India-China border conflict in 1960’s is something that most Indians have very little knowledge about. We know that the 1962 war was lost, but hardly any details of that war has been presented to us in our school books and other easily accessible literature. We do not even hear about the 1962 war from our elders who were active during that period. Perhaps the reason for this ignorance is the fact that the war was fought (and lost) in the really far north eastern corner of India. A region that many Indians would have found it difficult to even locate on a map. 1962 war with China is somehow forgotten as if it never happened. It is like the lives of ~3,500 Indian soldiers who lost their lives just do not matter.
But to think of it, how much do we Indians know about the 1947, 1965, 1971 and even the 1999 wars? Apart from few headlines, we rarely recognize the price paid by our soldiers to protect us. 1962 war was not a single attack by the Chinese army that we had to fight. This war, like any other, included smaller battles. Battles where India Army unit fought till the last man. Battles where Indian Army lost it men as were outnumbered by Chinese Army, they were ill prepared for the extremely harsh conditions of North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), they were ill equipped in terms of weapons and ammunition, and above all, they were fighting those battles without any decisive leadership at military and political levels.
Shiv Kunal Verma’s “1962 The War That Wasn’t” is an exceptionally good book that take the reader through the history of Indo-China border issues, the geographical nature of this border, the political perspective and finally, with great details, how the war unfolded. This is probably one of those rare books that talks about the war in so much details and is actually not written by someone who was actually part of the war. Because, persons involved in a war and writing their narrative generally tend to defend their own position, and in the process present a skewed view of the war.
The author starts the book with a powerful line – “for my father, Major General Ashok Kalyan Verma, and his generation that paid the price”. This line summarized the tone of book and the nature of 1962 war. A war does not happen suddenly. There is a long history that ultimately culminates to a flash point. And once the war begin, men simply do not vanish suddenly. There will be battles fought by platoons, companies, battalions, brigades and even divisions. Death does not come so easily. Even to die, soldiers have to fight hard.
Shiv Kunal Verma presents a brilliant historical perspective to the war. Talks about Dogras, Tibet, China, British, Assam Rifles, Dalai Lama and many other factors. Very focus is also given on the political and military leadership of India from 1947 to 1962. This was a very important phase as Indian leaders failed to read the intentions coming from China. Even annexation of Tibet was not given the importance it deserved at that time.
Mindset, skills and decision making abilities of Jawahar Lal Nehru (PM), Bijji Kaul (Senior Army Officer), Mullik (IB Chief), KK Menon (Defence Minister) and various other key persons involved in running the war are explained in details. What is impressive the mostly unbiased stance taken by the author. Another area that is covered in great length is the geography of NEFA. I have never read a war book that talked so much about this specific aspect. And finally, the amount of details he provides about various India Army divisions that were involved in the war, how they were all neutralized by the Chinese and incompetence of Military leadership is explained in detail.
Forward Policy, Nam Ka Chu, Bum-La, Se-La, Tawang, break contact, communication line, MMG, mortars, retreat, defensive setup, 9 Punjab, 2 Rajput, 1 Sikh, 4 Garhwal Rifles, 4 Sikh LI, Assam Rifles and so on. These terms will be etched in your memory for a really long time.
This is a long book and needs some time to complete. But it is so well written that you would want to read as much as possible in every single sitting. On the flip side, the amount is print space given to historical context and geographical descriptions is really high. This may confuse the reader, especially if you are like me reading this book on Kindle where maps are not clearly visible.
Overall, a really brilliant book and something every Indian should know about 1962 war. Read this first. Period.
PS: One more reason why I personally like a book is when it helps me find another great book. Shiv Kunal Verma refers to another book call “Defeat to Victory” which is about the World War II when Indian soldiers fought with the British to evict Japanese from Burma. I have already bought this book now 🙂