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Union Budget 1959: When PM Nehru reduced the defence expenditure by Rs 25 crores and China attacked India three years later

Nehru could be attributed to more Himalayan blunders than one can shake a stick at.

On the day when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the second annual budget since the Modi government’s relection to the Centre in 2019 General elections, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi put forth a laundry list of demands that he wanted to be included in Budget 2021. 

The Gandhi scion took to Twitter to convey what he wants to see in this year’s Budget. The senior Congress leader tweeted that the budget must include support for MSMEs, farmers and workers to generate employment. He also added that the budget must place focus on increasing health expenditure to save lives and enhancing defence expenditure to safeguard borders. 

It was hard to miss that Gandhi’s demand to raise Defence expenditure was made in the context of the ongoing standoff between the Indian and Chinese forces along the Line of Actual(LAC) in eastern Ladakh. 

While the Wayanad MP pompously demanded a hike in the country’s defence budget, it is opportune time to revisit the times when the former Prime Minister of the country and Rahul Gandhi’s great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, trimmed down the defence budget in the face of rising Chinese aggression. 

Nehru could be attributed to more Himalayan blunders than one can shake a stick at. From gifting the UNSC seat to China to the vexed issue of Jammu and Kashmir, the 1962 debacle, the partition of the country and many more, Nehru has been squarely blamed for these colossal mistakes. 

Nehru govt slashed 1959 defence budget by Rs 25 crores

However, one of the less talked-about blunders that Nehru presided over was the pruning down of the 1959 Union budget when tensions with China were flaring. Three years later the catastrophic Indo-Sino war took place where the Chinese forces caught their Indian counterpart off-guard, resulting in a humiliating Indian defeat. 

The Union Budget 1959 saw a significant reduction in the defence expenditure. The budget had the defence expenditure cut back by Rs 25 crores, and a deficit of Rs 82 crores in the central budget. 

The scaling down of the defence expenditure was the first in a series of disastrous decisions taken by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and which culminated into India’s defeat in the Indo-Sino war in 1962. Not only did India lose the war, several thousand square kilometres of what now lies in Aksai Chin was captured by China. 

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.

The Army had flagged about a possible attack from the Chinese. Jawaharlal Nehru, however, 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.

In fact, even before 1959, Nehru wanted to disband the Army. A biography of Major General AA “Jick” Rudra of the Indian Army by Major General DK “Monty” Palit says that shortly after independence, Nehru had said how India does not need a ‘defence plan’. “Our policy is ahimsa (non-violence). We foresee no military threats. Scrap the army! The police are good enough to meet our security needs,” Nehru had reportedly said.

Retired Air Marshal pins the blame of defeat on Nehru

Last year, a video of Air Marshal Denzil Keelor (Retd.), a war-hero of the 1965 India-Pakistan war, had gone viral on various social media platforms, where the retired Air Marshal shared his personal account on how the lapses committed by Jawaharlal Nehru resulted in India facing an embarrassing defeat at the hands of China in the 1962 India-China war.

In the video, Air Marshal Denzil Keelor (Retd.) could be heard speaking about the 1962 India-China war, saying that India lost the war to China because of Jawaharlal Nehru’s failure. He said how Nehru relied on diplomacy and ignored the armed forces, because of which India lost. 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.

It is pertinent to note that after presiding over such a colossal blunder, Nehru attempted to gloss over his mistakes and downplay the loss of territory. Dismissing the lands occupied by China as inhospitable and uninhabited, Nehru reportedly said, “In those barren land and mountains of Ladakh and Arunachal, not even a blade of grass grows.”

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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