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.
Blunder 7- After mere 4 days of fighting, during which the damage had not been too much, China offered a ceasefire on 24 October 1962 suggesting withdrawal by 20km by both the sides from the line of actual control, followed by talks and negotiated settlement on the border-dispute. Nehru didn’t agree! India’s major humiliation in the war happened later after 14 November 1962—that could have been avoided, had India taken up the Chinese offer.
Blunder 8- On 21 November 1962 China declared unilateral ceasefire and offered the same terms it offered on 24 October 1962 and again suggested talks, discussions, joint ground survey and negotiated settlement. India agreed for ceasefire, but did not take up the offer for talks. It was worth resolving the dispute.
Blunder 9- Nehru should have done whatever it took to amicably settle the border-dispute with China, and should not have left it open for the generations to follow, like he did for Kashmir, because with the passage of time, as China became stronger and stronger, settlement became difficult.
Blunder 10- Nehru should have set up a fully-empowered Commission for a comprehensive enquiry into all aspects of the debacle with a mandate to recommend action against the negligent and the guilty and suggestions for the steps to be taken going forward. The findings should have been made public. That was the minimum expected of a democratic country. However, nothing of the sort was done.
Blunder 11- Nehru should have resigned in the aftermath of the rout. Not just offered to resign—the offer he didn’t make anyway—he should have actually resigned or should have been made to resign. Democratic norms demanded it. It would have been a good lesson for the future politics of India—you can’t do such a major blunder, yet continue in power. Not just as a lesson, but also on account of its beneficial effects. Had he resigned another competent person—and there were many, “After Nehru who?” being just a self-serving charade—who would not have carried Nehru’s baggage, would have looked at the issue afresh and reached a permanent settlement on the borders with China.
Nehru’s Insufferably Arrogant Protégé
Krishna Menon, the then Defence Minister, was Nehru’s insufferably arrogant protégé. He brought discredit to India and dishonour to the Indian army. He was one of the main persons responsible for the humiliation of crores of Indians in the disastrous India-China war.
Soon after Independence, Krishna Menon was appointed high commissioner to the UK, and remained in that post till 1952. He joined the Union Cabinet as a Minister without Portfolio in 1956, and became the Defence Minister in 1957.
All through, he owed his positions to Nehru—and to Nehru alone, for hardly anyone else, whether in the Congress Party or in the Opposition, whether in the bureaucracy or in the military, ever liked him or respected him. In fact, they all hated him. He had no worthwhile achievement in his long career that he could be proud of, yet his ego—obviously, an empty one—was unbearable. He was insufferably arrogant, incurably intolerant, and had an acid tongue. He was the person, as someone described him, who believed that “hatred is stronger than love”. He wore a lean and hungry look—with his nose resembling a vulture’s beak.
Incidentally, even Krishna Menon’s predecessor, Kailashnath Katju, had done precious little as Defence Minister.
Truth is stranger than fiction: Krishna Menon had reportedly turned several arms manufacturing facilities into production lines for pressure-cookers, coffee-percolators and hairpins—and was proud of it! Repeated warnings by the top army brass that the army was woefully ill-prepared to face the Chinese threat, and their repeated requests for funds and arms, fell on deaf ears.
While being in various positions, he also dabbled in foreign affairs—thanks to Nehru’s backing. Among his foreign affairs indulgences was ranting against the US. Reportedly, Nehru wanted to take Krishna Menon in the Cabinet, after Independence, but this was firmly opposed by Gandhi. He was then made High Commissioner in London.
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