November 2018, commemorates the 56th anniversary of the Sino-Indian war in 1962. While China has always downplayed its gains in the war, India can’t get out of the depression and insist on being “defeated” and “humiliated”. Further, our military never took any responsibility for their failures in the war and continue to blame politicians. The shortcomings of the Indian Army and Air Force conveniently never get mentioned.
The “experts” on the subject either gloss over or completely ignore the fact that China retreated to the pre-war position by November 1962, vacating every inch of NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh) that was lost by the Indian Army. Let us remember that China still claims this territory to be its own South Tibet! After unilaterally declaring a ceasefire, China let go of its gains in the eastern sector but retained the area seized in the western part. By withdrawing, China essentially accepted the McMahon alignment, the major reason behind the conflict. When enemy retreats, any other nation claims victory. But, our military men, who we considered to be experts in warfare, claim this retreat by China as a further humiliation for India. This is amusing. Would India retreat from Kashmir to humiliate Pakistan?
Books and blogs written about the lessons learnt by India from 1962 are mostly disappointments. British journalist and author of India’s China War Neville Maxwell called the 1962 clash between the two neighbours the most documented conflict in the entire history of mankind. Yet, Indians can’t even get their story straight, let alone learn lessons. There are two completely conflicting theories of what happened:
One argument calls Nehru a weakling and naive for believing in peace at any cost. Nehru apparently trusted that China would not attack us and believed in the ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai'(Indian and Chinese are brothers) phrase. But, China betrayed and attacked. Thus, Nehru is blamed for not listening to “all knowing” Sardar Patel, whose diplomatic knowledge cannot be testified. Nehru and Krishna Menon indeed spoke of China’s betrayal and of being the unscrupulous enemy, in the aftermath. That, however, was war rhetoric and neither repentance nor enlightenment. At the time of war, the enemy is always characterised as sneaky, immoral and backstabbing. American presidents used similar narratives during the Panama and Iraq expeditions. Nehru and Krishna Menon bent over their backs to defend the indefensible performance of the Indian Army. They claimed that China betrayed and surprised us and that our army performed poorly because it was not ready. JP Dalvi, commander of the Indian 7th Brigade during the war, had the nerve to call it “admission of guilt”.
The second theory is the exact opposite of the first one. These arguments identify Nehru as abrasive for recklessly pushing our territorial claims, and underestimating China’s strength and abandoning dialogue. According to these arguments, Mao Zedong came down to teach Nehru a lesson. Nehru and Krishna Menon exactly understood China’s strength since they both negotiated peace in Korea where China inflicted half a million deaths on General MacArthur’s mightiest army known to mankind and suffered equal losses as well. Korea was not even China’s war, yet it sacrificed so much for a cause. Cheering deaths of several Indian Soldiers as “Nehru being taught a lesson” is immoral even for an enemy, let alone our generals and marshals.
The purpose of both the theories is to insult Nehru and laugh at his supposed misfortune. To this day, not a single “historian” has made any attempt to resolve these two conflicting and mutually exclusive theories! Some even make both claims in the same article without even understanding the difference. Was Nehru naive or was he abrasive? Was Nehru a weakling or a reckless, foolhardy gambler? The truth is in the middle! More than all these characterisations, Nehru was a Democrat, a visionary nationalist and a tall world leader. Despite the failure of the Indian Army, Nehru stood like a man he was and pushed Chinese back to the pre-war position. When China offered ceasefire asking Nehru to accept their possession of NEFA with a threat to invade Assam otherwise, Nehru rejected the offer and vowed to fight. With Nehru calling their bluff, China eventually retreated. Many Indians uniquely insist on it as a “debacle” because this is their only opportunity to drag Nehru through the mud.
It was a historical inevitability! Ramachandra Guha gives the best explanation for this in his book “Patriots and Partisans”. Although he quickly and comically discredits his theory. Guha says China and India are two great civilisations that were freed from centuries of feudal/colonial rule and were reinventing themselves. They were bound to collide in Tibet where they shared the heritage. India has its Buddhist imprint on Tibet, which China considered its integral part. Guha ends the argument in a damp squib by blaming entire historical inevitability on one person- Krishna Menon. In Guha’s defence, he was unduly influenced by Sarvepalli Gopal’s biography of Nehru. S. Gopal was an adviser to Jawaharlal Nehru on Tibet matters and made the fateful suggestion that Aksai Chin legally belongs to India. S. Gopal made Krishna Menon the scapegoat to cover his anatomy in the aftermath of the war, while such acts are beneath Krishna Menon.
Taking a cue from S. Gopal and Sardar Patel, the entire nation with the exception of the communists wanted Aksai Chin. Nehru’s success in annexing the Princely States, making Sikkim a subsidiary, and appending Pondicherry and finally Goa fueled the excitement. When India could defeat western powers like Britain, France and Portugal, an Asian country like China looked too easy. This commotion offered a perfect political opportunity to enemies of Krishna Menon. After defeating Portugal and liberating Goa just a few months earlier, it looked certain that Krishna Menon will be the next Prime Minister. So, he was branded a communist, traitor and accused of misleading Nehru and trying to give “our” Aksai Chin to China. Ram Manohar Lohia accused the government of holding the army back which was supposedly “ready and eager” to teach Chinese a lesson. The same Lohia turned around and accused the government of not equipping the army after the Forward Policy had backfired.
Forward Policy was not Jawaharlal Nehru’s personal policy nor of BN Mullick, as claimed. It was India’s policy on which the Indian Parliament made several resolutions. Nehru adopted Forward Policy against his, Krishna Menon’s and COAS General Timmayya’s judgement. Nehru himself tried at one point to convince Parliament not to lust after Aksai Chin since “not even grass can grow”. Yet he was swept by popular sentiment. From civil activists to journalists, and from opposition parties to his own Congress members, everyone thought of Aksai Chin as next logical annexation after Goa.
In 2014, Neville Maxwell posted the first part of the Henderson Brooks Report on the internet. Subsequently, claims were made on his behalf that Brooks named all the guilty men, which conveniently does not include any military men but just politicians and bureaucrats. The important question is, how did a British Neville Maxwell get a hold of this report which no Indian access? Naturally, someone inside the army handed him this top-secret document. Where is the investigation into this activity that breached national security?
If anybody reads Neville Maxwell’s book “India’s China War”, they would know that Maxwell never considered Indian Army to be a serious fighting force against mighty Chinese People’s Liberation Army. So, any claims of China being defeated by Indian Army if Nehru or Menon did something different is ridiculous. Neville Maxwell called VK Krishna Menon the only honest and upright Indian! Maxwell’s only complaint was Nehru’s deep commitment to democracy. Maxwell was a fan of the Sino-Burmese model where dictators Mao/Zhau and U Nu resolved the border dispute peacefully without any involvement of their respective countrymen. Maxwell’s thesis was that Nehru should have kept the Parliament, press and civil society out. But if Nehru really took those shortcuts, India would not have been the democracy it is today!
Brooks submitted his report in a hurry, and hence that report can neither be comprehensive nor claimed the ultimate truth. Henderson Brooks and PS Bhagat were appointed by the army to investigate failures of the military. They had no authority to investigate any political decisions. Krishna Menon, in his interview with Michael Brecher, confirmed that they never interviewed him. So, the claims of Brooks Report naming either Nehru or Krishna Menon as “guilty men” is a fabrication.
Arun Jaitley argued in favour of releasing the report when in opposition but changed his mind after becoming the Defense Minister! Naturally, he found no filth in that report on Nehru! Neville Maxwell wrote that the Indian Air Force dropped our food and supplies into Chinese positions, in the valleys and ravines. Until the beginning of the war, the Chinese were too kind to bring them over to our troops. These ex-servicemen who want the report made public, should be careful what they wish for!
In October 1962 with Chinese still in NEFA, the Indian Parliament was more interested in ousting Krishna Menon than the Chinese. It is claimed that India became very strong after successfully destroying Krishna Menon’s career! The proof they offer is that we won the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 and 1971. Was India not strong when we defeated Portugal in 1961? Let us set aside the argument that we “won” 1965. Let us also set aside the fact that all the Gnats, MIGs, INS Vikrant that won those wars were procured by Krishna Menon. Was either of the battles fought against China? Obviously, Indians don’t even understand the difference between fighting China and fighting Pakistan.
Indians have no stomach for war. Indian Army still cannot get over 1,400 deaths 56 years ago. That is the difference between India and China. That is the difference between fighting China and fighting Pakistan. That was why India lost to China but performs well against Pakistan.
Blaming Army’s unpreparedness on Prime Minister and Defense Minister would be funny if not pathetic. Claims of Army fighting with WW I vintage weapons are outright false. Krishna Menon not just modernised but revolutionised the armed forces. However, Menon could only take the horse to the water but could not make it drink.
It is true that the soldiers deployed from Punjab to Tawang were in cotton pants and socks. But, under Krishna Menon, India also built Avadi Tanks, Shaktiman Trucks, AVRO and HF-24 Supersonic fighters. Krishna Menon bought INS Vikrant, Gnats, MIGs and helicopters. Krishna Menon built housing for nearly 1/3 of families in the armed forces during his 5-year tenure as well as the Armed Forces Medical College and Sainik Schools. Claims that he did not give money for winter clothing for few thousand soldiers is farfetched! In fact, when Krishna Menon wanted to buy quilted coats, one general protested “we will look like monkeys”. The Chinese came in those quilted coats!
Nehru is often blamed for not deploying Air Force. Indian Air Force made repeated claims of being better equipped than the Chinese Air Force, which by itself should vindicate Krishna Menon’s fine job as a Defense Minister! But the question is, why was Indian Army not ready when the Indian Air Force was! This is for Army as well as Air Force to answer before they can blame any politician!
The claims of Indian Air Force that they could defeat China only if Nehru allowed them reminds of Uttar Kumar in Mahabharat! Uttar Kumar bragged to his harem that he could have defeated entire Kaurav Sena single-handedly only if his father did not stop him. If Nehru really deployed Air Force, they too would be decimated like the Army, and they also would now be claiming that they were not ready! And if we lost all the aircraft in 1962, could we win the 1965 and 1971 wars? Why do ex-servicemen make such false and irresponsible claims in the name of great institutions they once represented? It is for those institutions to answer!