Column: Himalayan Misadventure: X
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.
India’s Military “Preparation”
As markers or otherwise, once the forward posts were established, they should at least have been adequately manned and armed, with logistics in place, to repulse any Chinese attempt to demolish them. But, this was not done, under the false belief that China would not attack! Many posts remained just like markers, flying the Indian flag.
Contrast this with Sardar Patel’s action in Kashmir in 1947. Writes Rajmohan Gandhi in his book Patel–A Life: “In the judgement of Sheikh Abdullah, scarcely an uncritical Patel fan, ‘events took a decisive turn’ after Vallabhbhai’s Srinagar visit. ‘The Sardar did not lose even one minute. He studied the situation and said that the enemy must be driven back.’ Major General Kulwant Singh and several hundred soldiers were flown to Srinagar the next day. Taking over from Sen, Kulwant Singh freed Baramula on November 8… ‘In the last week of October 1947,’ Gadgil has recalled, Patel ‘took out a map and pointing to the Jammu-Pathankot area said that the 65-mile road between the two towns had to be made capable of carrying heavy army traffic within eight months.’ He had seen at once that the battle would be long. When Gadgil, the Minister for Works, pointed out that ‘rivers, rivulets, hills and mountains’ were not so obvious on the map, Vallabhbhai said simply, ‘You have to do it.’ Around 10,000 workers were brought from Rajasthan in special trains. Floodlights enabled night work. Labour camps, dispensaries, mobile cinemas and markets supported the drive. The 65 miles were completed on time.”
Coming back to India-China War, none of the nine deployed divisions had full troop strength, and all were short of artillery, tanks, and other equipment. Nehru and Krishna Menon did unconscionably little to strengthen the military. Indian troops did not even have proper tents or winter clothing or shoes required for high altitudes, and had not been properly acclimatized to fighting at high altitudes. Necessary logistics and infrastructure were not in place.
Politicisation of the army high command was also one of the reasons India lost. Instead of heeding sound military advice, Nehru and Menon had put in place submissive officers at the top in the military, who would carry out their orders. Krishna Menon ill-treated people. He was offensive to the top-brass of the military. He antagonised many through his acerbic comments, sarcasm and supercilious behaviour. He had publicly humiliated top brass of the army. Eventually, some of their chosen submissive officers contributed to the humiliation of India.
General Verma had dared to put down in writing the facts of poor operational readiness and had sent it to the higher authorities. He was asked to withdraw his letter. He refused and wanted the letter to be put on record. That honest, forthright and very capable officer was victimised—ultimately he resigned. Similarly, General Umrao Singh was removed for objecting to the reckless putting up of forward posts.
Wrote GS Bhargava in The Battle of NEFA: “…a new class of Army Officer who could collude with politicians to land the country in straights in which it found itself in September-October 1962. Since qualities of heart and head ceased to be a passport to promotion for military officers…the more ambitious among them started currying favour with the politicians.”
Whichever domain, department, sector the bureaucrats, the babus, the IAS stepped in that area went to dogs. Came the defence secretary and his babudom between the army and the Defence Minister after independence, and the results are for anyone to check. Babus, who knew next to nothing on the defence matters, started dictating terms and making money, politicisation and favouritism became the order of the day, and professionalism went for a toss. Instead of exercising ‘political control’ over the military, what is exercised in practice is ‘bureaucratic control’. Defence Secretary is the boss and the Service Chiefs have a subservient role, with the military isolated from real decision-making! For example, the inputs of the Indian army on the military and strategic implications of Nehru’s forward policy were ignored.
Further, both the ruling party politicians and the opposition lacked vision and a mature understanding of what a nation of the size of India required, and took little interest in India’s external security. Defence Ministry had a low priority and importance, and becoming a Defence Minister was considered a demotion!
-Rajnikant Puranik (www.rkpbooks.com, www.facebook.com/fom.p1, rajnikantp.blogspot.in,twitter.com/Rajnikant_rkp, [email protected]).