Column: Himalayan Misadventure: XI
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 army chief, KS Thimayya, had repeatedly raised the issue of army’s gross weaknesses in defending itself from China, and had this to comment to his fellow army-men in his farewell speech upon retirement in 1961, “I hope I am not leaving you as cannon fodder for the Chinese. God bless you all.”
General Thapar had submitted a note to the government in 1960 pointing out that the equipment that the Indian army had and their poor condition was no match to that of China and even Pakistan. Prior to the operations against China to get certain territories vacated, Thapar had impressed upon Nehru that the Indian army was unprepared and ill-equipped for the task it was being asked to undertake. He even got Nehru to cross-check these stark realities from some of his senior staff. Yet, Nehru persisted, saying China would not retaliate! General Thapar told Kuldip Nayar on 29 July 1970, as stated by Nayar in his book: “Looking back, I think I should have submitted my resignation at that time. I might have saved my country from the humiliation of defeat.”
Comments Dalvi in his book Himalayan Blunder: “There was no overall political objective; no National Policy; no grand strategy and total unreadiness for military operations in the awesome Himalayan Mountains, against a first-class land power…
“We did not study the pattern of weapons and communications equipments that we may require. Army Schools of Instruction were oriented towards open warfare. There was little emphasis on mountain warfare despite the Army’s deployment in Kashmir from 1947…
“The Army was forgotten; its equipment allowed to become obsolete, certainly obsolescent; and its training academic and outdated. We merely tried to maintain what we had inherited in 1947…The political assumptions of our defence policies were invalid and dangerous…”
“In October 1962 Indians were shocked beyond words to discover that we had no modern rifle, although we were supposed to be ready to ‘manufacture’ an aircraft; and had the know-how to make an atom-bomb…
“Assam Rifles posts [under the forward policy] were deployed non-tactically and they were ill-armed and even worse equipped that the Regular Army. At best, they could only function as border check-posts and yet their task was ‘to fight to the last man and the last round’…There were no inter-communication facilities between Assam Rifles’ posts and the nearest Army sub-unit…The standard explanation was that there was a general shortage of wireless sets in the country. The Assam Rifles was a separate private army of the External Affairs Ministry. And who would dare bell the cat about the extraordinary command system?”
Although, despite severe handicaps, Indian soldiers did their very best, the fact remains that it was a pathetically ill-prepared, ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-supplied, and ill-armed Indian Army—exposed to the elements, cold and hungry—that was forced into the misadventure, and it had to pay a very heavy price.
Despite these facts and what the senior army men had themselves advised Nehru and Menon, Nehru stated in the Parliament: “I can tell this House that at no time since our independence, and of course before it, were our defence forces in better condition, in finer fettle…than they are today. I am not boasting about them or comparing them with any other countries, but I am quite confident that our defence forces are well capable of looking after our country.” How could Nehru make such wild claims? He clearly misleads both the parliament and the people of India.
Alfred Vagts commented in The History of Militarism: “Again and again, military men have seen themselves hurled into war by the ambition, passions and blunders of civilian governments, almost wholly uninformed as to the limits of their military potential and almost recklessly indifferent to the military requirements of the war they let loose.”
No Planning and No Intelligence
Like we had discussed before, despite the fact of unsettled borders, skirmishes as far back as 1959 and the real possibility of war, there was grossly inadequate defence preparation and no contingency plan in place. Even assuming there had actually been no war, common sense dictated that allowing for its possibility, alternate plans, accounting for all contingencies, should have been in place.
-Rajnikant Puranik (www.rkpbooks.com, www.facebook.com/fom.p1, rajnikantp.blogspot.in,twitter.com/Rajnikant_rkp, [email protected]).