Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Settling the cause of India's Pearl Harbor (1962 Indo-China War)

No other dispute in the world is as long, more complex and more controversial than that of the India-China border. The 1962 Indo China war was fought in the age of pre-internet, pre-social media, and pre-television. Radio and newspapers were the only source of information. Recently, some of the pages of the inquiry committee report of the war were leaked out. Post this leakage it's high time for settling the cause and many blunders committed during and before the war that continues to impact our diplomatic and political relationship with China till date. There has never been a public debate going into the cause, effects and solution to the problem.

China has always had expansionist mindset and it has exhibited this over centuries and more so in the early 1940 and 1950's. It is Nehru who never understood this despite many of his ministers, particularly, Sardar Patel warning him several times. I had explained the cause and solution of the border dispute clearly in two part series on my own blog 5 years ago.

The two articles above are very lengthy and I did a great deal of research to get into the root cause and find out who is right - India or China over its claims. If one gets scared at the sheer length of the article here's the conclusion. My conclusion below may provoke you to read the above articles again and again.

Solution to the Aksai Chin area: Split the Aksai Chin area into 2 parts and let India and China have it equally. This is because Aksai Chin belongs to no one based on historical records and currently this area is with China. China will not cede it and India won't give up its claim on the entire area.

Solution to Arunachal Pradesh Region: The whole area of Arunachal Pradesh except TAWANG region belongs to India. Currently, India has TAWANG that belongs to China. India won't give up and China won't stop pursuing it.

The 1962 war was the most humiliating war India ever faced and fought. India lost so badly that it took years to recover the army's morale. The war saw a patriotic wave across the country to an extent never seen before. Everyone was scared that China might penetrate deep into the Indian territory. Till date no government has ever made an attempt to declassify the exact cause of the war and the only inquiry committee report (Henderson-Bhagat report) has never been made public. The report doesn't go into explaining why the dispute started, why Tibet's voice was not even heard by China and why Tibet's annexation was unacceptable to India since it was military inquiry report. According to sources in the Indian Defense Ministry there were 3 copies of this report - two with the Government and third with Neville.  

Neville Maxwell, the journalist at that time had access to a copy of this document which he used as a basis of his book India's China war (Source). Neville's book according to several readers is more an explanation or analysis of the report and not the actual report. The book does go into the origins of the conflict. The book for the first time pin pointed Nehru for many misadventures. The problem with the book though is that it is pro-China in many ways and anti-India. One cannot take this source as an unbiased account. 

The actual report's pages were made available on Neveille Maxwell website and then several magazines such as Outlook magazine added them on Mar 18th 2014.(Source). Although the book has been in publication for quite sometime now, the report itself was made public on his website http://www.nevillemaxwell.com/ (no longer available now). 

There are parts of this report which are truly chilling and nerve raising. In the below paragraphs I have made an attempt to explain this in a brief, but clear cut manner. The report has 3 volumes and only the first volume has been leaked. Some pages of the report have been deliberately deleted. We don't know how many more generations or decades it would take to know this complete report. However, the first volume itself speaks volumes about the military blunders that continue to haunt India. 

Lt. General Henderson and Bhagat in 1962 wrote the inquiry report that went into the details of how India lost the war and what political and military decisions were taken during and before the war. 

Henderson-Bhagat Report squarely blames India for the war and puts the onus on Indian political and military leadership. The report clearly blames "Forward Policy" in Nov 1961 (the actual war started on Oct 20th 1962 and ended in a month) when it was set in motion by Nehru. The policy, according to the report, provoked Chinese to attack in a full blown scale. This policy's aim was to put troops on the border who could go deep into the areas bordering China so that Chinese will not think of claiming any territory of India as theirs. The assumption to go into this adventure was that Chinese will not retaliate and that we are capable of fighting the Chinese. 

Image courtesy: (Link)

The report highlights on military failures more than lack of political sagacity. Based on CIA report (source)we know that both Nehru and Defence Minister V.K. Menon never agreed with the estimates given by the military General B.M. Kaul and Intelligence Bureau Chief Mullick who asserted that Indian military was better prepared to deal both in the Eastern and Northern sectors. V.K. Menon blindly trusted the military and then blinded Nehru into going forward with sending troops to the border. The war significantly highlights one thing - A country's head like that of India's must not depend upon one source to take decisions in matters of defense and border disputes.

The report (Source) also explains how Lt.Gen Kaul had deep political influences and scarce regard to military hierarchy and neglect of assessing the real lack of preparation. His election itself as the Military Head of the operations in the North East was politically motivated since he was a distant relative of the then Prime Minister Nehru. He was a failure in several operations before this and yet he was appointed for the operations of the North East. North East was more difficult to fight (mainly because of temperature and terrain) and required at least 12,000 troops more than the force in Ladakh and required air force deployment. It could be one of these reasons that the Govt may have been hiding the report since it can hit the morale of the Indian Army and also the fact that Kaul was appointed because of Nehru's influence would be brought to the forefront. However, fact is a fact and hard truth cannot be hidden just because it is harsh.


Indian Army was not prepared for high altitude battle. It was used to fight on the plains with Pakistan. Lack of equipment and training to fight Chinese soldiers caused India dearly.

It was China that backtracked from its position in Arunachal Pradesh otherwise it would have conquered both north and eastern parts of India. We have to thank China for both destroying and saving the day. Their attack destroyed India and their withdrawal saved India. If that was not the case West Bengal would have been part of China since the attack could have spread so deep into the heart of India.

(Image courtesy: Hindustan Times, Calibre)

If anyone is interested in reading this report or Claude Arpi's (French journalist living in India and is considered one of the experts in Indo-Tibet-China issues) interpretation of Neville's book it is here or even Arun Shouries' book - Self Deception: India's China policies

My own take is that following political and diplomatic blunders Nehru committed with regards to China: 
  • He refused formally to discuss border issues with China despite having the opportunity several times between 1950-1954, especially after China conquered Tibet. Even when China did not respond to his oral announcement in Indian Parliament he took their silence as admission of border India claimed. Never until 1958 did it occur to Nehru that a country that is in the process of formalizing its borders (post independence) get written confirmations from China. Long before his formal letter to China time he had asked formal maps to be published indicating the Mc Mohan line and Aksai Chin part of India. As a reply to 1958 letter, Chinese rejected Mc.Mohan Line.
  • Sending Indian officials in Tawang and allow them to take care of the affairs was wrong as it was part of China.
  • The biggest opportunity was when India and China signed Panchsheel agreement and Nehru accepting claims of China over Tibet. When this was accepted all the boundary agreements that Tibet signed also was indirectly accepted by India. It was a golden opportunity to settle all border issues at that time. Had they been settled we would not have reached the position we are in right now.
  • Nehru must have given up Aksai Chin in lieu of China giving up its claims on Arunachal (Source) right in the initial stages.
  • When Nehru accepted Tibet as part of China there was no need to welcome Dalai Lama. The smart move would have been to leave the matter to China. If Nehru had not accepted so then giving refuge to Dalai Lama was not a mistake at all.
  • Blindly trusting his defense minister V.K. Menon's assessment of things without having a sharp understanding of the ground reality.
  • Ignoring Sardar Patel's written letter to be cautious of China when it invaded Tibet and reassess border posts and military strengths. (The letter is published in Makers of India's Foriegn Policy: From RajaRamMohan Roy to Yashant Sinha by J.N. Dikshit)
  • Nehru supporting for UN seat For China amidst all this.

Relying on multiple sources of information coupled with sharp understanding of the enemy is a must. Indira Gandhi and Vajpayee had both these qualities and they exhibited them in 1971 and 1999 wars with Pakistan respectively. While Indira used all the might to defeat Pakistan with a great sense of smart thinking, Vajpayee used might and diplomacy to bring Pakistan to its knees. These two wars were examples of exemplary leadership by and far, despite flaws in the operations of the two wars. Nehru lacked what both these leaders exhibited. The underestimation and overconfidence led to the most expensive and humiliating war at the hands of China.

This war has taught one lesson in matters of geographic neighbors. Never underestimate the country whom you consider as a threat, never provoke it until you are prepared with the onslaught and have a firm written document as evidence in any matters, specifically related to borders and defense.  If Nehru exhibited all these 3 qualities he would have never led India on this dangerous path.

Nehru's blunder is so deep and profound that over the years it has made it harder for any party that rules India to go back on what Nehru accepted as the true borders It is politically suicidal for any party to give away any Aksai Chin.

It's high time this issue is laid to rest and the public debate and awareness created so that everyone is aware of the geo-political reality of 1962 and its effect on the coming generations. Let's hope whoever forms the next government in May 2014 gets a chance to settle this piece of history.

Some of the good articles in this matter can also be read here:

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