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The Retreat from Sela

D.K. Palit

By Lt. Colonel J.R. Saigal
Allied Publishers, New Delhi, 1979, pp. 180, Rs. 30.00


On the evening of November 17,1962, between seven o'clock and eleven o'clock, three senior General Officers sat in the Operations Room of HQ IV Corps at Tezpur, arguing among themselves endlessly whether four Infantry Division should be ordered to withdraw from Sela without offering battle. The three Generals were: the Chief of the Army Staff; the Eastern Army Commander; and the Corps Com­mander. It was the Army Commander who recommended immediate retreat, a recommendation that the senior General Staff Officer present strongly decried and persuaded the Army Chief to discount­enance. At one stage, in the confusion, a signal was in fact sent out over the wireless giving 4 Division permission to withdraw. When questioned, not one of the Generals owned up to having authorized this signal; so it was stopped halfway (at the relay station) though news of it may have filtered through the Signals channel. It was not until 11 p.m. that the Corps Commander spoke to General Pathania, commanding 4 Division, over the tele­phone and coaxingly advised him ‘not to withdraw tonight’. Strictly speaking I suppose General Pathania obeyed that order: but by six o'clock next morning the whole Division forward of Bomdila was in headlong, helter-skelter retreat. No shot was fired in anger (or in fun, for that matter); no wireless set opened up; the whole thing was a major military mystery—and a disgrace of the first magnitude. The episode has so far been kept hidden under a shroud of secrecy. At the time this was perhaps understandable, because not often are operational matters immediately revealed. It would only have added to the trauma of the times for the nation to know that a part of the Army in one of the crucial sectors of our front had run away without offering battle. The secrecy was maintained even after the war, throughout these long years past; but it was inevitable that someone would at some time let the cat out of the bag. The sadness is that this has now been done in an irresponsible, part-bogus and wholly scurrillous manner by the author of the book under review. Saigal, a junior staff officer at the time, was in the operational area for just a little over a fortnight. When the retreat took place he formed part of the rabble that made the mad rush to get away from the enemy; but later he pulled himself to­...

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