Wednesday, 23 November, 2022
HomeOpinionIndia’s misplaced priorities, shoddy planning & complacency led to 1962 war

India’s misplaced priorities, shoddy planning & complacency led to 1962 war

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Remembering 1962 war with China is good for India’s national security today

India and China, two very ancient civilisations living as close contemporaries, had intimate interaction with each other for centuries. Mao’s Communist China and a liberal and democratic India had friendly relations through the “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” jingle till the early 1950s. Then China annexed Tibet and laid claim over large areas in Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and former North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA). What began as border conflicts spanned into a full-scale war that culminated into a debacle for India in 1962.

The 1962 debacle with China taught us a lesson to be more realistic in politics and diplomacy. The almost non-existent civil-military relationship was established and later institutionalised. Many books, articles and reports have been published on the 1962 war including the much publicised ‘Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report’ and the lesser known History of the Conflict with China1962 by the history division of MoD in 1992. Unlike most nations in the West, which witnessed two World Wars, India never witnessed a full-scale war of a larger magnitude before 1962. Again, contrary to the western approach towards wars, India’s political leadership has more or less remained secretive about the cause, strategy, outcome and implications of the wars that were won and lost.


Also read: 56 years later, China can still choke Indian troops the way it did in 1962 


Beginning with former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s meeting with Chiang Kai-Shek in 1939, his ideas of a confederation consisting of China, Iran, Afghanistan and India to Chiang’s visit to India in 1942, there was a dream of Asian solidarity.

Then, October 1962 revealed Chinese leadership’s strategy to consolidate its control over Tibet, expand its influence towards south of Himalayas right into the Indian Ocean, and eventually create a string of satellite states around India. Barely a month before October 1962, Pakistan’s Martial Law administrator General Ayub Khan met with President Kennedy convincing him to punish India as a quid pro quo for Islamabad’s decision to not move closer to erstwhile USSR or China.

In the middle of the Cuban crisis and Symington amendment (stipulating a 25 per cent cut in Kennedy administration’s aid to India), New Delhi finalised a deal with USSR for MIG fighter jets against Pakistan acquiring F-104. Nehru’s Asian solidarity dream and misplaced overconfidence went out of the window in a jiffy on 20 October 1962, forcing him to announce in a shaky voice that “we were getting out of touch with reality in the modern world… and we were living in an artificial atmosphere of our own creation…”.

India’s foreign policy and military strategy determined by Her Majesty’s government till 1947 came to be decided by the political establishment later, and hence the responsibility lay at the door of the Prime Minister and his cabinet.

What went wrong in 1962 continues to be a subject of intense debate, research and speculation among the defence and diplomatic communities. Misplaced priorities, shoddy planning and lackadaisical attitude deprived the valiant armed forces of basic military hardware and ammunitions, and rendered them heavily dependent on imported supplies and equipment in the absence of indigenous production and skills. Defence Production Planning Committee was set up in 1957 and Department of Research and Development under Defence Ministry was set up in 1958, but were utterly sloppy and non-functional.

Again, the defence mechanism lacked institutional support and coordinated decision-making process, and suffered from the absence of political-military synchronisation.


Also read: During 1962 war, Nehru was ‘quieter than usual, often in a reverie and sometimes trembling’


Another serious mistake on the part of the military strategists was the decision to not use the Indian Air Force to carry out attacks on the advancing Chinese columns in the Tibet area, where India could have caused heavy casualties and scored a diplomatic point. Needless to say, all these and many other reasons for the debacle are buried under the ‘secret’ and ‘restricted’ clauses somewhere in the bureaucratic labyrinths of the defence ministry.

Lieutenant General T. B. Henderson Brooks, the Corps Commander posted in Jalandhar, Punjab, was appointed to inquire into the 1962 debacle by then-Army Chief General J. N. Chaudhuri who took over after the war. Brigadier Premindra S. Bhagat assisted Brooks in the report. Their report was submitted to the defence ministry in April 1963 and since then remains “top secret”, despite repeated demands for making it public.

If failure is the stepping stone to success, defeat in war can be said to be the best guide to subsequent victory. After the 1962 debacle, India registered an impressive victory frustrating Pakistan’s misadventure in 1965. But as Atal Bihari Vajpayee famously said, (maidaan me jeete, mez par haare) ‘what we gained in the battlefield, we lost on the negotiating table’.


Also read: Not China, 1962 war called India’s bluff


Fifty-six years later, India as a nuclear power is now endowed with resources to gather intelligence, has greater capability to analyse and act, and is militarily stronger and strong-willed to regain lost strategic space in the region, especially in Southeast Asia. Yet, the asymmetrical capabilities between the two ancient civilisations that went to war in 1962 cannot be complacently dismissed. Those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

The author is former editor of ‘Organiser’.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. 1962 conflict was so insignificant even when it happened that the by-election in West Bengal went per schedule. Jyoti Basu in fact wondered if this whole episode was a hoax by Congress to polarize voters against his party which opposed Forward Policy and friendly with China. Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report blames incompetence of Indian Army and Indian Air Force squarely. Brooks-Bhagat had no authority to investigate political decisions nor did they even interview Nehru, Krishna Menon, any minister nor politician. So, any claim of dirt on Nehru or Krishna Menon in that report is false and wishful thinking. Claim that Nehru should have deployed Air Force is a failure to comprehend that China had Air Force too. The only “diplomatic points” India could win would be if Chinese Air Force destroyed Indian Air Force and then went on to bomb Indian cities and civilians. On one hand Chari accuses Nehru of buying wrong aircrafts and then claims those same wrong aircrafts could defeat mighty China! He claims Army was NOT ready but somehow (miraculously) Air Force was TOTALLY READY to take on mighty China and defeat it. Air Force could not even successfully drop food, supplies and ammunition to soldiers. If Nehru really deployed the (Uttar Kumar) Indian Air Force, they too would be decimated like Army and Pakistan would walk away with Kashmir in 1965 or even sooner. Chari ji should know that even the Army bragged about “teaching China a lesson” until Nehru actually deployed them. Suggestions that Indian Army could have won if they had few more weapons is laughable. Chariji’s claims on indigenous production are completely uninformed. Under Krishna Menon, India manufactured HF-24 Supersonic fighters, Avadi Tanks, Shaktiman Trucks and AVRO light Aircraft. Krishna Menon setup 15 new Arms and Ammunition factories. Krishna Menon bought Gnats, MIGS, INS Vikrant, Submarines and Helicopters that won 1965 and 1971 Wars.

  2. China never claimed victory nor even acknowledges any war ever taking place. When enemy retreats, any other nation would claim victory while only Indians can INSIST of “defeat, debacle and humiliation”. Despite Indian Army abandoning posts and running away, Jawaharlal Nehru stood like a man he was. Despite China’s threat to invade Assam if their possession of NEFA is not recognized, Nehru declined the Ceasefire and vowed to fight. By November 1962, Nehru forced China retreat to pre-war positions and recovered every inch of NEFA lost by the Army. Where was the need to deploy Air Force? Nehru never fell short of “diplomatic points” as entire world rallied around him as soon as Cuban Missile Crisis got diffused. Even Taiwan which insisted India should stay away from Tibet and Aksai Chin, committed its armies to support India. Seshadri Chari ji does not know Nehru nor his Resilience and should refrain from cheap claims like “Nehru’s shaky voice” or BJP’s favorite claim of “Nehru dying of broken heart”. When things were at their worst, Nehru was at his best. While Nehru may not have “played fiddle” as armies fought, he knew “realities of modern world” long before 1962. Nehru steered the country through largest mass migration in history of mankind. India went through “Direct Action” in 1946 and Partition in 1947 with 1 million deaths each. He went through great personal losses, lathi-charges and 10-year prison. Nehru / Krishna Menon government defeated NATO member Portugal and liberated Goa just 10 months earlier despite warnings from JFK himself. Chari ji does not explain why his BJP governments never released the “secretive” Henderson Brooks Report but freely (mis)quotes it. Chari ji quotes Vajpayee but fails to mention writing Tibet off to China in 2003. Why didn’t Vajpayee cross LoC in 1999 while Pakistan had no problem doing so? Nehru’s priorities of building dams, feeding hungry, employment, industrialization, empowerment of weak, science, technology etc are MISPLACED!??

  3. Those who writing about, 1962 like this author were child when India faced war with China. People like Chari and many others like are tutored to read history are taught to blame Nehru rather than to learn from the mistakes. What about Dokalan. It is time for authors like Chari to broaden their outlook when they write about yesteryear leaders

  4. It is a favourite journalistic game to blame Nehru/Menon/Kaul for 1962 China disaster at SELA Pass in Arunachal Pradesh. It is all based on pirated copy of the Part 1 of The Henderson Brooke report by the British – Australian journalists who was more of a political analyst than a military thinker.

    Yes, appoint Kaul as a Corp Commander was a big mistake. Yes, rushing plains troops to the mountains without proper gear was wrong. Yes, Thagla Ridge incident could be avoided same way as Doklam incident avoided turning into a war was avoided by presenting an iron fist. But all these conclusions reached out after reading only the first part of the Herserson Brooks report is purely wrong.

    Indian Army at SELA was sitting well entrenched and waiting. Chinese with light arms had travelled on foot on falling snow for three days prior and most likely thirsty and hungry were in no position to offer a fight to a well entrenched force even if the enemy had appeared behind them. They were hungry too. For Indian troops, there were 10 days of supplies at SELA. Had the Indians held on for two more days, the hungry and thirsty enemy troops would be surrendering to Indians. Chinese were in no position in two feet of snow on trails they used to rush supplies. They were dependent on supplies they capture, which they did after SELA was vacated. Route started after retreat order was given and totally undefended and in the open, troops fell easy prey to the Chinese who had blocked the road and set up a strong point at and near Bomdila. Panic started when retreating SELA soldiers related their retreat their tales to others.

    No large scale fight took place. Chinese were lightly equipped as trails do not carry heavy weapons but the retreat order was the killer. Chinese killed a few Indian soldiers. Cold and lack of supplies killed more. Surrender was the only alternative. Surrendering soldiers lead the enemy to hidden supply dumps.

    All this is in Part 2 of the Henderson Brook report, which has not seen light of the day. If that portion becomes public then, a huge blame for mismanagement will fall on Indian Army commanders like Lt. Gen. LP Sen, Umrao Singh and many other very senior officers in charge along with Kaul. That is one reason that Part -2 is still state secret.

    • BM Kaul had nothing to do with combat operations. Kaul’s job was to build infrastructure and even his worst critics could not deny him doing a stellar job. Kaul was rushed to the front in first week of October 1962 only when Umrao Singh refused to fight and refused to carryout orders. Kaul happened wander into office in Delhi at that very moment although he was officially still on leave. His so-called Corps IV did not even exist but to be raised in next 2 years. Pains were taken to avoid Umrao Singh feeling that he is being replaced. Intent was to give impression of smooth implementation of Forward Policy as entire India was on edge “waiting for the news of eviction of China from Aksai Chin”. Opposition already gave ultimatum to Nehru to evict China before the winter session! The narratives you read and cite don’t consider the impact of irresponsible democracy which Nehru himself created. After defeating Britain, French (Pondicherry) and Portugal (Goa), Chinese looked small and Indians were restless, and hence the impatience!

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