I have written about the inability of our “historians” to distinguish between warfare and cricket matches. 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 experts often treat 1962 Sino-Indian conflict as the championship match for India’s first and longest serving Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The foregone conclusion is that Nehru had lost the finals and died while the world cup was taken home by Mao Zedong.
Nehru is often summed up as “did some good things but lost the only consequential China War”. It does not help that some of our modern historians are really sports writers. I already discussed this undue importance to the 1962 conflict, the fallacy of India losing that war and the ridiculous assessment of China going home with a trophy.
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 1962 Sino-Indian Conflict is discussed.
But there are glaring cases such as Liberation of Goa from colonial Portugal in December 1961 when India had mobilized 45,000 troops and all three branches of the armed forces. This does not corroborate the narrative of unprepared armed forces, and of Nehru’s and his defense minister VK Krishna Menon’s incompetence.
Even if we believe that NATO founding member, Portugal, who colonized Goa for four-and-half centuries was a weak enemy, mobilizing such numbers to strike so decisively in itself must have taken 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.
So our military men and historians attempt to discredit the liberation of Goa. Lt. Gen. HS Panag and Congress MP Jairam Ramesh dismissed it as trivial while characterizing it as a distraction. From their perspective, Goa was like a semi-final or quarterfinal while focus should have been on the championship finals! If Team Nehru had enough points in that presumed tournament, I suppose India could forfeit such a match by giving up Goa to Portugal in 1961, yet win the world cup against China in 1962.
Panag as well as Ramesh tell us that Goa liberation was detrimental since it supposedly gave overconfidence and hence the loss in the finals. Wouldn’t Indian Army be destroyed of overconfidence if we were to defeat the mighty Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) in 1962? Or would that not be an issue since we would have won the championship already?
Panag complains that “the liberation of Goa…, by design or default, led to public attention being diverted from what was happening on the northern borders“. This apparently led to the loss of championship match against China, blemishing the “200 years of unblemished history” of Indian Army. It appears that the purpose of warfare is to glorify the national army instead of defending national interests. This is tail wagging the dog!
Think of geography and people of Goa compared to uninhabited Aksai Chin in remote Himalayas where not even grass can grow! To be sure, the claim by Panag and Ramesh that victory in Goa in 1961 caused defeat later in 1962, is ridiculous in my opinion. But even if it was true, would India want it any other way?
The real problem for our historians is that, acceptance of Goa Liberation as a military, diplomatic and humanitarian success undermines the mythology that has been meticulously perpetuated over decades. It disproves the argument that Krishna Menon had destroyed and demoralized the Indian Army. It also puts holes in the claims that BM Kaul and General PN Thapar (then Chief of Army Staff or CoAS) who were deemed close to Nehru were incompetent. It also undermines the myth that Prime Minister Nehru was a coward, naïve and dying politically and biologically.
When likes of Lt Gen Umrao Singh (33 Corps) shied away from the battlefield as PLA prepared for war in 1962, BM Kaul ran into the battlefield. We are told by experts that this crown of thorns was bestowed upon Kaul because of nepotism and to promote Kaul. If promotion was what he wanted, Kaul could have sat back in New Delhi in his Chief of General Staff (CGS) chair. He too could have enjoyed the spoils like Gen JN Chaudhuri who later became CoAS when Thapar had to resign, and offered armchair criticism.
Many have written about Indian Army’s unpreparedness for the war since the requested funds were not given by the government. But who in Army was making those requests? BM Kaul himself, being the CGS! Kaul recounts writing eight letters on the subject to the government.
Here, I am not suggesting that government should have given everything the Army (Kaul) had asked for. The outcome could not be any different even if the Army got everything they 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 is treated for his service to his country I’m sure is not lost among the Indian Army.
At Walong, Kaul had launched the only counter attack on PLA during that entire war. Claims that Kaul did not have combat experience are neither true nor relevant. The outcome of the conflict could not have changed even if someone else was in Kaul’s position. Congress MP Jairam Ramesh feels that if Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh, who filled in for Kaul while sick for four days during the war, could have defeated PLA if left in command.
It was Harbaksh Singh who handed over Tawang to the enemy without a fight, ordering retreat while appointing Major General AS Pathania as the commander. Pathania in turn ordered hasty and premature retreat from Se La causing not just large casualties at Se La but Dirong Dzong, Bomdi La and Rupa falling to the enemy like a row of dominoes.
My intent is not to discredit Harbaksh Singh, Umrao Singh or Pathania but to point out the mischief of our historians. Nehru and Menon are demonized by citing half-truths to point the blame at just a couple of generals that were supposedly favored by Nehru and Menon.
The Eastern Commander Lt. Gen LP Sen who exercised most control over NEFA and made or approved all the decisions before and during the conflict, is conveniently never mentioned. Because it is neither possible to link Sen to Nehru and Menon nor is it easy to accuse Sen of incompetence who successfully defended Kashmir in 1947, even during the snow covered winter months.
In their infinite wisdom, Congress has decided to cut their losses by throwing Nehru to the wolves. BJP’s successful vilification of Nehru helped by liberals bullying Congress to abandon Nehru, must be the cause. Congress tries to appear intelligent, progressive and brave to accept failures by selling out Nehru. Congress endorses the narrative that Nehru was stupid and incompetent while arguing that they defeated China several times under Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi.
Although indirectly, Panag admits that China could not be defeated in direct military confrontation in 1962 even in best of the scenarios. That difference in military capabilities had only increased since 1962. So, decades of propaganda of Nehru’s naiveté, Krishna Menon’s mismanagement and Kaul’s incompetence has all been a sham. However, neither Panag nor others ever made any attempt to debunk such myths but allowed them to continue since they too enjoyed Nehru being dragged through mud.
Sudheendra Kulkarni argues that Nehru should have made peace with China instead of confrontation. But he does not explain why nobody else since Nehru made such peace with China in almost six decades. Since this war of 1962 is thought of as world cup finals, Kulkarni probably thinks nothing could be done at least until next World Cup, except complain. And we certainly 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 and prevented Nehru from making peace. Today many complain that India had “lost” Aksai Chin in 1962 war. It is incomprehensible how India could lose something she never had. But that’s what we have been conditioned to believe.
It was this sense of deprivation among us that enticed our present political leadership to embark upon ”recapture” of Aksai Chin. Unlike in 1962, the initiative came from the government who boldly challenged China even though no political pressure was exerted on them.
China launched invasion in October 1962 since Nehru adopted Forward Policy, although reluctantly, towards Aksai Chin. We are told that Forward Policy was at the least an excuse for China if not the entire provocation. Today China is on aggression again, and we are being told it is because India has threatened Aksai Chin, again.
India is thus condemned to repeat history. Instead of blaming long dead Nehru who did not have the benefit of the hindsight, likes of Panag and Kulkarni should wonder why we failed to learn from history!