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They fought to the last man for India

November 18, 2008
India may have lost the 1962 war with China, but it was not completely a saga of defeat. Hamstrung by an indecisive leadership and poor military equipment, the Indian army put up a valiant resistance along the McMahon Line. It is another matter the political leadership of the day did not back them.

One such spot where our soldiers fought back, and repelled, the Chinese incursions was at Razang La near Chushul, in the Himalayan heights. On November 18, 1962, 114 soldiers of the 13th Kumaon fought till the last man, and last bullet, in sub-zero temperatures, to beat back the huge Chinese army. A grateful nation acknowledged their valour by posthumously conferring the Param Vir Chakra on Major Shaitan Singh.

Forty-six years later to the day, Tarun Vijay undertook an emotional journey to Chushul and Razang La, site of a memorial to commemorate the brave souls who died so we may live in peace and security, to file this audio report.

'Sir, a national crisis has been created as a result of the Chinese attack on the northern border. China has expansionist designs, it has set its eyes like a vulture on 48,000 square miles of land belonging to India.

'On August 25, 1959, while speaking on the Kerala debates the prime minister (Jawaharlal Nehru) had stated that India would not remain India if per chance it becomes Communist. The same thing applies to China as well. The defence minister (V K Krishna Menon) has a doubtful past and his present conduct is dubious. He has Communist leanings. In his message on the Territorial Army Day he said that India should not keep a large army because keeping a large army was not compatible with our morality.'
-- Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Lok Sabha, December 22, 1959

The ironies of history take strange shapes. In 1962, Nehru didn't listen to the warnings of the erstwhile Jana Sangh, believed 'the Chinese can never attack us' and lost face and land both to his 'bhai'-like friends. Then the government arrested more than 400 top Communist leaders on charges of sedition and invited volunteers of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh to participate in the 1963 Republic Day Parade at Raj Path in New Delhi in full uniform, recognising its services during the war.

In 2008 the Communists have become the darlings of the Congress that still sources its legacy to Nehru, and the RSS is sought to be banned.

By 1962, China had taken Aksai Chin and invaded NEFA.

In 2008, China is still occupying Aksai Chin and has rebuffed our foreign minister with a renewed claim on Arunachal Pradesh (formerly known as NEFA).

But can the nation forget the 1962 war? Who were those who fought and died? For who? And to what avail?

One of the stories India can never forget is the battle we fought in the Indus valley, near Chushul village.

The battle of Rezang La, fought at an altitude of 17,000 feet, is one of the most incredible sagas of valour and courage that Indian soldiers have showed. That was November 18, 1962, exactly 46 years earlier. They fought and died for Indian soil.

In 2008, we are still waiting for a leader to show any will or resolute action to indicate we are serious to take back the land that China grabbed.

The Congress changed post-Nehru, so did the others. Politics and immediate interests have overpowered security concerns, and distinctions between the identities of the enemy and patriots are as blurred as they were in 1962.

Unanswered questions

Forty-six years later, the question remains still unanswered: why did we have to fight a war, and why was it that the brave 114 soldiers of the 13th Kumaon had to offer their supreme sacrifice fighting till the 'last man and last bullet' in sub-zero temperature (minus 15 degrees Celsius) at Rezang La on November 18, 1962? What were the causes of that war and what happened afterwards? Who remembers them except a few ex-soldiers and the patriotic crowd at Rewari (Haryana), hometown of most of the martyred Ahirs who had fought at Rezang La? Why does no politician think it a matter of honour to send his children to join the army? Why do we have an important road in Delhi named after Krishna Menon, the disgraced defence minister of the '62 war, and nothing significant to honour the men who gave their lives to save India in Chushul?

These were the thoughts on my mind when I set out for Chushul last fortnight to get a feel of 'November in Rezang La' and pay my homage to the bravehearts.

The 1962 war with China is a sad story of a completely incapable leadership, favouritism at the top echelons of the army, and a disregard of the nation's security needs by those who were hailed by the people as their saviours. Neville Maxwell, a British journalist, writes in his famous book India's China war: 'At the time of independence, [B M] Kaul appeared to be a failed officer, if not one disgraced. But his courtier wiles, irrelevant or damning until then, were to serve him brilliantly in the new order that independence brought, after he came to the notice of Nehru, a fellow Kashmiri Brahmin and, indeed, distant kinsman.'

Text, images, and audio: Tarun Vijay, director, Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation

Also read: The India-China war, 40 years on
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