The Arrogant Men of 1962
The 1962 debacle against China is a story of arrogance.
Defence Minister Krishna Menon was undoubtedly the most arrogant man of the subcontinent, but there are many other arrogant personae in the saga of 1962. One was B.N. Mullik, the Intelligence Chief (IB Director) who kept repeating at nauseam: ‘The Chinese will not attack’; then Lt. Gen. B.M. Kaul who announced to the world that a new Corps (4 Corps), composed of himself and a couple of staff officers would have no problem to get the Chinese out.
And of course the Prime Minister himself who, at Palam airport on his way to Colombo, told the waiting journalists that he had ordered the Indian Army “to throw the Chinese out”. He generously left the time to the discretion of the Army. It was on October 12, 1962, just 8 days before the fateful day.
But throw the Chinese out from where?
Nobody knew exactly where the border was.
When a young Captain, Mahabir Prasad of the 1 Sikhs established the Dhola Post near the Namkha chu (river) at the end of July, he was told by a local officer that the Thagla ridge, north of the river was the border (incidentally Prasad was killed on October 20). Niranjan Prasad, the GOC of the 4 Infantry Division manning the border wrote in his memoirs: “Since Captain Prasad’s maps showed the McMahon Line as passing to the south of Thagla, he did not act on the information. Instead, on return to base, he referred the matter Divisional HQs. We, in turn reported to Corps, Command and Army HQ (in Delhi).”
One does not need to be Inspector Jacques Clouseau to discover why the famous Henderson-Brooks report has been kept out of the eyes of the Indian public for fifty years. Simple, the bosses in Delhi were unable to tell the local commanders where the border was.
A few months after the debacle, the Indian Government requested Lt. Gen. Henderson-Brooks to prepare a report of the events which led to the fiasco. Although extracts were read out in the Parliament by Y.B. Chavan, the Defence Minister in 1963, the gist of the report remains missing in action.
In 2008, answering a question on the Report, Defence Minister A.K. Antony told the Indian Parliament that the report could not be made public because its contents “are not only extremely sensitive, but are of current operational value.”
Nobody will believe that a 49 year-old report is still of ‘operational value’.
In 2005, veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar had requested, under the RTI, the Ministry of Defence a copy of the Report.
During the hearings of the Commission in March 2009, the Defence Ministry articulated the official stand: “Disclosure of this information …has a direct bearing on the question of the demarcation of the Line of Actual Control between India and China, a live issue under examination between the two countries at present.”
On March 19, 2010, in a ‘decision notice’, the Central Information Commission states: “no part of the report might at this stage be disclosed.”
On October 6, Mao had told his Party’s colleagues: “Nehru really wants to use force. This isn’t strange. He has always wanted to seize Aksai Chin and Thagla ridge. He thinks he can get everything he desires.”
Though there was no question of the Indian Army ‘attacking China’ with no food, no warm clothes, no armament or ammunition supply, the Chinese seemed to have perceived the situation differently.
Was Mao looking for a pretext?
In his memoirs, Niranjan Prasad describes the setting: “The McMahon Line as drawn by Sir Henry McMahon in 1914 on an unsurveyed map, was not an accurate projection of the Himalayan watershed line. …In this process the position of Thagla ridge was, to say the least, left ambiguous.”
The survey had been completed in 1913 by Captains Bailey and Morshead, but it was rather sketchy (1 inch to 8 miles).
If one follows the watershed principle, the Thagla ridge was the logical border, but the fact remains that the old map which was the reference for India’s position on the location of the McMahon Line, showed the Thagla ridge and the Namkha Chu, north of the Red Line. Further surveys were unfortunately not conducted after India’s independence.
On 14 August, 1962, Brigadier D.K. Palit, Director of Military Operations was told about the issue; he later recalled that he referred the Thagla dilemma to the Director of Military Survey who “commented that the existing maps of the area were ‘sketchy and inaccurate, having been compiled from unreliable sources.”
By then, it was already too late to go back; the arrogant main actors in Delhi had taken over.
The fact that the Chinese attack occurred simultaneously in all sectors (Tawang, Walong in NEFA and Ladakh) is proof that the operations had been prepared well in advance by the Communist regime in Beijing, which did not really need a pretext.