Remembering Sino-Indian Conflict 50 Years Ago
The day was the 20th, the month October, and the year 1962. Prime Minister Nehru stated, “a powerful and unscrupulous opponent, not caring for peace” had thrust us into a war. He was referring to China and its invasion of two locations, thousands of kilometers apart: one, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir’s Ladakh district’s east theater; another, near Tawang in the Arunachal Pradesh state more than 2000 kilometers further east.
The news shocked everyone. We united and rallied behind our soldiers. Many collected blankets and clothes and other essentials to help our military. Others patrolled the nation’s blacked out streets at night. Women donated their jewelry to the fund for veterans’ families. Youth enlisted in military training.
In Ladakh, our ill-equipped and ill-trained jawans fought in arctic-like cold weather near Chushul and Daulat Beg Oldi at elevations of 4465 and 6000 meters respectively. The cold weather, sometimes minus 35° C, froze their feet and hands; they could fire but one shot every few minutes from their Enfield rifles salvaged from the World War I era. Our army proved to be no match to the battle-tested Chinese military. Its seizure of Tibet in 1950 and its battle with Americans and South Koreans in the Korean War made China militarily hardy. Thousands of our soldiers died or were injured; we lost the war.
Our Ladakh territory had been regarded as India’s property for centuries, but that was meaningless to the Chinese. They captured 3200 square kilometers of our land before the cease-fire went into effect in November. We did not know, however, that prior to the war they had surreptitiously swallowed 13,000 square kilometers of the territory.
Prime Minister Nehru and his three defense ministers from 1947 to 1962, including flamboyant V. K. Krishna Menon, had neglected our military and its needs. They pretermitted Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel’s forewarning. Furthermore, immediately following independence and before the British departed, the administration did not go around the nation’s borders to establish our outposts. This is comparable to ignoring the fences surrounding one’s property. It is not until later that the person realizes that intruders have occupied the estate!
It is hard to tell how much has changed in fifty years. It appears we are mollycoddling the Chinese and passing along the territorial issues to our future generation. We would be better served to formulate foreign and defense policies with a fresh infusion of plans and ideas to recover our occupied land.
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Vasant G. Gandhi
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