The Chinese Aggression: India’s dismal response: A Witness deposes
” 1954, the year I passed my Secondary School Examination, was the high water mark in our relationship with China. Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai had visited India that year. Even in a place like Darbhanga, processions were taken out shouting ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai’. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was acclaimed as the architect of the new era of intimate and cordial co-operation between two emerging giants of Asia. But with the best intentions, he incurred the worst. On September 8th 1962, the Chinese forces invaded Thag La Ridge and defeated the Indian troops. On October 20, 1962, the Chinese troops invaded Ladakh and the North Eastern Frontier Agency. For years the Chinese had constructed roads, and set up their military infrastructure in the strategic region. The Indian forces were defeated. Soon Bomdi La fell. Assam was at the point of being captured. Humiliation of India was complete. The vacuity of the slogans – ‘Hindi Chini Bhai-Bhai’ – stood demonstrated. The Bandung declaration on promotion of world peace and cooperation came to naught. After inflicting a terrible aggression and capturing a lot of Indian territory, the Chinese declared a unilateral cease-fire. At that time I was a lecturer at L.S. College. The news of the Chinese aggression was shocking, reminding us of Shakespeare’s expression: ‘You too Brutus’. Initially the Government of India was slow and sluggish in its response to the challenge posed by the aggressor. A week later, the Chinese troops invaded the eastern sector in NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh). The whole country shuddered with fright and forebodings when the Commander in the NEFA abdicated his resistance. For a few days, nobody was clear about the design of the Chinese. Did they intend to overrun the major part of North India? Chinese planes were sighted even above Muzaffarpur. Whenever we heard the sound of aircrafts, we had reasons to be apprehensive. The news of the collapse of Indian Army in the Western sector, especially in the Galwan valley, was shattering to the morale of most Indians. For some days our faith in defending our country stood greatly undermined. Prime Minister Nehru sought assistance from President Kennedy by writing to him that the situation which his Government was facing was desperate. He solicited the help of United States of America. He approached the British Government also for help in the critical hour. But in the crisis management our Government was a failure. Zhou Enlai (Chou Enlai) of China declared a unilateral ceasefire on 20 November 1962.
But the people of the country displayed remarkable solidarity and unity of purpose. During the period of the Chinese aggression, I witnessed a groundswell of sympathy and support of the people for the Government. Wherever I moved, I found people astir with excitement, and working to help our Government to mobilize the nation’s resources against the invaders. Even beggars contributed out of their begging bowls. My mother donated part of her gold ornaments for the national cause. We heard that Maharaja Kameshwar Singh of Darbhanga made heavy donation in terms of cash and gold. Besides, he invested several maunds of gold in the Gold bonds floated by the Government. Almost every household was contributing to the national cause. Ladies were knitting woollen garments for soldiers fighting in the extreme cold regions of the Himalayas. Garments were being prepared and transmitted to the appropriate places through voluntary agencies. Poets sang patriotic songs, and people showed remarkable solidarity never witnessed in the history of India. In dealing with the Chinese aggression, our Government showed incompetence, but our people displayed intense patriotism and solidarity. There was a mass upsurge in support of the Government. Our armed forces, deployed in the eastern and the western sectors, were highly motivated but not well equipped. Those days, I was going to Muzaffarpur from Darbhanga almost daily by train. So I could see the massive response of the ordinary people to help our fighting forces. Voluntary organisations had sprung up to collect things which could be used by our armed forces: things like woollen clothes and food which could last. Songs with nationalistic fervour were being sung to pep up the morale of the forces being transported by trains from east to west. The aircrafts of the Darbhanga Aviation ( belonging to the Darbhanga Raj) were acquired by the Government to meet the challenges on the borders.
Within 24 hours of Nehru’s SOS to the US President, China declared unilateral ceasefire, and withdrew. In the graphic words of Bipin Chandra, ‘the Chinese dragon disappeared from sight, leaving behind a heart-broken friend and a confused and disoriented people’.5 But this happened after inflicting a terrible aggression, and after capturing a lot of Indian territory. Nehru was broken and could not survive long. He died in May 1964. When I joined as a probationer at the National Academy of Administration at Massourie, on June 29, 1964, I found
the gloom, after Nehru’s death, intense and pervading.
Pandit Nehru had studied history widely. His books on the history of India and of the World are acknowledged masterpieces. It amazed me how such a learned man failed to learn the lessons of humility from history. During the India- China crisis, Lord Bertrand Russell wrote a letter both to Chou En-Lai and Jawaharlal Nehru. The letters which the two Prime Ministers wrote in reply to Lord Russell are available in Lord Russell’s Autobiography (see pp.648-650). The tone and temper of two letters are markedly different. Chou En-Lai’s letter is polite and suave, and was prompt. He presented his case well in his reply to Lord Russell despite the fact that the Lord had no governmental standing. He was just an eminent person widely known for knowledge, and was renowned for his deep involvement in public causes. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s letter was sent after receipt of a reminder. It was written in the highbrow tone with an evident imperiousness in his logic. It showed that Nehru had ceased to be the master of the situation. He pleaded on certain points which should not have been mentioned in a letter being written to a person of the calibre of Bertrand Russell. A comparative study of these two letters highlights Nehru’s hubris, his tragic trait, and his fatal flaw. Nehru was, in the end, a tragic hero: one with great potentialities but destined to fail on account of his tragic trait.
I have referred above to Pandit Nehru’s letter to Bertrand Russell. I noticed two points which deserve to be mentioned to be remembered: one pertains to the nature of our people’s response that put our government’s endeavour at pathetic contrast; and the other, the Chinese attitudes towards nuclear weapons. Both the points are important even from sociological point of view, and also in the matter of our nation’s preparedness for a war in times to come.
(i) Nehru rightly noted in his said letter: “But there are limits in a democratic society to which a Government can do. There is such a strong feeling in India over the invasion by China that no Government can stand if it does not pay some heed to it.” The upsurge of the patriotic feelings throughout India was so great that China must have inferred that the people of India could not be caged under any servitude; and every effort would surely turn futile. Before America initiated the calamitous process culminating in the use of nuclear power against Japan during the World War II, it studied the psyche of people of Japan, “By 1944, it was felt important in the military hierarchy in America to commission a study to study the Japanese in order fully to understand what the nation was —and was not — capable of, how it might react and behave in certain circumstances.” China could easily read that. Though the Indian government gave no good account of itself, the people made it clear that no power could subdue the resurgent India because of the commitments of the Indian people to freedom and democratic polity. We must not do anything to undermine our people’s patriotic commitments to our nation.
(ii) Our country must remain prepared for its defence against the foreign power that turns foolish, tyrannical, or short-sighted. Chinese position was rightly noted by Nehru in his reply to Lord Russell :
“The present day China, as you know, is the only country which is not afraid even of a nuclear war. Mao Tse-tung has said repeatedly that he does not mind losing a few million people as still several hundred millions will survive in China.”
It would be prudent for our Government to keep the Chinese strategy and ideas in view while responding to the Chinese challenges, if they are posed again.”
(Note: I had written this part of my Autobiography in the early 1970s whilst posted as an Assistant Commissioner of Income-tax. I certify that it is the record of what I saw as a witness, and thought as a citizen of the Republic of India.)