LESSONS FROM 1962 : A VIEWPOINT
India failed to read Chinese intentions despite Chinese ousting nationalists from Manchuria in 1948, sweeping into Tibet in 1951, occupying Sinkiang and shelling Taiwan in 1954, occupying Aksai Chin from 1955 to 1957, butchering own 30-40 million populati
Leakage of the Henderson Brooks report by Australian journalist Neville Maxwell has created considerable commotion not that the facts the report brings out were not known. A number of books and articles have been authored on the 1962 Sino-Indian War. The commotion is more because of the approaching elections and highlighting of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s follies. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has responded with a terse comment that the report being Top Secret, it would be inappropriate to comment. More leaks may follow. We need to take stock of what the lessons are from the 1962 Sino-Indian War.
There could have been no one better to warn Nehru of China’s intentions than Sardar Patel. In his letter dated November 7, 1950, Patel said: “We have to consider what new situation now faces us as a result of the disappearance of Tibet, as we knew it, and the expansion of China almost up to our gates. Throughout history we have seldom been worried about our northeast frontier…. We had a friendly Tibet which gave us no trouble.… 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. The danger from the north and north-east, therefore, becomes both communist and imperialist… We shall now have to reckon with communist China in the north and in the north-east, a communist China which has definite ambitions and aims and which does not, in any way, seem friendly disposed towards us.”
Historians agree that Chou-en-Lai’s guile completely outwitted Nehru who believed that China and India could live peacefully with open borders and not recognising that economic growth and national security are symbiotic. Military preparedness continued to be wholly neglected. Nehru continued to support China’s control over Tibet. The 1954 Panchsheel Agreement produced visions of everlasting peace. UN Security Council seat offered to India was magnanimously given to China. Chouen-Lai sang peace during his visit to India in 1960, which was lapped up by Nehru and Defence Minister Krishna Menon appointing B.M. Kaul (an ASC officer) to head the Corps facing the Chinese battlefront. Krishna Menon went to the extent of rubbishing a war game conducted by the military in Lucknow in 1961 that assessed how the Chinese would attack. In September 1962, Krishna Menon addressed the National Defence College (NDC) in Delhi and when queried about possibility of China attacking India, told the audience to shut up, saying if such was the thinking then NDC should be shut down.
A.G. Noorani in his book Two Sides of Nehru says that it was Nehru who “shut the door to negotiations on the (India-China) boundary on July 1, 1954,” and his refusal to negotiate plus the 1960 rebuff to Chouen-Lai…. may well have sowed the seeds of the 1962 India-China War. What happened in 1962 is well known including Nehru’s missive to an ill-prepared and ill-equipped army to occupy forward positions and throw the Chinese out of Thagla Ridge. We fought a superior enemy in 1962 not because of the size of China but because we lacked strategic forethought, were unable to read the enemy, had poor political and military leadership and with an army that was armed, equipped and trained very poorly.
Nehru died a disillusioned man after telling the nation that “a powerful and unscrupulous opponent had responded with evil to our good”.
The lessons of 1962 can be summarised as follows: China duped India at the highest political level into believing that China would never attack; India failed to read Chinese intentions despite Chinese ousting nationalists from Manchuria in 1948, sweeping into Tibet in 1951, occupying Sinkiang and shelling Taiwan in 1954, occupying Aksai Chin (38,000 sq km) from 1955 to 1957, butchering own 30-40 million population during the ‘Great Leap’ and occupying Tibet in 1959 breaching promises made; military advice was totally ignored by India’s hierarchy; Thagla Ridge incident was mere excuse for the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) already planned pre-emptive strikes across a vast frontier creating massive shock action; China timed the offensive coinciding with the Cuban missile crisis to divert attention of US and USSR; PLA employed human wave tactics and envelopment to force capitulation; Indian positions with adequate fighting potential that could have been re-supplied by air were ordered to withdraw; IAF could have been successfully used, but was not; and, appointing B.M. Kaul as Corps Commander and making him responsible for NEFA was a huge mistake. The views expressed herein are the personal views of the author.
LT GENERAL (RETD) P.C. KATOCH