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Revisiting the 1962 War With China: Indian General Staff Must Shoulder the Blame for Incompetence

Updated on April 1, 2019
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An air warrior, MG has a checkered history and also wields the pen forcefully with two novels and over 100 short stories

Background

1962 is now 57 years past but despite this, it remains like an anchor around the throats of the Indian leadership. This was the period when the Indian state was confronted by a resurgent China and decisively defeated, changing the course of Asian history for at least 100 years. It reduced India's importance and it appears that for long periods it will be denied a great power status.

The seeds of the 1962 war lie in the policy followed by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. It is very sad that we have to pin the responsibility for India's defeat on him. He was much loved by the Indian people and many at that time considered him a great statesman. Unfortunately, in hindsight, people are realizing that Nehru was not a great leader at all. He was more suited to be a philosopher than a political leader. His clash with the Chinese leader Mao Ts Tung shows him in very poor light. His thinking and reasoning were faulty and above all, he fostered a sense of complacency in the general staff of the Indian Army which was completely out of its depth when China struck along the Himalayan border.

The Raj

During the days of the British Raj, the English had ensured that Tibet would be a buffer state between India and China. For close to 200 years Tibet was only under the nominal control of China. In 1914 the British held a conference at Simla that led to the Simla Pact. The Chinese and Tibet representatives at Simla agreed to an agreement delineating the Indo-Tibet border as per the interpretation of the British. The Tibet representative signed the agreement but the Chinese representative only initialed it. The agreement delineated the border in Eastern India between Assam and Tibet by what has come to be known as the MacMohan line. This was an imaginary line drawn by the British representative with a red pen on a map. It was open to interpretation but the English had their way. They also incorporated Aksai Chin in the Western border with Tibet as part of India.

Nehru blunders

Logically Nehru should have built on what the British left behind but he was an idealist and in a way unsuited to lead India and the first blunder committed was in 1950. This was when he refused to intervene in Tibet, despite urging by his home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to oppose the Chinese army which had invaded Tibet. He announced that Tibet was an "internal problem" of China. During the same period, he turned down a proposal by Allen Dulles US Secretary of State for membership of the security council and veto rights stating that he did not want to take the right away from the Chinese people. Such naivety can only be termed foolish. Unfortunately, he persisted in this policy, always thinking that China would remain India's friend. He also championed the cause of China and introduced the communist leader Chou en Lai at the Bandung conference in 1955.

Border problem

In 1954 Nehru ordered that the map showing the border of India with China should be clearly marked as per the MacMohan line in the east and Aksai Chin be shown as a part of India. Despite this order, he made no attempt to support this suggestion on the ground and the entire Aksai Chin area which is very sparsely populated remained outside the purview of the Indian Administration. No Indian troops were sent into this region.

In addition, even the MacMohan line was not clearly defined and no attempt was made by Nehru to police this line as per the interpretation of the Indians. The Chinese were wary of the policies of Nehru who they felt was detrimental to their interest. His act of giving political Asylum to the Dalai Lama in 1959 infuriated the Chinese who felt that it was nothing short of treason to the Chinese people. In the meantime, the Chinese occupied the entire Aksai Chin( an area of 30,000 square miles) and the Indian people came to know about it only when Indian Platoon was ambushed at Daulat Beg Oldi in Ladakh and a few Indian soldiers were killed.

Another big factor is the role played by Krishna Menon who later became the Defence Minister and the chief of the intelligence bureau Mr. Malik. Both these men somehow convinced Pandit Nehru that China would never attack India. Coming to military intelligence this was also a failure as it could not get the extent of Chinese plans and their determination to set aside what they felt was a historical wrong perpetrated on them through the Simla conference.

When Nehru became aware of the occupation of Aksai chin by China in 1959 he tried to make amends on the advice of the intelligence chief. He ordered the Indian Army to set up military posts inside territory controlled by China to exercise Indian Sovereignty. This was easier said than done as the army while setting up these posts sometimes within handshaking distance of the Chinese exposed the ill-equipped Indian soldiers to Chinese action.

The army set up almost 60 such posts in the west and also in the East in what was then known as North East Frontier Agency( NEFA). Lieutenant general LP Sen army commander Eastern command was apprehensive of the policy of setting up posts facing China but he was assured by the Deputy Chief of the army staff that nothing will happen as the Chinese will just melt away when a few bullets are fired. At this time the Army chief general Thapar a Sandhurst graduate decided to carry on the policy enunciated by Pandit Nehru of setting up posts in territory which China considered disputed. He is guilty of not having thought of what the reaction of China would be. In addition, he never apprised the government of the fact that the army was very poorly equipped in terms of clothing, weapons, and Logistic support.

Henderson Brookes inquiry report

Maxwell in his famous book " India's China war" actually took whole pages out of the Henderson Brooks report. After the 1962 war, Nehru had ordered a report to be prepared as to the causes for the Indian defeat. Lieutenant General Lieutenant General Henderson Brooks was aided by Brigadier Bhagat who later became Lieutenant General. They submitted the report after due inquiry. The report remained secret for almost 50 years till it was published in 2014 when the BJP came to power. From the report, one can glean that Army headquarters was totally unprepared to fight a war with China yet none of the general staff officers adviced Pandit Nehru against the policy of opening posts in Ladakh and NEFA.

Minutes of meetings that are now available show the complete ignorance of the Army Chief and Intelligence Chief. They were not aware as to what the Chinese will actually do and they were all of the opinions that China would not attack India. The Chinese were not happy with the policy of India. On June 4, 1962, India set up a post at Dhola. On June 23 China struck a deal with the United States on Quemoy and this enabled 500000 Troops to move to Tibet.

On October 16 Mao the Chinese leader ordered the Chinese army to hit back at the Indian posts being set up in Chinese territory. He also pointed to a statement by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru just 2 days before leaving for Sri Lanka that he had ordered the army to throw the Chinese out of Ladakh. On October 14 Nikita Khrushchev the Soviet leader met the Chinese Ambassador and gave his green signal for the attack.

To the credit of the Chinese, it must be said that Prime Minister Chou did visit Delhi earlier on and made a reference for a border settlement. He announced China would respect the MacMohan line in return for India recognizing the rule of China over Aksai Chin. Nehru under great pressure from the opposition rejected this offer and the seeds for a war were sown.

Army

During the same period, a cousin of Jawaharlal Nehru Lieutenant General BM Kaul was promoted to take over a newly created Corp to face China in North East. The general probably thought he would win glory and the Chinese would just run away. There are reports that he was overawed by the state of affair and mountains in NEFA and fell sick and was airlifted to Delhi hospital. This was a sad end to a man who in any case was unfit for command.

On 20th October the Chinese attacked Indian posts in Ladakh and NEFA. With General Kaul falling sick command and control was at a.premium. The headless Indian troops without proper arms were outnumbered and outgunned. The Chinese captured hundreds and a headlong retreat commenced and the Chinese very soon captured Walong and were nearing Tezpur. The administration collapsed and the deputy commissioner just ran away.T

The Indian posts in Ladakh put up stiff resistance and Radio Peking in a broadcast acknowledge the resistance of the Indian troops. The Chinese carried the day and they used tanks and artillery while the Indians only had MMG to counter them. General Thapar the Army chief was completely confused and he was advised to go on long leave. it is sad that after he returned he resigned from the Army and was made an Ambassador to Afghanistan.

The 1962 war is a war brought on by India because of Pandit Nehru. The defeat had a catalytic effect on Nehru and he was never the same and after that. He died shortly after in 1964 unable to comprehend why the Chinese had attacked India

India could have turned the tide in its favor if the Air Force had been used. The air chief at that time Air Marshal Engineer was also found wanting. He made no suggestion of using the Air Force to dent the Chinese. Had the IAF been used at that time the Chinese who had little air cover would have been exposed. No suggestion was made and also the Army chief was silent. Maybe he was too bewildered. Overall a psychosis of fear was built up. The curtain is now drawn as China after puncturing the ego of Nehru ordered a unilateral cease-fire.

Comments

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    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 

      14 months ago

      I always like to tell myself I am a student of world history. Your articles provide me with valuable insight into India I did not know. Keep writing articles and I will keep reading them.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      14 months ago from Singapore

      Thank you Readme, its such a pleasure to read your comments

    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 

      14 months ago

      Fascinating! You really provided some interesting insight into what happened. Enjoyed reading it.

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