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Late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru told then Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon in 1961 that he had received reliable information that the Chinese would not offer resistance if there was a show of force to make them vacate the check-posts...
As the 1962 war began, the Shah of Iran sent Nehru a copy of letter he had written to Ayub Khan, suggesting that he send his soldiers to fight alongside Indian forces against the 'red menace'...
General P N Thapar had submitted a note to the government when he took over as chief in 1960. In it, he had pointed out that the equipment with the army was in such poor condition and in such short supply that China or Pakistan could easily defeat India...
Veteran journalist and former member of Parliament, Kuldip Nayar has written in length on the wrangling inside the corridors of power in New Delhi in the run up to the war with China, in his latest book titled Beyond the Lines
We reproduce excerpts from the book with his kind permission
After Govind Ballabh Pant's death on 7 March 1961, Lal Bahadur Shastri was appointed home minister. He changed virtually the entire personal staff, the two survivors being the driver, who drove very fast, and I whom Shastri described as that 'lamba presswala who publicised Pantji so much'. In time I became so close to him that he confided to me many political secrets, and I read all his mail.
His secretary, Rajeshwar Prasad, became a friend and would share with me all the information he received. During Pant's time too I would see letters and notes but usually secretly and not openly as was the case with Shastri.
I also felt more comfortable with Shastri and wasn't in awe of him as was the case with Pant. Shastri's simplicity and modesty were in their own way as impressive as Pant's sagacity and maturity. Both represented the best of the Indian independence movement and its traditional values.
They wanted to do all they could to take the country forward, personal interest never so much as crossing their minds. How diminutive in comparison were the leaders of political parties whom I saw from close quarters forty-five years later as a member of the Rajya Sabha.
By mid-1961, Chinese border forces had advanced 70 miles west of the Sinkiang-Tibet road from the position they had held in 1958. This meant the occupation of 12,000 squares miles of Indian territory. Krishna Menon told me many years later that nobody in India appreciated the fact that India 'encroached on 4,000 sqm of territory belonging to China'.
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The war was, however, preceded by a string of events. I am reconstructing the story after having spoken to General P N Thapar, the then chief of army staff and Defence Minister Krishna Menon. Somewhat peeved by the criticism, (then Prime Minister Jawaharlal) Nehru ordered Thapar to evict the Chinese from the posts they had built within Indian territory.
The army chief was reluctant to do so because he thought it would be like 'disturbing a hornet's nest'. A meeting was held under the chairmanship of Krishna Menon, who was all for action. Thapar argued that the Indian Army did not have the necessary strength, the ratio being six Chinese to one Indian. Menon responded confidently that he had met Chen Yi, the Chinese deputy premier, at Geneva and had been assured that China would never fight India over the border issue.
When I asked Menon specifically whether this information given to me by General Thapar was true, his reply was: 'That toothless old woman; he did not know how to fight a war.'
Thapar had submitted a note to the government when he took over as chief in 1960. In it, he had pointed out that the equipment with the army was in such poor condition and in such short supply that China or Pakistan could easily defeat India. This was in sharp contrast to Nehru's statement, which I heard from the press gallery: 'I can tell the House that at no time since Independence has our defence been in better condition and finer fettle.'
It appeared as if the government was determined to fight the Chinese without reorganising or re-equipping the army. At Menon's meeting, Thapar was supported by only one person, V Vishwanathan, then the additional secretary in the home ministry. He said that if Gen Thapar felt that India was unprepared there was no point in being foolhardy, but Menon was obdurate about attacking China.
Faced with no option other than an immediate military operation, Thapar sought an interview with the prime minister to seek his intervention. A few minutes before his departure for Nehru's house, SS Khera, then cabinet secretary, met him and said: 'General, if I were you, I would not express my fears before Panditji for he might think that you are afraid to fight.'
Thapar's curt reply was that he must tell the prime minister the truth; the rest was for him to decide.
Before Thapar got into his car, Khera once again said that he must realise that if India did not fight, the government would fall. Thapar did not argue further but was more convinced than ever that the decision to resist China was motivated by political considerations.
Thapar repeated to Nehru how the Indian army was unprepared, untrained, and ill-equipped for the operation it was being asked to undertake. (Menon told me before he became defence minister that there was no army worth the name and no equipment worth the mention.)
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Nehru said Menon had informed him that India was itself producing a substantial part of the army equipment it required. Thapar emphasized that India was nowhere near the stage of even assembling the weapons required for war. He then mentioned the note he had submitted, complaining about the poor shape of the army and its equipment. Nehru said he had never seen it.
To reassure Thapar, Nehru told him that he had received reliable information that the Chinese would not offer resistance if there was a show of force to make them vacate the check-posts. Thapar knew from where the information had come. Obviously, the government had not taken any note of the Chinese warnings that 'the Indian aggressor must bear full responsibility for the consequences of their crimes'.
The general was still not prepared to take the risk. He asked Nehru to speak to some of the army commanders. Lt Gen. Prodip Sen, commander-in-chief Eastern Army Command, who was in Thapar's room in the defence ministry at that time, was summoned. He supported Thapar and said that the army was far from prepared. Nehru repeated that his information was that the Chinese would not retaliate.
Thapar took heart from this. If that was true then even his unprepared forces might wear the crown of glory. No general can resist the temptation of marching at the head of a winning army, and Thapar was no exception. He began preparing for action. Thapar told me on 29 July 1970: 'Looking back, I think I should have submitted my resignation at that time. I might have saved my country from the humiliation of defeat.'
Shastri took me along when he flew to the Northeast to make an assessment on the ground, as he had been asked to do by Nehru. When we reached Tezpur in Assam, Lt Gen. Harbaksh Singh was in command. B N Kaul, the controversial commander, had gone to Delhi on leave. Hostilities were yet to begin.
Harbaksh Singh explained to us how the Indian forces would do better Lal Bahadur Shastri as Home Minister despite many handicaps. He assured Shastri that it would not be a walkover for the Chinese. Shastri was happy and told me on our return flight that he would request Panditji to let Harbaksh Singh stay on in place of Kaul. However, in the evening we heard on the radio at Calcutta that Kaul was back from leave and had resumed charge.
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Menon's specific instructions were not to move a single soldier from the border with Pakistan. India's assessment since Independence had been that it would have to fight Pakistan one day. Detailed plans of 'projected action', if ever it became necessary, had been prepared in the defence ministry and kept ready. The border between China had however been left unprotected because no attack was expected from there.
Even as late as August 1962, a few weeks before the Chinese attack, Menon was talking of Pakistan's preparations against India. In those days, Rajeshwar Dayal, India's high commissioner to Pakistan, was in Delhi. One morning Dayal, as he told me, received a call from the defence ministry for a meeting.
When he reached the ministry, he was ushered into a room where Menon was sitting with the army commanders, including Thapar. Dayal had barely taken his seat when Menon asked him to tell the commanders about the preparations that Pakistan was making along the Indian border.
Before Dayal could reply, Thapar told him in Punjabi, which Menon could not understand, that Dayal should not allow himself to be tricked because the projected danger from Pakistan was part of a larger plan.
Dayal said that he knew nothing about the preparations and that he had found no such sign at the border on his way to Delhi. Menon was annoyed and asked Dayal to send him a report to confirm that there was no evidence of preparations by Pakistan to invade India.
Against this backdrop, Thapar had been reluctant to ask for the withdrawal of any troops from the Pakistan front, but now conditions were different. He wanted a division to be withdrawn from that sector. Nehru immediately conceded to his request.
'Normally, the time given to the defence forces to attack is a fortnight and an attack is timed at the break of daylight,' said Thapar. The Chinese attack came on 20 October, at 5 am in the eastern sector where the sun rose early, and at 7 am in the Ladakh area where daylight was late to arrive.
As the war began, the Shah of Iran sent Nehru a copy of letter he had written to Ayub Khan, suggesting that he send his soldiers to fight alongside Indian forces against the 'red menace'. (I have seen the copy.)
I recalled what Jinnah had said at Law College in Lahore when I had asked him what Pakistan's reaction would be if a third power were to attack India. He had said that his soldiers would fight alongside Indian soldiers. Ayub told foreign powers who wanted him to help India that the fact that Pakistan did not take advantage of India's vulnerability was a form of assistance and a sufficient gesture.
At the end of hostilities, Shastri recalled the Shah's letter and said that had the Pakistani soldiers fought alongside us and 'shed their blood with Indian soldiers', it would have been difficult to say 'No' to Pakistan even if it had asked for Kashmir (Agar wo Kashmir bhi mangte to na karna mushkil hota).
Probably he was right because emotions played a substantial part in our decisions.
Extracted with permission from Beyond the Lines: An Autobiography by Kuldip Nayar. Rs 595. Published by Roli Books.
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