Book review: The Dragon’s Nemesis

By Maj Gen Jagatbir Singh, VSM (RETD)

‘The Dragon’s Nemesis’ by Sudip Talukdar is the author’s third book after Scary Portents: India under Siege and Proxy War: The Counter Moves, which focused on terror networks from across the border. The book has been described as “an explosive, mind blowing account of a single man’s unbounded initiative to checkmate the Dragon and win against all odds!” While the character of Major Bakshi is fictional but as far as the geo political setting goes the book bears a striking resemblance to reality.

Who is Major Bakshi? The man who draws his inspiration from Field Marshal Rommel.Why was he dumped into the most remote rural pocket of central India, dubbed as a ‘blackhole,’ along with a bunch of the rowdiest discards in the Army? What did he do to forge them into the world’s most feared guerrilla force, capable of inflicting terrible vengeance on an enemy like China? Was it his sharp strategic sense or just pure luck?

“Gifted with a Shaman’s preternatural sense of what lay beyond appearances and completely focused on his calling, Bakshi snatches victory from the very jaws of defeat His connect with Shamanic Powers give a foresight into the events are yet to unfold but also adds to the sense of mystical powers of the protagonist.

The book is written in three Parts; ‘The Prologue’, ‘The Build Up’ and ‘The Grand Finale’. The author’s opening line; ‘in a world of impermanence; only change is affixed constant ‘sets the tone and tenor of the narrative that follows. Major Bakshi had been on the personal staff of his’ mentor and guru ‘,’ General Bakshi who has now retired and the new incumbent has replaced him.

In his new appointment at a Brigade Headquarter he is subject to disciplinary proceedings for taking action against a Bollywood celebrity who passed remarks against the Services. This happened while conducting a group of actors and journalists to the forward areas and he now faces an unceremonious posting. The ‘highly decorated war hero, now finds himself on the brink of a radical break with his cherished past and the prospect of a doomed future’. Forgotten were his stunning successes against the ISI and his mounting an audacious undercover operation to spirit away two of the spy agency’s biggest assets, who ran the terror apparatus, with the help of his loyal contacts across the border. However, this new appointment will set off a chain of geo political events with far reaching regional and global ramifications.

The story moves on to Major Bakshi and his confidant Major Barindra Ghosh who are posted to a unit in the jungles of Central India. Detachment 71 (D -71) is made up mainly from those men who have had disciplinary problems. ‘He had seemed reluctant to shoulder the responsibilities of a disgruntled and defiant group of men, but looked forward to the challenge’. As Major Ghosh stated; ‘the darkest hour is just before dawn’ and Colonel Bakshi ‘had taken charge when the detachment was going through its most demoralising phase.’

There are issues regarding their rations, living conditions, equipment, pay & allowances and morale. These are soon resolved by the contacts of Colonel Bakshi through both military channels with his mentor requesting the Central Army Commander to make up the shortfalls. Of course the civil administration in the form of the Divisional Commissioner Janardhan ‘Jim’ Tripathi who happens to be a classmate and dear friend of Major Bakshi also gives substantial assistance to his unit. This no doubt helps’ prepare his men for a great responsibility

The story also covers the influence of a ‘quasi-official think tank’ War Veterans Strategic Foundation (WVSF) headed by General Bakshi after his retirement which provides policy inputs to the government. This is where much of the strategic dialogue examining various options regarding India’s moves takes place. Their strategy is built on a ‘Chinese proverb’; “It’s good to strike the serpent’s head with your neighbor’s hand”. They also talk about the ‘Chanakyan policy of Saam, Daan, Dhand, Bhed which has stood the test of time, namely the way of negotiation, gratification, punishment and subversion.’

They then decide ‘to play their cards very very adroitly’. Nothing was to be known outside their tight close knit circle and ‘the operation has to be fool proofed so it cannot be traced’. Detachment 75 is now tasked with the most ‘daring operation’; they are ‘to be like ghostly figures, perceived but never visible, known only by the destructive effects they produce on an unsuspecting enemy’. ‘Stealth, shock, surprise and deception’ being their key attributes, the aim being ‘to cripple an unrelenting enemy, by waging an asymmetric war and paying him back in his own coin’. The stage is set for confrontation with the crafty foe, which would spark a chain of geo-political events, with far reaching regional and global ramifications.

As Shakespeare puts it in Hamlet; “There is a divinity that shapes our ends”. Col Bakshi ‘in a tiny corner of our vast landmass takes trouble to convert a crippling personal setback and a challenge in the form of a moribund unit into one of unprecedented opportunity’. But the answer to what end lies in Part III of the book. The manner in which he shapes events with this unit; ‘which ventures into the gray zone’ is the part that grips the reader’s attention.

The trigger for the launch of the unit lies in a series of incidents across the North East of India causing death and destruction which resulted in unprecedented public outrage against the Dragon. Widespread flooding of the area, triggered by emptying of reservoirs in the upper Himalayan reaches, by an inimical neighbor, adds a sinister new twist to the proxy war as ‘water terrorism.’

The book then exposes the reader to divisions within the ISI as well as a Balochi sympathiser who has been planted ‘deep within the bowels of the ISI,’ which is ‘an audacious and unprecedented feat’.

It transports the reader to the mountains of Kashmir, the sands of Balochistan and the Pakistan and Iran border. The book exposes the readers to the problems of the Balochi’s and the feeling of their natural resources being exploited and plunges into the epicenter of their insurgent movement, the leader of whom is Abdul Bugti. Climate change, corona pandemic, the underworld, Gwadar, CPEC, killing of Chinese citizens in Pakistan are amongst many other issues that have been intricately weaved into the plot.

Colonel Bakshi definitely has a passion to live life on the edge. He was ‘one of the toughest and most feared taskmasters in the Indian Army’. An ‘absolute tyrant on the field’, but at the same time ‘you could not find a kinder or more compassionate human being’. But as he says being a tyrant is ‘only to ensure survival and minimise casualties’.

What is very interesting is the manner in which international events that are taking place have been interwoven, taking the reader to different sectors of our borders and our neighboring territories. ‘The Dragon exemplified a much greater menace behind the deceptively benign mask of forbearance and subtlety.’ Incidentally, it was also ‘reported that President Li Ping Thing was deposed in a bloodless coup’.

The book is an interesting read. It is quite a mix of patriotism, imagination, and adventure. The author’s evocative yet graphic style keeps the reader engaged until the very end. While it is no doubt a fictional story it has been stitched together with contemporary events, replete with conversations that reveal perceived strategic thinking and incisive geopolitical perceptions of countries in the region. Many of the parallel occurrences that have been built around the story are based on historical facts.

Reviewer of the book is an Indian Army Veteran.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.

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