In his book the ‘Himalayan Blunder’ Brig JP Dalvi mentions an episode, which clearly reflects the lack of strategic thinking in the 50s and 60s in the ruling class barring some exceptions like Sardar Patel. They could not read threats and were ill-equipped to preserve the very independence they claimed to have fought for. This malaise persists amongst our most of our political leaders and bureaucrats. At the same time it speaks volumes about the astute, military thinking and strategic culture prevailing in the British Army.
This episode occurred at the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), Wellington wherein Brig Dalvi was a student. The year was 1950, the same year when China invaded Tibet.
Gen Lentaigne prophesied that once China disengaged from Korea, it would turn its evil attention towards India.
Maj Gen WDA Lentaigne was then the Commandant of DSSC. He was a distinguished General, who presided over the Chindit Operations in Burma after the death of General Ode Wingate. Lentaigne had volunteered to stay in India and established the DSSC at Wellington as its first Commandant.
Brig Dalvi recounts that following the Chinese invasion of Tibet, Lentaigne was extremely exercised and incensed over the development, particularly because of India’s indifference and inaction.
Lentaigne walked into the lecture hall at the DSSC and interrupted the lecturer. He was indignant and condemned our leaders for their lack of strategic prescience.
Lentaigne lamented that Tibet, the traditional and robust buffer between India and China, had disappeared. To address this self-created vulnerability, he felt, would require huge financial resources, which fledgling ‘independent India’ could ill-afford. He also felt that the Kashmir issue further compounded India’s problems.
Lentaigne prophesied that once China disengaged from Korea, it would turn its evil eye towards India. He concluded that some of the students, sitting in the lecture hall would indeed fight the Chinese before retirement.
Later, some senior Indian Army officers, particularly Gen Thimayya and Gen Manekshaw, echoed the same threat perception. There were also senior officers like Gen BM Kaul, who were totally bereft of any strategic thinking. It may be mentioned that the senior officers in the early 50s had received accelerated promotions after independence, and some of them were not only inexperienced in matters of strategy but also professionally handicapped at senior levels of military leadership.
VK Krishna Menon not only spurned the advice of Gen Thimayya and Gen Manekshaw regarding the threat from China, but tried his best to sabotage their careers through his cronies in the Army.
Unfortunately, Nehru and Krishna Menon were very fond of this unprofessional variety because of their pliability. There were political leaders, bureaucrats and some senior military officers in India, whose sole obsession was to match the power, pelf and mannerisms of their British masters. The only difference was the Gandhian cap, which became the symbol of political power. It is sad but true that subversion of the political class then and all through the Cold War by external powers was easy and common, and is still so.
VK Krishna Menon not only spurned the advice of Gen Thimayya and Gen Manekshaw regarding the threat from China, but tried his best to sabotage their careers through his cronies in the Army. He even tried to implicate Gen Manekshaw through a Court of Inquiry.
The communist links of VK Krishna Menon was always suspected. However, it was confirmed when he, as an independent candidate, was elected in the parliamentary by-elections from West Bengal in 1969 with the support of the communists. He again emerged victorious from Kerala in the General Elections in 1971 because of the support he received from the communists.
…a road in India’s capital, New Delhi, in the name of Krishna Menon is certainly a dishonor to the country and its brave soldiers.
This symbiosis between the Communists and China is well-known. Therefore, is it any wonder that India was taken for a ride by China in the run-up to the 1962 War with Krishna Menon as the Defence Minister!
Krishna Menon’s election victories post 1962 also speaks of the level of subversion amongst a section of our populace by China. Till today, the CPM does not consider China as an aggressor in the 1962.
In the 50s, when there was a railway accident, the then Railway Minister Lal Bahadur Shashri had resigned, owning moral responsibility. But that was then.
In 1996 Admiral Jeremy Boorda of US Navy while addressing midshipmen had stressed “every single person in the navy should have one leader they can look to and say, ‘That person is responsible and accountable for me’.” Two weeks later, the Admiral had committed suicide when he was challenged about the legitimacy of one or two medals, which he donned due to sheer misunderstanding. Captain MN Mulla during the 1971 War, in the best tradition of the navy, went down with his ship ‘INS Khukri’.
I leave it to the readers to decide what should have been the most honourable course for Krishna Menon after the 1962 debacle.
As for me, a road in India’s capital, New Delhi, in the name of Krishna Menon is certainly a dishonor to the country and its brave soldiers.
First Published in April 2010