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July 1, 1999

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E-Mail this column to a friend Kanchan Gupta

Must Sonia revive memories of '62 when we are winning in '99?

Congress president Sonia Gandhi has suddenly discovered virtue in recalling Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's conduct of affairs of the state during the Chinese aggression of 1962. She was, of course, nowhere near India during those three months of national humiliation when a confused political leadership failed abysmally to provide even a modicum of sense of direction to the Indian response – both military and diplomatic.

Much after the guns had fallen silent following China’s declaration of unilateral ceasefire on November 22, 1962 – a declaration preceded by Peking's achievement of its military objectives – the nation had to take solace in Nehru's regretful comment, "We were living in an artificial atmosphere of our own creation."

As much as 38,000 sq km of national territory had been lost. As many as 1,383 soldiers had been killed; 1,696 soldiers were missing; and, 3,968 soldiers had been captured. These were the hard, humiliating, demoralising realities of the Chinese aggression and the Indian response directed by Nehru's government. The nascent Indian economy was in a shambles and for all our self-righteous posturing in the global arena, India stood cruelly isolated, its international prestige savaged.

Yet no Opposition leader held Nehru personally responsible, nor did anybody, least of all any Opposition party, for whatever the Opposition was worth in those days, flog the government. It was seen as a national failure and the nation rose to the occasion as a collective whole. Ironically, the assault on Nehru came from his own party and his own colleagues: Senior Congress leaders, including Govind Ballabh Pant, Hanumanthaiah and Mahabir bayed for Defence Minister Krishna Menon’s blood.

Nehru, who had repeatedly allayed Parliament's apprehensions during the early days with what would later turn out to be his infamous last words, nothing "very serious" need be apprehended, did not have to contend with an irate Opposition but a furious Congress. In the end, he had to buy peace by sacking Krishna Menon and bringing in Y B Chavan.

The "White Papers" to which Sonia Gandhi and her cohorts are now so forcefully referring to were nothing more than pathetic attempts to paint the Chinese as the villains and absolve the Nehru government of all responsibility. The Congress president has been, understandably, silent about the real story of India's political, diplomatic and military debacle never being made public.

The inquiry report, which looked into why India lost to the Chinese, a defeat that scarred the national psyche, prepared by Lt Gen Henderson Brooks was not made public by Nehru, whom Sonia Gandhi has rightly described as a "great democrat". When there was a clamour, once again from within Congress ranks, to make the report public, Nehru's defence minister stood up in the Lok Sabha on September 2, 1963, and said: "I am sure that the House would appreciate that by the very nature of the contents it would not be in the public interest to lay the (Henderson Brooks) report on the table of the House."

Having set that precedent in 1963, the Congress would naturally expect the government of the day to behave contrarily in 1999!

That apart, it is facetious to draw parallels between the 1962 aggression and the 1999 incursion. Unlike in 1962, India is no longer "living in an artificial atmosphere of our own creation." In 1962, it was a debacle of unimaginable proportion, matched by the total collapse of the political leadership. In 1999, Operation Vijay has so far provided enough evidence of victory over the enemy; there has been nothing to suggest that the political leadership is confused: Nobody has suggested, till now, that "not a blade of grass grows in Drass", as Nehru had described NEFA. If India stood isolated in 1962, it is the enemy who stands isolated in 1999.

In 1962, our jawans were made to face the enemy in monsoon and winter conditions clad in nothing more than normal gear. There were no woolens, no mountain shoes, no socks. They fought on empty stomachs as the government in Delhi was too shell-shocked to organise the logistics of reaching rations to the front and those despatched to the front were not given any "emergency survival rations". There was no foolscap paper to draw maps and field sketches.

If General Kaul had to send a message to his political master in Delhi from Namka Chu, he had to despatch a soldier who would run all the way to Lumpu, 25 km away. From there it would be routed to Zimithaung. From Zimithaung it would be telegraphed to Tezpur; from Tezpur to Lucknow; from Lucknow to Delhi. A full three days would lapse between the despatch and receipt of the message – that is how Nehru’s Government conducted the war in 1962. Must we compare it to how messages are being relayed from Tiger Hill to Delhi in 1999?

To talk of 1962 in today’s situation is silly. But it is also demoralising for our jawans and demeaning for a nation that has left the shameful memory of that defeat behind and emerged as a powerful world player.

Depending on script-writers and factotums can be embarrassing for politicians. But in this case, it has turned out to be embarrassing for the entire nation as Sonia Gandhi has effectively revived memories of a war best forgotten.

At a time when Indian troops are fighting enemy forces, they definitely do not need to be reminded of what happened in 1962, that too by a person ill-informed of facts and obviously ignorant of what actually happened during the Chinese aggression and later. Had it not been so, then she would not have drawn a comparison between 1962 and 1999. For,

a. In 1962, India was losing territory by the day. In 1999, India is regaining territory by the day.

b. In 1962, Indian forces were swamped by enemy troops. In 1999, the Indian army and air force have contained the intrusion and limited it to the Kargil sector.

c. In 1962, Jawaharlal Nehru's government was confused in its response and ran around like a headless chicken. In 1999, there is clarity in thinking and purposefulness in action.

d. In 1962, India was diplomatically isolated with no country coming to its aid and the "Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai" slogan inviting nothing but pitiless ridicule. In 1999, it is exactly the other way round: India is backed by international opinion and the Lahore Declaration is being seen as the benchmark for achieving a lasting peace in the region.

e. In 1962, it is the Congress which had turned on the government of the day, exposing fissures within the ruling party over the handling of the war. In 1999, the allies in government are united, as are the people, in pursuing the sole objective of freeing Indian territory of all intruders.

As I said, it is silly to compared 1962 with 1999. But who is to tell madam that she doesn't know what she is talking about?

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