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.
BN Mullik, Director of Intelligence Bureau, was no less accountable. The main persons responsible for the rout from the army included General PN Thapar, Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General LP Sen, the then Head of the Eastern Command, Lieutenant-General BM Kaul and Major-General MS Pathania.
BM Kaul, in-charge of the eastern sector and heading the 4 Corps specially constituted for NEFA, was the blue-eyed boy of Nehru. Menon, Kaul and others had started such politics within the army that officers got divided into groups, and promotions and postings became dependent on sycophancy and the faction one belonged to. Knowing the kind of things Menon and Nehru wanted to listen, sycophants cut-off passing of genuine information to them. Fault, of course, lay with Menon and Nehru who ill-treated those who spoke otherwise. Although Nehru had managed to persuade Thimayya, the Chief of Army Staff, to withdraw his resignation, following repeated humiliations by Menon, on the promise that he would suitable look into his grievances, later, after Thimayya had withdrawn his resignation, Nehru, rather than reprimanding Menon, made such comments on Thimayya and behaved in such a manner that it amounted to his double humiliation. Given such a scenario, no self-respecting senior army-officer would have attempted to caution Nehru or Menon on the of the Indian army—it didn’t pay to be professional, frank and honest. You couldn’t tell the truth without the fear of tongue-lashing and victimisation.
After the retirement of Thimayya, Thapar was made the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) at the instance of Menon and Kaul—junior, but whom Nehru and Menon listened to—rather than Thorat, whom Thimayya had recommended, and who had a relatively much more distinguished career. Later, Thapar returned Kaul’s favour by making him CGS—Chief of General Staff—ignoring the much more capable officers. In the army hierarchy, CGS was considered next to COAS.
The debacle was a result of the complete collapse of the army command and control. Political interference alone was not the reason, though it became the alibi, but then, why none of the top-brass of the army stood up to the political leadership of the day. If they were real professionals they should have resigned if sane advice was persistently ignored. Thimayya had resigned once. But, that was not enough. When he found there was no follow up action from the Prime Minister or the Defence Minister, he should have again resigned to send the right message.
But, of course, there were persons like General Varma and General Umrao Singh who were fearless in telling the truth and refused to go along with what the political leadership desired and paid for it: they were summarily removed.
India’s Faulty Approach
Neville Maxwell's book, India's China War, must be read, even though it is relatively partisan to China and biased against India. Allowing for this, here are some select extracts from Maxwell's articles, available on the web, on the subject:
“From the first days of India's Independence, it was appreciated that the Sino-Indian borders had been left undefined by the departing British and that territorial disputes with China were part of India's inheritance. China's other neighbours faced similar problems and, over the succeeding decades of the century, almost all of those were to settle their borders satisfactorily through the normal process of diplomatic negotiation with Beijing…
“The Nehru government decided upon the opposite approach. India would, through its own research, determine the appropriate alignments of the Sino-Indian borders, extend its administration to make those good on the ground and then refuse to negotiate the result. Barring the inconceivable—that Beijing would allow India to impose China's borders unilaterally and annex territory at will—Nehru's policy thus willed conflict without foreseeing it…
“By 1958 Beijing was urgently calling for a standstill agreement to prevent patrol clashes and negotiations to agree on boundary alignments. India refused any standstill agreement, since it would be an impediment to intended advances and insisted that there was nothing to negotiate, the Sino-Indian borders being already settled on the alignments claimed by India, through blind historical process. Then it began accusing China of committing ‘aggression’ by refusing to surrender to Indian claims…
-Rajnikant Puranik (www.rkpbooks.com, www.facebook.com/fom.p1, rajnikantp.blogspot.in, twitter.com/Rajnikant_rkp, [email protected])