “Hindi Chini bhai bhai” was quoted during the mid-1950’s. All seemed fine with China during this period, however, the start of very cordial relations between India and Dalai Lama looks to have touched a nerve with the Chinese. According to the author, the reaction of New Delhi to the incorporation of Tibet into China showed that India at that time was unwilling to interfere in the matter at the cost of losing the Chinese friendship. The author mentions that had the government had the foresight, they would have definitely brought up the matter in the UN. According to him, the incorporation gave China direct access and a land border with India, which was overlooked by New Delhi and was not considered in the national policy formation. The general mood present at that time was that China was an ally and a war confrontation was never even considered a possibility. This led to some major complacency on the part of New Delhi w.r.t. strengthening our Eastern borders with sufficient manpower.
  2. Next, it covers about the way the smaller incursions, before the full-fledged war, were handled by the Defense ministry. The author states that the orders were issued by a heavily depleted Cabinet Committee on Security (owing to the absence of Prime Minister and Minister of Defense on account of their foreign tours at that particular time) without giving much seriousness to the issue and without understanding the ground reality of the terrain. Also, the author says that decisions were taken to occupy and establish posts at places which barely have easy access to them. He gives the examples of regions around Dhola and Namka Chu river in the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) which were selected for establishing forward posts. The problem with these areas is that they are at heights of about 16,000 feet over sea level and it needs an arduous terrain to be scaled before reaching them.
  3. It moves on to the point of time given to army for acclimatization of the surroundings. Given that brigades were moved from the plains of Punjab to the mountainous area, any human will take time to adjust himself to the climate and perform at his peak level. He feels that the time provided to the army was barely more than a few months and that led to a lot of casualties without even the war.
  4. It details the lack of modernization of the arms used by Indian Army. The arms in use up to that point belonged to the WW2 era. These arms, according to the author were lacking in comparison with those used by the Chinese at that point.
  5. In continuation to point 2, it also details about the lack of necessary equipment needed to tackle the mountainous and snowy climate of NEFA region. The Indian Army, having been vastly organized in the plains was not having the necessary extra equipment for troops to use in the snowy parts of North East. Special equipment like uniform, shoes and camping gear are all necessary since they have to sustain in the extra cold weather.
  6. It details the point about lack of infrastructure to reach the chosen posts around Namka Chu. Due to lack of any roads, it needed a 2–3 day trek for the army to move from an inner post to the outer ones (closer to Namka Chu). This lack of proper roads severely affected the mobility and put a lot of toll on the morale of the troops. Also, the communication channels from the forward posts to the brigade HQ and Division HQ were hardly effective since even those were outdated equipment. This lead to a huge delay in the passage of orders via the chain of command.
  7. It also mentions a severe lack of functioning in the upper echelons of the Indian Army in translating the government aims into achievable army operations. The author repeatedly mentions the vague orders being passed on to him from the Corps and Divisional HQ instead of providing specified objectives, which is the expected manner in the army.
  8. It dealt with the subject of a lack of coordination between the Ministry and Army in understanding the ground reality and taking appropriate actions. The author stresses that decisions about a post being worth manning or not was taken without proper appreciations from a person of standing in the military. He takes the Namka Chu as an example and says that militarily, the post is of not much use since it is difficult to hold it and send back up. According to the author, even though one or more Generals did understand this, they weren’t able to convince the Ministry about the futility of trying to defend from that post.
  9. It dealt with reasoning how the famed 4th Indian Infantry Division, known for its exploits in the WW2 was made the scapegoat even though it was the 4th division, only in name, manning the NEFA. The author mentions that the division was actually divided between plains of Punjab and NEFA and that brigades of other divisions were brought in under the banners of 4th division temporarily. He argues that without the cohesion, it is difficult for them to work together and achieve the same result.
  10. It dealt with the lack of planning for a war event. Apparently, the government didn’t even factor in such a possibility since the Chinese were always showing the olive branch and many frequent bilateral meetings had happened between the two countries. Because of the above, any or all disturbances in the NEFA were expected to be only shows of strength and not any serious complications.

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