Dr Jay Dubashi
THIS week marks the 50th anniversary of India’s brief war with China in the Himalayas in 1962. We lost that war, and, in fact, had to beat an inglorious retreat over the snowy passes, and the defeat still rankles in our memory, though it was not the Indian people, or even the military who had received the drubbing, but Indian politicians led by Jawaharlal Nehru and others. Nehru, and the so-called Nehruism lost the war, not India, but unfortunately we still have the same Nehru-Gandhi ruling over us, and even half a century later, we have not been able to get rid of them.
Questions are being asked whether such a thing can happen again, whether China can one day cross the border again and give us another thrashing. If it does, it will be our own fault. We are assured by the army, one of the greatest armies in the world with a long history, that it cannot and will not happen again, and we take its word for it. But we are still not sure whether China will not flex its muscles again and catch us unprepared.
Despite what the army says and what the politicians shout from the rooftops, doubts remain that it may happen again, and, although this time, China will not be able to get away with it, we just don’t know. China is a much stronger country now, with much bigger ambitions, and so are we, but China is a dictatorship, just like Nazi Germany and Communist Russia were, while we are a democracy, or at least are supposed to be. Dictatorships always move fast, faster certainly than democracies, particularly in military matters, which is why Hitler conquered Europe so easily and it took the democracies six long years to bring him to justice.
We should never trust dictatorships, no matter how friendly they appear. Moreover, there is a natural law, almost Darwinian in its scope, in such matters. The stronger you are, or you think you are, you tend to show to the world how strong and powerful you are, and one way of showing it is to invade your neighbours. China has been flexing its muscles for some time now, not only against smaller countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, but also America and Japan, outwardly on the issue of control over some rocky islands in the South China Sea, which happen to be close to its shores.
The Japanese and the Americans are now on their guard, and even the United States, once the world’s pre-eminent political and military power, is taking steps to fortify its security apparatus in the Pacific.
Let us now turn to the war of 1962, which many believe was Nehru’s folly, though the Chinese were unduly aggressive in the matter and Indians totally unprepared for the fight. Then there was the shadow of a man called Krishna Menon in the background, whose role in the catastrophe has not been fully understood, even after a lapse of half a century. Menon was Defence Minister at the time, a man totally unfit for a job that called for co-ordination at various levels and between different types of officials, a task totally unsuited for a man of his background and temperament.
Menon had been away from India for a long time and had spent most of his time in the slums of London and did not even know an Indian language. I say this with full authority as I had worked with him in London, both when he was running an organisation called India League from a bed-sitting room near Trafalgar Square, and when he became India’s High Commissioner in London, and consequently a top Indian official having Nehru’s eyes and ears in Europe.
The man was abrasive and conspiratorial by nature, who took delight in making enemies, even those who wished to be friends with him. He was also totally unsuited to the job, whether as High Commissioner or, later, Defence Minister, as he had virtually no friends anywhere and had no knowledge of military matters. I doubt whether he knew the difference between a revolver and a pistol, or, for that matter, between a platoon and a battalion. To him, India was Nehru, and nobody else, or, for that matter, nothing else, and he could not see beyond his long nose. I must say he was always very kind to me, and once came to my small bed-sitting room in Wandsworth, a not too posh an area of London to dissuade me from resigning my job in his High Commission.
Nehru never realised, until perhaps the war was lost, that Menon was a disaster and almost certainly the main person responsible for the defeat. A man who was at odds with his generals can scarcely expect them to fight for him. I am not saying that they let him down; it was more a case of his letting them down. One General I ran into ten years after the war, was red in the face whenever I mentioned Menon. How Menon and Nehru expected to conduct a full-scale war for three weeks in the fastness of the Himalayas must remain a mystery for ever!
There are all kinds of theories of how things went so badly and Krishna Menon’s responsibility for the catastrophe. He and Nehru believed up to the time of the Chinese attack that a war between the two countries was unthinkable, firstly because China was Communist, and Communists don’t attack their friends, and India had helped China, including, to a certain extent, Mao & co, during their struggle against “imperialists”, whoever they were. This was one of those imaginative fancies people like Menon and Nehru were prone to. They had never seen a war at close hand, in fact, had never experienced any kind of military activity in their lives, and had fanciful ideas about how nations act in a time of crisis, for they had never been in such a type of crisis before.
They were essentially desk men, weaving pretty theories that had no basis in fact, and Nehru had never taken a big decision in his life and had always been subservient to Gandhi, who made all the decisions and ran the Indian National Congress single-handed. When, for the first time, the two totally inexperienced men, Menon straight from the glittering diplomatic parties in London and Nehru still bedazzled by Mountbatten and his lady, had to take decisions on the spot about matters they had never handled before, they just gave in and conceded defeat, as the Chinese declared unilaterally that the war was over, and returned home without saying hello to this befuddled duo, completely lost in the fog of war!
Will China attack again? It will, it will attack India again with full force, if the Chinese government suspects that India is getting too close to the Americans and is trying to play games in its waters. The Chinese are much more powerful, both as a country and as a military force, than Indians, and it is an unwritten law in such cases that the strong always attack the weak, only to probe how weak they are. Remember, Hitler didn’t attack Russia at first; he attacked Poland, which is like a tiger pouncing on a hen. When a big power really becomes big, or fancies itself as big and powerful, it tests its strength by attacking weaker countries, or countries whom it suspects as likely adversaries. Nehru once said that India had two enemies: China and Pakistan. Pakistan has attacked us thrice, China once. According to Darwinian doctrine, when China becomes too powerful, it will try to throw its weight about, to test its strength. This has always happened in history, and it will happen again.For our own sake, we have to make a start by getting rid of the Nehru-Gandhis, to make sure history does not repeat itself!
(The writer is a reputed columnist and author).