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.
You do a Himalayan blunder, but you receive sympathy—Nehru, the poor chap, was stabbed in the back by the Chinese! How publicised misinformation can turn the scales. Everyone remembers a popular song of those times penned by the poet, Pradeep, and sung by Lata Mangeshkar. It went like this: “Aai mere watan ke logo, jara aankh me bhar lo paani, jo shaheed hue hai unki, jara yaad karo kurbani…” The song is invariably played on August 15 every year. Lata told in an interview when she had sung that song in Nehru's presence, Nehru had wept! So sensitive was he!! Again, additional praise. But, who was responsible for his own tears and tears in the eyes of crores of Indians, in the first place? Had sensible policies been followed, this huge tragedy that befell the nation, and the consequent tears, could have been avoided.
Reaction of the Media and the Public
Apart from what has already been discussed, here are a few additional aspects and the reactions of the media and the public.
Were the public and the media aware of the various dimensions of the dispute?
No, certainly not.
The Cabinet, Cabinet Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Parliament, the media and the people at large should have been kept aware of the facts of the northern borders soon after independence and should have been updated from time to time, but it was not done, resulting in several negatives: wrong impression among the public on the historical and the current status of the boundaries; unilateral formulation of border-policies; no one to correct the wrong course.
How could vital issues be kept hidden away from the public and the Parliament in a democracy? Was it not imprudent, undemocratic and irresponsible on the part of the opposition too and even other members of the Congress itself to have allowed the policy-formulations to be hijacked by an individual, to have permitted things to be kept under the wraps, and to have allowed the nation to be mislead? At the political level and at the bureaucratic and the External Affairs Ministry level the convenient and irresponsible adage was “Panditji knows best!”
For such an important national issue that cut across party lines, a special, broad-based committee of senior politicians and parliamentarians from both the ruling party and the opposition and knowledgeable academics, bureaucrats and army-men should have been formed.
People only knew what had been told to them officially. And, the official version was what Nehru desired people to know. That the borders were what the Indians maps showed—after July 1954. People didn’t know the maps had been changed unilaterally by India. People were told the borders were well-demarcated.
Even on the developments leading up to the war, there was little clarity. The Times of India of 15 August 1962 commented: “Anyone reading the latest White Paper on Sino-Indian relations together with some of the speeches by the prime minister and defence minister on the subject may be forgiven for feeling that the government’s China policy, like chopsuey, contains a bit of everything—firmness and conciliation, bravado and caution, sweet reasonableness and defiance… We have been variously informed… that the situation on the border is both serious and not-so-serious; that we have got the better of the Chinese and they have got the better of us; that the Chinese are retreating and that they are advancing…”
So what was the reaction of the media and the public?
Given the impression of clear borders, when news on border-skirmishes broke out, the media, the opposition and the general public, and even majority within the Congress not aware of the full facts, felt enraged at China’s designs.
All patriotic Indians resented violation of our peace-loving country’s borders. They were all dismayed by such action of China after all the “Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai” friendliness shown to them. There was a feeling of betrayal. Parliamentarians, the opposition and the majority within the Congress heckled the government and pressed for action to get our territories vacated. They wanted a befitting reply from India. There was jingoism all around.
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