In a World Cup tournament, a team must win matches, but the finals are what matter. The winner of the finals gets the cup. Our historians often treat the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict as the final match for the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Further, the foregone conclusion in minds of all Indians including the Indian National Congress is that Nehru had lost finals and that the World Cup was taken home by Mao Zedong.
Nehru is often summed up as “did some good things but lost the all-important China War”. It does not help that some of our “modern” historians are sportswriters. I discussed this undeserving importance to the 1962 conflict, the fallacy of India losing that war and the ridiculousness of China walking away with the trophy, in detail in other articles.
Between 1947 and 1962, India entered many other conflicts acquiring territory as well as liberating millions of people whose destiny was held hostage by feudal and colonial rulers. While Nehru was the Prime Minister during all these conflicts, the credit is cleverly handed to others like Sardar Patel by our modern historians, precluding any consideration to Nehru when the 1962 Sino-Indian Conflict is discussed.
But there are glaring cases such as Liberation of Goa in December 1961 when India had mobilised nearly 45,000 troops in all three branches of the armed forces. This fact does not corroborate the carefully developed narrative of unprepared armed forces, and Nehru and his defence minister VK Krishna Menon’s incompetence. I am no military expert but mobilising such numbers and striking so quickly and decisively must have taken a lot of preparation and leadership. Lt. Gen. Brij Mohan Kaul who is often accused of incompetence even by Congress leaders, was the architect of Goa invasion.
Our military men, historians as well as BJP and Congress attempt to delegitimize and trivialize the invasion of Goa. Lt. Gen. HS Panag had recently described this invasion of Goa as a necessary evil while Congress MP Jairam Ramesh dismissed it as undesirable since it angered then President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy. Going back to the sports analogy, Goa is like a semi-final or quarterfinal!
If you have enough points, you could even forfeit such a match and still win the world cup. From Ramesh’s perspective, this is like saving a star player (military support from the USA) from injury by foregoing an unimportant match like Goa Liberation.
Panag, as well as Ramesh, tell us that Goa liberation was detrimental since it supposedly gave overconfidence and hence the loss in the finals with China. Wouldn’t the Indian Army be destroyed by overconfidence if it were to defeat China in 1962? Angry or happy, the USA helped India anyway in November 1962. So, why is that even an issue that had to diminish such a military and humanitarian success in Goa?
Think of geography and people of Goa compared to uninhabited Aksai Chin where not even grass can grow. Was Liberation of Goa that unimportant and undesirable as claimed by Panag and Ramesh, compared to the then brewing conflict with China in the remote mountains? To be sure, I think the claim by Panag and Ramesh that victory in Goa in 1961 caused defeat later in 1962, is ridiculous. But even if it was true, would India want it any other way?
The real problem for our modern and military historians is that acceptance of Goa Liberation as a military and humanitarian success undermines their mythology that has been meticulously developed over several decades. It disproves the argument that Krishna Menon had destroyed and demoralised the Indian Army. It also puts holes in the claims that BM Kaul and General PN Thapar were incompetent. It undermines the mythology that Prime Minister Nehru was a coward, naïve and dying politically and biologically.
When the likes of Lt Gen Umrao Singh (33 Corps) ran away from the battlefield as Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) prepared for war in 1962, BM Kaul ran into the battlefield. As irrational as it is, Kaul has been accused of asking for such an assignment to promote his own career.
If promotion was what he wanted, Kaul could have sat back in New Delhi in his Chief of General Staff chair. He too could have enjoyed the spoils like Gen JN Chaudhuri who later became Chief of Army Staff when Thapar had to resign.
Many have written about Indian Army’s unpreparedness for the war since the requested funds were not given by the government. But who in the Army was making those requests? BM Kaul, of course, is being the Chief of General Staff. Kaul recounts writing eight reports on the subject to the government between 1959 and 1962. Here, I am not suggesting like some others do that the government should have given everything the army asked for.
I am pointing out that Kaul knew the trap he was walking into. Yet he did so because the nation needed him. The message of how Kaul was treated for his service to the country, I’m sure, is not lost among the Indian Army.
Claims that Kaul did not have combat experience are neither true nor relevant. The outcome of the armed conflict in 1962 could not have changed, even if someone else was in Kaul’s position. Congress MP Jairam Ramesh feels that Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh, who filled in for BM Kaul while sick for four days during the war should have been left in command. Ramesh claims that Harbaksh Singh could have defeated the mighty PLA, which is a laughable argument.
It was Harbaksh Singh who handed over Tawang to the enemy on a platter by retreating to Tse La and Bomdi La. Harbaksh Singh also committed the blunder of appointing Major General AS Pathania as the commander at Tse La. Pathania ordered a hasty retreat causing not just large casualties at Tse La but Dirong Dzong and Bomdi La falling to the enemy like a row of dominoes.
Then there are those who heckle Kaul for defending Walong which had an all too valuable airstrip. This brave but unsuccessful battle is portrayed as sycophancy since that battle took place on Nehru’s birthday of November 14th. Really? Would we be happier if our army rolls over and plays dead on Nehru’s birthday?
In their infinite wisdom, Congress has decided to cut their losses and throw Nehru to the wolves. BJP’s successful vilification of Nehru helped by liberals bullying Congress to praise other leaders instead, must be the cause. Congress tries to appear intelligent and brave to accept failures by throwing Nehru under the bus. Congress endorses BJP’s narrative that Nehru was stupid and incompetent while arguing that they defeated China several times under Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi.
Shastri and Indira Gandhi were great Prime Ministers since they learnt directly from Nehru himself. But they were just poor images of Nehru. We (India) did not add a single inch to our territory after Nehru except sneaking into Siachen in 1984. That should say something about Nehru and our (including Congress’) own gratitude.
Although indirectly, Panag admits that China could not be defeated in a direct military confrontation by India in 1962 even in the best of the scenarios. So, decades of propaganda of Nehru’s naiveté, Krishna Menon’s mismanagement, and Kaul’s incompetence had all been a sham. Likes of Sudheendra Kulkarni agree that Nehru should have made peace with China instead of confrontation.
But none of them explains why nobody else since Nehru made such peace with China. Since they think of this war of 1962 as World Cup finals, they probably think nothing can be done at least until the next World Cup, except complain. And indeed, we have been complaining for 58 years.
Before 1962, people blamed Nehru for not annexing Aksai Chin. It was this complaining and jingoism that led Nehru to confront China in 1962. It was this complaining that prevented Nehru from making peace with China. Today many complain that Nehru had lost Aksai Chin in 1962 war. It is incomprehensible how Nehru could lose something he never had.
But that has been our complaint. It was this sense of deprivation that led our present political leadership to embark upon the “recapture” of Aksai Chin. No matter what the premise and rationale, it is the same goal and same mistake of 1962. China launched the invasion in October 1962 since Nehru adopted Forward Policy towards Aksai Chin. Today, China is on aggression again because India has threatened Aksai Chin again.
India is thus damned to repeat history. Instead of blaming Nehru who did not have the benefit of the hindsight, the likes of Panag and Kulkarni should wonder why we failed to learn from history!