I have written about the inability of Indian historians to understand warfare and their confusion with cricket tournaments. Nearly six decades after the border conflict with the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) in 1962, Indians are hopelessly lost in comprehending the causes and consequences of that conflict.
While the political conditions in 1962 were the same as today—in terms of Parliament, civil society, the Constitution and the freedom of the press, we seem to think it happened in the era of mythologies. We don’t apply the same yardsticks used for other conflicts independent India had faced even before 1962, to the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962.
In Thretayuga and Dwaparyuga, the opponents used to give each other enough notice before the war. In Mahabharat for example, various kingdoms in all corners of the known world had pledged allegiance to either the Pandavs or the Kauravs, and their armies assembled at Kurukshetra.
It is obvious that the date and place were fixed well in advance so that the armies could be gathered by the respective kingdoms and transported to Kurukshetra. We read in Mahabharat that these armies rested at Kurukshetra before the war, and the rules of engagement were discussed on the previous evening between the commanders of two armies: Bhishma and Dhrishtadyumna.
The combatants at Kurukshetra had to be of comparable competence. A Maharathi was only supposed to fight another Maharathi and not attack anybody weaker, and nobody should be attacked by multiple people. In other words, nobody should overwhelm an enemy combatant.
The hallmark of warfare in Kaliyuga, on the other hand, is the element of surprise and overwhelming power. In other words, the enemy is by design caught off-guard either by the time, place, weaponry, direction of attack or the degree of force. India’s annexation of Goa, for example, followed that pattern.
When discussing the 1962 Sino-Indian Conflict, our experts seem to forget that it happened during the Kaliyuga. We often hear that then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Defense Minister VK Krishna Menon did not know that the PLA would attack as if they were supposed to have PLA’s invasion itinerary on hand.
We are told that Nehru did not militarize the Himalayas, naively and romantically believing that China would not do anything big, and that Nehru blundered in thinking so. But Nehru was right! China did not do anything big, although we like to make mountains out of molehills and believe our future had been doomed before it began.
There were around 1400 Indian and 700 Chinese casualties, but the PLA vacated every inch it had occupied and retreated by the end of November 1962. China was so eager for peace at that point that they moved away 20 kilometers from the Line of Actual Control to avoid contact with the Indian Army, and thus avoid undesirable escalation.
China probably would not even venture the invasion in the first place but for the Cuban Missile Crisis. With both our allies USA and USSR locked horns, China had a window of opportunity for that adventure. Neither Nehru nor anyone else in the world had the crystal ball to predict that global crisis. So, before October 1962, if Nehru even believed that China would never attack India, he would be right.
As should be expected, Nehru and Menon made statements for diplomacy and posturing during that time. The setbacks were explained away as a lack of preparedness of the Indian Army and betrayal by China.
Such rhetoric came from the Indian government in the last 73 years on a daily basis on foreign, border and domestic issues. Yet, in the context of the 1962 conflict, our historians are entangled in those literal words as if they were drawn from scriptures, dissecting and trisecting but never able to understand the context.
In his book Himalayan Blunder, JP Dalvi (7th Brigade) blames Indian government for not stopping PLA occupation of Tibet in 1950; thus allowing the invasion of our territory by PLA later in 1962, and for not giving his brigade enough time to prepare. Dalvi does not explain how the Indian government could stop PLA occupation of Tibet while admitting being unprepared to resist PLA even 12 years later in 1962. Dalvi’s argument that there could be no war in 1962 if the Indian government sent someone else to stop PLA from entering Tibet is not based on facts nor reason but his wish that someone else belled the cat.
Seizing on what he called “admission of guilt” by Krishna Menon, Dalvi blames Menon for deploying his brigade in a hurry. Our military historians validate this argument pointing out then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi giving asked time to General Sam Manekshaw in 1971 and thus winning that war.
Dalvi’s logic is flawed. When the enemy invades, where would Menon get the time to give it to the army to prepare? Could Menon ask the PLA to wait until our army was ready? Would China abide by this Thretayuga rule and postpone the invasion, throwing away their advantage of Cuban Missile Crisis? Did Menon himself give Antonio Salazar enough time to move Portuguese battleships to save Goa from Indian invasion?
Our historians don’t understand that in 1971, Manekshaw fought Pakistan and not China. Further, Pakistani attacks at that time were not on Indian territory but their own East Pakistan. So, Manekshaw was in no hurry and hence could choose the time of the attack. More importantly, the reason Manekshaw delayed the attack on East Pakistan (modern-day Bangladesh) until December 1971 was to wait for snowfall, avoiding any interference by PLA on Pakistan’s behalf.
Manekshaw feared that PLA might otherwise come through the same path they did in October 1962. In other words, even in 1971, even with all the supposed military reforms after 1962 and the time given by Indira Gandhi for preparation, Manekshaw was not ready to fight China.
Some accuse Nehru of aggression and lack of strategic restraint against China. Firstly, this argument is a contradiction of Nehru’s alleged naiveite and romance with China, and of the case for expelling PLA from Tibet. After six decades of research and thousands of books, our historians could not resolve this fundamental confusion. Secondly, if Nehru feared the USA or NATO and observed “strategic restraint“, Goa would still be under Portugal.
Small minds cannot comprehend great leaders like Nehru. Our historians still cannot come to terms with entire world rallying around Nehru and forcing PLA’s retreat in November 1962. A leader of Nehru’s stature could take liberties which smaller leaders cannot. Nehru neither had to resort to the extreme of militarizing the entire Himalayas nor go to the other extreme of “strategic restraint“. The day our historians understand and accept this fact, this mystery of the 1962 War will be solved.
Some blamed Nehru and Menon for the less than enthusiastic support from USSR and Non-aligned countries at that time. At a time when their own nation was under the shadow of nuclear annihilation, to expect USSR to worry instead about our trivial problem in remote mountains is at best being insensitive.
Given their very existence hanging in balance, our tiny problem was like a scratch on the little finger. How much did India help USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis? None! On behalf of how many Non-aligned countries did Indian Army fight wars? Zero!