Chimera by Vivek Ahuja is a work of fiction, about India and China going to war for a second time after India’s debacle in 1962. Ahuja approaches the work like a game of chess one plays with oneself: China makes a certain move, using military assets, to which India counters using its own capabilities. Here the author is making the moves for both forces. The author has deep knowledge of the battlefield in India as well as across the border in China. He is also well versed with the military assets and technologies available for use with both sides. The narrative in the novel plays out in the form of measure and counter measures initiated and responded to by the two powers, and the reader vicariously goes into numerous Indian and Chinese military units right from Indian Special Forces units operating across the border in Tibet to units operating the supersonic Brahmos cruise missile to the planning of the war by top generals in war rooms in China and many more. Throughout, the author emphasises that 1962 cannot re occur, considering the level of preparation on the Indian side. He is especially astute in his analysis of both the countries' air forces, though the respective air forces never went to war in 1962.
In 1962 Nehru had wept like a girl when China invaded, in an All India Radio address, saying that the North East was lost; he had refused to use the Air Force fearing China’s response would be much worse than it already was, if things were allowed to escalate. But in the authors assessment, as he shows through the novel, in any future wars between the two powers, the Air Force is key in staving off the Chinese and allowing the Indian Armed Forces breathing space first and later dominance in the theatre comprising Bhutan, Ladakh, Aksai Chin and Tibet. The author highlights what the Chinese strategy may be if war were an outcome: the Chinese would use a network of potent surface- to- air missiles to ensure Indian fighters are unable to operate over Tibet and they would destroy Indian air bases and other military assets with pre emptive missile strikes so that Indian aircraft are rendered worthless. However, India’s superiority with regard to fighters is evident in the novel as it is in real life as the Indian Air Force possesses a vast array of aircrafts from many sources while the Chinese are dependent on Russian technology and indigenous technologies: India operates French Mirages; Russian Sukhois and Migs as well as British Jaguars.
Though the author’s assessment of the respective countries military capabilities is perceptive, the likely scenario of India and China going to war over the Tibet issue is slim. In the novel, the Dalai Lama dies a natural death leaving behind a political vacuum. In Tibet self immolations intensify, as does an insurgency supported by India. China then pre empts a war to teach India a lesson for its interference in Tibet. An insurgency in Tibet can be dealt with by the Chinese military juggernaut within Tibet itself, as it harrowingly happened in 1959 when the Dalai Lama escaped to India, and it hence seems implausible that the Communist leadership which has recently transitioned would risk nuclear war for the same. The Tibetans have appointed a new political leader, in the academician Lobsang Sangay, and although the Dalai Lama’s death would be a great loss it seems highly unlikely that it would create the same sort of instability that would become a full blown insurgency as Ahuja envisages in the novel.
The author is biased towards the efficiency of Indian forces. For those still licking their wounds at India’s humiliating loss at China’s hands and the loss of national pride made worse by Nehru, the book is catharsis. Ahuja amply highlights the interference by the Communist Politburo into the PLA which affects its war fighting capabilities. But, he fails to factor in the same with regards to Indian forces, where political interference is also a big issue affecting the Armed Forces morale and fighting prowess. The defence scams plaguing the country, and the lavish materialism of many officers and their nexus with the politicos are worrisome as they have a direct impact on the efficiency of the forces, but Ahuja ignores the same.
The book is all war: military units like an armoured formation or an AWACS aircraft are shown in action with their crews but Ahuja largely ignores the human face of war. Destruction takes place on a grand scale but the human element is lacking. Bad things happen and the soldiers put up a display of psychological invincibility. The scarring and futility of war, if it were captured, would have made this novel have greater depth and range.