50 years after the 1962 Sino-Indian war, in 2012, when much was written and commented in Indian media and some Chinese declassified records became available, United Services Institution of India (USI) took on the task of researching this war, juxtaposing the Chinese and Indian records. A team of officers with a flair for military history headed by Lt Gen. Vinay Shankar (Retd) attempted to, as he states, “clinically and objectively chronicle the battles and encounters of the 1962 war, based on an official version of the Chinese government and the synthesis of all that has been reported and written in India and abroad and also the leaked portions of the report of a study by Lt Gen. T.B. Henderson Brooks and Brig. (later Lt Gen.) P.S. Bhagat, VC.
Set in eight chapters, the book covers the entire gamut of the war, starting with the politico-diplomatic prelude (1947-62), the military campaign, the Chinese air threat, and public opinion in the build-up to the war. The last four chapters deal with Indian military thought and other issues.
Of the many battles fought between Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), during the Sino-Indian war of 1962, two battles-of Walong and Rezang La, both fought by battalions of the Kumaon Regiment-merit mention here as in both the Kumaonis fought to the last man, last bullet. While such great valour must be highlighted in motivational lectures, they also highlight the need for being better prepared to go to war. This aspect needs to be taken care of by both the political and military leadership of the country. For a country hopelessly unprepared to go war, it seems surprising that Mr Nehru,the then Prime Minister, could have made an off the cuff statement, on 12 October 1962, at Palam airport before departing on a visit to Colombo, that he had ordered the Indian Army “to throw the Chinese out”. This underlined the air of unrealism prevailing at that time in India’s highest decision making structures.
The Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report, submitted to the government after the war is yet to be declassified. When portions of the report were leaked out in 2014 by Australian journalist Neville Maxwell, Mr Arun Jaitley, then the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha made a strong pitch for the declassification of the entire report, making special note of the fact that as per the media, pages 112 to 167 of the report were missing in the leaked report, leading to speculation that those pages contained material that could be embarrassing to those in power in 1962. The report remains classified, despite a change in government at the centre, which is a matter of concern. The unpreparedness of the Armed Forces is writ large in the contents of the report that have been leaked and serve as a lesson for us to be constantly vigilant and prepared.
The book has interesting recollections by survivors of some of the 1962 battles, which simply make it an unputdownable book. It is imperative however, that we learn the right lessons from this war, so that we are better prepared for any future conflict that may be thrust upon us. The end of this war saw Nehru, who had for long deceived the Parliament and the nation, a “broken man”. Too little, too late, he had to sack Krishna Menon. Time magazine, reporting on that war wrote: “The Indian Army needs almost everything except courage.” Chetan Anand was so moved that he madeHaqeeqat(1964), a most authentic and first Indian war film. JP Dutta, who produced Border and LOC Kargil, is presently preparing to make a film on the same war.
This book is an important trail-brazing reference base for further research by China watchers and a must read for all government leaders and officials dealing with national security.