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Why New Delhi wants to forget 1962?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 17 Mar , 2013

While the Indian National Congress is still able to remember the role of former prime ministers Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi in the India-Pakistan conflicts of 1965 and 1971, it has forgotten the 1962 War with China.

‘Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation’, a souvenir released on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the foundation of the party and edited by senior leader Pranab Mukherjee says that in 1971 Indira Gandhi “was hailed as Durga, an incarnation of Shakti.” The events which saw the birth of Bangladesh are still considered to be ‘her personal success’.

Nehru begged to the US to immediately despatch a ‘more comprehensive’ US military aid, “if the Chinese are to be prevented from taking over the whole of Eastern India.”

During the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War, Shastri had already demonstrated to the world that India could defend its territory with modest resources: “The aggression by Pakistan was effectively checked. The Indian troops even crossed over to Pakistani territory near Lahore”, write Congress historians.

The 1962 conflict with China remains a deep scar on the Indian psyche, but the 172-page book entirely omits the episode. To many, it resembles a Stalinian way to write history.

This reflects a great deal on the level of the historians working for the Congress. Foremost is Mridula Mukherjee, the director of Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Culture who flouted all government rules, which prohibit the director of such bodies from associating with a particular political party.  Interestingly, the release of the book came soon after another ‘release’: two letters sent by Jawaharlal Nehru to US President John F  Kennedy on November 19, 1962.

Thanks to the truly eminent journalist Inder Malhotra these two missives are today in the public domain. Did the Indian National Congress know that the first prime minister of India informed the US President that the situation in November 1962 was ‘desperate’? Nehru begged to the US to immediately despatch a ‘more comprehensive’ US military aid, “if the Chinese are to be prevented from taking over the whole of Eastern India.”  Till these letters were ‘declassified’ by the veteran journalist, there was only a brief mention about their existence in the “Foreign Relations of the United States” which mentions: “The letter conveyed in Telegram 1891 was the first of two letters sent by Nehru to Kennedy on November 19.

The second was delivered to the White House by the Indian Ambassador on the evening of November 19. These letters have not been declassified by the Indian government.” The Office of the Historian of the US government quotes their summary published by S Gopal, Nehru’s biographer: “Nehru, apparently without consulting any of his cabinet colleagues or officials, apart from the Foreign Secretary, M J Desai, wrote two letters to Kennedy describing the situation as ‘really desperate’ and asked for the immediate despatch of a minimum of twelve squadrons of supersonic all-weather fighters and the setting up of radar communications.

It was Nehru who “outlined five principles of Panchsheel which became the basis of the Non-Aligned Movement”, in November 1962, he badly panicked and aligned himself with Washington.

American personnel would have to man these fighters and installations and protect Indian cities from air attacks by the Chinese till Indian personnel had been trained. If possible, the United States should also send planes flown by American personnel to assist the Indian Air Force in any battles with the Chinese in Indian air space; but aerial action by India elsewhere would be the responsibility of the Indian Air Force. Nehru also asked for two B-47 bomber squadrons to enable India to strike at Chinese bases and air fields, but to learn to fly these planes Indian pilots and technicians would be sent immediately for training in the United States.” Malhotra discovered by chance the unredacted letters: “Imagine my surprise, when soon after arriving in Washington this time around, I had easy access to these ‘forbidden’ epistles (in the JFK Library).”

Though there is no mention of it in The Making of the Indian Nation, in November 1962, India faced the most dramatic moment of its recent history. In the words of Nehru (to Kennedy): “The situation in NEFA (North-East Frontier Agency, today Arunachal Pradesh) Command has deteriorated still further. Bomdila has fallen and the retreating forces from Sela have been trapped between the Sela Ridge and Bomdila. A serious threat has developed to our Digboi oilfields in Assam.

With the advance of the Chinese in massive strength, the entire Brahmaputra Valley is seriously threatened and unless something is done immediately to stem the tide, the whole of Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Nagaland would also pass into Chinese hands.”  The prime minister not knowing that the Chinese were ready to declare a unilateral ceasefire (it was done three days later) informed the American President: “The Chinese have poised massive forces also in Chumbi Valley between Sikkim and Bhutan and another invasion from that direction appears imminent… In Ladakh, as I have said in my earlier communication, Chushul is under heavy attack and the shelling of the airfield at Chushul has already commenced. We have also noticed increasing air activity by the Chinese air force.”

In the first letter, Nehru had told Kennedy that after the fall of Chushul there was “nothing to stop the Chinese till they reach Leh, the headquarters of the Ladakh province of Kashmir.”  B K Nehru, the Indian ambassador, delivered the second letter to the White House at night. He later said that his first impulse was to not deliver it. Malhotra recounts: “(B K Nehru) never discussed the contents of the two letters with anyone but did tell me that he locked them up in the safe that only the ambassador could open.” Though according to the official history of the Congress, it was Nehru who “outlined five principles of Panchsheel which became the basis of the Non-Aligned Movement”, in November 1962, he badly panicked and aligned himself with Washington.

It has always surprised me why the government is adamant on not publishing the Henderson-Brooks report of the 1962 debacle.

Defence Minister A K Antony recently told Parliament that the report could not be made public because an internal study by the Indian Army had established that its contents “are not only extremely sensitive but are of current operational value.”  Is it not strange that a 47-year-old report is still of ‘operational value’? The officials who drafted the minister’s reply may not be aware that another report, the Official History of the Conflict with China (1962) was prepared by the History Division of the Ministry of Defence which details the famous ‘operations’ in 474 foolscap pages.

After the release of Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation, the motives of the government are clear. The party would like to forever erase the painful months of October/November 1962. Delhi has decided to forget about 1962 altogether.

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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

Claude Arpi

Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

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11 thoughts on “Why New Delhi wants to forget 1962?

  1. i had read a book by DF karaka and Frank Mores . DF karaka wrote a Book called I shed my tears and Ching chug Diary which are available now only through Amazon.com..

    It is not only Nehru responsible for the 1962 debacle but also the Rogue called Krishna Menon who was then Defense Minster-a communist .We Lost Tibet and lakhs of Sq miles of Land to China.

  2. Nehru is basically a soft going fun loving individual who loves power and pelf. 1962 IndoChina war shattered him so much , inspite of the fact that USSR was the closest ally, he thought USA was a better bet to take assistance for the need of the hour, from no less than JFK. He once forgot the principle of Panchsheel while he found the nation in dire straits by the marauding invasion of North east.
    Even the Indian intelligence was in the formative stages it could not predict ceasefire by Chinese unilaterally.
    In the last 65 years Chinese have never accepted McMahon line delianated by the British, the country is never able to negotiate and settle the dispute amicably.
    Our IDR , and all other agencies are mouthpieces of official congress party, they will never allow the real truth to come out lest it will throw light on the mishandling of IA by bigwigs .

  3. And your motive in writing this up is…? All of a sudden there are so many writers, esp. European, expressing their views on various secret and non-so-secret reports that they only seem to have access to. Smells really fishy to me. Until recently India was nothing to many of these same people. All of a sudden I find them spouting off, stirring up dead ashes. Let’s use the past to inform the present and not to create distrust and enmity. It’s important that we get along with our neighbours. Something smells, and it smells like jealousy. After all, South Asia and SE Asia is doing much better than the ‘West’, it must cause some people a lot of heart burn. Your intentions are suspect Mr. Arpi.

  4. Shastri is venerated because he was given credit for any victory and much from the inside tale is obfuscated or neglected. The 1965 war was won by the then AoC-in-C American Command who bombed Peshawar (without seeking orders and thus preempting a 1962 like situation) and blew away Pakistan’s supply depot and contours. Shastri called the Chief of the Air Staff and reprimanded him for this. (The Army, aside from The government, never acknowledged 1965 as an air victory) Within the 1962 war, Nehru reprimanded the Air Officer (Intelligence) (A graduate from the RAF Staff College Andover) for pushing to have an immediate deployment of the Air Force.

  5. It is regrettable that Indian Media is abashedly pro-Chinese and pro-Pakistani. The anchors, correspondents display hatred against every thing Indian and patriotic. They hold nauseatingly long winding discussions in the name of propriety of death penalty whenever the issue of execution of death sentence against Afzal Guru or now Kasab will come up. These ‘peace-niks’ were hiding in the bandicoots’ boroughs when 26/11 was enacted. They also gave live coverages so much that the Supreme Court condemned them for aiding enemy from Indian soil. These CDs should form basis and evidence for their prosecution for treason. These persons raised cacophony so much that Binayak Sen who was convicted for treason, was granted bail. There is Krishna Menon Marg to honour the guilty man of 1962. Karan Thapar son of General PN Thapar who cannot escape for his silent abetment of 1962 is media baron. The Hindu of Madras-Chennai has become daily edition of Peoples Democracy. Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt justify all perfidies of Pakistan on the plea that the ‘root cause’ has to be addressed. There is really no root cause whatsoever. The Indian Independence Act 1947 enacted by British Parliament created two dominions of India and Pakistan. It gave options to native Princes to merge with either of the republics. Two land-locked states refused to exercise option. In the face of aggression, Maharaja of Kashmir merged with India in October 1947, later the Nizam of Hyderabad merged in September 1948. There are no root causes. These mergers are in exercise of sovereign powers of the Rulers, whose authority was unquestionable. As long as the Left oriented media is fixing the agenda for the nation like secularism to support treason, scientific temper to condemn historical/cultural heritages for nation’s identity, and platitudes of jingoism to condemn acquisition of nuclear teeth, hence until left is annhiliated from the mindset of Indians, there is no salvation.

  6. Shastri is venerated because he was given credit for a victory and much of the inside story is obfuscated or forgotten. The 1965 war was won by the then AoC-in-C Western Command who bombed Peshawar (without seeking orders and so preempting a 1962 like situation) and blew away Pakistan’s supply depot and lines. Shastri called the Chief of the Air Staff and reprimanded him for this. (The Army, except for Uncle Sam, never acknowledged 1965 as an air victory) In the 1962 war, Nehru reprimanded the Air Officer (Intelligence) (A graduate of the RAF Staff College Andover) for pressing for an immediate deployment of the Air Force. Not so coincidentally, the 1962 AO (Int) was the elder brother of the 1965 AOC-in-C (West). But then this was expected of Nehru who, when asked what should be done with surplus military equipment such as amphibians abandoned by the British, replied telegraphically (in writing) “India has no territorial ambitions” (!). Indira Gandhi deserves some credit in that she listened to her Chiefs of Staff and let them follow through on their plans instead of seeking and adopting foreign military advise and doctrines like every Prime Minister before and since and constraining Indian defence to the behest of doctrines hatched by less than friendly powers and the ambitions of local political corruption.

  7. The best thing ever happened to India, if people of India gorget to vote for the most currupt political party. Lies is the way of life for this government and the one before belongs to congress!

  8. An excellent gist. “Nehru, apparently without consulting any of his cabinet colleagues or officials, apart from the Foreign Secretary, M J Desai, wrote two letters to Kennedy describing the situation as ‘really desperate’…” – Presumably Nehru feared that if he consulted his cabinet colleagues, they could kick him out from his Prime-Ministerial position.

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