Military & Aerospace

The price of ignoring military mind
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 13 Aug , 2015

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.

How prophetic!

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

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

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11 thoughts on “The price of ignoring military mind

  1. Problem is with Indian mindset where we regard our Leaders as infallible & ourselves as slaves, inferior so much so that we fail to analyse their actions and their personalities objectively & without prejudice. It is true for so called intellegensia and also to a common man on street. More responsibility rests with those who know & who are informed.
    We keep on churning same details every now and then but never get passed it and discussions never end. We must learn to Question? Thanks to social media, some people have started questioning. Earlier that power & luxury was only with few people who had access to traditional powerful media or perosons.
    Even for courts, Satyamev Jayate is just a slogan. It should not just be a passive feeling. It should be active value in our actions as Only Turth Must Win. When our leaders in every field will start putting it into actions, that we shall start realizing true power of our Constitution. It must start from within.

  2. If it was bad then, imagine what it is now after 67 years of Kleptocratic Tule under India’s grotesque Reservations-Corruption-Sycophancy Constitution and Raj! We must also remember that India’s Neta-Babu-Cop-Milard-Crony-Preferred Caste/Tribe/Religion Klpetocracy ensured that any kind of competence, free thinking, and pursuit of excellence was nipped in the bud and that only those on whom the ruling dispensation held files of criminal wrong doing were allowed promotion into the higher (strategic) echelons of governance in all walks of life.

  3. Not very interesting to recount what Dalvi said and Lanteigne were saying about China. What will they be saying, if Dalai Lama had not come to India and stayed back. Then there would be no China-India problem. Nehru made Mao mad by spiriting Dalai Lama out. There was no other way when newly armed China decided to grab Tibet. It was USSR who pumped into China $4 billion (in today’s terms $40 billion) to fight US in Korea. Now Mao was belligerent. Anybody would be if you have been armed to the teeth. So Mao grabbed Tibet. Nehru or India could not stop it. They would need $40 billion in arms to tell Mao to go back. No such aid was coming. Hence other than spitting Dalai Lama out, not much else could be done.

    1962 China war failure has too parts, one is ably described by Gen TB Henderson Brook of the political failure. The second part of military failure has not been made public. All books including the pretend Australian journalist Neville book only describes the political failures of Nehru, Menon, BM Kaul. But the real failure was military failure where the local commanders failed to guard the tracks and trails which bypassed SELA Pass. Chinese did that successfully and made the huge disposition at SELA to surrender. Had these trecks and trails been guarded, the foot mobile Chinese, who had trecked for three days, hungry and dehydrated would be surrendering to Indian troops as they could not go back. Once they appeared behind Indian lines then the nervous Indian commanders ordered a withdrawal, it resulted in a rout.

    Hence, it was a bigger military failure and what has Lanteigne and Dalvi had to say about that.

    Do not draw a permanent conclusion from Chinese successes of 1962. Indian Army and its commanders are not the same as in 1962. In the mountains and valleys of Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese army could be trapped and face an anhiliation. This the Chinese know it better, except Indian journalism do not have mindset to assimilate new realities.

    Good luck…

  4. Nehru was not a practical man like Patel.krishna Menon had no standing other than being close to Nehru.Both of them lacked moral courage to own up their mistakes.Krishna Menon had to be eased out.Nehru had no choice,but he himself hung on to the chair.

  5. Gen Manekshaw was not a Gen that time.Check before stating facts.Lots of reasons both politically and militarily paved the way for an ignominous defeat in the 62 war with China.One cannot blame only Vk Krishna Menon for the defeat.

    • Why do your ilk defend Menon? Please elaborate what do you mean by ‘Lots of reasons both politically and militarily paved the way for an ignominous defeat in the 62 war with China”. These statements are wild, unsubstantiated and baseless. The politicians especially Nehru-Menon had very little strategic foresight and totally lacked understanding of matters which were military in nature. The bulk of the blame lies on the door of Menon as a defence minister.

      Had India been a totalitarian state Menon would have been executed.

  6. the first thing after independance since Gandhi ji use to stay in Birla mandir and Birla house all the lutyens bunglows except the VICE PRESIDENTHOUSE PM house , three service chiefs , home minister defence minister and few others andCJS of should have been broken down as these colonial houses are vestiges of slavery and still the babus netas topiwallas combine whether civil or defence loot the nation and services without any fear or punishment. even today if the nation were to auction these houses to MNCS , OR FOREIGN CONSULATES , THE MONEY EARNED CAN PAY BACK ALL OF INDIAS DEBT AT ALMOST 500000 CRORES OR ONE YEARS BUDGET INTO EDUCATION HEALTH , SANITATION AND HOUSING FOR THE POOR . WE AS DEMOCRACY BREED CULTIVATE AND LET THE THIEVES PROSPER AND THRIVE .

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