December brings memories of two historical events – one happy, the other tragic—liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 and India’s ignominy in 1962. We suffered the latter despite Home Minister Sardar Patel’s strategic advice to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of Chinese irredentism and communist imperialism being different from the expansionism or imperialism of the western powers, former having a cloak of ideology making it ten times more dangerous and that in the guise of ideological expansion lay concealed racial, national or historical claims.
Governments in India have consistently declined from making the Henderson Brookes Report public by quoting the military does not want it declassified but this apart enough is in the public domain including excerpts of the Henderson Brookes Report itself released by Neville Maxwell. What happened in 1962 is well known including Nehru’s missive to 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 used deception at the highest political level in duping the gullible Indian hierarchy into believing that China would never attack; lack of strategic thought and political beliefs devoid of reality led to the ill armed, ill equipped and ill trained state of Indian military; 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 (measuring 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; the 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 ensure US and USSR would not interfere much in the Sino-Indian border; coupled with human wave attacks, PLA employed numerous enveloping to force capitulation of Indian positions for fear of being cut off; Indian positions that had adequate fighting potential and could have been re-sup- plied by air too were ordered to withdraw due to poor higher leadership; the IAF could have been used to bomb the enveloping movements, positions and administrative bases of the China as PLA Air Force (PLAAF) was handicapped without requisite airbases in Tibet.
However, this was not done, and appointing B.M. Kaul as Corps Commander at the Chinese front and making him responsible for entire North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) front was a huge mistake. He was ineffective in operations, reported sick at a crucial juncture and was sitting in a hospital in Delhi while his troops were routed. He resigned after the war. But what should be serious concern to us are the similes with the situation in 1962, major ones being: we had no higher defence structures worth the name in 1962 and today we continue to have nothing more than a disjointed construct; India did not have an integrated tri-service set up in 1962 and still is in the same state. HQ Integrated Defence Staff which should have been fully merged with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has come up as a separate HQ altogether. There has been little movement towards creating Integrated Theatre Commands (ITCs) and Integrated Functional Commands (IFCs); the politicomilitary discord and disconnect has not improved much not counting the Prime Minister meeting the service chiefs on monthly basis; equipment and armament voids including ammunition shortages are alarming—government website of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce states 50 per cent of military equipment held by the army, navy and air force is obsolete.
The gap between the PLA and Indian military was large in 1962. Today the gap has widening exponentially taking into account rapid reaction, space, cyberspace, electromagnetic, surveillance, PGM’s, asymmetric capabilities etc; we continue to be without a national security strategy; our voids in strategic intelligence continue; India’s border infrastructure was atrocious in 1962. It is only slightly better today, which has buoyed the Chinese to nibble large tracts of our territory. Forward movement of reserves and forces; the MoD continues to be manned by generalist bureaucrats sans basic military knowledge; the Defence Secretary, not the Defence Minister, continues to be tasked with the defence of the country; the Service Headquarters continue to be attached offices instead of being integrated into the MoD and the like. The present government has taken some baby steps towards improving the situation but what it must realise is that defence has been a thoroughly neglected sector over the past decade plus and much more needs to be done in the face of mounting threats to our national security. This requires major surgery not cosmetic actions—simultaneous initiatives at multiple levels.
The present government has taken some baby steps towards improving the situation but what it must realise is that defence has been a thoroughly neglected sector over the past decade plus and much more needs to be done in face of mounting threats to our national security.
Sino-Indian War Memorial in Tawang