Column: Himalayan Misadventure: IX
There is much that is not commonly known about the shocking aspects of the 1962 India-China War, so shocking indeed that S Gopal, Nehru's official biographer, was constrained to comment: “Things went so wrong that had they not happened it would have been difficult to believe them.” The Henderson-Brooks report covered only the limited aspects their authors were tasked with. The book “Foundations of Misery” by Rajnikant Puranik in its chapter “Himalayan Misadventure” details all the aspects of that avoidable war. We are serialising that chapter.
The Chinese claimed the Thagla ridge area was on the Tibetan side while India claimed it was on the Indian side of the McMahon line. When in 1959 an Assam Rifles post was established at Khinzemane, the Chinese had disputed it and pushed Indians back; but, after the Chinese withdrew, India had re-occupied the post. China had protested and diplomatic exchanges had commenced.
On 8 September 1962 Chinese troops surrounded the Dhola post as a warning. On 15 September 1962 a Chinese civilian official accompanying their troops announced over a loudspeaker to the Indian forces in Hindi that the area belonged to them and that the Indians must send their civilian official to discuss the location for an amicable settlement. Reportedly, the matter was referred all the way up to Nehru and, sticking to its position, India did not take up the offer for a meeting. Instead the decision was taken to reinforce the position, send additional forces and evict the Chinese from the area.
However, Brigadier Dalvi and others on the spot considered it to be impossible and suicidal to attempt to evict the Chinese from the area given the overwhelming odds: the Chinese were strategically located on heights while the Indians were within their view as sitting ducks; the Chinese were vastly greater in numbers and far better armed; unlike India, Chinese had logistics in place; the Indians were ill-clothed, ill-armed and ill-fed.
Under pressure from Nehru and Menon to evict the Chinese from the area, both General BN Kaul and General Prasad visited Dhola on 8 October 1962 and noted our weaknesses first-hand. Yet, to be able to please Nehru with some action in the area under his watch, Kaul took the disastrous adventurist step of sending a battalion on 10 October 1962 to capture Yumtsola, which was unoccupied and was to the west of the Thagla peak—thinking like Nehru that Chinese would not react. However, the Chinese reaction was so severe and so many jawans were killed in the action that Kaul was aghast. It has been rightly said that unless you have a reasonable chance of success, sending your men to attack is just murdering them—and that’s what Kaul did. Kaul left the place on 10 October 1962 with a promise to appraise Nehru of the reality. Yet Dalvi’s suggestion of abandoning Dhola and taking up defensive position further south was not heeded. The orders came to hold on to Dhola and defend it.
BN Kaul had replaced General Umrao Singh, an able, upright professional, who had been removed for not falling in line with what the political leadership (Nehru and Menon) wanted. Having undertaken to do what Umrao Singh had hang-ups about, Kaul could not very well turn around and express difficulties about Dhola. Someone who would play the politicians’ game was urgently needed and Kaul had willingly stepped into that role.
Alarmed by the Indian massing of troops in Dhola and the Indian attempts at Yumtsola on 10 October 1962 thanks to BN Kaul, or, taking that as an excuse, Chinese overran Dhola on 20 October 1962 heralding the 1962-war. BN Kaul has to be blamed for it. Having seen the situation first-hand, Kaul, as a responsible professional, should have put his foot down on India’s forward policy misadventure to save the Indian army from the sure debacle it was staring at. If Nehru-Menon did not agree with him, he should have resigned. But, instead, like several other seniors in the army, he bent over backwards to please Nehru-Menon overriding sound military considerations.
India’s persistence with its forward policy despite protests from China may have had the effect of exasperating China into thinking that only an infliction of military defeat would check India. Wrote BG Verghese later, recounting the sad saga: “Following Nehru’s ‘throw them out’ order, and against saner military advice and an assessment of ground realities, a brigade under John Dalvi was positioned on the Namka Chu River below the Thagla Ridge that the Chinese claimed lay even beyond the McMohan Line. It was a self-made trap: ‘It was but to do or die’. The brigade retreated in disorder after a gallant action, while the Chinese rolled down to Tawang where they reached on 25 October.”
-Rajnikant Puranik (www.rkpbooks.com, www.facebook.com/fom.p1, rajnikantp.blogspot.in,twitter.com/Rajnikant_rkp, [email protected]).