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'India Has Become More Aggressive With China'

July 10, 2024 10:44 IST
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'China will do everything to hamper our ability to be a competitor.'
'China wants every country in the region to be subservient and we are the biggest stumbling block.'

IMAGE: An Indian soldier stands guard over makeshift forts hastily built in Ladakh during the India-China war in 1962. Photograph: Radloff/Three Lions/Getty Images from the Rediff Archives

Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Hasabnis, VSM, the commanding officer of 5 Jat was captured by Chinese troops in the 1962 War. He spent seven months in solitary confinement where the Chinese subjected him to immense mental torture and severe physical hardship.

A few weeks after he was taken captive, a telegram saying 'Missing, presumed killed,' was sent by the army to his home in Pune, but his wife refused to believe the news.

The family found out that he was alive and a prisoner of war three months later.

During his incarceration, Major Hasabnis drew strength from his spiritual grounding. He wrote letters to his family which would take over a month to reach them. A vegetarian, he subsisted on the food he was given -- coarse rice with pieces of pork. Tea was given without sugar.

He lost 30 pounds while in jail.

"I won't say that those months in captivity did not scar him. Sometimes he spoke about our ill prepared status and how it affected his men," says his son Lieutenant General Sudarshan Hasabnis who followed his father into the Indian Army and retired as the deputy chief of army staff.

Both of Lieutenant Colonel Hasabnis's sons joined in the Indian Army, the older one joined the same battalion as his father.

In the concluding segment of his interview to's Archana Masih. Lieutenant General Hasabnis recounts the course of his father's life after his return as a PoW.

This is the story of an extraordinary soldier who passed away in 2022, but continues to live on in India's military history.


Did your father blame anyone for the lack of preparedness in the 1962 War with China?

The then government was the main culprit as far as he was concerned. Twenty of his men did not have weapons; their clothing, guns, infrastructure, ammunition was not up to the mark.

Since only tinned non vegetarian food was available in the ration provided to them, he had to convert the vegetarian Jat soldiers into non vegetarians to survive.

They were surrounded and heavily outnumbered by the Chinese, yet they did not flinch and stood firm.

IMAGE: Then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru with then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images from the Rediff Archives

Did the seven months as a prisoner of war scar him?

I won't say that those months in captivity did not scar him because sometimes he did speak about our ill prepared status and how it affected his men. But other than that he never really let us know.

Did the action in Galwan in 1962 begin before NEFA?

NEFA had other preliminary operations, but the main launch where 600 soldiers of the 7th Brigade died along the Namka Chu river also happened on October 20.

What happened on his release and repatriation to Ranchi?

He was debriefed in Ranchi. The defence secretary was also present and asked only one question. He said, 'Major, where do you place China in respect to India when it comes to development?'

My father replied they were much better developed. He was asked how much time would it take to catch up with them and he said at least a decade.

The defence secretary told him that he was wrong and it would take many more decades, that was the sense our bureaucrats had even at that time.

It has taken us so many decades after that to really wake up and start working on it.

What course did his career take after his return?

After his return he went on to raise a new battalion, 16 Jat, in Bareilly. He was one of the junior most officers at the Centre and was given the responsibility to raise it.

In late 1966-1967, he was posted back to the battalion which was deployed in Mizoram in anti-militant operations. He revitalised the battalion, won hearts and minds of the people and built a network of informants to conduct successful operations against the militants.

He later commanded 6 Jat in the 1971 War.

IMAGE: Then Major Shrikant Hasabnis. Photograph: Kind courtesy Lieutenant General Sudharshan Hasabnis

What happened to that Galwan post that your father and 7 Jat troops were at?

The Galwan post that my father was at is now with the Chinese. Galwan is a tributary into the Shyok which flows from east to west. What I have learned is that the Chinese were already to the west where the Gorkhas had established their post [in the 1962 War].

This is what instigated China to surround that post. If this post was established to the west of where the Chinese were sitting, they would not have had so much objection because this was one of the closest routes to their highway through Aksai Chin.

One must remember that this is not where the action took place in 2020.

Did he keep in touch with the soldiers he commanded in the 1962 War?

He had a tremendous ability to connect with those who served under his command, but he never went back to any of his battalions post-retirement.

It was much later that he visited them for the raising day or golden jubilee functions after we persuaded him.

When he left the military, he had a clean break.

IMAGE: Then Major Shrikant Hasabnis, extreme left. Photograph: ANI Photo

How better planned are we against the Chinese now?

When then defence minister A K Antony went to Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese raised a hue and cry. At that time the government conceded that until then India had maintained a defensive outlook towards China.

We did not have infrastructure reaching the border under the impression that the Chinese would exploit it to come inside.

That visit by Antony triggered something and the government started paying more attention towards the northern border.

The current government has enhanced the focus significantly.

The previous government had raised the Mountain Strike Corps -- the XVII Corps. I was fortunate enough to command that corps. The mindset that we should not only be defensive and be ready to take the war into their territory started changing 15, 20 years ago.

In 1998 when George Fernandes had called China enemy no 1, he drew sharp criticism in political circles. This indicated how cautious we were about talking poorly about the Chinese.

We were not confident about taking on the Chinese at that time. Over the years things have changed and in the recent past India has become aggressive -- our infrastructure and deployments have changed.

Things are much better than 15 years ago.

India has to raise its comprehensive national power for China to take cognisance of its stature. China will create the smallest of obstructions in our way -- whether it is by blocking the bid to designate (Lashkar-e-Tayiba leader) Hafiz Saeed a terrorist or obstructing other proposals by us in the UN.

They will do everything to hamper our ability to be a competitor.

China wants every country in the region to be subservient and we are the biggest stumbling block.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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