1962: A battle that turned into a death trap, a war lost before it was fought (Book Review)
Book: 1962 The War That Wasn't; Author: Shiv Kunal Verma, Publisher: Aleph Book Company; Pages: 425; Price: Rs.995
The battle of Nam Ka Chu is one that is recalled every time one talks about the 1962 Sino-Indian war. Planned by then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's hand picked Lt. Gen. B.M. 'Bijji' Kaul, it turned out to be a death trap for the soldiers deployed – the troops waiting for the end knowing it was a lost battle, recounts a new book.
"1962, The War That Wasn't" by military historian and filmmaker Shiv Kunal Verma, presents an exhaustive account of the war that is still wrapped in mystery – even as Nehru admitted in parliament in 1963 that there was a lack of foresight on India's part.
Around 11 days before Indian soldiers were slaughtered in the infamous Nam Ka Chu battle Lt. Gen. Kaul had been camping in the area for around four days.
He was outlining a plan of attack to occupy the Thagla ridge across Nam Ka Chu.
"…every officer and JCO present at the briefing knew the general's plan was nonsensical," the book says.
Subedar Dashrath Singh, one of the few survivors of the battle, whose account is recorded in the book, raised an alarm.
"This is the first time I've seen a battle being planned where we are sitting in the valley while the enemy is holding heights above us," the book quotes the subedar as saying.
He had an entire AK-47 magazine emptied into his stomach but was miraculously saved by a Chinese nurse who had once studied in Allahabad.
In another chapter however, Verma also presents the other side of the story, when Lt. Gen.Kaul proposed to withdraw troops from Nam Ka Chu at a meeting in New Delhi attended by Nehru, defence minister V.K. Krishna Menon, then army chief General Pran Thapar and top military officers in New Delhi.
The idea was shot down by Gen. Thapar and the Eastern Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Bogey Sen.
"Nehru and Menon, perhaps loath to invite the criticism that would have followed a pullout from Nam Ka Chu, for once decided to go against the advice of Kaul…" the book adds.
The events around Nam Ka Chu sum up India's failure at planning in the war, but the book goes further back into history, mentioning the 1914 Shimla accord, China's annexation of Tibet and India's silence over this despite intelligence inputs that the US was willing to help in a covert operation.
In 1950, when China made it clear it was annexing Tibet, B.N. Mullik, the then head of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), had suggested armed intervention.
"The IB chief stated that although neither US nor Britain would directly get involved, India could count on their covert support," the book says.
The Americans had promised air support and were willing to airlift an Indian brigade to Chamdo in Eastern Tibet. The army chief, General (later Field Marshal) K.M. Cariappa, however turned it down, saying India did not have troops to spare.
"The Sino-Indian clash in 1962 was the culmination of many factors and many bit players had a role to play," the author writes, adding that Tibet was at the centre.
"At the time when rest of the world was exhausted from the Second World War and attention was focused on the Cold war, Chinese supremo Mao Tse-Tung (Mao Zedong) pulled off one of the greatest real estate coups of all time," the book says.
In what maybe called the sum of the 1962 debacle, the author writes: "The Chinese played their cards in such a manner that the Indians lost what should have been at best a defensive war by not fighting it at all."
(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at email@example.com)