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Himalayan Blunder (Part II)

- Air chief revives China war and Kargil debates
Browne. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi, Oct. 5: Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne today waded into a controversy relating to the 1962 China war that has dogged military analysts and historians as well as the government.

The air chief suggested a closer look into the alleged failure of the politico-military leadership under India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The hostilities with China broke out in September-October 50 years ago.

“If airpower was used, the outcome would have been different,” Browne said. The Indian Air Force transport planes moved troops and equipment but that was barely enough for a war in the heights.

Asked if Nehru had “blundered” by not ordering the air force into offensive action against the Chinese troops, the air chief smiled and replied: “You have read the book Himalayan Blunder, haven’t you?”

Himalayan Blunder was written by Brig. John Dalvi, commander of the 7th Brigade, which was routed by the Chinese troops in Arunachal. Dalvi was himself taken prisoner.

The book, which offers his perspective on the causes and outcome of the war, was banned by the Indian government immediately after its publication. Dalvi held that, among others, the political administration headed by Nehru misdirected the war.

On airpower, Browne said: “I am absolutely sure of this. In future, the air force will not be limited in its operations.” To support his case, he added something that could stoke another row on whether “Operation Safed Sagar” of 1999 was really successful: “Look at Kargil (1999). Had the air force not been involved, it would have dragged on for months.”

“Safed Sagar” was the name of the air operations in the 1999 war in the Kargil heights to drive out Pakistan-backed intruders. The army believes it was its infantry and artillery that were instrumental in driving out the intruders.

This year, the Indian Air Force is celebrating its 80th anniversary. Browne said he had been with the force for half its life.

Fifty years after the defeat in the 1962 war, the political establishment in New Delhi — especially under a Congress-led government — is still touchy about the events and the outcome of the hostilities when Nehru was Prime Minister.

The government continues to reject pleas to de-classify the army’s inquiry report, authored by an officer, Lt Gen. Henderson-Brookes, arguing that its findings are still relevant to operations.

The Centre for Airpower Studies (CAPS), a think-tank backed by the IAF, would be hosting a brainstorming session later this month on the use of airpower in the context of the 1962 war, the air chief said.

Browne said the government had sanctioned Rs 1,750 crore to upgrade airfields in the Northeast, many of which serve military posts on the China front. But work has been tardy. “It will take another three or four years,” he said.