Indo-china War What went wrong?
Sardar Patel’s 1950 letter to Nehru not only lambasted the Indian Ambassador in Beijing K.M. Panikkar bending backwards to China but more importantly warned of grave danger from China. Displaying strategic vision he wrote, “Chinese irredentism and communist imperialism are different from the expansionism or imperialism of the western powers. The former has a cloak of ideology which makes it ten times more dangerous. In the guise of ideological expansion lie concealed racial, national or historical claims…India’s defence has to concentrate itself on two fronts simultaneously… a communist China which has definite ambitions and aims and which does not, in any way, seem friendly disposed towards us.” Nehru, with his disdain for military, utopian belief that China and India could live peacefully with open borders (utopians of today propose open borders with Pakistan) and not recognising the harsh fact that economic growth and national security are symbiotic, ignored Patel’s advice.
Military preparedness continued to be wholly neglected. Nehru continued to support China’s control over Tibet (actually an autonomous region) without reciprocal commitment from China on the status of Sino-India boundary (we frittered away demise of East Pakistan and handed over 93,000 prisoners under the Shimla Agreement of 1972 without solving the J&K boundary dispute with Pakistan). The net has photos of Indian demonstrators carrying banners urging Nehru to take a firm stand towards Chinese violations of the Indian border during Chou-en-Lai’s visit to India in 1960 (today, we ignore opposition calls to take up the issue of border violations with visiting Chinese officials). Chou-en-Lai cunningly sang peace lullabies and our gullible hierarchy was taken in.
Defence Minister Krishna Menon was more interested in making money through importing jeeps and appointing B.M. Kaul (an ASC officer) to head the Corps facing the Chinese battlefront, compounding the debacle of 1962 in the process. Both Nehru and Krishna Menon kept saying China would not attack (Manmohan Singh said the same last December). Krishna Menon went to the extent of pooh-poohing a war game conducted in Lucknow in 1961 that brought out exactly how the Chinese would attack; which was exactly the way it happened in 1962. Just before the Chinese invasion, Krishna Menon addressed the National Defence College in Delhi in 1962. When queried about the possibility of China attacking India, he hollered at the audience to shut up and blurted that with such thinking, the NDC should be shut down.
A.G. Noorani, in his recent book Two Sides of Nehru, says that it was Nehru who “shut the door to negotiations on the (India-China) boundary on 1st July 1954” and his refusal to negotiate plus the 1960 rebuff to Chou-en-Lai when he was visiting and appeared ready to settle the issue may well have sowed the seeds of the 1962 IndiaChina war.
What happened in 1962 is well known including Nehru’s missive to an ill-prepared, illequipped and ill-trained army to throw the Chinese out of Thagla Ridge, Chinese divisions breaching the LoC, their ‘human wave’ tactics of assault and supreme sacrifices made by our soldiers – many fighting to the last round and battling on with bayonets and khukris to their last breaths. Nehru died a disillusioned man after telling the nation that a powerful and unscrupulous opponent had responded with evil to our good.
At a recent defence-related international conference, a scholar assessed, “To shock India into territorial concessions, PLA may consider a savage campaign including limited nuclear exchange. While some may consider this extreme, Manmohan Singh and his successors need to remember we are in the 21st century and China has only refined her policy of ambiguity and deceit and PLA continues to follow surprise, deception and pre-emption. The views expressed herein are the personal views of the author.