Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Himalayan Blunder by Brig. J.P.Dalvi (Guest reviewed by S. P. Tripathy)

The following is a guest review by my brother S P Tripathy. It is a very detailed one and I did not want to edit it as it conveys the sentiments exactly the way a non fiction ought to convey. I hope all of you will read it in its entirity

"The enemy was closing in but the ground was such that much of the direct artillery fire was not possible. We still fired about 20 rounds per gun towards black rock and beyond supply point. The melee of the battle was confusing; our personnel withdrawing, Chinese devastating shelling and small arms firing. My three LMGs were firing and we were using our personal weapons."

Publisher: Natraj Publishers/1969 (banned) Reprint in 1997, 2010.

Review by Shiv Prasad Tripathy (My brother)

The wide gap between the political decision and the tactical readiness for war is best summed up where the author, Brig. J.P. Dalvi, says ‘A quarter-inch map of NEFA in Delhi does not convey the enormous logistic difficulties. We were short of everything.’ The author rewinds into history and sets a detailed context and the compulsions that finally resulted into the inevitable, the Himalayan Blunder. That is the real story of the book.
War stories are always fascinating, as they bring out the brave elements in us while reading them within the confines of our four walls where one safely relates oneself to be one of the heroes of the story, and mentally pictures oneself as a crusader against all the injustice being meted out to the country. The stories bring out the passion, the adrenalin rushes, the patriotism, the invincibility, and the self-righteousness to the forefront, and the book is raced through till we have vanquished the enemy and rested for the laurels and celebrations, that happens on the last page.

Most of such stories are distilled truth, and well polished and packaged to sell since there is a stake for the author, the publisher, and sometimes, organizations extending onto countries. Patriotism sells well; and hard patriotism sells better.

“Himalayan Blunder, by Brig J.P. Dalvi” is quite a contrast, and is not for the wannabe heroes; it does not even seem to have been edited to make it a best seller. The narrative is free flow, raw, un-nerving, and is a clear recollection of a human mind that has had a lasting experience of a period that would fail to erase from his memory till nature decides otherwise. It is a reflection of a mind that has painstakingly spent time and efforts to analyze and did a post-mortem on one of the darkest chapters of India post independence. It is a deliberation that goes beyond the few weeks of action, and covers the actors and controllers who were far away from the scene of action, but were instrumental to the decisions; the actors and controllers who would devour all the praise for the victory (that was not to happen) but would shun all responsibility and ownership for the greatest debacle that they pushed the Indian army into. It is a report that gives an insight about individuals, who believed on invincibility, on decisions to maintain the high-image in the world-order, and blind to the stark-realities of the limitations at the execution level. Psychological warfare is different from a real one; you can create images and mirages in the mind, but a real war needs physical support – on personnel, ammunitions, logistics, and communications, control.

This book was banned when it was first published. Public memory was surely fresh and emotions had not subsided in that decade, the people at high levels of responsibility were still in public life, and its publication would only flame a fire which still had not died. Everyone was trying to forget the humiliation of 1962, with some trying harder to erase it from the public memory. After decades, that generation is all into oblivion, and the present one would relate to it only as a small extension to our independence story, that speaks highly of the multiple decades of peaceful struggle by the freedom fighters.

Regarding the book, let me mention that the hardbound copy is a pathetic justice to the 500+ pages on the military history. It is really sad to see that the hardcover fell off even before I could cover 200 odd pages. The book binding is as raw as the narrative itself. We are still no different from the 1960s in many ways.
“Himalayan Blunder” is an analysis of the Sino-Indian military disaster, a post-mortem of the humiliating defeat of India by China, a silent cry of a soldier whose wounds never healed, and an apology to the nation for the grand failure that shocked the entire nation.

The author has spent time on the initial chapters to give an understanding on the geo-political map of the Himalayan region – covering China, Tibet, Pakistan, the key entities that have had border issues along the Himalayas. The background onto the Sino-Tibetan relations in 20th century, the Anglo-Tibetan Treaty of 1904, The Anglo-Chinese Treaty of 1906, The Tripartite Conference of Tibet, China and Britain in Simla in 1913-14, the boundary agreement between India and Tibet famously known as the McMahon Line, and the Anglo challenge to China on their suzerainty over Tibet , to the final annexation of Tibet by China in 1950 and the mute support from newly independent India – these were key to the border dynamics that was to reach a crescendo in the next decade, and remain unresolved till date. There is reference to the prophetic letter from Sardar Patel to Nehru, also reproduced in full in the appendix, which gives his critical analysis of the invisible Chinese policy towards India.

The subsequent chapters describe the Chinese build up in Tibet, the infrastructure development in Aksai Chin, upliftment of the local Tibetans from the lower strata, access roads from mainland China to Tibet, built up of highways north of McMahon line, while building friendly relations with young India that resulted in the Panch Sheel Agreement of 1954, and the voluntary withdrawal of India from Tibet by giving up the military, communications and postal rights. It may be noted that the strategic road across Aksai Chin was news to us only when it appeared in the published Chinese maps.

The chapters also talk of the Indian defense focus on the other border with Pakistan, the Kashmir War, and the military overheads created due to the cease-fire line with Pakistan, that trouble us till date. With China being cultivated as a friend, it was well suited to focus on only one border. It suited the government policy on peaceful coexistence, as well as helped  to work within the meager budget that was hardly sufficient to maintain, and equip an army to man the most hazardous and difficult Tibet border.

The author speaks of the slowly hardening stand of China, after the China-Tibet clash in Lhasa, followed by flee of Dalai Lama to India with political asylum. Border lines were questioned, and troubles were getting created by Chinese army across a few frontiers in 1959. These would have quiet withdrawals, after raising localized tensions, and this made the political brass more confident that these incidents were adventures of the local units, and not part of any grandiose plan.  The author laments on the lack of any National Policy on China, that prevented a strategic approach to handle the upcoming tensions and only transactional responses were made by the Indian government on a limited scale. The forward policy led to opening of forward posts in the subsequent years of 1961-62, were more to create deterrence to the Chinese, while the ground level reality was a very limited manpower to manage those posts, with no real capability to offer resistance to any confrontation. As Brig. Dalvi noted, any short coming on such capability was more than made up by political rhetoric, till the Chinese called this bluff in 1962.

The story talks of the differences between the political leadership and the Army, the inadequacy of the Air Force for air-drops, the breakdown of the command-and-control structure in the Army, seniors usurping roles of their subordinates and making them redundant, the shortage of war essentials for the soldier to survive on the mighty Himalayas, and the failed intelligence about the Chinese buildup for any impending strike. It talks of the diffused and unclear coordination and control spread across the multiple entities - Army, Assam Rifles, the BRO, and the ITBP, and the constraints from finance ministry to meet the genuine demands from the man at the border.

The author also highlights the multiple instances where Army expressed reservations on the suicidal forward policy, citing the gross inadequacy of staff, ammunition, guns, roads, clothing, porterage, and winter shelters. The narrative presents a highly critical view on the movements of troops, spreading them thin, and without them being part of a grand military plan. Brig. J. P. Dalvi gives examples and inferences that suggest that public pressure fueled on the decisions by the civil supremacy, that over-ruled the army leading to the predictable results.

 A good amount of text in the book is devoted to those critical weeks from September-November period of 1962, which highlight the extreme situations faced by our soldiers, the lapses at tactical level, the air-drop losses, and all other exposure to situations that were earlier sounded as warning signs by the Army needing urgent attention. This book is an eye opener to any reader, who is a civilian content with paying taxes, but always wary of the growing defense budget. It is not easy reading for a non military person, both in terms of the terminology and the pain she goes through while reading about soldiers who move in mountain snow, with hardly any gear to maintain the physical well being. .

The book is highly critical of the political governance, including some of the key players in the Army. It is partly a rebuttal and a strong counter-view to other published books and public responses made after the defeat, most of which were critical of the men at the front. To be fair to Brig. J. P. Dalvi, he has unabashedly taken his own share of the blame. The reader need not be in agreement with all the opinions, and inferences, and may want to look into additional literature to draw her own inference.

This book is recommended to be read by all who have an interest in military history, cross-border relations, or have a stake in national policies. It will be interest to those who have stake in work functions that has impact across multiple organizations, for the sheer purpose of understanding the complexity and dimension of different demands and expectations that each one has.

This book should not be read as a post-mortem report that educates us onto the names of key players in the 1962 war and their roles on the debacle, but as an eye-opener that forces us to think, to plan, to frame policies, and provides a framework to translate these into strategic and tactical plans for managing our borders.

While the calendar has moved more than 50 years since 1962, we are still tackling the same border questions, with the same neighbors.


Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Gautami and Shiv,

Whilst this isn't a book that I would read, for no other reason than I don't read non-fiction books at all, I think that the review and insight into the historical details, was excellent.

Shriv's thoughts were so well defined, expertly laid out and eloquently expressed.

I have just finished reading a romantic fiction book, written by a serving US army officer, which has similar overtones expressing scepticism about the decision makers dubious motives and actions, when deploying US troops to the frontline in Afghanistan.

She echoes so many of Shriv's points almost word for word, making his perceptiveness even more astute.

A post worthy of praise, so thanks for sharing,


Kim@Time2Read said...

Though this probably isn't my kind of read, your review is great! It probably is a book that SHOULD be read!
Thanks for stopping by!

Paulita said...

The teaser made my head spin. Don't think it's for me, but it looks like it really caught the attention of your brother. Here's Mine

Unknown said...

That is surely a wonderful review.
Good work