The Chandigarh Military Literature Festival hosted a riveting discussion on a book about India’s victory over China in two successive battles in 1967. Forgotten and shelved, this incredible story of India’s victory over China at Nathu La and Cho La forms the narrative of ‘Watershed 1967’, the debut book by former Indian Army officer Probal Das Gupta.
Senior former Army officers Lt Gen NS Brar, Lt Gen K J Singh and Lt Gen J S Cheema along with author Probal DasGupta discussed the narrative in the book. The session was moderated by Lt Gen N S Brar. Lt Gen KJ Singh, who commanded the Corps at Sikkim, which was the place of action in 1967, spoke of the nuances around these battles and the area. He elucidated how the Chumbi valley presented a similar vulnerability to the Chinese like the narrow Siliguri corridor posed to India. He brought up the senior leadership’s perplexing decision in 1965 to withdraw from Jelep La, which gave Chinese the psychological edge (despite India now occupying the heights around the pass) and highlighted the need for a deeper analysis of that decision to withdraw.
Probal spoke about the purpose of writing the book during Doklam 2017, when he realised that much of the ongoing discourse in India’s public domain was fixated around India’s 1962 debacle against China. It struck him as odd that India’s victory of 1967 over an arch rival had been buried and forgotten. The author spoke about the China-Pakistan nexus in 1965, which also forms the beginning of the book. The author spoke about the involvement of the CIA in Delhi and a think tank in Arlington, Virginia, which knew of a Sino-Pakistani plan involving the capture of Kashmir alongside making inroads into Sikkim to force India to a defensive negotiating position and seize Kashmir in exchange for giving back Sikkim (then a protectorate state).
Lt Gen J S Cheema spoke about the happenings in the aftermath of 1967, wherein various geopolitical events, more than the battles of 1967, ensured that China didn’t interfere with India’s campaign in Bangladesh. However, he felt that the victories of 1967 had swung the psychological advantage in India’s favour and also felt that the book rightly brought out the parallels between India’s actions in 1967 and similar boldness during the Sumdoring Chu standoff with China in 1987. Lt Gen Cheema also felt that such alacrity and confidence were in view during the 2017 Doklam crisis as well.
Lt Gen K J Singh spoke about Lt Gen Sagat’s leadership and how he had prepared the artillery by ensuring the artillery guns were in place. These preparations ensured that a difficult situation could be salvaged and turned into India’s favour quickly. The artillery used at Nathu La changed the course of the battle. Lt Gen K J also spoke about the preparations that had taken place in the two years that Lt Gen Sagat had spent in the Sikkim region. He, however, added that decision-making at the senior level needs to be bolder “if we are to turn such critical, decisive moments in a battle to our advantage”.
Lt Gen Brar felt that history needed to be documented so that it’s not forgotten and reiterated that Probal’s work, which was readable and narrated lucidly, is an essential reading for all Indians. Lt Gen K J brought out that 1967’s confrontation ought to be called battles, as the book rightly mentions, and not skirmishes as is otherwise referred to. Probal added that history shapes a narrative and thus, must be written objectively to be remembered and recounted.
The session was moderated by Gen Brar who connected the various topics of the book with examples from military history to bring about a seamless discussion.
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