Much needs to be done to bolster our defences
October 20 marked the 60th anniversary of the brutal conflict of 1962, but much work remains to be done to free our territory from Chinese occupation
Just ten days before the 60th anniversary of the India-China conflict, General Manoj Kumar Pandey, Indian Army chief, said in a dialogue, “If I have to describe it [situation] in a single sentence, I will say that the situation is stable but unpredictable.” It is obvious that despite the flourishing business and trade ties between the two nations, the border animosity with China is still going on. This enmity reminds us of the sacrifices of our jawans.
For a better understanding of this issue, let’s travel back to the years 1947 to 1962. Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister, received a timely warning from the Army. Major General DK Palit claims in his book, Major General AA Rudra: His Service in Three Armies and Two World Wars, that Sir Robert Lockhart, the first commander-in-chief of independent India, presented Nehru with a thorough strategic plan for border security but was met with the stern response: “We don’t need a defence plan. Our policy is ahimsa [non-violence]. We foresee no military threat. Scrap the Army! The police are good enough to meet our security needs.” This was the consensus of the majority of the cabinet, with the exception of Krishna Menon. Morarji Desai, the then finance minister, believed that increased military investment and Army modernisation would kill Gandhi’s dream.
Starting in the late 1950s, the border conflict became worse. The Dalai Lama was compelled to flee Lhasa after China occupied Tibet. India granted him refuge and acknowledged his government-in-exile in 1959. Rising tensions between India and China culminated in the war in October 1962. Some 7,000 Indian soldiers and officers were either killed or captured in the war. China also suffered losses of about 2,000 soldiers.
Nehru was so outraged by the attack that he sought help from United States (US) President John F Kennedy. His uneasiness used to grow into restlessness as he wrote letter after letter to the US president. Meanwhile, on November 20, China declared a unilateral cease-fire. Its army returned from Tezpur in Assam, though still occupied 38,000 square kilometres of our territory. We have yet to take it back.
New Delhi was in an unusual state before the conflict broke. General S Thimayya led the country’s Army from 1957 to 1961, but his relationship with then defence minister Krishna Menon was strained. He had even resigned at a point during this tension, but Nehru persuaded him to withdraw his resignation. Meanwhile, Marshal Ayub Khan, a friend and colleague of General Thimayya in colonial India, conducted a coup in Pakistan in 1958. Thereafter, Nehru felt the Indian military had to be brought under constitutional control if India’s democracy were not to be jeopardised. He also accomplished this.
This raises the question of whether democracy and sovereignty can be separated. Certainly not. However, there was a lack of necessary coordination between the Army brass and political leaders. Even top-ranking officers of the Army were divided on many issues.
In fact, in the growing democracy of our country, policy direction and a well-organised government structure could not take shape until then. This was not India’s only hazard. General BN Kaul, who was close to Nehru, was the commander of the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA). He fell ill during the war and returned to Delhi, from where he led the Army.
The question is whether the leaders who succeeded Nehru have learned any lesson from this chapter in Indian history.
Let us look at two major events from the last nine years as examples. The first is China’s encroachment near Raki Nala in Dipsang in May 2013. New Delhi was successful in getting the People’s Liberation Army to withdraw within a month through diplomatic means. Also, neither side fired a single round. China executed its next huge assault in the Galwan Valley of Ladakh. This time, the two sides engaged in a brutal battle. On the fateful evening of June 15, 2020, 20 jawans were slain, including Commanding Officer Santosh Babu. China, as is customary, did not provide any details about its casualties. Though four soldiers were confirmed dead by its newspaper, Global Times, Indian intelligence sources claim that number to be significantly higher.
The situation on our borders has been tense ever since. There have been 16 rounds of negotiations between the two governments to defuse tensions, but no concrete results have been reported. This 30-month impasse raises many doubts. Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of the brutal conflict of 1962, but much work remains to be done to bolster our defences and free our territory from Chinese occupation.
It is reassuring that the country’s current leadership is engaged fully and dealing with this sensitive issue appropriately.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal