Events That Changed Destiny of Nation: VII

Sino-Indian War of 1962

Continued from “Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990”

Post-independence, there have been several major events and developments with massive implications impacting the destiny of the nation in many ways. Historians and analysts as also common people look at the things and events from their own perspective and interpretation to determine their gravity and impact in the national context. In my current series of essays on the ‘Events That Changed Destiny of Nation’, some major events had been undertaken in the chronological order. The other day one of my close associate and critic raised his objection and concern as to how could an author afford not to cover the historical events like Sino-Indian 1962 War, Anti-Sikh Riots of 1984, implementation of the Mandal Commission and Demolition of the Disputed Structure (Ram Janmbhumi - Babri Masjid Dispute) in Ayodhya in 1992 among the milestone events which had such a great social and political impact at the time and after.

On a reconsideration and preponderance, I am inclined to agree these events indeed had a long term and for reaching consequences in the Indian sub-continent. Hence it seems reasonable to explore the background, fateful occurrences and consequences of these events. Taking the 1962 War fiasco as the natural consequence of the Indian political leadership’s Tibetan policy failure, I had earlier avoided a full length essay on the subject. After almost two hundred years of colonial enslavement and impoverishment, post-independence the nation utilized available meager resources mainly on social and economic development putting its military needs on the backseat. Taking advantage of this situation, the Communist China escalated border tensions by repeated violations of the traditionally undefined yet peaceful Sino-Indian border in the mid-1950s onwards which culminated into full-fledged war in October 1962.The war created an atmosphere of animosity, mistrust and unbridgeable fissure in bilateral relations of the two giant nations for all time to come

Bonhomie under Hovering War Clouds

A lot of discussion and reports are available in public domain, including declassified CIA documents, highlighting behind the scene intrigue and deception of years that led to the Sino-Indian 1962 war with India taken off-guard to face a humiliation at the hands of belligerent China. It is a sordid story how Chinese Premier Chou en Lai cheated and back-stabbed the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, adopting a two-pronged strategy of persuasion and coercion through the Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai (India and China are brothers) chorus. The sequence of important events since 1949 (People’s Republic of China came in existence) talk a volume in itself about the Chinese intent, double speak and betrayal.

Immediately after the end of the World War II, the full scale civil war broke out in China in 1946 consequent to an ideological split between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Nationalist Party of China (or Kuomintang). The bloody shed continued for almost four years with millions killed and ended with the communist forces establishing their control over the Chinese mainland in 1949. The Chinese CPC leader Mao Zedong declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) controlling the mainland China and the left over nationalists representing the Republic of China (ROC) retreated to Taiwan and other outlying small islands. In 1949 itself, India under the premiership of Jawaharlal Nehru was among the first few countries to recognize the People's Republic of China.

In 1950, in a show of solidarity with the Communist China, India, or Jawaharlal Nehru - to put it more appropriately, fervently supported the Chinese cause in the Korean War and even opposed the UN resolutions branding China as an aggressor. Besides except mild observations, India did not oppose the Chinese forceful annexation of Tibet in October 1950. The Indian premier Nehru coined the slogan Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai and was instrumental in signing the Panchsheel Treaty with China in 1954. Traditionally, India had a long but not well-marked border with friendly Tibet for centuries with hardly any dispute which began only after the latter was annexed by China. Differences between the two sides arose because of the inclusion of certain territories in the Chinese maps over which India had claim for historical and geographical reasons. During this period, Prime Minister Nehru's concern about Indian territories shown in official Chinese maps was brushed aside by his Chinese counterpart as a mistake not to be given importance.

However, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) quietly continued with occupation and infrastructure buildup in largely unmanned and ill-defined border areas including some disputed tracts. Chou en Lai visited India in 1956 but was as usual soft and evasive on border issues raised by the Indian side. All along, the Chinese side indeed kept raising the need for the demarcation of the Indo-Tibetan border but the issue remained largely unresolved due to technical difficulties and human reasons. Things started really deteriorating after the popular uprisings in Lhasa in 1959 were brutally crushed by the Chinese Government, Dalai Lama fled Tibet and was granted asylum in India.

Mao Zedong took the event seriously against India and particularly accused Pandit Nehru of openly encouraging Tibetan rebels. Sensing the ulterior motives and expansionist approach of China over the increased border incursions and consequent confrontations, Nehru ordered the military establishment to resort to the Forward Policy in self-defence after 1959. This led to the raising of military outposts in the forward Indian territories claimed by Chinese and launching of regular patrols that led to frequent skirmishes between the two armies. However erroneous, but China's perception of India as a threat to its rule in Tibet and the Indian Forward Policy became the chief reasons for the escalation of tension culminating into full-fledged Sino-Indian War of 1962.

Border Dispute in Historical Perspective

Although there are several patches of disputed land between the two countries sharing approximately 3,380 kilometres Tibetan border but the main dispute is over the sovereignty of two large tracts of the Aksai Chin in the western and Arunachal Pradesh in the east Himalayan regions. According to India, the Aksai Chin belongs to Kashmir while China claims it to be part of their Xinjiang province. Similarly, India claims Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast as its integral part but China asserts its sovereignty over it claiming to be part of the South Tibet. Even before forcibly occupying Aksai Chin in 1962, China had already constructed a road link through this territory connecting the Chinese provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang. Strategically, while the Aksai Chin is easily accessible from the Chinese side, the access from the Indian side is far more difficult negotiating through the Karakoram Mountains.

Aksai Chin:

The modern history dates back to the early nineteenth century when Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu and Kashmir under the suzerainty of the Sikh Empire had conquered Ladakh in 1826. He signed a treaty with Tibetans in 1840 to honour the old established (largely unspecified) frontiers. With the defeat of Sikhs in 1846, the suzerainty of the region passed on to the British. William Johnson of the Survey of British India proposed ‘Johnson Line’ in 1865 which included Aksai chin in Kashmir; the Chinese were not controlling full Xinjiang region around this time. Johnson Line was accepted for long though some considered it as flawed.

Those days British were wary about the possible southward Russian expansion in the region and consequent direct conflict with them. Therefore, they drew a revised boundary in 1899 based on the data and maps shared between the British Consul General George Macartney at Kashgar and Hung Ta-chen, a senior Chinese official at St. Petersburg, with the former’s recommendations. According to this (Macartney-MacDonald Line), the Lingzi Tang plains, south of the Laktsang range, were shown in India, while the Aksai Chin part north of the Laktsang range was put in China. However, the British officially continued to maintain ‘Johnson Line’ as formal border but did not take any action on ground by establishing outposts or exercising actual control on the ground. Reportedly, the Peking University Atlas and the Postal Atlas of China too showed the boundary in Aksai Chin as per the "Johnson Line" till at least 1933.

Post-independence in 1947, the India adopted the Johnson Line as its official boundary, which included the Aksai Chin on its side. China did not raise any specific issues but during the 1950s, it constructed a road connecting Xinjiang and Western Tibet which ran through the Aksai Chin south of the Johnson Line through the territory claimed by India. Ironically, the Indian side did not notice the existence of the alleged road until 1957 or, if noticed, the political leadership did not made it public. Geographically, access to the Aksai Chin has been much easier from the Chinese side compared to the Indian side due to the high altitude Karakoram Range. The Indian side, specially the then Prime Minister Nehru, is known to maintain that the Aksai Chin was the part of Ladakh region for centuries and this position was a ‘firm and definite’ stand not negotiable with any external power.

On the other hand, Premier Zhou en Lai emphasized that the western border with India had never been officially defined and the MacDonald Line, suggesting the Aksai Chin within Chinese borders, was the only proposal ever made to any Chinese government. He held that the Aksai Chin was already under Chinese control and in any future negotiation, the status quo should be maintained. The tricky part, however, was that the Chinese, on their side, on many occasions maintained during 1950s that there were no border disputes with India but overtly and covertly continued their persuasive and coercive activities including the road construction and infrastructure buildup.

Arunachal Pradesh:

Not much is known about the ancient history of Arunachal which borders the Indian state of Assam and inter alia includes rich traditions of the Tibetan, Burmese and Bhutanese cultures too. India and Tibet were traditionally on good terms for centuries due to their religious and cultural bonds, and the border between the two was not demarcated even till early twentieth century. The famous Tawang Monastery was most probably built in the sixteenth century which was a common and most important religious site for the Buddhists on either side who freely moved without any restrictions. The area had a very sparse population mostly inhabited by the people of the Tibetan origin. There seems to be no official record on either side since the Mughals and British periods about who or which country actually exercised control over the region.

The officials of the British India, Tibet and China (as observer) negotiated for the first time in 1914 to formally delineate the borders. The British India and independent Tibet then agreed that the Tawang region and the areas south of it belonged to India. The Chinese representatives were, however, not happy with the outcome and they refused to endorse the accord. The British and Tibetan side, however, ratified the accord without further participation of the bellicose China. The then Foreign Secretary of British India Sir Henry McMahon drew up approximately 890 km of McMahon Line as the international border between British India and Tibet following the Shimla accord. The McMahon Line was largely drawn on the highest watershed principle demarcating what was previously unclaimed and undefined terrain between Britain India and Tibet.

China never recognized Tibet's independence and Shimla Convention of 1914. The British published the Simla Convention as a bilateral accord in 1938 and the Survey of India published a formal map showing Tawang as part of the Arunachal Pradesh (It was called North-East Frontier Agency or NEFA then). Rest is a well-known history; after establishing the Communist rule in 1949, China invaded and annexed Tibet in 1950 by force while maintaining that the Tawang region and territories south of it as integral part of the South Tibet, hence their legitimate claim over it. During 1962, China fought the war over the region and captured a major part of the disputed territory. But unlike Aksai Chin, the geography in this region is clearly favourable to India and China pulled back to the actual line of control after the ceasefire. Ever since India is exercising full control over the region including the Tawang but the bitter truth remains that Arunachal Pradesh could still play a trigger point any time for the escalation of any future war between the two neighbours.

The War

A firm believer of Panchsheel and non-alignment, Pandit Nehru perhaps never gave a serious thought over the possibility of war and defence preparedness. There are ample reports and experts’ opinion that the duo Pandit Nehru and Krishna Menon, with the Foreign and defence portfolio respectively, almost completely ignored constant hankering from the military establishment over the years for more funds and weaponry to keep the armed forces combat ready for any future eventuality. The Indian troops were taken completely off-guard when the Chinese launched simultaneous offensive in Ladakh in the north and across the McMahon Line in eastern sector on 20 October 1962. Much has been written and debated about the ill-preparedness of the Indian army, and equally amateurish and inept political handling of the crisis. No wonder that the war and diplomatic fiasco of 1962 is remembered by many as India’s Himalayan blunder and colossal failure.

The Chinese troops quickly advanced in both the war theatres and by the time they declared a unilateral ceasefire on 20 November 1962, they had already captured entire Aksai Chin in Ladakh and important towns like Tawang and Bomdila advancing deep into Arunachal Pradesh (then NEFA). As per estimates of the independent western sources, the Chinese side fought with 80,000 to 100,000 PLA troops equipped with better arms, ammunition and logistics as against the ill-equipped Indian Army engaging about 15,000 to 20,000 troops with outdated weapons in both the theatres. Ill-prepared Indian army was no match for them to offer any viable resistance in any sector in the fast developing war scenario. According to Brigadier JP Dalvi's own eye-witness account whose fateful brigade was routed and he along with other officers was taken as the prisoner of war by the Chinese, the Indian side faced ignominy at the hands of the Chinese as follows:

"At 5 on the morning of 20 October 1962 massed Chinese artillery opened up a heavy concentration on the weak Indian garrison, in a narrow sector of the Namka Chu Valley, of Kameng Frontier Division, in the North East Frontier Agenct (NEFA). Massive infantry assaults followed, and within three hours the unequal conquest was over. The route to the plains of Assam lay wide open. The Chinese exploited their initial successes and advanced 160 miles into Indian Territory down the southern slopes of the 20th November."
(Excerpt from Brigadier JP Dalvi's book "Himalayan Blunder")

While the tension was mounting on the two sides and certain Chinese incursions in the Indian territory had already taken place weeks ahead, it was on 20th October 1962 that the PLA formally launched frontal attacks in both the western and eastern theatres. The immediate clashes took place in the Chip Chap Valley of Aksai Chin in western side and both banks of the Namka Chu River in the eastern side. The Chinese forces outnumbered Indians both in manpower and gun power on the both fronts and in just four days’ fierce battle, successfully captured a large portion of the disputed territory. As illustrated by Brigadier Dalvi in his book ’Himalayan Blunder’, who himself was made the prisoner of war along with other officers, the entire brigade was neutralized and dismembered in the Namka Chu Valley in the first few days of war itself. When the Indian troops were overwhelmed by the Chinese, many of them retreated from Namka Chu into Bhutan. The Chinese did not pursue them there but they continued their onslaught in the remaining part of NEFA. Reportedly, when the Chinese troops mounted a three-pronged attack on Tawang, it was evacuated without offering any substantive resistance.

The position in the western theatre was no different. In fact, even before the battle commenced, the Chinese troops were already controlling a major part of the Aksai Chin region. Here again the Chinese forces simultaneously launched several attacks and secured all posts north of Chushul in next 2-3 days. Reportedly, the Chip Chap Valley, Galwan Valley and Pangong Lake were captured on the opening day of the war i.e. 20th October 1962 itself. Indian troops stationed in these areas valiantly fought but most of them were either killed or captured. By 24th October, the Chinese forces had advanced about 15-16 km inside the Indian Territory from the actual line of control line. This was followed by almost three weeks lull with some unsuccessful peace overtures at the Chinese initiative. The war again commenced on 14th November and in next few days the PLA troops had penetrated right upto the outskirts of Tezpur, Assam when on 19th November, China unilaterally declared ceasefire as according to them they had achieved their war objective. Following the peace negotiations, the Chinese retained their control over the Aksai Chin while they withdrew their troops to the actual line of control in the eastern sector.

Flawed Policy, Diplomacy and Strategy

Pandit Nehru, the great internationalist, was also holding the charge of the External Affairs with his confidant Krishna Menon as the Defence Minister for long after the independence and during the Sino-Indian War; hence he cannot escape responsibility of failures in the same way as one is credited for every success. It is a well-known part how the entire episode of annexation of Tibet in 1950 was mishandled by Mr Nehru and his team with an unsagacious and lackadaisical approach. When the heat was on in Tibet, he was engage in safeguarding and furtherance of the Chinese interests in the Korean War. India was the main stakeholder but the Tibetan issue was not even allowed to be raised in the United Nations in the correct perspective. Till such time, the friendly Tibet always served as a buffer between the two Asian giants and with one stroke the entire largely undefined Himalayan border was exposed for the future tussles and conflicts owing to the expansionist neighbor. Thus the seeds of 1962 War were sown with the inept handling of the Tibetan crisis by the political leadership in 1950 itself.

Undoubtedly, the Indian diplomats and intelligence agencies failed to assess the Chinese intent, threat and war preparation. Mr Nehru was apparently confident that the undemarcated Indo-Tibetan border is not such a big issue and hostilities will not lead to a war. So when the war broke out, India was taken by complete surprise politically, diplomatically and strategically by the Chinese action. But this had not happened in one day, month or year; things were heating up, boiling and precipitating ever since the forceful occupation of Tibet but the Indian Government under Nehru chose to assume that, notwithstanding border irritants, Chinese would never go to the extent of waging an open war on India. They did not realize it in spite of fact that the PLA troops had started patrolling the Indo-Tibetan border in 1951 itself by creating several forward posts with occasional face-off and consequent skirmishes with Indians.

Despite some sane voices like Sardar Patel and his advice, Pandit Nehru did not deem it necessary to consider because of faith in the Chinese leadership. He prevailed with his obstinacy and approach because he was an undisputed leader of the Congress and government. His personal initiative of the Panchsheel (Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence) in 1954 with the Chinese premier Zhou en Lai and endorsement of the Chinese rule in Tibet proved erroneous, futile and costly for India in time. In 1956, on Nehru's direction the maps of India were redrawn; however, the Chinese maps continued to show about 120,000 sq km (about 38,000 sq km in Aksai Chin, remaining in NEFA and elsewhere) of Indian Territory as theirs. When Nehru raised this issue with his Chinese counterpart, Zhou en Lai acknowledged error in their maps saying it was not a cause of concern but actually did entire opposite.

It was when the war started and the Indian troops started experiencing quick rout and reverses that Prime Minister Nehru realized expressing his shock and dismay over the sudden and unforeseen developments. Stating that the Chinese had treacherously stabbed India in the back, he announced on radio, ’I am grieved at the setbacks to our troops that have occurred on the frontier, and the reverses we have had. They were overwhelmed by vast numbers and big artillery, mountain guns and heavy mortars which the Chinese have brought with them’. Needless to mention that the Indian Army had this predicament largely because of the Government’s utter failure on the China policy, diplomacy and intelligence gathering, and finally ignoring the wherewithal, training and equipping army to face the Himalayan challenge from a tricky and powerful enemy.

The most ironical part of the war was that it also blew up Nehru's non-alignment philosophy. Making a common cause of the 'Western Imperialism' while befriending China and USSR, he had so for maintained a measured distance with the US and UK - the only powerful and capable nations of the time. When the hostilities broke out and the Indians were unable to stop Chinese, Pandit Nehru made a fervent appeal to the US and UK for an urgent arms aid in order to meet the Chinese challenge. Despite their engagement with the Cuban crisis, the countries did respond favourably and the first arms consignment from the US reportedly reached in the first week of November even before the formal signing of a contract; however, the USSR, the other major communist ally of the Indian Prime Minister, remained an undecided and unhappy spectator under the dilemma of choosing 'fraternal China' or 'friendly India'.

Government should have endeavoured in time either to prepare the country politically, diplomatically and strategically to effectively resist Chinese design and overtures or to make concessions mostly in the form of the border adjustment. Sadly, the top political leadership did neither, and the sane voices, if any, were sidelined and ignored. The expansionist plans of China were well known and their true intent gradually but definitely had started becoming clear since 1956. But the military was not given their due for their operational readiness and the usual ’Hindi-Chini’ rant and rhetoric continued; finally, the day of reckoning came on 20th October barely after twelve years of the annexation of Tibet. Sadly, Sardar Patel died in December 1950 and, thereafter, there was no other leader of his stature who could question, advise or ask Pandit Nehru on his China Policy.

According to a declassified CIA analysis available in public domain, even in those years China had started considering India to be a long term threat and so the Chinese leadership wanted to deliver a major blow to India's political and military leadership to demoralize and humiliate them. Among other priorities of the Chinese strategic thinking was to seriously damage Nehru’s international prestige and credibility, and to achieve this objective they were able to successfully use even the Indian communists. It is an open secret what the Indian communists did during the war and why most of them were put behind the bar during those fateful days. Whatever may be the truth but the Indian side was clearly caught on the wrong foot in miscalculating Chinese strength and war intentions.

Post War Analysis

Apart from the flawed policies, various analysts and commentators have analyzed and written a lot about the war fiasco with China in 1962. Some of the more important weaknesses and reasons are enumerated as follows:

Lack of Military Preparedness:

The Indian army was not at all geared up to fight in harsh Himalayan terrain in terms of manpower, equipment, infrastructure and training. In spite of constant caution and projections of the army over the years, the political leadership had not paid adequate attention to their demands perhaps under impression that India didn't have any potential threat. The border incursions and skirmishes with the PLA troops were not taken seriously under impression that China was a friend and it will never go to the extent of an all-out war. As against this, the Chinese side was fully prepared in terms of manpower, advanced equipment, infrastructure build up and training to fight in the inhospitable terrain. Some analysts feel that the non-induction of the Air Force in the war was yet another blunder. They hold that the Indian fleet was far more advanced and capable compared to the adversary and its engagement would have reinforced better logistics and combat support to the ground forces.

Short Sightedness of Top Leadership:

Pre-independence events and records suggest that Pandit Nehru was the personal choice of Mahatma Gandhi and strong votary of non-violence despite his shortsighted and obstinate nature. Contrary to the suggestions of Lord Mountbatten and subsequently by successive army generals, it is widely perceived that in post-independent India Nehru constantly ignored the idea of any substantive military preparedness. Though Sardar Patel was a strong and influential leader but even his advice on Tibet was ignored. After his demise in 1950, there was no leader left in the Congress who could confront Nehru with his Ideologies. Nehru was so enamoured with own international image, the Chinese leadership and their ideology that he even, perhaps unintentionally, sidelined the national interests. When he was needed to take a stand for Tibet, he was busy justifying the Chinese involvement in the Korean War and defending their position in the United Nations. Reports are that India under the leadership of Nehru was so concerned about China that it even refused to attend the peace conference in Japan because China was not invited. As powerful world democracies had not recognized the Communist China yet, India even strove to become the former’s representative and votary at the world forum.

Failure or No Viable Strategy:

Under the belief that China was a good friend, the Panchseel Treaty was forged at the personal initiative of Pandit Nehru with Zhou en Lai in 1954. But he failed to perceive the gravity of the ongoing border disputes and its possible implications on future relationship of the two countries. On the perception and belief of good mutual relations, the country was deprived of the due military strategy and preparedness for over a decade that ultimately proved so costly. When the war escalated between the two countries, China was found fully prepared to tackle all eventualities while India simply collapsed under own ill-preparedness of the military and political leadership. General SPP Thorat, Army Commander in the Eastern Command had submitted a credible report to the government well in advance alerting the political leadership of the anticipated aggression from China but the same was not given the due consideration by the political brass.

Failure to Support the Tibetan Cause:

India was the main stakeholder and it should have taken a firm stand for the Tibetan people. Despite request from the Tibetan government and keenness of the western democracies, particularly the US and UK, it is widely perceived that Pandit Nehru was unwilling to take up the Tibetan cause in 1950. After all the British were not fools when they signed Shimla accord in 1914 with Tibet even against the wishes of reluctant China. They knew that keeping an independent Tibet as a buffer state along such a long Himalayan border was in better interest of India than to directly face the expansionist China. Reportedly, when the Korean crisis escalated, Pandit Nehru called for a special session of Parliament to discuss the issue while Tibetan crisis was treated as a minor issue. India was keen to follow up the Chinese recognition and entry into the United Nation; hence reportedly the Indian representative was asked to make sure that the Tibetan issue is not included in the agenda. Except for registering a mild protest with China, no help was rendered to Tibet commensurate with the diplomatic foresight and strategic need of the occasion.

False Pretensions, Lies and Beliefs:

After the annexation of Tibet in 1950, Zhou en Lai kept telling Nehru and other world leaders that China had no territorial ambitions or substantive border disputes with India throughout the 1950s. Pandit Nehru took these assertions on the face value in good faith even though the McMahon line was not clearly demarcated and there were differences in perceptions of the ownership of territories on the either sides. It is said that on Zhou's words, Nehru was confident until even one week before the war that the hostilities of the neighbor will not escalate beyond control. But it did happen beating all his beliefs and expectations.

There is another side of story too!

In history what we read, understand and believe is mostly what we are made to read, understand and believe by the contemporary rulers. One may find umpteen illustrations in the Indian history in the last one millennium itself vindicating the above position. After 1962 War, the Government of India under Mr Nehru constituted "The Henderson Brooks - PS Bhagat Committee" in March 1963 to look into the reasons and allied issues. Lieutenant General Brooks and Brigadier Bhagat submitted his report to the Ministry of Defence in May 1963. It was graded as "Top Secret" and contents were never revealed in public domain.

Neville Maxwell, British journalist and scholar authored a book "India's China War" in 1970. From 1959 onwards, he had served as the South Asian correspondent in New Delhi nearly for eight years reporting the later part of the Nehruvian era and subsequent developments. As it appears that somehow he obtained a copy of the Brooks-Bhagat Report, part of which he even uploaded on his website in March 2014. His book contains his evaluation based on the contents of the said report and the official Chinese statements and perceptions on war. Some people considered his book as an authoritative analysis of the 1962 Sino-Indian War; however, many others criticized his reporting as his pessimistic and inaccurate views on Indian democracy. He was charged by the then Indian government with the breach of Official Secrets Act that forced him to stay out of India to avoid arrest. However, the Morarji Desai government absolved him of these charges eight years later.

In his book, Maxwell has extensively quoted from the text of the said report. He suggested that the border dispute was the legacy inherited by India from the British who unilaterally signed accord with Tibet ignoring the Chinese objections in 1914 about territories (NEFA) in the eastern sector. By citing the Indian ’Forward Policy’ in 1959 and Nehru's announcement dated 11 October 1962 that "the Army had been ordered to free our territory", Maxwell depicted India as aggressor rather than China. The forward policy included raising Indian posts in the erstwhile unmanned areas to check the Chinese incursions and send back their troops through persuasion or possibly even application of force, if needed, in Aksai Chin and NEFA. According to him, the Indian policy had escalated the border dispute tension and thereby ruled out any peaceful settlement through the diplomatic engagement. He suggested that the forward policy was even not liked by regular Indian soldiers but they complied as the orders came from the top (political leadership). Maxwell was critical about the Indian political establishment, particularly Nehru's leadership, who he felt tried every means to impress China in 1950s, and even rejected the offer of the permanent membership to India in the UN Security Council saying it should go to China.

Long Term Implications of War

In the post war scenario, China retreated to the actual line of control in the eastern theatre but retained Aksai Chin in Jammu & Kashmir. Thus about 38,000 sq km of the Indian Territory remains under the occupation of China. Besides, another 5,180 sq km of the Pak-Occupied-Kaskmir (POK) has been ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963 under a so-called boundary agreement. The entire Tibetan border still remains undelineated and China continues to claim approximately 90,000 sq km in Arunachal Pradesh (erstwhile NEFA) and elsewhere, and it does not recognize this Indian state so much so that every visit of the Central Ministers to this land is invariably objected to.

The war inflicted humiliation was a major blow to India’s reputation and it was largely seen as a weak nation with inept leadership in the world fraternity. This even made Pakistani leader General Ayub Khan to believe that the weak Indian Army would not be able to defend itself if a quick military assault is made in Kashmir. Consequently, they started a covert Operation Gibraltar in August in Kashmir, soon followed by the launch of a full-scale military attack in what is known as Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.

1962 War has not only led to aggressive militarization of the entire Tibetan border but also triggered an arms race in the region. India is constrained to ensure development of infrastructure, regular training, exercise and deployment of troops, and acquisition of the state of the art equipment and warfare systems even at the prohibitive costs. The case in point could be the recent Inter-governmental Agreement (IGA) with France on Rafale Jets and another strategic deal with Russia for S-400 long-range, surface-to-air missile systems. China has already ordered similar missiles from Russia and said to be at advance stage of developing fifth generation fighter J-20 aircraft.

This arms race between the two neighbours is not limited to the conventional weapons; instead, both of them have resorted to the development and buildup of the weapons of mass destruction. Wary of the intervention of the Western democracies in any future standoff, China exploded its first atomic bomb in 1964, following just two years of the Sino-Indian War. With this development, India too decided to go nuclear and tested its first atomic device in 1974. Ever since both countries have developed sufficient stockpile of the atomic weapons and credible delivery systems (missiles) of various capacity and range assuring mutual destruction if the hostilities escalate in future.

The deep sense of mutual mistrust and hostilities created following the war has refused to die even after more than five decades of rivalry. India senses China as an expansionist and aggressive nation that wants to dominate Asian neighbours at its own terms. China's frequent violations of the LOC, huge development of infrastructure and military buildup in Tibet only bolster these apprehensions. On their part, China tries to oppose Indian interests politically at crucial world forums and perceives Indian growing relationship with Western democracies as a challenge and threat to its might and power.

Post Script

Even if, for the argument sake, we take the words of Maxwell in regard to the alleged British legacy in the context of the sovereignty over the Arunachal Pradesh as part of the South Tibet, the fact of the annexation of Tibet by the Chinese itself is a classic case of medieval era mindset of the powerful empires conquering the weak one to subordination through war or coercion. But for the periodical invasions and subordination by the Mongols and Chinese monarchs, the Tibet had remained largely an independent and peaceful country during the last two millennia. Just because the Chinese Qing Dynasty conquered and ruled Tibet for some time in the eighteenth century and China exercised a symbolic influence over it, such a history does not give a suo moto or natural right to the Communist China to rule Tibet in modern era. Its forceful annexation in 1950 and subsequent suppression and victimization of the Tibetan people is beyond any logic or justification. The fact is the integration of the said autonomous regions (nearly 45% total Chinese land) like Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Guangxi and Ningxia with the main Chinese land is historically still questionable.

The successive authoritarian Chinese leaderships have been found lacking in the basic human ethics and principles. Chinese rulers are habitual double-speaker; there are numerous instances vindicating that they are not trustworthy and can go back on their words anytime. India is not the only victim; their appetite for more and more strategic landscape based on suspect credentials has forced their leaders to conduct in the same way with other neighbours like Korea, Vietnam and even Russia in the past. Be it present day Arunachal Pradesh or South China Sea or Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, their hegemonistic and expansionist overtures are visible everywhere. Like the alleged evil Axis Powers during the Second World War, the China-Pakistan-North Korea axis has already developed in Asia and causing security concern world over with covert nuclear and missile technology proliferation. The recent acquisition of Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka on lease gives a clear indication of their future design and maneuvers in the Indian neighbourhood and ocean.

In a way, the 1962 Indo-China war was the direct fallout of the annexation of Tibet by China in 1950. Traditionally, Tibet had been a buffer zone for centuries between India and China which the British valued as a strategic and vital all weather defence. Tibetan people had lived in peace and harmony with India by custom, usage and tradition in spite of the fact that they never had a demarcated and surveyed boundary. The forceful occupation of Tibet by the Chinese and India's meek and lackadaisical response under Nehru's leadership was undoubtedly one of the biggest follies of the Indian history that made the country's north and north-eastern frontiers vulnerable for all time to come besides imposing recurring and prohibitive cost burden in terms of geo-polity, diplomacy and strategic needs.

Let's agree that Tibet was not a piece of cake to be devoured by one greedy party and ignored by another suave stakeholder dismissing it as a minor event. It has an area of approximately 12,00,000 sq km and an estimated border length of about 3,380 Km with India. Apart from forcing it in complete subordination, Chinese government and PLA have systematically carried out oppression and ethnic cleansing of people destroying their culture and religion for a long period. Reprisals for the 1959 Tibetan uprising alone took lives of at least 87,000 Tibetans while many Tibetans in exile claim such killings to approximately 430,000 people. Besides, reportedly more than 6,000 monasteries were destroyed by the Chinese during the period.

Till the annexation of Tibet, India was never obligated to worry about the deployment of army, infrastructure and other resources on the border with a friendly country. With the Chinese on the other side, the boundary issues came demanding with a need for the constant vigil and petrol by the security establishment for the first time and on recurring basis. The 1962 War posed a real threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country putting severe strain on resources which otherwise could have been spent on welfare and development of people. Apart from the China-centric nuclear and missile development programmes, today India is perforce among the category of top nations that incur heavy expenditure on the import of conventional war equipment and warfare systems.

Continued from “Operation Blue Star in 1984”


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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