Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Plastic Soldier

The other day while at the Noida Golf Course for an evening of socializing; now long retired, then Captains and Lieutenants all veterans of the 1962Sino Indian conflict in NEFA, the conversation somehow veered to our personal experiences of those days. I was the Signal officer of Seven Brigade that faced the brunt of the Chinese attack, commanded by Brig JP Dalvi and I casually mentioned about my book, ‘Letters from the Border’, about my experiences of the Operation Leghorn as the Seven Brigade operation was named. Looking at me one of them queried, ‘How was Brig Dalvi?’ ‘He was a nice person,’ I spontaneously responded. ‘No’ he insisted, ‘but how was he as a Soldier?’ Before I could reply another present injected, ‘He was a ‘Plastic Soldier.’

Having been a close witness to what had been happening to him as the commander of the ill fated brigade and his troops beginning the 8th of October and culminating in the decimating of the Brigade on the 20th October 1962, this sudden and unexpected assault took me aback, I wondered as to what was implied by the sobriquet ‘Plastic Soldier.’ Was Dalvi ever allowed to do ‘Soldering’ and what soldering is as the brigade commander’s level? Forget about soldering, the question remains was he even allowed exercising command? Dalvi, in any case had done enough soldering in his life at the level where real soldering is done; serving with Baluch regiment during the Second World War being also mentioned in dispatches for gallantry. And later having two command tenures first that of the 4th Battalion of Guards and later the 1st Guards.

If he was at all plastic it was not by character but by the constant battering from the higher commanders that made him in to a thin foil with no elasticity left. In their wisdom, the higher-ups ensured that Dalvi remained divorced from his HQ, staff and communications. He was either on move or sitting in wilderness with his GSO 3, the intelligence officer, the rover radio-set operator, the cipher operator and the radio mechanic for company for days together. The man pack Radio Set no 62 which could be operated only when static on the Brigade Command net was his sole link with the out side world. He was denied any decision making authority. Even the brigade was moved forward from the concentration area at Lumpu to Tsangdhar and the valley of River Namka Chu without his knowledge by the new Corps Commander. As the matter stood, the command of the brigade was being exercised even a day earlier to 20th October, thousands of miles away from the place of operation by the Corps Commanded lying on his sick-bed in Delhi. This view is reinforced by what Capt HS Talwar, the troop commander of 17 Para Field, who had drifted that evening in the brigade HQ had to say: ‘That night (19 October) I had a meal in the Brigade Mess bunker in the company of six to seven officers. The gathering included the Commander Brig Dalvi, the Brigade Major Rex Kharbanda, the DAA & QMG Pereira the IO Capt Tushar Gupta, the Signals officer Capt Lakshman and the OC Mortar Battery Maj Balraj Nijjer. In the midst of this setting, the shrill ring of the Telephone Type J, interrupted the proceedings to indicate that the GOC, Niranjan Prasad, wanted to speak to the Brigade Commander Dalvi. The GOC wanted another company strength or so to be moved to Tsangle, besides the platoon of 1/9 GR which was already on the way. Dalvi was seemingly not prepared to accept this order on grounds that Tsangle out-post had no Tactical significance and was an additional drain on the stretched administrative resources of the Brigade. Some hot words were exchanged and in exasperation Dalvi offered to resign from the command of 7 Brigade. I was a complete outsider and witnessed the whole drama with a degree of detachment.

If this makes Dalvi ‘Plastic’, he definitely was of that genre, but that makes everyone in the chain of command ‘Plastic’ starting from the Division, the Corps, the Command, right up to Army HQ.

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At April 1, 2010 at 6:07 PM , Blogger L. Singh said...

Late Brigadier JP Dalvi commander of the illfated Seven brigade
LEFT Below
The Battle Ground


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