Despite the passage of 50 years, no Indian has been able to get over the ugly reality that China made a mockery of Indian defence and mauled us in a short war. This was a national insult, which actually speaking, we must never forget. For, its aching memory, its painful stab in our heart, will act as a continuous trigger for us to think correctly in the interest of the national security in regional as well as global terms.
Yet, even as we look back on those times, a searing pain rises in our chest. And then we ask ourselves: how could that happen? Why were we so careless about national security? How could we allow the Chinese to mock at us in so insulting manner?
For, when we had soldiers with the mindset of Surjolal Rai who derived genuine spiritual sublimation by thinking that they did not allow the Chinese to have “breakfast in Tezpur and lunch in Guwahati”, the Indian nation should have been safe in their hands. Yet, when the Chinese army succeeded in denting not just the Indian territory but also Indian pride so severely, we realised that something much worse had happened.
That hurt continues!
That bruises pride troubles!
That sense of insecurity persists deep down in the average Indian heart!
Today, we have come a long way from the abominable condition on October 20, 1962. Our Armed Forces have undergone a great positive transformation. Our foreign policy planning has improved tremendously. Our diplomatic apparatus operates more realistically. This India in 2012, in these terms, is vastly different (and better) from that India in 1962.
A lot of analyses have been made on the 1962 debacle. Most of those thoughts and ideas have led to improvement in the overall national security scenario. And we have reasons to believe that China, much better and much more powerful today than it was in 1962 in every term – economic, strategic, defence-preparedness, will not be able to run through the Indian defences. And, we have not lost on the numbers of people like Surjolal Rai whose resolve made all the critical difference.
Yet the 1962 rout rankles.
For looking back, we had all the inputs necessary to avoid that. And therefore it rankles more acidly.
Yes, it was an avoidable defeat. And it could not be avoided because of only one factor – Massive leadership failure.
Then, we were saddled with leaders who were poets, but were also novices in international realpolitik. They dreamed of a just world, but could not adjust to ruthless reality of the unjust world. They wanted to be global leaders, but ended up losing even their goodwill at home as persons who could not protect the Indian borders.
In fact, the Chinese did not have the intention fo launching a full scale war. Had they done that, no poet could have imagined what could be the outcome. In those days, the Indian leadership only thanked its stars that the Chinese did not have other designs.
Such a leadership was certainly bad enough to fail. For, that was a leadership that had only dreams in its eyes but no vision – not only about the future but even about the present. And that was the reason why Indian leadership then kept working as sort of a Public Relations (PR) agency for China in the international arena – promoting the Chinese cause for a permanent membership at the United Nations Security Council, for example.
Hindi-Chinee Bhai Bhai was not a slogan by the Chinese, but was a slogan dreamed of by Indian leaders; the Chinese only did the verbalisation of what Indian leaders had been dreaming about. The Chinese did not say that they would forsake their claims,; we imaged that they would. The Chinese did not say that they would not invade, we believed, they won’t.
Severe years ahead of 1962, Indian military leaders had given to the government their detailed anticipated plans for what the Chinese would do and how they would proceed into India through the Himalaya heights. But defence minister Mr Krishna Menon, the blue eyed boy of Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru, did not pass that info to his Prime Minister boss. And when General S.P.P. Thorat blamed Mr Menon for hiding things from him, Pandit Nehru exclaimed in anger, “Menon, Menon, Menon. You are all obsessed with Menon. You do not know what a great intellectual he is….” General Thorat said simply, “He may be a great intellectual, Sir, we have had no evidence of it.”
This one conversation, among many such proves that the top Indian leadership in those times was embroiled in small issues and big and undefinable dreams. It did not have its feet on the ground, and therefore did not think of the larger security scenario. That led to a terrible lack of defence-prepapredness of the Armed Forces. And when the Generals started voicing their concerns rather vociferously, Pandit Nehru changed the texture of military leadership to suit his whims. The military leaders so chosen did not have the guts to tell the Prime Minister the truth about the mess.
All these things did not happen in one day, of course. It took several years of poetic myopia that afflicted the vision of Indian leadership. That was why diehard and highly motivated patriotic soldiers like Surjolal Rai did not get appropriate professional support from nation’s leadership. The 1962 debacle came from that shocking absence of vision, strategic thinking and sense of reality.
Things have changed a lot now. Yet some questions do lurk even now – about our overall diplomatic vision and handling of foreign policy and military apparatus cohesively.
Today, exactly 50 years from October 20, 1962, those questions still await answers.
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