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.
Nehru and Krishna Menon had been traditional critics of USA. However, India's position became so desperate, not being able to resist the advancing Chinese army, that Nehru sent SOS to the US—the country he had always been criticising—requesting arms and air-support. What was more, Nehru wanted the US air-force to be deployed and fight for India!
The two letters written by Nehru on 15 November 1962 and 20 November 1962 to the US President, John F Kennedy, show the desperation. This is from the article of Inder Malhotra in The Indian Express of 15 November 2010, which contains extracts from the letter of Nehru to JFK: “[In] the second letter…Nehru informed Kennedy that during the short interval, ‘the situation in NEFA…Command has deteriorated still further. Bomdila has fallen and the retreating forces from Sela have been trapped between the Sela Ridge and Bomdila. A serious threat has developed to our Digboi oilfields in Assam. With the advance of the Chinese in massive strength, the entire Brahmaputra Valley is seriously threatened and unless something is done immediately to stem the tide, the whole of Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Nagaland would also pass into Chinese hands.’ After pointing out that hitherto he had ‘restricted our requests to essential equipment’ and thanking the US for the assistance ‘so readily given’, Nehru went on: ‘We did not ask for more comprehensive assistance, particularly air assistance…The situation that has developed is, however, desperate. We have to have more comprehensive assistance if the Chinese are to be prevented from taking over the whole of Eastern India. Any delay in this assistance reaching us will result in nothing short of a catastrophe for our country’. In this context his [Nehru’s] specific demands are for: ‘[A] minimum of 12 squadrons of supersonic all-weather fighters’ and a ‘modern radar cover (which) we don’t have.’ Nehru added that US air force personnel ‘will have to man these fighters and radar installations while our personnel are being trained.’”
Both the US and the UK had began providing armaments. Even Israel, whom Nehru had shunned, provided equipments. However, the help of the US air-force was eventually not required, as China declared unilateral ceasefire on 21 November 1962. President Kennedy’s statement that came two days earlier that they [Chinese] would be forcing the hand of the President of the US if they advanced any further might also have been one of the factors in China’s decision to ceasefire.
India-China war was not something sudden. India did not care either to resolve the border issue or to prepare for the war—even though it had a decade to do so.
On may ask: Shouldn’t China have been accommodating given India’s generosity on Tibet? Well, China may not have thought it was generous on the part of India to have accepted Tibet as part of China and surrendered its rights derived from the British. China had anyway occupied Tibet in 1950. They had not sought India’s “yes” before doing that. They considered Tibet to be theirs, whether or not India or the world agreed. Even if India had not signed Panchsheel China would not have bothered.
China also wanted to cement its hold on Aksai Chin and meet its political objectives, which were several:
- One, establish itself as the only big power of Asia that mattered.
- Two, establish superiority of its totalitarian, communist system over the democratic and pluralistic model represented by India for the developing countries.
- Three, humiliate Nehru and India, and demolish India’s standing in the Third World.
- Four, ensure all cultural and religious links between Tibet and India are severed—something that could have come in the way of Tibet’s total integration with China.
- Five, teach India a lesson for giving shelter to Dalai Lama.
- Six, Mao had his own internal political compulsions arising out of famines, economic calamities and power struggle within. His “Great Leap Forward” started in 1958 was a disaster. The decisive war served to strengthen and enhance his position at home and internationally.
-Rajnikant Puranik (www.rkpbooks.com, www.facebook.com/fom.p1, rajnikantp.blogspot.in, twitter.com/Rajnikant_rkp, [email protected]).