It is not surprising and yet unfortunate that the country has failed to mark, or even note, the birth centenary this month of a soldier who fought bravely until his capture in the 1962 India- China war, and was almost singularly responsible for explaining the political/military events of October and November that year which led to this Himalayan Blunder, incidentally the title of his seminal book.
As Brigadier John Dalvi said about his return to India from captivity: “We deplaned (at Dum Dum airport in Calcutta on 4 May 1963.) and were greeted with correct military protocol, tinged with a chill reserve. It was only later that I found out that we had to clear ourselves of the charge of being brainwashed ~ a strange charge from a Government which had itself been brainwashed into championing China’s cause for more than a decade.
Without a doubt, the prisoners had been declared outcasts. Apparently, we should have atoned for past national sins of omission and commission with our lives.” Indeed, it was the brainwashing that Prime Minister Nehru and Defence Minister Krishna Menon had inflicted first on themselves and then on their countrymen that was substantially responsible for the 1962 debacle.
And perhaps Brigadier Dalvi’s greatest act of bravery ~ braver even than his gallant command of the doomed 7th Brigade – was to chronicle for future generations the events that led to the humiliation and to vindicate the reputation of the men he led. He was asked on his return from captivity to write a report for then Army chief, General J N Chaudhuri and the Defence Minister “to teach ourselves how not to hand over a brigade on a plate to the Chinese in future” and proceeded to do so.
But, as Dalvi narrated, he was not made aware of the fate of his report, nor was he asked to explain or discuss it perhaps because he had touched some sensitive nerves. To have then decided to pen down for public consumption an objective account of the events that preceded the 1962 conflict required immense bravery, especially as by then the Government had decided to place the Henderson-Brooks report under wraps (where it remains).
It is said that Brigadier Dalvi was offered the inducement of a promotion to put his pen away, but he refused to relent. No publisher would touch his manuscript in India, but he got it published in the United Kingdom. The book was initially banned in India, and only became available locally much later.
As Dalvi noted, “1962 was a National Failure of which every Indian is guilty. It was a failure in the Higher Direction of War, a failure of the Opposition, a failure of the General Staff (myself included); it was a failure of Responsible Public Opinion and the Press. For the Government of India, it was a Himalayan Blunder at all levels.”
As spokespersons of the ruling elite disgorge homilies on the Nehruvian dystopia that led to the tragedy of 1962, it is ironic they should forget the man who played a vital role in enlightening them and all of us.