The Rediff Special/ Neville Maxwell
After the 1962 war, the Indian Army commissioned Lieutenant General Henderson Brooks and Brigadier P S Bhagat to study the debacle. As is wont in India, their report was never made public and lies buried in the government archives. But some experts have managed to piece together the contents of the report. One such person is Neville Maxwell, who has studied the 1962 war in depth.
In the article that follows, Indians will be shocked to discover that, when China crushed India in 1962, the fault lay at India, or more specifically, at Jawaharlal Nehru and his clique's doorsteps. It was a hopelessly ill-prepared Indian Army that provoked China on orders emanating from Delhi, and paid the price for its misadventure in men, money and national humiliation.
Part I: The genesis of the 1962 Sino-Indian War
Part II: How the East was lost!
The Forward Policy
This was born and named at a meeting chaired by Nehru on November 2, 1961, but it had been alive and kicking in the womb for years before that -- indeed its conception dated back to 1954, when Nehru issued an instruction for posts to be set up all along India's claim lines, 'especially in such places as might be disputed.' What happened at this 1961 meeting was that the freeze on provocative forward patrolling, instituted at the Army's insistence after Mullik had engineered the Kongka Pass clash, was ended -- with the Army, now under the courtier leadership of Thapar and Kaul, eagerly assuming the task which Mullik's armed border police had carried out until the Army stopped them.
HB/B note that no minutes of this meeting had been obtained, but were able to quote Mullik as saying that 'the Chinese would not react to our establishing new posts and that they were not likely to use force against any of our posts even if they were in a position to do so.' That opinion contradicted the conclusion Army Intelligence had reached 12 months before: that the Chinese would resist by force any attempts to take back territory held by them.
HB/B then trace a contradictory duet between the Army HQ and the Western Army Command, with HQ ordering the establishment of 'penny-packet' forward posts in Ladakh, specifying their location and strength, and the Western Command protesting that it lacked the forces to carry out the allotted task, still less to face the grimly foreseeable consequences. Kaul and Palit 'time and again ordered, in furtherance of the "forward policy," the establishment of individual posts, overruling protests made by the Western Command'. By August 1962 about 60 posts had been set up, most manned with less than a dozen soldiers, all under close threat by overwhelmingly superior Chinese forces. The Western Command submitted another request for heavy reinforcements, accompanying it with this admonition:
'[I]t is imperative that political direction is based on military means. If the two are not correlated, there is a danger of creating a situation where we may lose both in the material and moral sense much more than we already have. Thus, there is no short cut to military preparedness to enable us to pursue effectively our present policy...'
That warning was ignored, reinforcements were denied, orders were affirmed and, although the Chinese were making every effort, diplomatic, political and military, to prove their determination to resist by force, again it was asserted that no forceful reaction by the Chinese was to be expected. HB/B quote Field Marshall Roberts: 'The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable' But, in this instance, troops were being put in dire jeopardy in pursuit of a strategy based upon an assumption -- that the Chinese would not resist with force -- which the strategy would itself inevitably prove wrong. HB/B note that from the beginning of 1961, when the Kaulist putsch reshaped Army HQ, crucial professional military practice was abandoned:
This lapse in Staff Duties on the part of the CGS [Kaul], his deputy, the DMO [Palit] and other Staff Directors is inexcusable. From this stemmed the unpreparedness and the unbalance of our forces. These appointments in General Staff are key appointments and officers were handpicked by General Kaul to fill them. There was therefore no question of clash of personalities. General Staff appointments are stepping stones to high command, and correspondingly carry heavy responsibility. When, however, these appointments are looked upon as adjuncts to a successful career and the responsibility is not taken seriously, the results, as is only too clear, are disastrous. This should never be allowed to be repeated and the Staff as of old must be made to bear the consequences of their lapses and mistakes. Comparatively, the mistakes and lapses of the Staff sitting in Delhi without the stress and strain of battle are more heinous than the errors made by the commanders in the field of battle.
War and Debacle
While the main thrust of the Forward Policy was exerted in the western sector of the border, it was also applied in the east from December 1961. There the Army was ordered to set up new posts along the McMahon Line (which China treated -- and treats -- as the de facto boundary), and, in some sectors, beyond it. One of these trans-Line posts, named Dhola Post, was invested by a superior Chinese force on September 8, 1962, the Chinese thus reacting there exactly as they had been doing for a year in the western sector. In this instance, however, and although Dhola Post was known to be north of the McMahon Line, the Indian government reacted aggressively, deciding that the Chinese force threatening Dhola must be attacked forthwith, and thrown back.
Now, again, the duet of contradiction began, the Army HQ and, in this case, Eastern Command (headed by Lieutenant-General L P Sen) united against the commands below: XXXIII Corps (Lieutenant-General Umrao Singh), 4th Division (Major General Niranjan Prasad) and 7th Brigade (Brigadier John Dalvi). The latter three stood together in reporting that the 'attack and evict' order was militarily impossible to execute.
The point of confrontation, below Thagla ridge at the western extremity of the McMahon Line, presented immense logistical difficulties to the Indian side and none to the Chinese, so whatever concentration of troops could painfully be mustered by the Indians could instantly be outnumbered and outweighed in weaponry. Tactically, again the irreversible advantage lay with the Chinese, who held well-supplied, fortified positions on a commanding ridge feature.
The demand for military action and the victory it was expected to bring was political, generated at top level meetings in Delhi. 'The Defence Minister [Krishna Menon] categorically stated that in view of the top secret nature of conferences no minutes would be kept [and] this practice was followed at all the conferences that were held by the Defence Minister in connection with these operations'. HB/B commented: 'This is a surprising decision and one which could and did lead to grave consequences. It absolved in the ultimate analysis anyone of the responsibility for any major decision. Thus it could and did lead to decisions being taken without careful and considered thought on the consequences of those decisions.'
Army HQ by no means restricted itself to the big picture. In mid-September it issued an order to troops beneath Thagla ridge to '(a) capture a Chinese post 1,000 yards northeast of Dhola Post; (b) contain the Chinese concentration south of Thagla.' HB/B comment: 'The General Staff, sitting in Delhi, ordering an action against a position 1,000 yards north east of Dhola Post is astounding. The country was not known, the enemy situation vague, and for all that there may have been a ravine in between [the troops and their objective], but yet the order was given. This order could go down in the annals of History as being as incredible as the order for "the Charge of the Light Brigade."'
Worse was to follow.
Underlying all the meetings in Delhi was still the conviction or by now, perhaps, prayer, that even when frontally attacked the Chinese would put up no serious resistance, still less react aggressively elsewhere. Thus it came to be believed that the problem lay in weakness, even cowardice, at lower levels of command. General Umrao Singh (XXXIII Corps) was seen as the nub of the problem, since he was backing his divisional and brigade commanders in their insistence that the eviction operation was impossible.
'It was obvious that Lieutenant-General Umrao Singh would not be hustled into an operation, without proper planning and logistical support. The Defence Ministry and, for that matter, the General Staff and Eastern Command were prepared for a gamble on the basis of the Chinese not reacting to any great extent.' So the political leadership and Army HQ decided that if Umrao Singh could be replaced by a commander with fire in his belly all would come right, and victory be assured.
Such a commander was available -- General Kaul. A straight switch, with Kaul relinquishing the CGS post to replace Umrao Singh, would have raised too many questions, so it was decided instead that Umrao Singh would simply be moved aside, retaining his corps command but no longer being concerned with the situation on the border. That would become the responsibility of a new formation, IV Corps, whose sole task would be to attack and drive the Chinese off Thagla ridge. General Kaul would command the new corps.
HB/B noted how even the most secret of government's decisions were swiftly reported in the press, and called for a thorough probe into the sources of the leaks.
Many years later Palit, in his autobiography, described the transmission procedure. Palit had hurried to see Kaul on learning of the latter's appointment to command the notional new Corps: 'I found him in the little bedsitter den where he usually worked when at home. I was startled to see, sitting beside him on the divan, Prem Bhatia, editor of The Times Of India, looking like the proverbial cat who has just swallowed a large yellow songbird. He got up as I arrived, wished [Kaul] good luck and left, still with a greatly pleased smirk on his face.'
Bhatia's scoop led his paper next morning. The 'spin' therein was the suggestion that whereas, in the western sector, Indian troops faced extreme logistical problems, in the east that situation was reversed and, therefore, with the dashing Kaul in command of a fresh 'task force,' victory was imminent. The truth was exactly the contrary, those in the North-East Frontier Agency faced even worse difficulties than their fellows in the west, and victory was a chimera.
Those difficulties were compounded by persistent interference from the Army HQ. On orders from Delhi, 'troops of [the entire 7th Brigade] were dispersed to outposts that were militarily unsound and logistically unsupportable.' Once Kaul took over as Corps commander, the troops were driven forward to their fate in what HB/B called 'wanton disregard of the elementary principles of war.'
Even in the dry, numbered paragraphs of their report, HB/B's account of the moves that preceded the final Chinese assault is dramatic and riveting, with the scene of action shifting from the banks of the Namka Chu, the fierce little river beneath the menacing loom of Thagla ridge along which the under-clad Indian troops shivered and waited to be overwhelmed, to Nehru's house in Delhi -- whither Kaul rushed back to report when a rash foray he had ordered was crushed by a fierce Chinese reaction on October 10. To follow those events, and on into the greater drama of the ensuing debacle is tempting but would add only greater detail to the account already published.
Given the nature of the dramatic events they were investigating, it is not surprising that HB/B's cast of characters consisted in the main of fools and/or knaves on the one hand, their victims on the other. But they singled out a few heroes too, especially the jawans, who fought whenever their commanders gave them the necessary leadership, and suffered miserably from the latter's often gross incompetence. As for the debacle itself, 'Efforts of a few officers, particularly those of Captain N N Rawat' to organise a fighting retreat, 'could not replace a disintegrated command;' nor could the cool-headed Brigadier Gurbax Singh do more than keep his 48th Brigade in action as a cohesive combat unit until it was liquidated by the joint efforts of higher command and the Chinese.
HB/B place the immediate cause of the collapse of resistance in NEFA in the panicky, fumbling and contradictory orders issued from Corps HQ in Tezpur by a 'triumvirate' of officers they judge to be grossly culpable: General Sen, General Kaul, and Brigadier Palit. Those were, however, only the immediate agents of disaster: its responsible planners and architects were another triumvirate, comprised of Nehru, Mullik and, again, Kaul, together with all those who accompanied them into the fantasy that a much stronger neighbour could be confronted and overcome through guile and puny force.
Part I: The genesis of the 1962 Sino-Indian War
Part II: How the East was lost!
Neville Maxwell is the author of India's China War.
Page design: Dominic Xavier
The Rediff Specials