Military & Aerospace

The Nehruvian Blunder
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Issue Vol. 27.4 Oct-Dec 2012 | Date : 07 Dec , 2023

Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru being shown Zojila by Lt Col Sukhdev Singh, CO 1st Patiala

In any future conflict, New Delhi’s political will and the capabilities of the Indian military should be such that China and Pakistan are hard-pressed to defend Tibet and Lahore respectively instead of threatening Arunachal and Kashmir.

This is the foremost lesson of the humiliating defeat in 1962.

The oft-repeated rhetoric that ‘We will not allow 1962 to repeat itself,’ is a defeatist refrain revealing a sense of acute anxiety. Indian history is witness to the fact that defensive warfare is a loser’s game. We continue to hide behind the fortress mentality of the past. And therefore, in the event of conflict in the future, despite the rhetoric, India is doomed to face another humiliating debacle.

 …if we generate offensive capabilities and flaunt it with an aim-plus to liberate large areas of Tibet, China will stand deterred.

In the last fifty years, the government did not build infrastructure in the Northeast or alternatively provide aerial wherewithal to enhance the mobility of the troops. Chinese, therefore will score goals by over running a fair amount of Indian Territory, simply bypassing major Indian defenses. However, if we generate offensive capabilities and flaunt it with an aim-plus to liberate large areas of Tibet, China will stand deterred.  In the Indian Ocean, the message by the Indian Navy should be similar on transit.

To win, one must always take the war to the enemy on multiple fronts by military, economic and diplomatic means. Also, the threat can be minimised by creation of alliances based on the Principle of ‘an enemy’s enemy is a friend’. Exploit the opportunity as the national interests of India and the USA in this respect coincide – both need to contain China. The Western Alliance, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and countries such as Vietnam boast of similar synergy of purpose.

New Delhi will also need political leadership made of sterner stuff, with feet planted on terra firma and who refuse to blink, unlike Nehru. This possibly is the most difficult proposition in the current Indian environment!

“It is not the business of the C-in-C to tell the PM who is going to attack us where. In fact the Chinese will defend our NEFA Frontier. You mind only Kashmir and Pakistan.”

When apprised by General Cariappa of the Chinese threat, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru flared up and said, “It is not the business of the C-in-C to tell the PM who is going to attack us where. In fact the Chinese will defend our NEFA Frontier. You mind only Kashmir and Pakistan.”

Using commonsense, if Nehru had made three discerning observations, he would have patted his C-in-C on the back with promises to spruce up military  capability immediately.  First, Mao’s claims based on 1946 Chinese maps that Tibet was the palm of a hand and its five fingers were Ladakh, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan and NEFA and all were Chinese territories that needed to be liberated, was adequate to alert  even a  mediocre  political leadership of the looming threat. Second, by slaughtering millions of innocents to take over the reins of China, Mao displayed unusual ruthlessness. South Block should have felt the heat of such a brutal adversary, who also claimed large chunks of the Indian territory. Third, despite assurances, Tibet was invaded and forcibly occupied by the PLA. This trait of deception and falsehood is unusually high amongst the Chinese and Pakistani leadership.

After taking over China, the Communists invaded Tibet and were next door to Nehru’s India and yet New Delhi remained in blissful slumber.

Interpretations of events in the neighbourhood did not require any ‘genius’ or advice from the Anglo-Saxons or the Indian Intelligence Bureau. Did Nehru actually believe that he could have had his way with the Chinese simply by ‘turning the other cheek’?

Nehru was being ‘unreal’!

The Chinese mounted a well-prepared attack on India even as know-all Nehru riding the high horse, displayed disdain for the military with: “We don’t need a defence plan, our policy is non-violence” or “We see no military threats, scrap the Army.”

Will the leadership of any nation knock on the doors of the United Nations when it’s army is winning?

In a hurry to emerge as the pre-eminent leader of Asia, he forgot to ask Beijing or Islamabad if they concurred with his beliefs or if they were willing to be led by him. It turned out to be a unilateral exercise and  one-way conversation that landed India in deep trouble.

Will the leadership of any nation knock on the doors of the United Nations when it’s army is winning?  In 1948, the Indian Army was on a winning spree in Jammu and Kashmir and it was merely a matter of time before Pakistani invaders were ejected from the entire state. But Nehru halted the forward march of the Indian Army and approached the UN.

Refusing to learn, he repeated the mistake in 1962 when the Indian Army had plenty of Brigades in reserve, though ill-clad and ill-equipped, and a superior air power at its disposal. Another folly Nehru committed was by not seeking the advice of his military commanders. Instead he politicised and diluted the military command and control structure by inflicting upon it an unqualified and incompetent General in the lead role who fell sick and pretended to command the corps in the thick of war from his sickbed in New Delhi.

India thus inherited perpetual twin-security headache due to the serious mistakes committed by the first Prime Minister

India thus inherited perpetual twin-security headache due to the serious mistakes committed by the first Prime Minister. Sixty-five years later, thanks to Nehruvian policies, China and Pakistan pose an integrated two-front nightmare while the Indian armed forces remain disjointed and lack integration. In addition to the multiple enemies, including the insurgents, the Indian Armed Forces have to battle with the Ministry of Defence for their legitimate dues.

The PLA onslaught in 1962 saw the Indian defenses crumbling. Nehru felt that the Chinese would walk away with the entire eastern sector. In desperation he wrote to Kennedy for immediate dispatch of military aid of twelve squadrons of supersonic all-weather fighters and the setting up of radar communications.

India had adequate army brigades in reserve to launch a counter attack in coordination with the Air Force.

Nehru’s IB Chief B.N Mullick warned that the Chinese would bomb Indian cities in case the IAF was employed in a combat role. Due to lack of objectivity, the Prime Minister could not discern that since there had been a colossal intelligence failure by Mullick’s agency, the advice was in any case suspect. Mullick was clueless on matters military. American Ambassador Galbraith proffered similar advice over- estimating Chinese capabilities. Strange but true, Nehru did not seek the professional advice of his Chief of the Air Staff who was confident that the IAF had the capability to turn the tide.

India had adequate army brigades in reserve to launch a counter attack in coordination with the Air Force. The Chinese Air Force was weak in comparison and positioned far away without midair refueling capabilities. Across the border, Chinese infrastructure was fragile and the supply lines were long and vulnerable. Their appreciation was correct that in any well-planned counter attack by India, the PLA would be hard-pressed to defend itself, particularly as harsh winters were setting in. The Chinese, therefore, intelligently announced unilateral ceasefire and withdrawal from some areas.

Instead of planning a bold counter-attack, Nehru, who had lost his nerves totally by now, was relieved and took the bait.

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If the political leadership gets unnerved with a few initial reverses, it has a cascading effect demoralising the military instantly. Listening to professional advice rendered by the military is critical. In 1971, Indira Gandhi was wiser, listening to her military commanders and the Indian Armed Forces delivered victory.

Proper integration of the military to form theatre commands and cross-integration of the Ministry of Defence with Services Headquarters to enhance professionalism, are essential if India wants to ensure that in a future conflict, the adversary is hard pressed to defend Tibet or Lahore, instead of attempting to unhook Arunachal or Kashmir.

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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

Bharat Verma

A former Cavalry Officer and former Editor, Indian Defence Review (IDR), and author of the books, India Under Fire: Essays on National Security, Fault Lines and Indian Armed Forces.

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34 thoughts on “The Nehruvian Blunder

  1. Great article I feel that every year Geen kaul should be called and asked to speak at a public function and answer questions . People should remember him as the architect of 1962 loss and martyrdom of 8000 soldiers

    • He died in April 1972. So how will he “speak in public” ? unless you are aware of a portal to transport spirits and souls…do let us know. DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE COMMENTING AND MAKING A FOOL OF YOURSELF in a public forum.

  2. I really thank you for your content. The article has truly peaked my interest.I know you spent a lot of time picking out the perfect gift for me and I feel blessed to have such a thoughtful friend in my life.

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  4. Dear Sir
    I read your article with great interest. I have minutely read the Arunachal front of 1962 in the book history of the 4th div of India. I too have visited most places of conflict in Arunchal as my father was posted there in late 80s. Though I could not make it to the army. I still at the age of 40 have a what if analysis tendency. Here is what I am asking you.
    Lets assume the political leadership was not such timid, uneducated and head in the clouds as has been the case most of the time post independence.
    I am creating a hypothetical situation as below and asking for your comments –
    1- what is the ideology and directive of the Indian armed forces instead of being defensive was that of constant war. e.g taking back Kashmir and Gilgit in 47-49.
    2 – what if the Indian army was equipped with american weapons instead of brit ones esp in Infantry and artillery ( M1 Grand, Browning (MMG & HMG), BAR Rifles, in place of .303 Bren Vickers etc) American winter equipment instead of old british ones. And that too assumption of being equipped to conduct offensive war.
    3 – Army expertise in conducting asymmetrical or behind enemy line operations as a constant method of disrupting enemy. ( taken from Inchon landings of Americans in Korea could have been replicated in Sela, Tawang at Bn level and further east at Bde level or other fronts in Uttrakhand or Himachal ( obvious implication of competent mid and higher military leadership)
    4- Using long range 155 mm American artillery in large or sufficient numbers along with additional 105 or 75 type mediums and 75mm RCL to supplant infantry fire power & expend more lead than men.
    5- lastly definately using the airforce to para drop munitions and reinforcement even of biligured posts ( Dien Bien Phu type), strafe and cause attrition on enemy lines.

    with all the above, what could have been the outcome of war
    with India chosing not to have ceasefires but push Back, Bleed and destroy PLA beyond Lahsa and large parts of Tibet

    • Reply to your queries pointwise:-
      1. India was consolidating its gains. Did not have the military power/force to go all the way to Gilgit/Baltistan. POK may have been possible to be regained from Uri and Poonch axis.
      2.American wpns would make no difference as listed by you.
      3. Army had no expertise in behind the lines warfare. You cannot compare Inchon with Tawang sector..
      4. Artillery was sufficient. Medium Arty needs good road axis for transportation. None existed.
      5. Air dropping was used to resupply to the extent possible at Tsangdhar and eastern Kameng Dz’s.
      In a nutshell,there was no political will to fight once the upper echelons of higher command leadership in the Army had collapsed in 1962.Reasons for the Armys leadership command failure are numerous, the most important being political interference and favouritism in the armed forces,something that is happening again today. Spineless generals , bootlicking thier political masters for temporary favours spells doom for the armed forces and national security. Thats the most important lesson from 1962.

  5. “India had adequate army brigades in reserve to launch a counter attack in coordination with the Air Force. ” The Chinese had withdrawn to the pre-hostility lines. Launching of counter attack, in Nov end, without any build up was not possible. Air attacks would have met hardly any resistance, but what would have been the logic of using it when the Chinese had withdrawn after giving us a bloody nose. Air Force should have been used during the hostilities. Comments are requested.

  6. I am a great admirer of you sir and a well wisher of India though Nepalese citizen our heart remains with India. If you please can elaborate why despite all the negligence from political and bureaucratic circle, Indian Army never objects to the political system that has literally handicapped them? No general except for VK Singh dared to challenge government. Don’t you think that this is a failure of the military leadership too?

  7. Morarji Desai was the real culprit. He has exhausted India’s foreign currency reserve by insisting the India must import steel plants from Britain and Germany when it is getting one almost free from the USSR.
    Morarji Desai as a Gandhian refused to provide enough moneies to the Ministry of Defence.
    In March 1962 USSR was about to give India MIG fighter aircraft contract was signed but Morarji Desai objected.
    Then he put all blame on Krishna Menon and got rid of him.

  8. The trouble is that proper defence requires competence and integrity. It also leaves less of the “Defence Budget” and other budgets for the Neta-Babus to put away in safe havens.

  9. I didn’t feel bad, when I heard that India didn’t do well, ‘in perception’, during the China war. The fact is, Nehru wouldn’t have allowed the Indian Army inside Tibet. I really appreciate that idea. Nehru coined the term ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ when China was not in Tibet, and he didn’t know, that they would be facing the respective armies across the border. I don’t feel, loosing wars and battles for the Indian Army, says anything. For a real stark instance, the Indian Navy vessels are impressive, because one imagines sailors in them, particularly Indian. They seem to be of the exact same type, and this is very correct, because the ships know what each others capability are, but is is extremely boring, also. Perhaps, having Destroyers of a certain dated marque, isn’t the measure of any navy, and India has the fifth most powerful navy in the world, considering France or Britain, perhaps aren’t in the first five most powerful navies.

  10. Nehru was utter failure as Indian priminister, if you look at the entire tenure he want to cut size the leaders he was felt threatend, because of him we are such a dire situation and even now and it continues with his dynasty

  11. Very well presented. The only reservation I have is about the bringing in the Air Force since it is well known that in mountain terrain, air attack is not effective. The bombs and rockets invariably fall on slopes and thus fail to cause the destruction of the enemy. To hit the enemy with precision, the aircraft must be flying low in such environments and are then vulnerable to anti-aircraft guns which the Chinese had plenty in stock from the Korean war. That was the case with military technology in those years, but most of that is no more valid in modern air attack due to advance of technology. And one point missing here is that, when the war ended Nehru wrote to all nations of the world how the Chinese had back stabbed India. This made India a laughing stock in the international world. Nehru had also admitted much later on that he was under illusion. The tragic part is that any other self-respecting nation, like the European countries, would have kicked out Nehru from the Prime Minister’s position as soon as the drubbing of the Indian Army by the Chinese became clear, but nothing happened to Nehru. He continued as the Prime Minister, which confirms what a demoralized nation the Indians are.

  12. you seem to me to be anti Nehru in all your analysis. That is the very basic blunder all the “Analysts” make. They begin with a preconceived notion and then merely fit the out of context facts to make a theory and present it as a treatise.

    I agree Nehru did not do everything correctly during his military related decisions. But you forget the very basic fact in your very articulate Nehru-bashing… nobody at the time- least of all Army (brass)heads knew WHERE EXACTLY the border was. so Nehru solely cannot be blamed.

    Because , in destroying Nahru’s iconic status , you are also destroying the very idea of a “national leadership”. And you are also destroying an International face that India has. The region-centric , language-centric and Ethno-centric Mafias of Maharashtra, Tamil nadu, UP et al. must be drooling on these foolish steps taken by the intelligence agencies.

    Nehru is to Indian politics , what Tendulkar is to Indian Cricket. Tendulkar never was a match winner like Viv Richards, nor was he a match saviour like Gavaskar. But does that mean that you destroy him- tear him down for his “softness” or failures?

    Remember … people like Tendulkar , Gandhi, Nehru , Washington , Lincoln, Churchill are merely Propoganda tools.

    Washington was a slave owner and had a pathetic Military record. But the Americans still remember him as an embodiment of American values.

    Churchill was a drunk and a war monger. If it weren’t for his war mongering and constant provocation, the War would never have taken place as the Germans never wanted war with Britain. In the end the British Empire was lost because of Churchill’s war mongering.
    But the British don’t Bash Churchill !!!

    You have only two pan-Indian and international faces of some reputation – Gandhi and Nehru. these are your soft power Aces. And you nuts are burning them cheaply
    by writing some “Analysis” on matters that don’t matter anymore.

    • Nobody belittles Nehru contribution towards building of India, but we all blame him for his mistakes that have caused more lasting and adverse effects till today and continues to affect the lives of future generations of Indians to come.

      Thus as more and more Indians become educated about his follies, the more and more he and his dynasty are deried and looked upon with disgust and hatred for all their greed for power and destruction of India at the altar of one family, called the Gandhi family .

  13. A right caption after 50 years it was not a Himalayan blunder but a Nehrruvian blunder please keep on harping on this subject and the Kashmir so that the point is driven home and ingrained in the psyche of every common man. last but not the least why have you introduced this security CAPTCHA please let it be free comments onarticles are very important it broadens the thought procedure.

  14. Bharatji,

    I have lot of respect for u and enjoy the articles you write from time to time. But u should not “villify” Pandit Nehru. Nehru was influenced by Western culture and expected that everyone will behave like Western people. He thought ppl are changing and moving towards civilised world. He was naive because he won independence struggle against a race (White) which was not barbaric. Had West wanted, they could have wiped out Asians from their lands and occupied it. (Just like Gen Tikka said for Bengalis – We need land not people). His Worldly understanding after being mentored by Gandhi was that Chinese are also changing the way Indians are. But alas, his innocence shocked him later. You can see in Asia, how muslim rulers have treated their own subjects including Chinese Mao who purged almost 50 millions of their own without blinking an eye.

    My request to u is that u should potray Nehru as naive not someone who intrigued to see his own army defeated. After all you do not criticise your academically good child just because he was weak in few topics. You should look at Nehru’s overall work and his honest intentions.

    Even Superhumans like Buddha have been criticised


  15. with only about two months for your prophecy to take place or become true but I think it has made an impact on the mind of Indians despite your goading no immediate steps have been taken to deal with the Chinese. i am now convinced that the Chinese will attack in near is also heartening to note that you are becoming more vociferous that India should immediate steps to strengthen it self (Arre is anyone listening to Shri Bharat Verma) please keep it up for the sake of the Nation

  16. This day of humiliation is for interrospection. I vividly remember as a child student how even the monthly salaries of the government employees were deferred till March 1963. We were in rented house and the owner filed eviction case on the ground of rent default. The grocery dealer was also refusing credit. The only assurance was my father and many others were government servants. Even schools threatened to remove us from rolls. We middle class families were made to feel like slum dwellers. Within five years, in the next general elections, the Congress Party lost two-thirds majority, and in 1969 due to death of President Zakir Hussain, in the Presidential elections, Prime Minister Indira supported Communist propped V.V.Giri, causing split in Congress and took Communist support. The communist resisted and ensured that no modernization of troops or weapons to be resorted then or ever. After the dissolution in December 1970, the Lok Sabha elections were held in 1971 reportedly with chemical treated ballots like elections in Communist Russia, where the CCCP used to win 97% votes and seats. The phoney internal emergency of 1975 had comunist support. From 1991 onwards the Congress Party’s survival was ensured by Comunists with outside support in the name of secularism. JNU was established in 1970 to ensure permanent churning out of communist ideologues. The communists opposed Pokharan-II of 1998. Their loyalties are always across the border. Their sypathies are always with traitors and saboteurs. The responsble sections of Media should expose these quislings and fifth columnists mercilessly, apart from making harsh and cruel assesments about all the guilty men of 1962.

  17. Are we any better now? Many of us talk very blithely about an offensive capability against China. Even in military circles! If you deeply study the terrain on our borders what can our Mountain Strike Corps achieve? Axis and road denial is so easy with the current capabilities whom are we fooling except ourselves? Well it is better than nothing. I wish and hope that at least the military circles educate the Nation the amount of massive preparations required to at least pose a credible threat to China so that our political leaders don’t talk to China with their tail between legs and with trembling hands! We have to do lot of capacity building including a National Reserve and massive air-borne forces. It is sad even now our experts and politicians keep on fooling the people. Everything we have like our TA units or NCC are all half hearted affairs in which no one is sincerely interested. None of you talk about Chinese capabilities in the area when you talk of any thing. Whether it is airplanes or navy or even artillery guns. Why? Why don’t you say that while we have not been able to get even one Regiment of modern SP artillery China have gifted/exported five regiments of same to Bangladesh. The weakness is not only in politicians or Babus but also in you all . All of you informed experts would have failed the Nation if you do not educate the ordinary citizens like us.

  18. Lt. Gen. Thorat, then CNC Eastern command1958-60), in his auobiography ‘Majhi Shipaigiri'( in Marathi) has stated that he had prepared a detailed report of the Chinese activities in the area and predicted that the Chinese aggression would come around 1962.
    Not only that he prepared and submitted this report to the then Def. min. Mr. Krishna Menon but also had devised a strategy on how to counter the same when it happens and further he demonstrated it through a live exercise ‘Operation Lal Qilah’.
    As usual he was never entertained by the Def. Min.
    He further tells that After the debacle Pt. Nehru asked who was the commander preceding the war and what had he done.
    When in their meeting the Gen. told about the report and exercise Nehru was simply aghast and dumbstruck, since his beloved and genius Def. Min. had never showed the same.
    These ‘Thorat Papers’ most probably are still classified, wrapped under the purported veil of secrecy even after fifty years. And are the lessions well learned? Well…….

  19. Nehru’s life long goal was to project himself as a world class statesman. In persuit of this ambition he compromised the interests of India. He did not persue India’s interests with the ruthlessness that was required of him. Tibet would have been a free country if Nehru had played his cards well. India could have a border with Afganistan if he had let the army take over Gilgat and Skurdu in 1948.That would have put a major dent in this unholy alliance between China and Pakistan. India can not undo what has been done. However do not repeat the mistakes of the past. That is where India needs people like Mr. Verma. Very well written article Sir.

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