By Prem Prakash
THE year 1962 would go down in Indian history as a year of shame and heart break for India. The genesis of the tragedy began when India conceded to the Chinese their sovereignty over Tibet. Chinese takeover of Tibet brought a hostile and expansionist Communist county to our borders. China was now our direct neighbour.
Earlier in 1954 to placate the Chinese and hoping to control their hostility towards India, Prime Minister Pandit Nehru signed the infamous PanchShila, the five principles of co-existence, with Zhou Enla that confirmed the Chinese rule in Tibet even as the Dalai Lama was still there as head of state of Tibet. Pandit Nehru then gave to India the slogan of “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai.” That led India’s people into false belief that our relations with a hostile neighbour were settled.
Why did we let the Chinese take over Tibet is something that historians will search for a long time. India has virtually given up the practice of opening up confidential files after 30 years to public scrutiny. Some journalists have written that India virtually supported the Chinese army in early 1950s by allowing food exports from India to feed it. Chinese had not been able to build roads or have a supply line from their mainland to Tibet during that period. For all this friendship Chinese repaid us in 1959 by killing 10 of our policemen on patrol duty in the Aksai Chin area. That is when India came to know that Chinese had taken over Aksai Chin and built a road to Tibet from China.
The die was now cast. The killing of policemen by the Chinese woke up India. India asked its army now to patrol and control the borders with Tibet. This followed with series of incidents that finally led to the 1962 border war with China. On Oct 20, 1962 China invaded Ladakh, simultaneously crossing the McMahon line in the North East. On November 17 they attacked Sela Pass and Bomdilla in Arunchal Pradesh.
India’s brave army was rushed there to fight in summer uniforms, equipped with World War 2 weapons. I watched the troops at Sela as they prepared to fight with those outdated weapons. Led by an incompetent Chief of Staff- BM Kaul, a political appointee was the corps commander in the Eastern Sector facing NEFA now Arunachal Pradesh, he had no battle experience being an officer of the Indian Army Service Corps (ASC). A battle hardened Lt Gen Umrao Singh had been replaced.. Perhaps history would have been different had this action not happened.
India prepared for defence by digging trenches and getting ready to challenge the enemy in frontal attack. ‘Chinese come in waves’- the troops had been told. When the attack came on November 17, 1962, China outsmarted Kaul by outflanking Sela and virtually captured whole of Arunachal Pradesh by November 19 when it declared unilateral cease fire.
That was the biggest shock that India’s people got. When the army began its retreat in haste, the government decided to vacate the whole of north bank of Brahmaputra including the city of Tezpur. I stayed on to cover as I was watching all the developments. The sight on the banks of River Brahmaputra could remind one of Dunkirk that the British faced at the hands of Hitler in World War 2.
Heaping shame of a unilateral cease fire on India, China followed by withdrawing their forces back to the LAC as it existed on November 7, 1959. Chinese were out of Arunachal Pradesh. But Aksai Chin and some other areas of Ladakh were still with them.
Despite boundary talks between the two nations, Chinese have continued to try and capture more areas to impose their will. One such incident that gave them a befitting reply to what they achieved in 1962 at Sela and Bomdilla came at Nathu La Pass in 1967. Many historians have called it to be the second India-China war following 1962.
It was on September 11, 1967 that the Chinese dared to attack Indian posts at Nathu La- the border post with Tibet of the then Indian protectorate Sikkim. Indian Army repulsed the attack even as it suffered casualties. However, the fighting continued with Chinese making desperate effort to push back Indian forces from Nathu La and make inroad into Sikkim. In the initial fighting the Chinese Commandant and the political Commissar, who virtually controls the troops, were killed.
Chinese intentions were clear that they wanted to take over Nathu La and move further into the territory of Sikkim. Indian Army in Sikkim area was under the control of Maj. Gen. Sagat Singh, who ordered heavy artillery fire. The war continued for five days. All the fortifications of the Chinese were destroyed. Chinese army was made to retreat from Nathu La by some 20 kilometres. India declared unilateral ceasefire on September 15, asking the Chinese to collect the bodies of their soldiers. Over 400 Chinese troops were killed and India succeeded in enforcing its border at Nathu La.
Those who doubt Indian Army’s valour and strength should remember that during the 1965 India-Pakistan war China issued an ultimatum to India to vacate Nathu La, thereby meaning to surrender the pass. India’s brave General, Sagat Singh refused with the government telling the Chinese that Nathu La was the natural boundary. The Chinese kept up their pin pricks and had started digging their trenches in August 1967. That was enough warning to India that Chinese were upto mischief and the resultant 1967 Nathu La war that saw the Chinese get a bloody nose. 1962 was avenged.
Chinese adventure in Galwan Valley should be seen in the same light as Nathu La 1967. Chinese have been smart this time in agreeing to withdrawal of their forces before their adventure could take a different turn. They still have suffered 43 casualties. If the Indian Army had opened up that could well have meant yet another defeat for the PLA. Viet Nam had beaten back Chinese attack in 1979. Let us hope that a lesson has been learnt by the Chinese and that they sit down on the negotiating table and settle the boundaries between the two countries.
(The author of this opinion piece is veteran journalist and Chairman of ANI.)