Excerpts from the autobiography titled ‘Four Stars of Destiny’ by former Army Chief General MM Naravane, is hot topic on two counts: first, India’s capitulation to the PLA advance into eastern Ladakh during 2020 and second, the Agnipath scheme thrust upon the Indian Military without prior consultations. Publishers have announced the book release in January 2024 but officials say government permission is needed before its publication. This may delay the book release, as well as censoring some revelations that the government finds uncomfortable.
Excerpts of the book published in the media are summarized as under:
- With the PLA moving tanks and troops in Rechin La pass on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh on the night on August 31, 2020, Naravane explained the criticality of the situation to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. Rajnath rang back at about 2230 hours saying he had spoken to the Prime Minister and “Jo ucchit samjho woh karo” – do whatever you deem appropriate.
- Narvane writes he reflected upon the country reeling under the pandemic, faltering economy, ability for steady supply of spares and the like in case of a long-drawn-out action, India’s global supporters and collusive China-Pakistan threat.
- Naravane then called up Northern Army Commander Lt Gen YK Joshi and told him we should not open fire first as it would provide the Chinese an excuse to escalate and paint us aggressors. At Mukhpari (on the Kailash Range) the previous day, PLA first fired two round followed with three rounds by us. He asked Joshi to move a troop of tanks to the forward slopes of the Pass with barrels looking down at the PLA. This stopped PLA’s light tanks, being no match to our medium tanks.
- PLA moved troops from Moldo to Chuti Changla area towards the South Bank of the Pangong Tso on the night of August 29-30 and some troops in the area of Kailash Range. By the evening of the August 30, the Indian Army was in a strong position on both banks of Pangong Tso and the Kailash Range. On August 30 evening, PLA moved troops in Kailash Range are and began digging 500 metres short of Indian locations at lower height.
- At 2015 hours on August 31, Joshi informed Naravane four PLA tanks supported by infantry moving up the track towards Rechin La. They fired an illuminating round also.
- Naravane writes he had clear orders not to open fire, ’till cleared from the very top’. A flurry of calls followed, between the RM, EAM, NSA, CDS and Naravane over the next half-hour and Narvane asked everyone “What are my orders?”
- At 2110 hours, Joshi informed Naravane that moving PLA tanks were less than a km from the top. Naravane rang up Rajnath again at 2125 hours. Meanwhile, PLA Commander, Maj Gen Liu Lin, suggested both sides stop further move and the local commanders should meet at the pass at 0930 hours next morning. Narvane informed Rajnath and NSA Doval accordingly at 2200 hours.
- But at 2210 hours Joshi intimated PLA tanks were moving ahead and were 500 metres away. Joshi recommended the only way to stop the PLA was by firing medium artillery, which was ready.
It is evident Defence Minister Rajnath, EAM, NSA or CDS did not answer Naravane what his orders were at the critical juncture. Did Rajnath, who is clearly a misfit as defence minister, explain the gravity of the situation to the prime minister? Did the prime minister still refuse permission to open fire? China had obviously assessed that India’s national hierarchy doesn’t have the spine to even fire warning shots at the PLA.
Excerpts of the book published in media cover only part of the PLA invasion in eastern Ladakh. There would be many more disclosures if the book is cleared for publication in original form albeit this is unlikely. Most of what has happened in eastern Ladakh is, however, in public domain, including: PLA occupying new locations west of China’s 1959 claim line which India never recognized; control of over 4,000 sq km Indian territory lost notwithstanding political stance of not even an inch of territory lost; 20-km deep PLA intrusion at Y-Junction in Depsang; all buffer zones in Indian territory; vacating Kailash Range in own territory in exchange of one solitary PLA post moving east along north bank of Pangong Tso; India lost control of 26 out of 65 patrolling points; China conveyed long back no more PLA withdrawal but India’s continued façade of military-to-military talks.
In all probability, Naravane’s book will be ignored after whatever form it is published. Not answering his query as to what his orders were at the critical juncture on the night of August 31, 2020 amounts to deliberately abdicating responsibility. Shouldn’t some of them be wearing bangles?
There is little doubt that Chinese successes in eastern Ladakh were because of collective Indian failure. Why Rajnath held an eight-hour meeting at his house after the Galwan clash before going to the prime minister and then issuing a statement needs no elaboration. Didn’t this call for the defence minister and the CDS resigning, leaving it for the prime minister to accept or not?
In the overall context, we need to give serious thought to the following:
- How did we expect one Army Division to guard 800-km frontage in the difficult terrain of eastern Ladakh? Why were Army’s periodic calls for more troops in eastern Ladakh ignored?
- We occupied the Saltoro Range in Siachen Glacier area for valid reasons but never anticipated Pakistan doing the same in Kargil – resulting in the Kargil Conflict of 1999.
- Despite the Kargil experience and Pervez Musharraf warning of “many more Kargils”, why did we not anticipate Chinese designs in eastern Ladakh concurrent to rotation of PLA troops in Aksai Chin?
- Orders for not carrying weapons to the LAC by the MEA resulted in PLA butchering Col Santosh Babu, CO 10 BIHAR and one accompanying soldier in cold blood, leading to the all night Galwan Clash.
- Do orders for not opening fire include firing of warning shots away from the target? Have we come to such a stage of pusillanimity against China? Should local commanders take the decision when national security is at stake rather than looking for every order from politicians?
- In 1967, the Chinese posts at Nathu La were plastered by our artillery and PLA did not dare to send even a patrol to the area for the next 10 days. Did it start a war?
Relating theory to strategy is important since theory provides cumulative wisdom harvested through cumulative strategic study of campaigns that help exploit practical opportunities; we need not start afresh each time sorting out the material and ploughing through it. What is our theory and are we relating it to strategy or blundering from one conflict to another. The national hierarchy is disinterested to even define a national security strategy since it will bring accountability.
The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.