Editor's Note: The article on India - China War of 1962 by Parth Satam in EurAsian Times dt 18 Dec 2022 has re-opened the debate on the subject and drawn angry responses from knowledgeable veterans who have collectively countered the points and logic put forward by the author. The responses are given below and conclude with a comprehensive response/piece by Col Rajinder Kushwaha to leave little doubts in the minds of readers.
Responses by veterans
Brig BL Poonia
It is totally unfair on the part of Mr Sandeep Mukherjee, the author, to blame Brig John Dalvi for the conduct of the Battle of Namka Chu, or any other commander for that matter. The fault squarely lay with Pandit Nehru, VK Krishna Menon, Bhola Nath Mullik, Director IB (Jul 1950 to Oct 1964), Gen PN Thapar, Lt Gen LP Sen, Army Commander Eastern Command, and Lt Gen BM Kaul, the Corps Commander of a non-existent Corps. Ignoring the strategic blunders and getting into tactical fault-finding is not justified. Moreover, it was Lt Gen Kaul who had personally deployed 7 Infantry Brigade non-tactically, in a linear fashion along the Namka Chu River. Hence it would be totally unfair to blame Brig John Dalvi for this non-tactical deployment of his Brigade, which took away the initiative from him to conduct the defensive battle in the manner he would have otherwise done. To hold any Commander responsible, he should in all fairness, be given a complete freedom of action after he has been assigned a task. He should have been tasked "To deny the Hathungla approach". Therefore, how he would have done it was his lookout and his responsibility. But that did not happen.
The author as well as Maj Gen Khorana and Lt Gen Panag (the commentators) have very conveniently skipped the justification for India's 'Forward Policy', which is the real strategic issue. The most pertinent questions that need to be answered are : "How was India justified in laying her claim on Aksai Chin, and on Thagla Ridge located five kms across the McMahon Line ?" How was India justified in establishing Dhola Post across the McMahon Line and tasking its Army to throw away the Chinese from Thagla Ridge in NEFA ? How was India justified in crossing the 'Alignment of the British Boundary Commission 1846-47' in violation of the 'Non Aggression Pact of 1842' in the Ladakh Sector, and the McMahon Line in NEFA Sector ? The crux of the problem lies here; rest all are but secondary issues.
A justification for any boundary claim can be based either through a conquest or through a consent. Which Indian ruler had ever conquered these areas, or which Treaty justifies India's claim on the same ? In 1834, Gulab Singh's Dogras had invaded Ladakh but the Tibetans advanced to liberate it, and pushed them back. They suffered a reverse short of Leh, and as a result, a "Non Aggression Pact" was signed between Maharaja Gulab Singh and the Tibetans in Oct 1842. This bound both the sides to respect each other's territory. Here lies the real boundary, which India failed to respect in 1962.
Now the question is, which Treaty had ever superceded this 'Non Aggression Pact of Oct 1842' ? The Johnson-Ardgah Line of 1865, the Foreign Office Line of 1873, and McCartney-MacDonald Line of 1899 were all 'boundary-line proposals' made by the British to the Chinese, and do not have the backing of any treaty. These lines have no legal sanctity. So why confuse the people with these so-called boundary lines ?
The history of Aksai Chin, in brief goes like this. Mr Johnson, an officer of Survey of India (who visited Khotan in 1865) drew a boundary line showing Aksai Chin in Kashmir territory. This came to be known as Johnson-Ardgah Line, but the Chinese refused to accept this proposal. Yet the British published it in an Atlas in 1868. However, it qualified it as a 'Proposed Boundary Line'. In 1892, the Chinese gave a physical expression to their boundary claim by erecting a Boundary Pillar in Karakoram Pass with an inscription that the Chinese territory began there. In 1899, the British proposed to the Chinese to divide Aksai Chin through McCartney - MacDonald Line, but the Chinese never replied. After that there was no further attempt by the British to get China to agree to a boundary alignment in the North West. The Russian threat that nourished British desire for a boundary which would leave Aksai Chin within Indian territory continued to the end of their rule, but they could not fulfil their desire.
However, the British never violated the 'Non Aggression Pact of Oct 1842'. Even the secret Treaty signed by the British with the Tibetan government in Mar 1914 in Delhi, making McMahon Line as their boundary in NEFA, after the failure of the Simla Conference of 1913, where the Chinese refused the British Proposal, was a clear violation of Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1906, and Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, which forbade the British to sign any treaty with Tibetans without the consent of the Chinese govt. Hence the British kept it as secret for 23 years. It was long forgotten till the British started showing it as a boundary on its maps in 1937 , but qualifying it a "Undemarcated". After that they both got busy with World War ll, and the British left India in soon thereafter. But the British had never attempted to occupy either Aksai Chin or NEFA, only because they had no legal claim on those areas based on these proposed boundary lines. In any case, the unilaterally drawn boundary lines have no legal sanctity. Interestingly, even the 1914 Simla Convention showed Aksai Chin as part of Tibet. So India's claim on Aksai Chin is not justified in any manner.
It was only on 01 Jul 1954 that Pandit Nehru issued a directive to redraw the boundary lines, burn the old maps, forward the new maps to the embassies, and have the same published in school and college atlases. Please refer to AG Nooarani' book - "India-China Boundary Problem 1946-1947 : History and Diplomacy". Moreover, did Pandit Nehru ever write a single letter to Chou En-lie to withdraw the Chinese troops from Aksai Chin, since it belonged to India ? If not why ? He believed that 9/10th of boundary claim lay in physical occupation. The IB Chief kept advising him that China was not capable of taking-on India militarily. And this prompted Nehru to promulgate the 'Forward Policy' in the winter of 1961-62, which ultimately led the 1962 War.
China captured all its claim areas by 20 Nov 1962, after giving another chance to India, to resolve the boundary issue through talks and not by use of force, by giving a 20-day strategic pause during the war from 26 Oct to 14 Nov 1962, but Nehru was adamant. He said : "We will talk but not negotiate." This was the height of adamancy. Talking but not negotiating was OK, but use of force through 'Forward Policy' was not justified. Hence China had no option but to make India realize it the harder way.
Having captured all its claim areas, China announced a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew to pre-war positions without any outside compulsion, and invited India for talks to resolve the boundary issue. But Nehru was left with no face to do that now; or else his govt would have fallen. Nor did he show the decency to resign and get a fresh public mandate. He simply clinged on to power. China's message was loud and clear : "Boundary issues cannot be resolved through use of force."
A divided Cabinet, an irresponsible Opposition, an uninformed Press and a restive Parliament, all fed on bad history held Nehru hostage; not that he had a different view of the past.
While Nehru was a great freedom fighter and a renowned statesman, his short-sightedness and negligence with regard to China is remarkable when judged against his far-sightedness in world affairs. Though had displayed remarkable adroitness in handling world affairs, yet he had been myopic in a sphere of vital import to India, as far as China policy was concerned. His international stature suffered a severe set-back, and he could not muster the courage to table the 'Henderson Brooks Report' on the floor of the Parliament. And more tragic from India's point of view was his fall from grace in the minds of his own countrymen. He was morally guilty, and died after 18 months of the 1962 debacle.
Now the people write new books on the subject. While they are most welcome, but none of them is justified in twisting the facts of history. Ignoring the strategic blunders and blaming the commanders for tactical conduct of battles, is another way of misleading the public. And to give legitimacy to their contents, they manage to get some 'Forwards' written by some Maj Gen or Lt Gen ranking officers. While they do so under the garb of Freedom of Expression, it is neither fair nor justified. Freedom of Expression does not mean Freedom of Misleading the People. It's morally incorrect, even if one does through ignorance.
Brig IS Gakhal
While one can fault the forward policy of Nehru, no one can absolve the military leadership of tactical blunders. Even if the orders were to show presence, it could have been done in a tactical manner, that is - deployment of small detachments up front with strong and well sited defences behind. The ridge behind Namka Chu had immense defence potential that was not exploited. Tactical sense dictated holding higher ground to dominate the Namka Chu. Here is where the COs and Bde Cdr failed. The Div Cdr and above failed their troops by not standing up to their bosses and the political leadership. In all this the IB assessment that the Chinese will not attack was taken as gospel truth by the military leadership, which failed their men when most required. The fact is - plans were made without actual ground recce. At Subunit level too the good old drills of early warning, area familiarisation, patrolling and ambush were forgotten. The politician has his share of the blame but the military leadership ,in my view, played with lives of good soldiers.
Michael Dalvi ( Son of Brig John Dalvi )
"A Bde Cdr tried to impress upon Corps Cdr but he was having none of it ! In fact, Lt Gen. BMK dispensed with what is a sacrosanct 'chain of command ' [COC]. He would bypass all and openly state he would speak to the PM & the Cabinet. With that kind of an atmosphere what exactly were field commanders expected to do?"
Gp Capt. TP Srivastava
Merely recording historical account has little value no mention of why air power was not used. it reflects our professional bankruptcy.
Brig BL Poonia
Yes. I fully endorse Gp Capt TP Srivastava's views on not blaming the field commanders. He has reasonsed it out very well. In fact, the Henderson Brooks Report, a few relevant portions of which were read out in the Parliament, based on questions raised by the MPs, praised the field commanders and the junior leaders.
As regards Brig IS Gakhal's point that the IB assessment was taken as a gospel truth by the military leadership, I would like to clarify that the IB had nothing to do with advising the military leadership; they were neither in direct contact, nor in the chain of reporting. The IB Chief was an advisor to Pandit Nehru, the Prime Minister, and he made him believe that China was militarily not capable of taking-on India, based on which Nehru made a political assessment, to which the military commanders did express their reservations very strongly. But those who did so were sacked and replaced by 'Yes-men'. This is how Lt Gen Thorat, Army Commander Eastern Command was overlooked as an Army Chief, in spite of Gen Thimayya's strong recommendations, and Lt Gen Kaul was promoted and made the CGS, superseding at least six officers, against the active protests of Gen Thimayya's. Even Lt Gen SD Verma, GOC 15 Corps, a professionally competent officer, was also sacked. There were many more. Shutting themselves to professionally sound military advice was the first step towards the 1962 debacle.
Even just prior to the War, Lt Gen Umrao Singh, GOC 33 Corps when expressed his inability to throw away the Chinese from Thagla Ridge, with the given resources, was put out of the scene by slicing away 4 Infantry Division from his command and making Lt Gen BM Kaul as the Corps Commander of this newly created non-existent Corps, whose only one Brigade (The Namka Chu Brigade) was available in the area of operations, is in the Kameng Sub Division of NEFA.
BM Kaul had become a Lt Gen, courtesy Nehru and being an ASC officer, not even having commanded an Infantry Battalion, he was made a Corps Commander. And now he set about deploying an Infantry Brigade, which he had no business to do. Command of an Infantry Battalion is sine qua non for commanding an Infantry Brigade. Moreover, VK Krishna Menon had himself become a self-styled field commander by interfering in the tactical deployment of troops, as he was far too brilliant to know how to command troops too.
In fact, what the field commanders, the junior leaders and the jawans did was something commendable. They deserve a standing tribute, and the nation owes them a debt of gratitude. It was the Higher Direction of War, which was squarely responsible for the 1962 debacle; we should have no doubt on this.
Maj Gen Vijay Pande
No debacle of this level can occur due to any one single person or factor. It was an unmitigated failure at the grand strategic, military strategic, operational and tactical levels. Unless we introspect without finger pointing we'll not learn and correct. Half truths and selectively motivated inputs get us nowhere. We have a formidable adversary in front of us. It will do us well to prepare, equip and train for the future instead of digging up the past.
Col. Rajinder Kushwaha
There are far too many analysts / Chinese agents in India who want to push forward Chinese narrative , not only on 1962 war but also about recent clash at Yangtse sector of Tawang ! Basic attempt is to undermine the morale and image of the Indian Army. While I got tickled the other day by a politician of India who claimed that Indian soldiers were beaten by PLA at Yangtse and India had lost Indian territory, I am splitting with laughter by this article , in Eurasian Times. Selective messages extracted from a book do not give true picture. Picking up half truths from here and there do not make corroborative history.
My take on SINO - INDIAN WAR of 1962 is that it did not start in October 1962 but on 06 July 1962. On this day, 36 Soldiers of 5 JAT Battalion were killed by PLA troops, when JAT Soldiers had gone to reinforce the Gorkha Company in the Galwan valley, in Eastern Ladakh , which had been under siege for over 2-3 months by PLA. It was definitely a serious act of war but Politico-Military leadership did not respond properly. It was indeed a wake up call to Indian leadership to prepare for a major operation by China. Not only political leadership but also military leadership took it as a routine event.
What to say of arms and ammunition, but even arrangements were not made for proper clothing and logistic wherewithal. It is only after tragedy struck on the “ugly Diwali day” that our leadership went to USA with a begging bowl. The result of this gross neglect of Galwan incident of July 1962 resulted not only into a National Disgrace (I seriously object to call it a military defeat) but a tight slap on the face of national leadership.
A lot has been talked about non - publication of Henderson Brooks (HB) report, but it is a fallacy. Firstly, there was only one copy , which perhaps does not exist in Government coffers in its real shape. It might have been tampered or altered over the years or just original copy was replaced with a fake copy. No one knows. Secondly, there is nothing which we do not know about the debacle of 1962. The reference to HB report is only to white wash the tragedy.
This article in Eurasian Times by Parth Satam picks up selective statements and quotes them out of context. The aim is to palm off a sizeable blame to Indian military while the real fault lay with Civilian leadership and its pliable Generals who handled military affairs under the directions of Nehru- Menon combination.
If anything HB report does, it does not discuss political failure. Fact is that it was not its mandate because it was an in-house inquiry by the army. If it does hint at political faux -pax cursorily, it only shows how big was the political fiasco, which began in the year 1950. It may be noted that India had lost the advantage of a buffer state of Tibet by accepting Chinese suzerainty over Tibet. Not only did India accept Chinese lordship over Tibet but also provided logistic support to PLA in Tibet through Chumbi valley.
This article in Eurasian Times is a fiction of concocted half truths. It does not take into account how , when and in what conditions 7 Infantry Brigade was pushed into deployment along Namka Chu River. It questions Brig JP Dalvi who alone knew the truth. Brigade was moved at a very short notice to checkmate PLA. Mandate was to disallow physical ingress by denying heights. Deployment pattern was given by Corps commander, who was a “chosen one” of Defence Minister and Prime Minister.
No recce was allowed to be carried out. Defended localities were in a linear disposition with no depth and large gaps because aim was to deny occupation of higher ground by China. It was approved by Corps Commander — an ASC officer. Deployment was based on a faulty premise that China would not attack and PLA troops would go back, on seeing it being occupied by Indian Army. Unfortunately , this deployment had learnt no lesson from the Chinese Tactics in the Korean war. PLA troops could infiltrate easily and threaten Indian defended localities from rear . Why did it happen ? It is because Indian Army was NOT prepared for the war .
I have only three questions to Parth Satam, the author of this article:
- Do these critics ever wonder and ask what led to Sino - Indian war in 1962 ? Distorted facts do not make truth . What was the politico - military atmosphere in India, if not “ Hindi - Chini -Bhai- Bhai”? Do you forget the glamourised visit of Chinese premier Chou En Lai to India in 1960 ? What message was sent to army ? In oblique terms , it meant : “relax , we have no enemy “ . While Generals went to enchanted slumber , politico - bureaucratic system got romantic about China .
2.How well was Indian army prepared to fight in high altitude and snow covered hills in OG cotton uniform and PT shoes in 1962 ? In 1978 we had found certain bodies of soldiers frozen in trenches with cotton uniform. This has to be answered in view of :—
a) Why did Nehru tell his army Chief in 1948 and say “ What? We do not need Army — we have No enemy. we can do with Police”
b) What did Nehru expect from “ Sifarshi Generals”, like BM Kaul - Corps Cdr and PN Thapar as Army Chief ? Who misled Nehru about China’s muted reaction, if not VK Krishna Menon and IB chief BN Mullick ?
c) What was IB’s assessment of China responding to India’s “forward posture”? Who gave the order to army to “Evict the Chinese” ?
3. Have these commentators and authors been on the ground, where this battle was fought ? I was sector commander in 1978 and physically traversed these areas . The fault of military in 1962 was that it had incompetent Commanders who had NO idea of terrain appreciation ? What do you expect from a Corps Cdr who had no credentials as a field Commander to carry out true assessment of terrain ?
And now, to say that one Sub Mohan Lal of Rajput Bn had 12,000 rounds, does not prove the scarcity of ammunition with others . What was his appointment ? May be he was carrying first line reserve of his unit ? The fact is that frontline soldiers had only 100 rounds / person .
Brig JP Dalvi had brought out the true facts because he was the man on ground . These AC room critics won’t know the ground realities of the time . The only draw back of the Indian Army then was faulty deployment — they sat on high grounds leaving massive gaps between different defence localities. And where ever Chinese frontally attacked, they had become their grave yards.
Unfortunately, most places, PLA used human wave tactics with infiltration and got behind our lines . This was the main reason that caused panic and withdrawal process started which was effectively checked by PLA. To say the least , commanders panicked first — Corps Commander got evacuated to Delhi Hospital. So was with Divisional commanders and others.
Armies lose wars in the minds of their commanders . Same can be said of Pakistan army of Bangla Desh and Kargil in Feb 1999. When leaders lose their will to fight , soldiers collapse. Leadership, military and civil, plays a vital role in war. Same army and soldiers are giving bloody hell to PLA now . Those politicians/ authors/ commentators, who doubt the valour of Indian soldiers should be sent to these areas/ Siachen to stay for a week — I assure you they will get evacuated within minutes.
A point needs to be considered as to why didn’t the Indian political leadership press Indian Air force into action to stem the rot . At that time Indian Air Force was far superior than PLAAF. If IAF had been pressed into action , the debacle would not have taken place.
Finally , it was surprising that such a major debacle had taken place and there was NO truth commission to find out the real reasons of the debacle . HB report was only a military inquiry. India needed a full fledged inquiry commission to know the political, bureaucratic and military reasons for this disgrace. Truth commission will bring out long lasting lessons to properly conduct affairs of National Security. May be it might put a ban in irresponsible statements by some vested political interests.
To say, 1962 was a “military defeat” alone is unjustifiable. It was a politico- bureaucratic failure more than the military, because National Security was in the hands of political - bureaucratic set up. Even today , military has no major role in the security planning of the nation. The CDS appointment is more of a ceremonial exercise than real say in the national Security system.
Therefore , we must admit that 1962 war was a “national defeat and disgrace “ and not a military disaster. If military was unable to carry out the task successfully. it was because the nation had done nothing to make it succeed. There is hardly any change in this policy even after 60 years of the debacle.
(Views expressed are the Respondent's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)