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

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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

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