Almost six decades ago, on October 20, 1962, China had attacked India. Provoked by a territorial dispute and tensions over Tibet, the war was short and India lost to China. India’s belief that it can never be attacked by China did not let the Indian army prepare, and the result was the standoff between 10,000-20,000 Indian troops and 80,000 Chinese troops. The 1962 Sino-India war continued for about a month and ended on November 21, 1962, and China emerging victorious.
This is a historical truth that the then Congress government led by former PM Jawaharlal Nehru and his defence minister VK Krishna Menon had fallen short of expectations in their dealings during the 1962 war with China, leading to the debacle. It is said that Army warned then Defence Minister Krishna Menon in 1961 about the need to prepare for a Chinese invasion. However, the warning fell into deaf ears and the follies made by the then Congress government left a deep-seated scar on the history of India, as explained in a 2012 article by India Today journalist Gaurav Sawant.
Jawaharlal Nehru warned of a possible attack by China, almost two and a half years before the 1962 Sino-India war
Shockingly, the then government, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, was warned of a possible attack by China, almost two and a half years before the first wave of Chinese troops overran the border in 1962, but Nehru and the then defence minister Krishna Menon, did not feel the need to take professional military advice, and the result was that India suffered its worst-ever defeat during the Indo-China conflict in 1962.
Author and journalist Gaurav C. Sawant in his report in Mail Today in 2012 wrote how, the Army commander had tried to warn of possible Chinese attacks in the coming years, which the then Congress government led by former PM Jawaharlal Nehru had ignored, costing India dearly.
SSP Thorat predicted China’s attack to which Nehru turned a deaf ear
As per the article by Gaurav Sawant, on March 17, 1960, Lt Gen SPP Thorat, commanding the Eastern Command, had conducted a military exercise that accurately predicted the timing and nature of a possible Chinese attack.
SPP Thorat wrote an assessment after a year-long study of the Chinese build-up across the McMahon Line. In his report, Thorat had said that the Sino-Indian ties, that had remained friendly in the past, had undergone a considerable change.
“This is primarily due to the claim made by China upon large territories which are clearly ours. She (China) has also refused to recognise the McMahon Line as the international boundary and has made deliberate incursions into our territory in Ladakh, Uttar Pradesh and NEFA (NorthEast Frontier Agency, now Arunachal Pradesh)… We are required to resist to the full and evict any further incursions by China. This requires us to be fully prepared to undertake immediate military action…” his assessment said.
Gen Thorat’s ‘Exercise Lal Qila’, conducted in Lucknow on March 17, 1960, was perhaps the most detailed military drill carried out, writes Sawant. Thorat knew that the Chinese would attack. He made detailed studies of Intelligence Bureau (IB) reports, the terrain, the time taken by Chinese troops to cover distances and their preparations to accurately predict a Chinese attack.
He wrote in his assessment report: “The task was to defend our territory and that of Sikkim against aggression from Pakistan and China and be prepared to give military assistance to Nepal and maintain law and order in the Naga Hills and Tuensang Agency (NHTA).”
The former director-general of infantry, then a young captain, Lt-Gen Guru Bakshi, said: “In 1959, we as young officers were addressed by Gen. Thimayya. The impression we got was that the government, especially then defence minister VK Krishna Menon, was not interested in professional military advice. Gen. Thimayya had red flagged the Chinese build-up. The civilian leadership was not listening.”
Lt-Gen Shantanu Chowdhary, the former vice-chief of army staff, said: “Sadly, there was a lack of coordination between the top military and political leadership. Had effective preparations been done, when Lt-Gen Thorat warned, the situation would have been very different.”
Reportedly, Gen Thorat had also batted for the utilisation of the air force in an offensive role during the 1962 Sino-India conflict, but the Nehru government had not paid heed to the suggestion.
Recently, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne also said that had air power been used then, the results of the war would have been different.
Author and military historian Kunal Varma said: “Then defence minister was not convinced that China would attack India. (Then PM) Nehru went with his view and the rest is history. Had Lt-Gen Thorat’s report been taken in the right spirit, India would have been better prepared.”
Air Marshal Denzil Keelor’s video
In fact, in June this year, a video had resurfaced on the internet amidst the ongoing debate over the historical blunders committed by the Congress party, especially during the Nehruvian era, revealing how India under the leadership of the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru lost strategic areas due to the follies committed by him.
In the video, Air Marshal Denzil Keelor (Retd.) was heard speaking about the 1962 India-China war, stating that India lost the war to China because of Jawaharlal Nehru’s failure. He said that Nehru has then relied on diplomacy and ignored the armed forces, because of which India lost.
Had Jawaharlal Nehru paid attention to the detailed studies in 1960, India’s defeat at the hands of the Chinese could have been avoided. Keelor had stated that at the time of the war, Indian Army’s soldiers did not even have proper woollen clothing to face the weather and the difficult terrain of the Himalayas.
Jawaharlal Nehru viewed the army with suspicion. He did not, ever, pay attention to his army’s submissions and did little to strengthen or bolster the army. There have also been reports that Nehru and his defence minister VK Krishna Menon had then insidiously conspired to discredit General Thimayya (Chief of Army Staff from 1957 to 1961, who ahead of the 1962 Indo-China War), setting in motion a chain of events that contributed to India’s defeat in the Himalayas.