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.
And what was the reaction after the attack and the debacle?
China’s was an unprovoked aggression on the peace-loving, innocent India. Nehru—the gentleman, the idealist, who was so nice with the Chinese and trusted them—was stabbed in the back by them.
The defeat grievously hurt the Indian psyche—you were not only a poor, condemned nation, begging the world for food, you were also a defenceless nation, begging the world to save you. What was worse, the stigma of cowardice got attached to you for your poor showing in the war! Did “long years ago we made a tryst with destiny..” for this denouement—to be humiliated in full view of the world!
But what about the military debacle?
Myth substituted facts: The debacle was because Chinese took us by surprise, attacked suddenly and in vast numbers—it was a Himalayan Pearl Harbour. What could our forces—much smaller in numbers—do? Chinese came like locusts. They didn’t care if their soldiers died. If the one Chinese soldier in front was killed, his weapon was grabbed by the one behind, who took over, and so on. Our soldiers were brave, but how many would they kill!
All such talks suited those in power in India, and they encouraged such nonsense.
Why the opposition and the media didn’t try to get at the truth?
Things had been so well manipulated and the media had so raised the stature of Nehru that he practically became a dictator in a democracy and none dared find fault with his working.
The narrative of Chinese betrayal and its duplicity was so well played out that none cast doubts on the legitimacy of the Indian claims and the failure of Indian political leadership to reach a negotiated settlement.
All blame was laid at the door of the Chinese. Those in power, who wanted to save themselves, took recourse to stoking popular jingoism and ensured there was no scrutiny of official policies that contributed to the war and the failure. Questioning official policy, raising uncomfortable questions was dubbed unpatriotic.
Brigadier JP Dalvi writes in Himalayan Blunder: “1962 was a national failure of which every Indian is guilty. It was a failure in higher directions of war, a failure of the opposition, a failure of the general staff (myself included): it was a failure of responsible public opinion and the press. For the Government of India, it was a Himalayan blunder at all levels.”
Let’s summarise what India got out of Nehru’s China policy. Loss of territory. Unsettled borders. Friendly neighbour turning foe. State of conflict with China. Huge financial burden. International ignominy. Humiliation of Indians before the world. India being accused of having actually provoked the war. India being dubbed a bully.
Incidentally, Nehru himself had this to admit, “We were getting out of touch with reality in the modern world and we were living in an artificial atmosphere of our creation.” The then president, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, indicted the government for its “credulity and negligence”.
India-China war was not on account of one blunder or mistake. It was thanks to a series of blunders by Nehru and the many missed opportunities to settle the matter peacefully, which we have already discussed in detail. Let us summarise them briefly.
- Blunder-1. Allowing Tibet to be annexed by China, and recognising China’s claim over Tibet. This allowed Tibet-India borders to become China-India borders, bringing with it all the associated problems.
- Blunder-2. Adopting a unilateral maximalist border alignment as per the British legacy ignoring the absence of a legal bilateral agreement. Being inflexible about it.
- Blunder-3. Signing Panchsheel agreement with China in 1954 without first settling the borders.
- Blunder-4.Changing of Indian maps unilaterally after July 1954 without mutual discussions with the other party—China.
- Blunder-5. Nehru’s refusal to consider the proposal of the Chinese delegation in 1960 of East-West give-and-take swap on the McMahon Line and Aksai Chin.
- Blunder-6. Non-forward-looking forward policy of establishing indefensible border posts in disputed areas, provoking China or giving excuse to China to attack.
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