Pandit Nehru and the 1962 humiliation

Time Magazine did a story in November 1962 on the Indo Chinese war. This is available online now titled India: Never Again The Same. This article is an eye opener for all who want to know what went wrong. In fact everything for the Indians went wrong. Nehru, pegged by Krishna Menon, the then defence minister almost gave India on platter to the Chinese. Harsh Himalayan winter was the only saving grace else the Chinese game plan was to capture Calcutta.


Excerpts from the article:

Red China behaved in so inscrutably Oriental a manner last week that even Asians were baffled. After a series of smashing victories in the border war with India. Chinese troops swept down from the towering Himalayas and were poised at the edge of the fertile plains of Assam, whose jute and tea plantations account for one-fourth of India’s export trade. Then, with Assam lying defenseless before her conquering army. Red China suddenly called a halt to the fighting.

Barren Rock. In New Delhi illusions are dying fast. Gone is the belief that Chinese expansionism need not be taken seriously, that, in Nehru’s words, China could not really want to wage a major war for "barren rock." Going too, is the conviction that the Soviet Union has either the authority or the will to restrain the Chinese Communists. Nehru’s policy of nonalignment, which was intended to free India from any concern with the cold war between the West and Communism, was ending in disaster. Nearly shattered was the morally arrogant pose from which he had endlessly lectured the West on the need for peaceful coexistence with Communism. Above all. the Indian people, fiercely proud of their nationhood, have been deeply humiliated and shaken by the hated Chinese.

The Buddhist nuns and monks of Ladakh devoted themselves to writing an "immortal epic" of India’s fight against Chinese aggression. A temple in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh converted its 85-lb. gold treasury into 15-year defense bonds, while New Delhi bank clerks shined shoes outside a restaurant after hours and gave their earnings to the government, men jammed the enlistment centers and showered Nehru with pledges to fight signed in blood.

His (Nehru’s) agony was apparent as he rose in Parliament, three days before the Chinese cease-fire announcement, to report that the Indian army had been decisively defeated at Se Pass and Walong

India’s catastrophic unreadiness for war stems directly from the policy of nonalignment which was devised by Nehru and implemented by his close confidant Krishna Menon. Says one Indian editor: "Nonalignment is no ideology. It is an idiosyncrasy."

Indians like to say that it resembles the isolationism formerly practiced by the U.S.. but it has moral overtones which, Nehru claims, grow out of "Indian culture and our philosophic outlook.” Actually, it owes as much to Nehru’s rather oldfashioned, stereotyped, left-wing attitudes acquired during the ’20s and ’30s ("He still remembers all those New Statesmen leaders." says one bitter critic) as it does to Gandhian notions of nonviolence. Nehru has never been able to rid himself of the disastrous cliche that holds Communism to be somehow progressive and less of a threat to emergent nations than "imperialism."

At the 1955 Bandung conference. Nehru and China’s Premier Chou En-lai embraced Panch Shila, a five-point formula for peaceful coexistence. The same Indian crowds that now shout. "Wipe out Chink stink!" then roared "Hindi Chini bhai bhai" (Indians and Chinese are brothers). India refused to sign the peace treaty with Japan because Red China was not a party to it. At home, Menon harped on the theme that Pakistan was India’s only enemy. Three years ago, when Pakistan proposed a joint defense pact with India, Nehru ingenuously asked, "Joint defense against whom?" Western warnings about China’s ultimate intentions were brushed aside as obvious attempts to stir up trouble between peace-loving friends.

Even the Chinese conquest of Tibet in 1951 had rung no alarm bells in New Delhi—and therein lie the real beginnings of the present war.

The War:

On Oct. 25, strong Chinese patrols began penetrating the NEFA border, occupying Longju and Towang and threatening Walong. For once, Nehru was badly shaken. He said: "From time immemorial the Himalayas have provided us with a magnificent frontier. We cannot allow that barrier to be penetrated because it is also the principal barrier to India." But the barrier was being daily penetrated. Ten months ago, Nehru appointed Lieut. General Brij Kaul, 50, to command the NEFA area. Then, without consulting any of his military men, Nehru publicly ordered Kaul to drive out the Chinese invaders of NEFA.

The opposing armies were of unequal size, skill and equipment. The Chinese force of some 110,000 men was commanded by General Chang Kuo-hua, 54, a short, burly veteran of the Communist Party and Communist wars, who well understands Mao Tse-tung’s dictum, "All political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." His army is made up of three-year conscripts from central China, but its officers and noncoms are largely proven cadres who served with distinction in the Korean war. The infantry is armed with a Chinese-made burp gun with not very great accuracy but good fire power, hand grenades, submachine guns and rifles. The light and heavy mortars, which have a surprising range, are also Chinese made, but the heavy artillery, tanks and planes are mostly of Soviet manufacture.

So far, the fighting has shown that the Indians need nearly everything, except courage. Chinese burp guns fire 20 times faster than Indian rifles. The Indian 25-pounder is a good artillery piece, but is almost immobile in the mountains and cannot match the Chinese pack artillery, recoilless guns and bazookas. Each Chinese battalion has a special company of porters whose job it is to make sure the fighting men have ample ammunition and food. The Indians must rely on units from their unwieldy Army Service Corps, who were never trained to operate at heights of 14,000 feet and over mule paths. In addition to bulldozers and four-wheel-drive trucks, the Indians need mechanical saws that can match the speed of those the Chinese use to cut roads through forests.

On Menon:


India’s catastrophic unreadiness for war stems directly from the policy of nonalignment which was devised by Nehru and implemented by his close confidant Krishna Menon. Says one Indian editor: "Nonalignment is no ideology. It is an idiosyncrasy.

or the past five years, the Indian army has also been plagued by Defense Minister Krishna Menon, who was both economy-minded and socialistically determined to supply the troops from state-run arsenals, most of which exist only as blueprints. Sharing Nehru’s distrust of what he calls the "arms racket," Menon was reluctant to buy weapons abroad, and refused to let private Indian firms bid on defense contracts. Menon’s boasts of Indian creativity in arms development have been revealed as shoddy deceptions. A prototype of an Indian jet fighter plane proved unable to break the sound barrier. Even the MIG-21 planes that the Soviet Union has promised to deliver in December are of questionable value, since jet fighters are useless without an intricate ground-support system, which India is in no position to set up.

A man of infinite testiness, Menon was soon squabbling with independent-minded generals. Lieut. General Shankar Thorat and Commander in Chief General K. S. Thimayya appealed to Nehru against Menon’s promotion policies. When Nehru, who has long scorned the British-trained officers as men who "did not understand India," refused to listen to complaints about Menon, both generals retired from the army in disgust. Menon named as new commander in chief P. N. Thapar, a "paperwork general."

The Fall out:

Panic spread from the mountains into the plains. Officials in Tezpur burned their files, and bank managers even set fire to stacks of banknotes. Five hundred prisoners were set free from Tezpur jail. Refugees jammed aboard ferry boats to get across the Brahmaputra River. Even policemen joined the flight.

Indian army headquarters was hastily moved from Tezpur to Gauhati, 100 miles to the southwest. Officers and men who had escaped from the fighting referred dazedly to the Chinese as swarming everywhere "like red ants." An Indian colonel admitted, "We just haven’t been taught this kind of warfare."

Defense Minister Krishna Menon was almost universally blamed for the inadequacy of Indian arms, the lack of equipment and even winter clothing. His fall from grace not only finished his own career but brought a turning point in Nehru’s. The Prime Minister had tried to pacify critics by taking over the Defense Ministry and downgrading Menon to Minister of Defense Production, but Nehru’s own supporters demanded Menon’s complete dismissal.

On Nov. 7, Nehru attended an all-day meeting of the Executive Committee of the parliamentary Congress Party and made a final plea for Menon, whose intellect, he said, was needed in the crisis.

As a participant recalls it, ten clenched fists banged down on the table, a chorus of voices shouted, "No!"

Nehru was dumfounded. It was he who was used to banging tables and making peremptory refusals. Taking a different tack, he accurately said that he was as much at fault as Menon and vaguely threatened to resign. Always before, such a threat had been sufficient to make the opposition crumble with piteous cries of ‘Tanditji, don’t leave us alone!" This time, one of the leaders said: "If you continue to follow Menon’s policies, we are prepared to contemplate that possibility." Nehru was beaten and Menon thrown out of the Cabinet. Joining him in his exit was Menon’s appointee, Commander in Chief General P. N. Thapar.

This was a compete bungling by Nehru. In an era of cold war and with a neighbor like China his mantra was Panchsheel. Apart from this debacle, India paid a heavy price for adopting the socialistic model for the state. Hopefully, the lessons are well learnt as Eastern borders are again becoming activie with China making all the wrong noises.


4 thoughts on “Pandit Nehru and the 1962 humiliation

  1. Pingback: Pandit Nehru and the 1962 humiliation

  2. Pingback: Nehru and the 1962 humiliation | From 9,500 ft in the Himalayas

  3. “Menon named as new commander in chief P. N. Thapar, a “paperwork general.”

    Karan Thapar is P.N. Thapar’s son.

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