A retrospective of 1962 debacle-II
Prof SV Seshagiri Rao
ON October 20, 1962, the Chinese launched a massive attack at 5 am, simultaneously in NEFA and Ladakh. Enemy forces, already sitting on the Thagla Ridge, crossed the Namka Chu River with ease. Our forces expected that the enemy would try to cross the river via one of the five bridges and took up positions accordingly. However, the PLA outwitted our strategy by taking their route at shallow waters. The 7th Indian Brigade stationed at Dhola could not withstand the attack. Brigadier JP Dalvi commanding the Brigade was captured. A devastating blow on the first day itself indeed. The Chinese also over ran Khinzemane post.
Sixteen posts in Ladakh were also under attack. Four posts had fallen within hours of the invasion. Some of the posts attacked were south of Pangong Lake area in Southern Ladakh.
21 October: Two more posts in Kameng Division, Tsang Le and Tsang Dhar had fallen. In Southern Ladakh the enemy advanced further to a position 6 km from Chushul airfield. But Indian forces fought hard and prevented the fall of Rezang La. Four more posts including Galwan were lost in Ladakh.
On the fourth day of invasion, the enemy had opened two more fronts one in Lohit and another in Subansiri divisions in NEFA. In Lohit Division close to the border of Burma, Kibitu was lost. In Subansari, Longju and Asafila posts fell to the onslaught of the enemy forces. Lumpu, a post 12 km from Tawang had also fallen. Bumla was attacked. Indian forces vacated near by Jang, a strategic village on Tezpur Road.
25 October: The enemy forces advanced further from Kibitu and attacked Walong. In Kameng Division, they surrounded Tawang, famous for its 4th century monastery. Indian forces withdrew from Tawang without any fighting.
28 October: An important post Damchok in Southern Ladakh fell. The Changla Pass too was over ran.
31 October: Nehru himself took defence relieving Krishna Menon. A week later Krishna Menon finally quit the Cabinet.
5 November: Another important town in North Ladakh, Daulat Beg Oldi, was lost. It is an important place on the road connecting Kashmir and Xinjiang of China. With the capture of Daulat Beg Oldi, the Chinese had captured the entire territory claimed by them in Ladakh.
The enemy reinforced his forces with two more divisions in Tawang Sector and another division in Walong Sector. Heavy reinforcements arrived in Ladakh too. With these additional forces the enemy launched fresh attacks in all sectors in the early hours of 16 November, 1962.
In Ladakh, Chushul airstrip was subjected to intense shelling. It became non-operational. Another post close to Chushul, Rezang La fell.
In NEFA, Walong airstrip was blown to bits and our forces fighting in that sector faced the problem of supplies. After capturing Walong on 17 November the enemy advanced further. The enemy’s advance in Towang Sector was more rapid. Sela Pass was captured on 18 November and the road link with Bomdila was snapped. Next day Bomdila (70 miles south of Sela) too fell and the enemy forces raced towards Foothills, a place just 32 miles away from Tezpur.
As threat to Tezpur became imminent, the Corps Headquarters was moved from Tezpur to Gowahati. The administration had deserted Tezpur on 18 November and advised the people to evacuate the town. The district jail was unlocked and the prisoners were let off. Currency reserves were burnt. Nehru addressed the nation over All India Radio on 19 November and bade farewell to the people of Tezpur. It created panic. Not only Tezpur, the entire Assam and North East were threatened.
On 20 November, General Thapar was replaced by General JN Choudhury as Army Chief.
In a dramatic turn of events, China announced ceasefire from midnight (Beijing time) of 21 November. It also announced that it would start withdrawing to LAC as it existed on 7 November, 1959. The Chinese guns became silent at 21:30 hrs. IST on 21 November. The Government of India meekly accepted the ceasefire.
Why the Chinese decided ceasefire so suddenly? An unexpected diffusion of Cuban crisis might be one of the reasons.
MS Golwalkar, the RSS leader, put forward another reason: “I have come to know that, synchronizing with the aggression of the Chinese, there was a plan for a rising by the Communist Party in Bengal. It was to create such wide disturbances that administration would break down and chaos would prevail and the Chinese would be able to take advantage of the chaos to establish themselves from Himalayas to Calcutta securely. Somehow this plan miscarried. Either because the communists were not ready, or their hearts failed at the twelfth hour, or probably because the people became very much alert and antagonistic to them, they had no courage to step forward to execute that plan. This is the one explanation which nobody seems to think or speak about, but which, in the course of my travels, I have found to be the only correct explanation of the sudden return of the Chinese forcers.”
5What were the reasons for this ignominious defeat which had shaken the self-confidence of the nation so badly, that too within fifteen years of Independence? Jayaprakash Narayan made the following candid observations: “The mistakes that led to the present tragedy were not due to incompetence, but to political myopia induced by ideological prejudices. It was the latter that made the persons concerned shut their eyes to plain facts and to create a world of unreality, for which there could have been no justification whatsoever…. The real culprit was the mental and emotional alignment that went about in the garb of non-alignment.”6
Nehru’s surrender was total, At no point of time, he considered the question of taking this naked invasion to the United Nations Security Council. Even diplomatic ties with China were kept intact.
At the end of 1962 War, Indian territories under Chinese occupation were:
(i) 20,000 sq.km in Arunachal Pradesh
(ii) 37,555 sq.km in Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir, excluding 5,180 sq.km of Kashmir ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963.
Intrusions Continue Unabated
Since there was no commonly delineated Line of Actual Control (LAC), China imposes its own interpretation. Violations of the LAC by China since 1962 war continue unabated.
In Arunachal Pradesh, Thagla Ridge, Namka Chu and Sumdrong valley are under Chinese occupation since 1986. In Tingbu sector vast area has been occupied by the Chinese Army. In Subansiri district, the Asa-Pila-Maya (south of McMahon Line) was occupied by the Chinese. In Kurung Kurney district out of nine Army Base Camps only two are under Indian Army. Seven were occupied by the Chinese.
In Dibang district in eastern part of Arunachal Pradesh, the Arhu-Pupu range is under Chinese occupation since 2006. It is a sacred place for the local people. In Chaklagam, three mountain ranges were occupied by China since 2006.
In Ladakh too there were several intrusions. Mangyur near Demchok, an area opposite to Dungri post, Chumar in Nyoma block, places near Pangong lake etc. were occupied by Chinese.
In a significant move in 1980s China named Arunachal Pradesh as “Southern Tibet” and conferred on it statehood.
5. M.S. Golwalkar: Not Socialism but Hindu Rashtra (1964), pp 6-7
6. The Hindu: 10 November 1962
(The writer is Member of the National Executive, BJP)