Unravelling Suicidal Ideation

Can the outcome of a recent study on a type of bacteria in the saliva of a person with suicidal ideation help prevent suicides?

A study at the University of Florida has found that the bacteria in the saliva of college students who reported recent suicidal tendencies differed significantly from those found in the saliva of students who had not experienced recent suicidal ideation. Such students showed lower levels of Alloprevotella rava, a bacteria associated with positive brain health, in their samples. For the purpose of the study, recent suicidal ideation was considered as thoughts of suicide arising within the two weeks before the saliva sample was taken. The study was undertaken controlling the other known factors like diet and sleep etc which affect mental health. It was found that students with recent suicidal thoughts had higher levels of bacteria associated with periodontal disease and other inflammatory health conditions rather than of Alloprevotella rava. The study analysed saliva samples collected from nearly 500 undergraduate students. Those who reported recent suicidal ideation were referred to on-campus mental health services. In India too, a large number of youth commit suicide; study suggests that two lakh students died by suicide since 1995. In 2021 alone, 13,000 students took their lives.

Suicide by youth is a serious issue all over the world

It is a known fact that mental health is a serious issue on college campuses. A 2020 study by the US based Centre for Disease Control (CDC) found that up to a quarter of people between ages 18 to 24 had seriously thought about suicide within the previous month. The story is not much different in other parts of the world, including India. Although, various treatments and lifestyle changes help, there is a need to explore how some microbiomes affect mental health and could be harnessed to improve it. While at it, at is extremely important to ascertain whether the lower levels of the said bacteria result in suicidal tendencies or the lower levels are the result of suicidal ideation.

In future, a close observation of these bacteria might help predict tendencies and might lead to pro- or prebiotic treatments for those at risk.

As the scientists go ahead with their research, there’s an urgent need to widen the scope of this study to include people from other walks of life. The first category of professionals that comes to mind is the armed forces personnel. An article published in the New York Times in June 2012 included startling figures on spike in suicides among the active-duty US military personnel. As per Pentagon, the suicide rate (in 2012), eclipsed the number of troops dying in battle and on pace to set a record annual high since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more than a decade earlier. The suicide rate was nearly one per day in 2012. The sharp increase in suicides led Pentagon to establish a Defence Suicide Prevention Office. The commanders were reminded that those seeking counselling should not be stigmatised. Defence Secretary, Leon E Panetta emphasised that suicide prevention was a leadership responsibility. But veterans’ groups felt that the Pentagon had not done enough to moderate the tremendous stress under which combat troops were living, including coping with multiple deployments. Suicides among active-duty military personnel were “the tip of the iceberg.” A survey conducted among the 1,60,000 members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Group found that 37 percent knew someone who had committed suicide.

Stress-busters alone are not enough

It is a similar story in case of the Indian Armed Forces. In a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, in March 2021, the then Minister of State for Defence, Mr Shripad Naik had said that the Indian Armed Forces (Army, Air Force and Navy) had lost 787 personnel to suicides in the preceding seven years. In quite a few cases, the mentally stressed students and military personnel have gone on a shooting spree, killing innocent people, before committing suicide. The ever rising numbers of suicides point at the need to do more qualitatively to mitigate nay eliminate the circumstances nudging men to take that drastic step. Mechanical stress management efforts do not suffice. A study like the one conducted at the University of Florida with a wider scope (to look into the high rate of suicides in the Armed Forces) will go a long way in addressing the issue.

The Last Straw: The Air Raid on Government House, Dacca  (Indo-Pak War 1971)

The Air Raid on Government House, Dacca  (Indo-Pak War 1971) triggered a chain of events that eventually led to the historical surrender of a 93,000 strong Pakistan Army on December 16, 1971.

Many events led to the historic surrender of a 93,000 strong Pakistan Army on December 16, 1971; some stand out. One of them is the bombing of the Government House in Dacca which, according to many historians, was the proverbial last straw which broke the camel’s back. It is interesting how it came about.

In about a week since its breakout on December 3, the Indo-Pak War in the eastern sector had reached a turning point. The Indian Air Force was in command of the skies and was striking Pakistani military targets with impunity. The Indian Navy had achieved a blockade in the Bay of Bengal so that no assistance could reach the battered and bruised Pakistani forces from the sea. The biggest and the most successful paradrop since the Second World War (Tangail, December 11, 1971) had shattered the morale of the Pakistani forces. The Indian Paratroopers who had landed at Tangail had linked up with the troops from the north and had closed in on Dacca. Dacca with 26,400 Pakistani troops was surrounded by 3,000 Indian troops. The numerical asymmetry favoured Pakistan. Hereafter, it would be a bloody street fight between desperate Pakistani troops fighting for survival and the Indian troops and the cadres of Mukti Bahini flushing them out in an effort to wrest control of the city.

The rudderless and helpless Pakistani leadership holed up in Dacca knew that a fortified Dacca would be costly and time-consuming for the Indian troops to capture; holding on to it would give them the possible time needed to clamour for international support, and maybe, get it. Several ceasefire resolutions had already been tabled in the UN. The US, siding with Pakistan had tried to pressurise India in to a ceasefire by moving its aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and other warships into the Bay of Bengal. The Soviet Union had vetoed all the resolutions that did not link a ceasefire with the recognition of the will of the people of East Pakistan. But under diplomatic compulsions, Moscow had conveyed to Delhi that there would be no more vetoes. Under those circumstances, any prolonging of the War would be detrimental to the interest of the freedom fighters seeking independence from Pakistan and for the Indian armed forces who had brought the War so close to a favourable conclusion. Victory and the achievement of the goal was so close, yet so far. Something had to be done before a third party could intervene and ‘thrust’ a ceasefire.

To work out a concrete plan to delay the fall of Dacca until international support could be mustered, Governor Dr AM Malik had called a very high-level meeting in the Government House around mid-day on December 14. The who’s who of the administrative machinery, the military leadership, a few foreign diplomats, the representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN representative, John Kelly would be present. The main aim was to find a way to bring about a face-saving ceasefire rather than a shameful surrender by the Pakistani Army.

There were several transmissions by the Pakistanis on the radio air waves sharing the details of the meeting called by the Governor. It is a matter of chance that those communications were picked up by a vigilant Wireless Experimental Unit of the Indian Air Force. A flight lieutenant officiating as the Commanding Officer, heard and re-heard those messages because they indicated a congregation of the top Pakistani leadership at a place at a given time. He wasted no time in bringing it to the notice of his ‘higher ups.’

Thereafter things happened really fast. The Signal Intelligence Directorate, Army Command and the Eastern Air Command shared the leak with Delhi. Those in Delhi, realised the strategic importance of the leaked message. To thwart the Pakistani design to manoeuvre a ceasefire or to tether the Indian troops on the periphery of Dacca until ‘help’ arrived, it was imperative to somehow prevent decision making by the Governor. It was of strategic importance to disrupt that planned meeting. The stymieing of the meeting would also send the administration and defence of Dacca into total disarray. With the time of the meeting fast approaching, the window of opportunity to throw a spanner in the works was rather small. 

Acting fast, Air Headquarters ordered the Eastern Air Command in the morning of December 14, to strike the Circuit House where the meeting was to take place. The First Supersonics, the MiG-21 fighters of 28 Squadron, Air Force based at Guwahati, were tasked with the responsibility. Wing Commander BK Bishnoi, the Commanding Officer, who had just returned from a close-support mission from Mainamati Cantonment in the morning received the instructions through Group Captain MSD Wollen (Station Commander, Air Force Station, Guwahati).

The time was 10:55 am when Bishnoi was directed to strike the Circuit House in Dacca at 11:20 am. It was a tall order in as much as, the flying time from Guwahati to Dacca was 21 minutes. And, to add to the woes of the pilots, none in the Squadron knew where in Dacca was the Circuit House located. The building was not clearly indicated in the quarter-inch and the one-inch maps available in the Squadron. Under those circumstances, striking the target without causing collateral damage would be difficult.

To help out Bishnoi with the location of the intended target, Wollen produced a tourist map which gave the location of the Circuit House. Even on that map of the city of Dacca, pinpointing a particular crossing and the Circuit House on that crossing in a crowded locality was difficult. How to strike the target in that crammed locality and yet avoid harming the civilian population in the vicinity, must have been uppermost in the mind of a conscientious Bishnoi when he took the tourist map from Wollen and accepted the daunting task. Since time was running out, he decided to fly over Dacca with the tourist map and look for the Circuit House. He could afford that luxury because there was practically no resistance from the Pakistani Air Force.

Four MiG-21 aircraft loaded with 32 High Explosive Rockets each were readied for the mission. It was when Bishnoi was strapping up in the cockpit that one of his officers came running to him and gave him a slip of paper which said that the target was Government House and not Circuit House. A major faux pas was averted.

Once the formation was airborne and was on its way to execute the mission, Bishnoi scanned the tourist map and identified the Government House on it. The other three members of the strike team––Flight Lieutenants Vinod Bhatia, Raghavachari and Malhi––were still oblivious of the last-minute change of the target from Circuit House to Government House. Bishnoi had not announced the change on the R/T, to maintain secrecy to the extent possible.

Barely a minute before the formation was over Dacca, Bishnoi shared the ‘revised’ target information with his team. He described it for them and gave them the approximate location and asked them to look out for it. Bhatia who spotted the Government House first, identified it as a magnificent old styled palatial building with a high dome, in the middle of a lush green compound, eleven o’clock to them, about 500 yards away. A few vehicles were parked on its premises.

Bishnoi orbited once to confirm the identity of the target and then ordered the attack, himself taking the building from the wider side. He aimed at the room below the dome. The others targeted other parts of the building. In two passes, the team fired 128 rockets at the Government House. Two MiG aircraft of No. 5 Squadron Air Force followed Bishnoi’s formation. They made four passes each, firing rockets at their target. The IAF aircraft remained unscathed by the half-hearted firing by the Pakistani anti-aircraft guns

Smoke and dust rose from the seat of Pakistani power in East Pakistan.  

Like Wing Commander Bishnoi, Wing Commander SK Kaul, the Commanding Officer of 37 Squadron, Air Force located at Hashimara, too didn’t get much time to prepare. At about 10:30 am on the same day he also received instructions to target the Government House in Dacca. When he raised questions about the location of the building, a young officer of his Squadron came up with a Burmah Shell tourist map of the city of Dacca. It amazed the Commanding Officer to no end. But, according to Kaul, the map was more detailed than the quarter-inch and the one-inch maps used by the pilots. At least, it served the intended purpose at that crucial moment.

Before, the Governor and the people in the Government House could absorb the shock of the rocket attack by the MiG fighters, they were attacked by two Hunter aircraft flown by Wing Commander SK Kaul and Flying Officer Harish Masand, respectively. They made several passes over the target and emptied their guns. On their way back they saw the spectator gallery that was on the rooftop of the Dacca Intercontinental Hotel. Standing atop the hotel building, the foreigners and the media-persons were watching the spectacle at the Government House.

Those in the Government House didn’t have a respite; they didn’t have time to raise their heads. The raid by the duo of Kaul and Masand was followed by a raid by Squadron Leader Bose and Flight Lieutenant Menon. Again, there was a feeble response from the Air Defence elements on the ground. The Indian MiG and Hunter formations had inflicted severe damage on the seat of power in East Pakistan; the air attacks had shattered the pride and morale of the leadership.     

Down below, the massive roof of the main hall of the Government House was ripped. There was pandemonium in the building as people ran for cover. The Governor rushed to the air-raid shelter. Between the raids, he quickly scribbled his resignation to General Yahya Khan, the President of Pakistan. He was seen taking off his shoes, washing his hands and feet and kneeling down for prayers in an air raid shelter. Allah alone could save him and the Pakistanis from the wrath of the Indian Armed Forces.  

After tendering his resignation, Dr Malik, his Cabinet and the West Pakistani Civil Servants based in the city, made a beeline to the Dacca Intercontinental Hotel, which had been converted into a Neutral Zone by the International Red Cross. As per diplomatic norms Serving Pakistani officials couldn’t have taken refuge in the Hotel. So, the top brass dissociated themselves in writing from the Government of Pakistan to become eligible to get admission in the Neutral Zone.

The same evening, in a desperate bid, Lieutenant General Niazi rushed to Mr Herbert Daniel Spivack, the US Consul-General in Dacca with a request to negotiate a ceasefire with India on Pakistan’s behalf. The American diplomat declined the request outright, instead he offered to ‘send a message’.      The air attacks on the Government House in Dacca broke the back of Pakistani command and control in the eastern sector. In the following two days, it took a little more of arm-twisting of Lieutenant General AAK Niazi by Lieutenant General JFR Jacob to make him agree to an unconditional surrender by the Pakistani Army.

Mid-Air Mission Impossible: The Legend of Gutsy Gaur

An audacious Flight Lieutenant hangs below a vintage C-119 Fairchild Packet aircraft in-flight to rectify a snag in the nose-wheel; prevents a major air crash and saves the lives of a crew of seven IAF air warriors.

Late that November evening in 1982, the Air Officer Commanding (AOC), Air Force Station Kheria (Agra) was the most concerned commander of the Indian Air Force. A ‘May Day‘ call from a C-119 Fairchild Packet aircraft of No 12 Squadron, Air Force, on a routine training flight had sent Air Commodore KK Badhwar rushing to the Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower. “There’s an emergency… Packet aircraft… problem with the nose landing gear… orbiting overhead… will approach for landing in about an hour,” he had been informed briefly by the air traffic controller on duty who was in a great hurry to drop the line––his attention, and all his energies were focussed elsewhere.

The ATC tower was abuzz; preparing to deal with the worst––the crash crew had been alerted; the crash tenders and the ambulances were ready, awaiting further orders. The routine take-off and landing of aircraft had been stopped altogether; all other aircraft had been advised to clear the airspace and the runway; everyone concerned, had been notified. Once in the control tower, the AOC conversed with Squadron Leader CK Jolly, the Captain of the aircraft, and gauged the gravity of the situation.

Minutes ago, when this Packet aircraft, call sign IK-461, was approaching Agra airfield for its sixth landing, the Captain had observed that on lowering the landing gear, the nose landing gear warning light had remained red. Steps to lower the nose wheel as per the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) had been in vain––either the warning light indication in the cockpit was faulty, or the landing gear was actually malfunctioning. In the latter case, it was a serious emergency; the nosewheel landing gear could collapse on touchdown leading to a difficult-to-manage crisis situation. A few more checks confirmed the worst fears––it was a positive warning; the nose landing gear was actually dysfunctional.

C-119 Fairchild Packet was one-of-its-kind flying machine, if it could be called one. In appearance, it was quite un-aircraft-like; people marvelled at its ability to mock the laws of gravity and the Principles of Flight. Its designers called it a Flying Boxcar; others, less kind in their treatment of the aircraft, awarded it the epithet: ‘Flying Coffin’. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration if one were to declare that this aircraft of the Korean War vintage, of the early 1950s, used to get airborne and stay afloat more because of the willpower of the magnificent men who flew it––and those who enabled its flight; the technicians––than because of its powerful engines and large wingspan. Having served the USAF, and then the IAF, so very well for long years, the ageing machine demanded superior care and maintenance to remain airworthy. The memory of a crash on the take-off run, although not due to a technical snag, wherein a contingent of 42 paratroopers, five Parachute Jump Instructors and the aircrew had perished in a fireball, in the not-too-distant past, must have weighed heavily on the mind of the AOC as he listened to the conversation between the Controller and the Captain. Yet in that extremely charged atmosphere, he was quiet, composed and un-interfering. Air Commodore Badhwar, a decorated Canberra Bomber pilot and a hero of the 1971 Indo-Pak War (a Vir Chakra awardee), knew the air warriors under his command well. They were dutiful conscientious men who didn’t need hand-holding or nudging. Leadership!

Flying Boxcar

Up there, in the aircraft…

There was practically no choice. The Captain had consulted the other crew members and the professionals who had gathered in the ATC tower, and had taken an informed decision to land. That decision would mean––a very high probability of the nose landing gear piercing through the aircraft structure on making contact with the runway surface; its propellers hitting the concrete; the engines and the airframe suffering damage and causing a major fire. The possibility of the aircraft cartwheeling due to one of the wings hitting the ground and ending up in a mangled mass of metal couldn’t be ruled out either. Threat to the lives of the seven air warriors onboard, was a given. Without speaking a word, the crash crew rehearsed in their minds, the crash drill––the very idea of pulling men out of the burning wreckage of an aircraft was nerve-wracking. The only thing the pilots could do was to land with nearly empty fuel tanks to minimise the ferocity of the blaze. Decision to land anyway, had been taken. And, it was a unanimous decision… almost.

Mind it! A-L-M-O-S-T!

Among the crew was a young Flight Engineer whose mind was flying out of the Boxcar (pun intended). Flight Lieutenant Sumer Chand Gaur, “SC” to his friends, was an engineer instructor on type; knew the aircraft systems like the backside of his hand. He thought differently and was somehow unconvinced about the decision to land the aircraft in that condition. He didn’t accept what others saw as a fait accompli.

Flight Lieutenant Gaur reasoned with the Captain that the nose undercarriage was not lowering and locking due to an internal obstruction. He opined that it was possible, in-flight, to remove the jack from its attachments in the nose undercarriage bay and let the landing gear free to come down fully. A Qualified Flying Instructor himself, Squadron Leader Jolly understood the technicality very well, but wavered on the decision to attempt rectification. The solution was fraught with great risk and as a Captain, he was just not ready to expose his Flight Engineer to that danger.

A healthy debate ensued even as time, and fuel––the most precious commodities in that crisis––kept running out. Any one attempting to rectify the snag could accidentally fall off the aircraft to instant death. The Captain’s dilemma was: whether he should put Gaur’s life to risk in the hope that all seven lives might be saved or, not allow Gaur to attempt rectification and endanger all seven lives on touchdown.

The Captain remained caught up between the devil and the deep sea for a short while but then, gave in to the enthusiasm of his Flight Engineer. He allowed him to discuss the plan with the experts sitting in the ATC tower and to get another opinion. The AOC and the others listened attentively to Gaur on the radio set and grasped the technical viability of the solution suggested by him. But most of them thought he was volunteering for an extremely audacious action––almost impossible to execute––to solve the problem. It entailed hanging outside (below) the flying aircraft and working on the landing gear. Barnstorming!? A mistake while attempting it could send him hurtling 5,000 feet down, to mother earth.

All eyes were on the AOC.

Air Commodore Badhwar knew Flight Lieutenant Gaur as an energetic and enthusiastic young officer; a thoroughbred professional and a go-getter in that. He took little time to decide and was unflinching when he gave a nod to his gutsy plan of action. That indeed marked the beginning of a forty-seven-minute ordeal which, to those involved in it, would appear to be an eternity.

Moments into the exercise, the protagonists realised that the problem was far more complex than they had visualised. To begin with, the gap created by removing the panels from the floor of the aircraft was too small for a well-built Gaur to pass through. Also, the poorly lit space in the wheel bay was very crammed; there was hardly any elbow room. It was a struggle for him to squeeze into the rathole. Non-availability of proper tools on board made things more difficult––Jugaad turned out to be the watch word. Without wasting any time, Gaur got down to execute the Mission Impossible. One of his trainee Flight Engineers held his feet as he got himself lowered, head first, into the nosewheel bay.

November in Agra is rather cold. Incidentally, it was November the 25th––a day after SC’s 36th birthday. A ruthless December was less than a week away. At 7:45 pm, outside the aircraft it was dark and freezing.

In the wheel bay…

Cold air, at a hundred miles per hour, pierced SC’s face; and numbed his nose and cheeks. Within seconds, his eyes and nose started watering. With both his hands occupied––one, in tethering him to a strong point and the other, to hold the tools he was working with––there was no way to grip the heavy two-cell Geep torch. He held it firmly in his mouth to point the light where he wanted. That made his jaw ache, and breathing, difficult. Six to eight minutes was a very long time to work in that air blast. So, Gaur surveyed the landing gear and quickly withdrew into the cargo compartment for a breather. He had to thaw his frozen nose and clean his face which was, thanks to the wind chill, smeared with fresh saliva and mucous.

The very best in people comes to the fore when they are in life and death situations. It is as true about the grit and resilience of men in distress, as about their sense of humour. At a time when, they were unsure of seeing another sunrise, Squadron Leader Narwal, the Navigator did not miss any opportunity to crack jokes to lighten the mood even as Flight Lieutenant Gaur prepared to enter the nose wheel bay a second time. He stood precariously in the nose-wheel bay working on the landing gear. The blast of cold air was relentless in its effort to dislodge the young engineer. His fingers frozen again, SC resurfaced into the cargo compartment––only to regain his breath, warm and revive his fingers and wipe his face. The process repeated––in about forty minutes, Gaur had been into the nosewheel bay five times. All this while the cockpit crew, and the AOC in the ATC tower listened, with bated breath, to the running commentary that was being broadcast by the Flight Signaller, Junior Warrant Officer Subbu who was keenly observing and relaying every piece of action.

With great effort, Gaur was able to unlock the nut holding the landing gear actuator––the bolt however, remained stuck. It was imperative to dislodge it to set the landing gear free. His attempts to remove it were fruitless. He needed a hammer to complete the task. Meanwhile, breathing was becoming a strain; he felt exhausted. One of the crew brought a cylinder of breathing oxygen with a mask to comfort him. Rejuvenated by a tonic of jokes and several lungfuls of oxygen, he got down to pushing the bolt out of its casing. For want of a hammer, he struggled with a large spanner.

Viva! At last, the adamant bolt slipped out. Then, without wasting another second, Gaur removed the actuator freeing the landing gear to move into fully down position. There was instant jubilation in the cockpit––the nosewheel undercarriage warning light had turned ‘Green.’ In the last action, SC inserted the Ground Lock Pin into the undercarriage to prevent its accidental retraction; he tied it with a lashing chain and jack to make it absolutely safe.

Although smiling, gutsy Gaur was numb and utterly sapped when he emerged from the nosewheel bay for the sixth, and the last, time. Down below, in the control tower, there was a feeble sense of celebration. Eeriness had pervaded the air. People had their fingers crossed as they waited for the aircraft to land. Cautiously, Squadron Leader Jolly made a perfect landing and switched off the engine power instantly. With minimum use of brakes, he carefully brought the aircraft to a halt at the end of the long runway.

The AOC arrived instantly at the head of a convoy of vehicles––crash tenders, fire tenders, ambulances and cranes. With arms wide open and a smile that conveyed everything, he welcomed the crew. After a warm hug, he offered his overcoat to SC who was still shivering. He learnt about the incident from Gaur and Jolly, as he drove them to the Flight Commander’s Office where cups of much sought hot coffee awaited them. After completing the documentation, the crew of IK-461, headed to the Squadron Commander’s residence to celebrate a happy end to their ordeal. The celebration continued into the wee hours of the morning.

For a display of professionalism of the highest order and selfless devotion to duty under extremely perilous circumstances, Flight Lieutenant Sumer Chand Gaur was awarded the coveted Shaurya Chakra (exceptional peacetime gallantry) by Giani Zail Singh, the then President of India. Still later, in recognition of his distinguished services, he was awarded the Vishishth Seva Medal.

A well earned ‘Shaurya Chakra’

Now a veteran, Group Captain SC Gaur SC, VSM, resides in Ghaziabad. When the ever-so youthful and daring officer is not playing golf, he spends time motivating youth. The legacy must live; the baton must be passed on.

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

Sino-Indian border talks have been roiling like a long-brewing ginger-tulsi kadha––becoming bitterer in taste with each passing moment. If only the potion seethes well, might India and China accrue long-term health benefits from it. The outcome of the sixth round of talks doesn’t indicate that; it is another case of the same old wine being served in a new bottle––still focussing on defusing tensions.

The bad broad nibs…

Talks, and more talks, are in the offing––uncertainty and unease on the border have been prolonged. Divining the prospect of peace by reading tea leaves might not be possible since, mutually piqued, Modi and Xi are less likely to meet over a cup of tea in the near future. Yet I have been overzealous about the future.

Would the Queen––whose representative caused this Sino-India border problem by using some bad broad nibs to draw the region’s map––help foresee the fate of the subcontinent? Out of curiosity I tossed a Victorian era silver coin hoping to get some answers––war or peace; withdrawal or long drawn standoff….? When judgement becomes difficult, I have started believing in the predictions guided by a coin with the British monarchy on its face for they (the Brits) are at the root of most of the world’s problems of today. And lo and behold, the coin I tossed, bounced off the road, missed a drain narrowly and ended up through a perforated concrete lid into a bottomless well meant for rainwater harvesting. Now sealed some fifty feet below the earth’s surface, is (the much sought knowledge of) the future of this great country.  

Wooing and claiming territory in Africa

Rankled, I had almost decided to take a break from this Sino-India affair for a while when I saw Champagne––the wretched stray I introduced to my worthy readers in an earlier post titled, China’s Champagne Moment.” Those familiar with that dog’s demeanour will recall that, like China he had been claiming territory that was not rightfully his until one day, when other dogs got together and taught him a lesson. Through Champagne I had projected Beijing’s doom.

My forecast has not come true yet; it has not been proved entirely false either. Several countries, with the US in the forefront, have been striving to settle their scores with China. The anti-China sentiment is simmering with greater intensity now than ever before. And ever since I wrote that piece, Champagne has been behaving even more like China. Rather than fighting with the dogs in the neighbourhood, he has been trying to travel far and wide and woo the dogs he sees sitting on any kind of resources. The other day I saw him wooing a black dog at a construction site. It felt as if China were wooing Africa.

An anthropomorphised Lisa

Then two strikingly strange and unusual things happened.

One, Lisa, another dog appeared on the scene. She became popular with all the dogs in the area. They aligned with her as much because of her friendly demeanour as for the reason that they wanted someone to stand for them against the aggressiveness of Champagne.

Learning to K-O-W-T-O-W

Two, around the time the last round of Sino-Indian border talks concluded, Champagne was seen practicing ‘kowtowing‘… yes, K-O-W-T-O-W-I-N-G.”

Reverting to China. Behind the façade, Beijing is succumbing to the pressures created by several countries going against it and this is evident in its slowly eroding belligerence. In the last few days, since the standoff at Pangong Tso, China has not reacted with use of force, instead it has spent time at the negotiating table with India. This doesn’t go with China’s past stance and responses to such issues. Reasons for its restraint are better known to Beijing; others can only hazard a guess.

Meanwhile, Indian leadership has not been resting on its oars. It is trying to find the best way to the dragon’s heart out of the so many routes available. One is direct––from Delhi to Beijing. The other is from Delhi to Beijing via one or more of––Washington, Ottawa, Paris, Berlin, Tehran, Tel Aviv, Canberra, Tokyo, Manila, the sea in the South of China (some people erroneously call it South China Sea), Malacca, Strait, Hong Kong, Taipei, Lhasa, Xinjiang, et al. Needless to say, in the present circumstances, Xi Jinping will be pleased to meet Modi’s emissary travelling direct from Delhi to Beijing rather than following a circuitous route.

In the present situation, either China has nothing to say (less likely), or it doesn’t have the words to say, what it wants to say. Therein lie the reasons for no tangible progress in the talks and no further escalation in hostilities. Therein also lies the reason why Xi Jinping, like Champagne, might as well go indoors and refresh his Kowtowing skill––one doesn’t know when he’d need to fall back on the benefits of the ancient Chinese practice.

India would do well to prepare the ESCAPE HATCH for the dragon’s graceful exit.

Related posts:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Four days from now, September the 26th will mark the 37th anniversary of an event that, beyond a sliver of doubt, averted a nuclear war. On that day in 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov of the Soviet Air Defence Forces was the duty officer at Serpukhov-15, the secret command centre outside Moscow monitoring its early-warning satellites over the United States when alarms went off––computers warned that five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched from an American base.

Colonel Petrov was a very important link in the decision-making chain. His superiors reported to the general staff, who would consult the Soviet leader, Mr Yuri V Andropov on launching a retaliatory attack. Since there was no rule about how long the observers were allowed to think before they reported a strike, Petrov took his sweet time absorbing the deluge of incoming information and ‘felt’ that the launch reports were ‘probably’ a false alarm. He, therefore, reported ‘a system malfunction’. “I had a funny feeling in my gut,” he told a newspaper later. “I didn’t want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it.”

Petrov’s nuclear dilemma

Every second of delay on that day took away valuable time that the Soviet military and political leadership would have needed to absorb the inputs and react. Petrov told an interviewer, “… I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan.” It was at best a 50-50 guess, based on his distrust of the early-warning system and the relative paucity of missiles that were launched. He could afford the luxury of sleeping mulling over the inputs because 25 long minutes would elapse between launch and detonation. Petrov attributed his judgment to his training and his intuition. He had been told that a nuclear first strike by the Americans would come in the form of an overwhelming onslaught.

Training and Intuition… where does India stand?

A typical military exercise––conducted at many of the military training institutes/ colleges/ establishments––has a Blue Force (India) and a Red Force (the adversary––Pakistan or China, implied or explicit). The exercises are realistic with full freedom to the participating officers––with 3 to 30 years of commissioned service; sometimes, including bureaucrats, diplomats and scientists––to let go of their imagination to plan and execute military operations until… someone in the Red Force threatens to use the nukes.

The exercise is paused and the director of the exercise (or the umpire) steps in and enlightens the attendees. Put in different words and with varying intensity, depending on the personality of the guru, the gist of what is repeatedly sermonised and hammered into the craniums of the participants is: “Like India, China has a No-First-Use (NFU) policy––therefore, use of a nuclear weapon by China against India is not a likely proposition. As regards Pakistan, although their leadership talks and acts insanely, they are not mad. Nuclear sabre rattling by Pakistan is, but a hollow threat. Pakistan cannot dare to strike India with a nuclear-tipped missile because even with a ‘second strike’ option, India has the capability to turn the whole of Pakistan into rubble…. We can cause unacceptable damage to any adversary if we are struck with nukes….”

The punch line delivered (invariably) with theatrical emphasis and the air of a political leader seeking to hold a moral high ground at a peace conference at the UN General Assembly reads somewhat:

“Nuclear weapons are not meant for fighting; they are there (only) for deterrence.”

This has now been going on for decades since the legendary Mr K Subrahmanyam drew up the draft of India’s Nuclear Doctrine, which communicated, along with India’s NFU status, the spirit that:

“Nuclear weapons are the weapons of last resort; they’ll be used only in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian Territory or on Indian forces anywhere.”

As can be seen, there is a subtle difference between what the genius, Mr Subrahmanyam enunciated and what the later gurus interpreted, communicated and taught to the lesser mortals––the military personnel and the scientists––people who would be expected to ‘handle’ the nukes when ordained by the political leadership. Over the years, the people, who would some day play Colonel Petrov in India’s case; have been getting inoculated with a different vaccine than should have been ideally prescribed.

An ambiguity at a crucial moment––nuclear weapons being weapons of last resort or being meant only for deterrence––borne out of years of training, can cost India dear because it would take just about five to ten minutes from a launch (in Pakistan or China) to detonation (in India). In a situation like Petrov’s, Indians would not afford the luxury of time. It is therefore, imperative that people who would some day be in the decision making chain and those who would be executing a political big decision (particularly the men in uniform and the scientists) be educated and trained to act decisively without dithering like Colonel Petrov.

Need to unlearn and re-learn

The need to unlearn and relearn the nuances of the Indian Nuclear Doctrine is also mandated by the recent behaviour of our neighbours. Let’s look at it this way. Pakistan knows that its nuclear sabre rattling does not perturb India, for India has called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff twice recently––one, by carrying out surgical strikes across the border after Uri terror attack; and two, by executing airstrikes against terror camps at Balakot in response to the Pulwama Terror Attack. In both those cases, Imran Khan first blabbered about the heightening tensions and the possibility of ‘inadvertent’ use of nukes, then ate a humble pie.

Humiliated at home and abroad on those counts, and coupled with a messed up economy and a battered national prestige (because of Pakistan’s terror links), the Khan is vulnerable to arm-twisting by three agencies––Pakistan Military; Pakistan-based terror outfits; and a Shylock-like China, whose debt makes Pakistan cringe. China is capable of using several levers to instigate its stooge, Pakistan to surprise India. Considering these mounting pressures, the cricketer turned puppet of a politician, might be forced to reconsider and carry out his nuclear bluff. The probability, although infinitely low, is not equal to zero. Therefore, it would be prudent on India’s part to cater for a ‘mistaken’ use of a nuke by Imran’s Pakistan.

To sum up, security, and nuclear security in particular, is a dynamic concept; its doctrines and understanding of the same by every link in the chain needs periodic review and refreshing. Exercising realistically with the nuclear option will convey a stronger ‘resolve’ to the adversaries and work as a more meaningful deterrence without changing anything on the ground.

Related Posts

Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Shredded…

8:00 am.  Sunday, December the 7th, 1941. Pearl Harbour happened––a surprise military strike by the Japanese devastated the US naval base in the Pacific. Major US losses included: four battleships sunk and another four damaged and three each cruisers and destroyers damaged. Worse was the destruction of 188 aircraft. Even greater setback was the loss of 2336 men (killed) and 1,143 wounded.

Although the US avenged Pearl Harbour by nuke bombing Nagasaki and Hiroshima, it left indelible scars on the American psyche.

After the end of WW II, the Americans turned almost the whole of Pearl Harbour into a War Museum. The USS Arizona Memorial with the list of the dead warriors; the tattered Stars and Stripes and copies of the next day’s newspapers and much more––keep jolting Americans. “Never again,” is the message writ large upon everything American in Hawaii.

Strafed wall: HQ US PACAF

On my first visit to Hawaii, Brigadier General Meryll drew my attention to bullet marks on the wall of a building of the Headquarters of the US Pacific Air Forces. “We’ve deliberately not repaired those craters left by the Japanese bombers––they remind us that we were caught napping once. Pearl Harbour will never repeat,” he said.

A solemn resolve.

Time erodes memories. America was caught napping again––9/11 happened. The US pounded Afghanistan and killed Osama Bin Laden. Those follow-up actions certainly did not avenge or offset the 3,000 innocent American lives lost in the ghastly attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre.

As if that was not enough, America lowered its guard yet again. Covid-19 pandemic is no less than another Pearl Harbour––close to 1,97,000 innocent American lives lost, and still counting. America blames this one on China. Yet, simmering internal strife and the forthcoming Presidential election has blunted weakened Uncle Sam’s ability resolve to punish its perpetrator.

Caught napping…

Countries have their Pearl Harbour moments––October 1962 was India’s, when China attacked and occupied Indian territory by surprise. In the nearly six decades gone by, China has occasionally reminded India of that one time when India had dozed off. Galwan Valley incident was a rude reminder of the dragon’s sliminess. In fact, it was a jolt that let India learn its lesson hard, and fast. The result was evident in the swiftness with which Indian Army grabbed tactical advantage in the Pangong Tso Area. PLA will now use every arrow in its quiver to neutralise the Indian advantage. In all probability, the present lull is a prelude to yet another adventure by the dragon.

For whatever reasons, in 1962, India did not employ its combat air power against the Chinese. Likewise, during Kargil, restriction was imposed on the Indian Air Force on crossing the LAC. In both those cases, India paid an avoidable cost for not exploiting the full potential of its combat air power.

In the present situation, when the Indian Army is sitting pretty on heights overlooking the Chinese positions, it would be advisable to give the Air Force a free hand to plan and execute its operations in support of the Indian Army.

The supreme sacrifice made by the Indian Jawans in Galwan Valley is too recent an occurrence to be forgotten; it is never to be forgotten. 1962, India’s Pearl Harbour, is too unpleasant to be allowed to repeat.

Related posts:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

A day after the meeting between the External Affairs Ministers of India and China, the experts who went deep diving into the official statements of the two, to draw meaning, have not struck upon anything to write home about. Some are now trying to read the body languages of the two ministers during the ten-second photo-op with the Russian Foreign Minister. Until something significant trickles from their efforts, one might take a re-look at the antecedents of the Galwan Valley faceoff and the Pangong Tso standoff. On a dispassionate glance at the incidents in the rear-view mirror, one might just get inclined to draw a conclusion which, might be viewed with mixed emotions… and that inference is:

“Sino-Indian border issue is too serious an affair to be left to a single agency––political leadership, diplomatic corps or the military––to resolve.”

Beyond any doubt, the synergy of the trio has helped India hold the dragon at bay… until now.

The present situation can be summarised thus: India has a tactical military advantage in the Ladakh region––Indian Army will exploit that edge, if a need arises. While China is weighing and considering its options, India is consolidating its position––troops are getting more acclimatised and are stocking up to address the developing situation. China cannot possibly challenge Indian positions in the Ladakh region. If it opens another front elsewhere––say, Sikkim or Arunanchal, where its gains might be iffy––probably Indian troops would en-cash the advantage around Pangong Tso.

A China that now considers itself a world power second only to the US is less likely to eat a humble pie by accepting ‘status quo ante’ (for whatever it means), or by unconditionally withdrawing. A ‘publicised’ setback in Ladakh will affect China’s reputation and stakes elsewhere––Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan and of course, in the sea on its south (some people call it South China Sea‘).

Imponderables are far too many to be summarised here. The time is running out. Suffice it to say that in due course winter will set in and it will become more difficult for Beijing to maintain its forces in the region than Delhi. Dragon is doomed if it accepts India’s terms for peace; it is doomed if it doesn’t. That perhaps is the reason for practically nothing coming out of the meeting between the ministers.

Can India help the dragon wriggle out of a situation it is responsible for creating?

Perhaps Sun Tzu’s Art of War can throw up an answer for India:

“When you surround an enemy [adversary], leave an outlet free…. The object is to make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair. For you should not press a desperate foe too hard.”

~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter VII, Manoeuvring

Although not physically surrounded, Beijing’s dilemma in Ladakh is damning––to fight or to find a face saving way out of the imbroglio. While, the Indian Army is holding the fort, can the dragon be nudged into a diplomatic escape hatch from which it can emerge with a smile?

Is Mr Jaishankar listening?

Related posts:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

[This follows from an earlier post: “Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface”]

News from India-China border isn’t very encouraging. Last month end situation became volatile in eastern Ladakh after India thwarted a Chinese attempt to occupy Indian territory near Pangong Tso. As it stands, India has occupied a number of strategic heights on the southern bank of the lake and strengthened its presence in other areas in the region. India has also rushed in additional troops and military hardware to the region.

The diplomatic and military level talks to ease tensions have failed. Also, nothing worthwhile emerged from the interaction between the Defence Ministers on the sidelines of the SCO Defence Ministers Meeting in Moscow on September 4, 2020. The probability of the success of a similarly planned meeting between the External Affairs Ministers scheduled on September 10, 2020 hovers closer to zero than 1. The reasons are understandable. India, having occupied positions of tactical advantage in Ladakh will be approaching the dialogue with a little more bargaining power than it usually does. China might want this status to change before discussing contentious border issues. Besides, unlike the Indian representatives who are empowered to take decisions, the Chinese representatives at such meetings are not authorised to take decisions.

Meanwhile, following reports of Chinese troops firing warning shots in Ladakh, troops on either side are on the razor’s edge. There are ominous signs that after having made relentless vain attempts at negotiating peace, the political leadership on both sides might pass on the baton to the military to ‘handle’ the issue.

‘War-mongering’? May be. Or, is it ‘wisdom’? Wisdom wrung out of the experience of 1962, which points at the dire need of military preparedness of a high order and readiness to deal with a belligerent neighbour.

Among others, one dimension of military preparedness is existence of support infrastructure along the border. Several projects related to new construction (and development of old ones) of roads, runways, helipads, ammunition dumps, logistics nodes, transit camps and military hospitals etc are under way. These projects are unprecedented and are to Beijing’s chagrin. Once ready, they will bolster India’s war fighting ability considerably. This will force China to invent alternate ways to breach India’s defences. That, in turn, might give rise to the need for India of developing more new infrastructure.

The dire need to create infrastructure in times of crisis is a recurring issue. In 1947, service personnel and the refugees led by Lieutenant Colonel Pritam Singh built a 600-yard runway at Poonch in six days. In another case, tonnes of barbed wire were airdropped to barricade the advancing Chinese (Sino-India War 1962), even as troops were engaged in fighting. Whether it served the intended purpose, is doubtful. During the Berlin Airlift, building from a scratch 17,000 Berliners––men, women and children­­––worked in 8-hourly shifts to construct a runway at Tegel. Those (Poonch and Berlin) were cases of people rising to the occasion.

US Navy’s Construction Battalions (CBs) better known as Seabees have institutionalised speedy creation of infrastructure in times of crisis––a desideratum for fighting forces. Formed following the attack on Pearl Harbour when the task of turning imminent defeat into victory seemed almost insurmountable, the Seabees are very well equipped teams renowned for building bases, bulldozing and paving thousands of miles of roadway and airstrips, and accomplishing numerous other construction projects in different war zones since World War II. They constructed six 8500+ feet runways at the rate of one runway per 53 days; over 18 kms of taxiways; hard-standing to accommodate over 400 bombers, and accommodation for 50,000 personnel and office complexes, on the islands of Tinian and Saipan in a record time of less than a year during World War II. Seabees have been deployed around the globe supporting a variety of humanitarian missions and contingency operations. They were among the first forces in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks to upgrade and repair airfields.

To sum up, it is humanly impossible to make the long borders physically secure. While creation of border infrastructure does go a long way in securing the borders, it is also an endless process. There’s a case for creating teams of experts that can undertake rapid construction work of any type, anywhere, anytime: during wartime or during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. Lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic has rendered a large number of ‘experts’ jobless. It should be possible to enrol volunteers to be employed and paid to serve ‘when the need arises’.

The need could be round the corner.

Other posts in the series:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Chinese incursion into the Galwan Valley earlier this year was but a-matter-of-routine. Nothing new, that’s something China had been doing for decades––entering Indian territory; sometimes withdrawing, but occasionally occupying pockets, and presenting them as ‘disputed areas’ at subsequent talks.

Salami slicing!

India’s response to that provocation surprised the world to no end. Among other options, a tough stance was the least expected, because until then people had judged India on the basis of its meek response to similar incidents in the past. The response dazed even the Indian public who had been in some kind of unspoken or grudgingly spoken awe of the dragon ever since the 1962 debacle.

India’s reaction was a Black Swan Event––unprecedented in its nature, spectacular in its impact. Now, military pundits and strategists are scratching their heads analysing, explaining and justifying the behaviour. The outcomes and the spinoffs of the transaction have been meaningful, and many. Importantly, it has raised the bar on the quality of India’s retaliation to Chinese military adventurism. That India will be even more assertive in such situations in the future is the new ‘expected’ norm. China will do well to take this change into account in its future calculations.

The talks at the diplomatic and the military levels to de-escalate tensions and to restore peace in the region have not made much headway. There is a definite dearth of points of convergence and trust has been conspicuously absent from the scene. A word about the complexity of the Sino-Indian border issue would be in order. Decades of diplomatic foot-dragging have complicated the already complex matter. Now, to resolve the issue appears to be as difficult as untangling a plateful of spaghetti or unscrambling an egg. Both, China and India have taken rigid stances and are unwilling to relent. It is anybody’s guess that the prevailing uneasy calm will end either in peace or will escalate into greater hostility. There’s however, an ominous tilt towards the possibility of the latter. Presently, both sides are trying hard to be in a situation wherein they can negotiate from a position of greater strength.

Meanwhile, General Bipin Rawat, the Chief of Defence Staff of India has declared that India is prepared for a military option, if the talks fail. In making such a provocative statement, the General might have only carried out the orders of the political leadership, because ‘good’ Indian generals do not normally air provocative views against a neighbour unless we are already at war. So, let the General roar and let the countrymen rest assured that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will give a clarion call through his ‘Man ki Baat‘ when the time is ripe. Period.

In a recently recorded video message, Mr Pravin Sawhney, Editor, Force Magazine dissects General Rawat’s words and iterates that unless backed by military power, warnings mean little; he’s so right on that count. He goes on to project India’s extreme vulnerabilities and concludes that it would take at least six months to prove the General’s claim of preparedness. After eulogising China for its varied capabilities––conventional warfare, cyber warfare, anti satellite (ASAT) capabilities, artificial intelligence capability, the capability to disrupt communication networks of India, its nexus with Pakistan et al.––he concludes that a war between China and India, if it were to take place, would be like the First Gulf War between the US and Iraq respectively, implying that India would be routed technologically even before the troops engage in land battle. At the end of a 20 plus-minute video in which he paints a dismal picture of India’s war preparedness and petrifies Indian viewers, he urges that the clip be circulated. For me, a replay of the video led to the distillation of the man’s suggestion, which to my mind conditioned by years of rigorous military life sounded somewhat like this:

“SURRENDER TO CHINA WITHOUT FIRING A BULLET!”

Echo of that implied suggestion so ‘F-O-R-C-E-fully’ made by Mr Pravin Sawhney rings menacingly in the mind until long after one turns off the video. Another look exposes the sense of insecurity of the presenter and the shallowness of his arguments. The naysayer and the pessimist in him, finds India’s faults and deficiencies well nigh infinite. If only he could realise, China is not the US; India, not Iraq. Unwarranted anxieties of the timid will only prove to be countervailing factors in India’s efforts to deal with that country. That said, there is good reason to listen carefully to the meaningful signals, if any, in the cacophony of deafening alarm bells that the paranoid Mr Sawhney rings.

Introspection!

Today, when India and China are at daggers drawn, the chunks of information on military capabilities of the two countries that are available in the open domain, rather ‘fed’ to the public, could be quite inaccurate. Under the circumstances, a SWOT analysis could go awry; it could be an exercise in futility. Therefore, more prudent and fruitful approach to deal with the darned dragon at this moment would be to focus on exploiting all available means and resources to bolster the existing military capacity and capabilities. Therein is the genesis of this five-part blog post––this part being the Preface. The posts that follow will discuss issues related to boosting military manpower, bolstering border infrastructure and military capability, refining military thinking on the use of nuclear weapons and the idea of mustering external influence to bear on the adversary and more.

Following posts in this series are now available:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

Oh, Those Chinese!

Believe it, or not! But, it is a recorded fact of military history and is true as true can be. The soldiers for the Chinese Federal Army that supported the Allied war effort in the Asia-Pacific region during the Second World War were recruited in a peculiar fashion.

Men, considered expert at recruiting, would suddenly descend upon a neighbourhood and cordon off a few blocks. Then they would work into the centre like beaters on a wild animal hunt. Once the unsuspecting boys were rounded up, they’d be given a physical examination to determine if they were eligible for service. This examination consisted solely of their dropping their pants. If they were old enough to have pubic hair, they were in the Chinese army.

God knows for how long after the WW II, that system of recruitment continued.

Unwilling little dragons (Graphic courtesy Printerest)

Needless to say, those youth were anything, but volunteers. The unwilling little dragons were potential hazards to military operations. For one, they were extremely fearful of flying. In one case, an aircraft crashed because several panicking recruits jumped out as their plane picked up speed on the take off run. The rest dashed to the rear of the plane to follow suite. That led to over-weighting the tail, causing the aircraft to stall into the ground.

They had a horrendous sense of humour. When they did get used to flying as passengers, they considered it a big joke to open up the cargo door of an aircraft in flight, point to something interesting below and entice a buddy to peep out, and then push him out. An occasional troop-carrying plane would arrive at its destination with one or two men short.

Scared of air travel (Graphic courtesy Printerest)

This one is even more bizarre! The recruits believed that an evil dragon was following them at all times and constantly sought to evade it. They endeavoured to stay just a step ahead. The aircraft provided a means of getting rid of the dragon. All that a recruit had to do was to run in front of a taxying aircraft. The closer he came to the whirling propellers, the surer he was that the dragon following him would be chopped to pieces by the propeller blades. Quite often, a dragon-fleeing Chinese would run into the propeller blades himself. It would make an ungodly mess, with pieces of ‘Chinese’ flying everywhere. The spectators would roar with laughter at the ghastly sight. Oh, those Chinese!

Of what relevance is the above information today to the Indian Jawan standing vigil at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China?

Well! Well!

The country we call People’s Republic of China, came into being on October 1, 1949. Going by simple logic, there is a chance that quite a few senior members of the present day People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China might have been recruited and might have led life as described above. And for sure, all of them must have been trained and groomed by people who would have gone through the queer recruitment procedure and lived the fear of the dragon.

Again, as brought out, PLA is not a volunteer army, not a very seasoned one either (as compared to the Indian Army). It has not fought many wars. In its war against Korea, it suffered huge losses (nearly 2,09,000 dead/ wounded). In its war against India (1962), its losses were 700 (nearly half as many as India’s nearly 1400).

Psychological warfare through social media has been ‘ON’ for a long while. Chinese propaganda machinery has projected the PLA to be a ‘professional’ army. But their recent actions at the LOC suggest otherwise. They are cruel, not brave; they are unscrupulous and (we hear) they have no respect even for the dead. They have a swarm mentality.

In the words of Air Marshal Vinod Patney (the IAF veteran of Kargil fame), “The Chinese are not six feet tall.”

So?

Dear Jawan, know your adversary and know yourself. Although today’s Chinese soldier might be well trained and might wield a state-of-the-art weapon, he is not a willing and motivated being. He lacks experience too. But don’t get carried away––he is slimy, untrustworthy.

You have inherited war fighting from the best in the business. You are a professional army seasoned over many years of war fighting: in WW I, WW II and in the wars with Pakistan and China itself. Besides, thanks to Pakistan sponsored infiltration attempts, your war fighting skills have remained honed and tested. 

We hear that in the recent encounter in Galwan Valley, some rules of engagement had deferred your response to the back stabbing by the Chinese. It led not only to the martyrdom of our brave hearts but mutilation of the bodies of some of them.

Next time, if ever it comes to fighting with primitive weapons make the best use of them. But pray don’t stoop to pay back the adversary in their coin. The time one spends in mutilating a dead warrior could be utilised better to slit another (enemy) throat or chop another (enemy) head.

Just remember, you are there, not to lay down your life for the country but to kill the enemy to protect India’s territorial integrity. Jai Hind! (Author’s Note: The Chinese history discussed in this post has been sourced from “Over the Hump,” a book authored by Lieutenant General William H Tunner)