Making up the Military History Deficit: ‘Siachen 1987’ by Lt Gen RV Kulkarni
In 1987 as I finished working on the official history of the 1962 Sino-Indian border conflict, one was filled with sadness at the negative impact all this was bound to have on the readers. I suggested to the then-head of War Studies Division, Dr SriNanadanPrasad that we should include the account of Nathula/Cho la clashes of 1967 as an appendix since the Indian Army gave a befitting reply to the Chinese. This would to some extent balance the dismal narrative of 1962 events. I do not know if that was acted upon or not since the history remains a classified document even to the author. The point is, due to mistaken notions of security, we have kept the accounts of this under wraps. The only way out is for the soldiers involved in this to write their memoirs. We now know about the 1967 clash thanks to the biography of Lt. Gen Sagat Singh written by my friend and coursemate (late) Maj Gen Randhir Sinh. Many of us who were serving in the army at that time knew about the incident through word of mouth, the well-known ‘langar gup’. But as the old soldiers fade away, this knowledge and memory are lost for the current generation of soldiers and civilians.
This is not of mere academic interest but has had negative impact on national security. Official histories are notoriously delayed. The account of 1947-49 Jammu Kashmir Operations, ready since the 1950s, was published only in 1987. If it was available earlier, maybe, just maybe, we would have learnt the lesson of important role that the fighter air support had played in that victory and USED our superior airpower against the Chinese in 1962.
Keeping under wraps great deeds by our soldiers in these ‘small wars’ under the mistaken notion that this would hamper the peace process is another bogey. Many of our raids across the LOC (Line of Control) or aggressive actions on LAC (line of actual control) are thus kept hidden from the public. This not only hampers the learning process of the soldiers but also lowers the nation’s morale. Of late there has been a welcome change from this old mindset, but more needs to be done.
In this backdrop publishing of the semi-autobiographical book ‘Siachen 1987’ by Harper Collins is a step in the right direction. Written by father daughter duo of Lt. Gen Ramesh Kulkarni and Anjali Karpe, the book covers the crucial period of Siachen conflict when we defended the glacier against Pakistani attacks and also recaptured the ‘Qaid’ post. Subedar (later Hon Capt. and ParamVir Chakra awardee) Bana Singh. Unfortunately, since the army was at that very time heavily engaged in Sri Lanka, the Siachen warriors did get pushed away from the limelight. Generals book does justice to those brave men of army and air force who truly worked ‘beyond the call of duty’. Kulkarni who commanded the 28 Division has finally done justice to the memory of these braves.
The book also mentions the happenings in Northern Command under the irrepressible Lt. Gen. Handu and his plan to snatch Skardu in Pak Occupied Kashmir. What were the reasons that this was stopped and whole decision-making at that time need further research? If only we would have been bold at that time the whole strategic picture of Central Asia could have changed in our favour.
The book also brings out the difficulties faced by field commanders fighting a ‘hot war’ during peace time. A condition that prevails even today in Kashmir. All in all a must read for both policy makers and lay public.
There are many such events that need to be written about like the genesis and conduct of OP Parakram, Brass Tags, and Chequer Board. The Sumdorong chu stand off is of similar interest as we again outsmarted Chinese. I had the good fortune to meet the then IV Corps commander Lt Gen NSI Narahari, (since no more with us) and discussed the incident and reasons for our lack of offensive action. At my request, Gen. Narhari promised to preserve all the documents connected with the standoff and clearly marked as ‘archival material not to be destroyed’. One hopes that the army takes up the task to carry out a study of Somrodong Chu incident and publishes it, since Narahari is no more with us, may be some one else involved in the operation takes inspiration from Gen Kulkarni and writes an engrossing account like the Siachen 1987.
A must read for both soldiers and civilians.