Book Review: Himalayan Blunder – the curtain raiser to the Sino-Indian war of 1962!
It is said that some books are to be tasted,some to be swallowed, while some to be chewed and digested. Today I am writing a review of a book titled ‘ Himalayan Blunder – The Curtain Raiser to the Sino-Indian war of 1962’, which according to me is a book which should be chewed and digested.
Himalayan Blunder – The Curtain Raiser to the Sino-Indian war of 1962, is a book regarding the reasons why India lost the 1962 war to China very terribly. It is written by Brigadier J.P. Dalvi, who had worked in the army headquarters in 1950s, and before and during the 1962 war, was at two of the most prominent battlefronts of the war – serving atLadakh and then later at Western Arunachal Pradesh[known as NEFA(NorthEast Frontier Agency) at that time] which makes him highly qualified to write this book. In the book, he gives a firsthand account of the war. Because working in the Army Headquarters gave him an insider’s view of the decay of our defence preparedness, and then serving at two fronts as a Brigadier gave him a firsthand view of it’s consequences for our army ,and ultimately for India. He was also taken prisoner by the chinese for 7 months.
Himalayan Blunder is not an ordinary book. Because the subject it covers is not ordinary, and neither is the writer. . We come across dozens of books in our life, but only a few can shake the reader’s conscience and soul like this book does.
The first part of the book, deals with our negligence,when we had enough time to correct ourselves. Every disaster gives warnings, but you should have the will to heed to those warnings. Our FIRST and BIGGEST warning with respect to China came in 1950, when Tibet, an INDEPENDENT COUNTRY, which was a large one, was attacked and annexed by China. Before 1950,only the Northern part of Aksai Chin in Ladakh shared border with China, while the rest of today’s Indo-China border was Indo-Tibetan border. Thus,Tibet was a buffer zone,between India and China, which was now lost. Sardar Patel wrote a warning letter to PM Nehru on this issue,which was then ignored by him. This part of the book deals with India’s position regarding China in the 1950s, of India’s international support to China based on Nehru’s false hopes of creating an Asian axis and how, India wasted crucial years of the 1950s by doing very little to modernize its army. Nehru then refused to accept China as a threat, and thus you can guess the seriousness of Indian government in dealing with it. It was only when two border incidents took place between China and India in 1959,that India began half-hearted and highly inadequate effort to deal with the Chinese threat. This part also discusses the ‘forward policy’ which was forced upon the army, and was a significant reason of India’s defeat.
In the second part,the book moves forward to the early 1960s, and covers India’s half-hearted and incomplete defence of the border with China, and the positions of the two armies in early 1962. The account given by the author is so good that your eyes and mind are actually transported to that era and you start living that era.
In the third,fourth and fifth part, the book deals with the most significant incident just before full-fledged conflict started. China launched a full scale invasion on 20th October 1962, but it intruded into India on 8th September 1962,near Tawang in western Arunachal Pradesh. The author of this book was at the very front where this intrusion happened, and this part forms the core of the book. How India handled this situation is discussed here. He clearly showed how the total disconnect of the then Mr. Prime Minister,top army officers and other decision takers in New Delhi with the situation on the ground lead to a series of wrong decisions one after the other and put Indian soldiers on the front in such a terrible mess and their lives in danger. Such descriptionwould tear apart the readers’ heart upon reading. Many soldiers died due to these wrong decisions and games being played by the upper brass of the army and top political leaders of the Country. I refrain from naming the persons responsible for this mess here as the readers will find them upon reading the book. This book ends with full-fledged Chinese invasion on 20th October 1962 and the death of several soldiers and capture of the author and few others.
And finally, the last part of the book, deals with all the reasons behind all the wrong decisions ie. what caused the people in power at that time to take all those disastrous decisions. This is the best thing about the author’s character. He could have easily ended by just narrating the reasons and blaming the people who took them, but he did not. Also, the disastrous consequences of this war for India, and how India took its lessons from this war are discussed here.
Overall, I would say this book is a must read for all Indians who can read English or Kannada – the two languages the book is available in also more because this book also deals with the role citizens have to play in the defence of their country, of their attitude towards their armed forces and their political leaders.
To sum up, this book gives mixed feelings to a patriot’s heart. You feel immense respect for those soldiers, who despite innumerable difficulties including outdated weaponry, improper clothes, without proper rations and absence of supporting infrastructure like roads,fought against a well-equipped army of the chinese. Your heart empathizes and cries for those soldiers and on the other hand,you feel anger towards those people responsible for the mess. But most importantly, you will feel a strong resolve within yourself, that WHAT HAPPENED TO INDIAN ARMY AND INDIA BETWEEN 1950 AND 1962 MUST NEVER BE ALLOWED TO HAPPEN AGAIN.
The consciousness of ordinary citizens in this regard, is the most important contribution of this book. Like the author says in the beginning of the book – “1962 was a National failure of which every Indian is guilty. It was a Himalayan Blunder at all levels.”