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Mainstream, VOL L No 44, October 20, 2012

What Invasion has Shown Up • Need for World Publicity

Wednesday 24 October 2012, by Nikhil Chakravartty


October 20 this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Chinese aggression on India. On this occasion we are carrying N.C.’s ‘New Delhi Skyline’ published in Mainstream seven days after the invasion.

A fresh appraisal of values has overtaken New Delhi with the shock of the massive Chinese aggression on the far-flung frontier from Ladakh to NEFA.

In the course of a single week, the nation faced the dangerous implications of a militarily powerful neighbour indulging in cold-blooded armed offensive, having prepared for it under cover of overtures for negotiations. This discovery of Peking’s Bismarckian strategy has given the most serious jolt to our policy-makers in both the Defence and External Affairs Ministries. For, with all our talk of preparadnes, the policy-makers in New Delhi had never bargained for a full-scale armed encounter with a first-class military power, since the bitter cold war over the border dispute was never regarded as likely to be forced through a decision in arms.

The immediate reaction to the reverses suffered so far on the battle-fronts has been a sense of bewilderment. The public as well as political observers in the Capital had taken the govern-ment’s words at face value and believed that whatever might be our difficulties in Ladakh, our defences in NEFA were solid. As a matter of fact, it appears now that for long the authorities were wrongly fed by complacent intelligence reports about the Chinese military build-up across the Mac Mahon Line.

It was only about the middle of this month that the estimates had to be revised and a sense of urgency prevailed with regard to the massiye concentration of the Chinese forces, superior to us both in numbers and in fire-power. However, even at this late hour, it was fondly believed that the Chinese intrusions across the MacMahon Line were in the nature of slow penetration in the Dhola area alone, presumably to assert that the Chinese version of the MacMahon Line did not tally with ours. It was therefore that the Chinese offensive beginning on October 20 came as a stunning blow to the Defence Ministry as much as to the lay public.

From available indications, it is clear that the high-ups in our Defence Ministry and Army Headquarters had not prepared themselves at all for such a move by the Chinese. Although initial reverses by themselves do not unnerve competent observers—even the most formidable Army in the world can be taken unawares by a surprise blitzkreig—what has troubled quite a few in the Capital is the failure of our Defence Command, particularly on the NEFA sector, to show mettle as able strategies to match the Chinese.

The admission of Chinese superiority in men and arms has not very much helped to redeem the prestige of our Generals. Reports about the ineffe-ctiveness of the command of the newly-formed corps for the NEFA sector—with its commanding General proving a disappointment—are current in the Capital. In contrast to the proven heroism and sturdy patriotism of our jawans, the record of the brass-hat has not been all too shining.

Naturally enough, this has raised many questions about the way the Defence Command is manned, and inevitably, this situation has streng-thened the hands of those who have for years been clamourning for the Defence Minister’s head on a platter. While this clamour by itself has no doubt a political colour, there is no gainsaying the fact that even among those who have so long abstained from joining the chorus against Sri Krishna Menon, there is today a definite questioning about the wisdom of some of the top appointments in the Armed Forces.

The question is being persistently asked: can we under the present Command expect ever to regroup our forces and make a determined stand against the Chinese? The facile explanation that the Chinese are better-equipped and more seasoned soldiers for mountain warfare is countered here by some recalling our brilliant performance in the Kashmir campaign when Indian tanks could move into the snow-covered Zozi La. It is therefore nothing surprising that even quarters which did not approve of General Thimayya “dabbling in politics” as they call it, recall the General’s role as a purely military strategist and contrast it with the poor show of the present Command.

All this has created a political situation in New Delhi in which the pressure for the removal of Sri Krishna Menon from the Defence Ministership has made considerable headway. It is no longer possible to dismiss it as a tiny handful of the pro-West lobby. Support for this move has significantly gained strength in the Congress Parliamentary party, and it would take a lot of strain on the part of the Prime Minister to defend the Defence Minister against acusations of complacency and misjudgement in the matter of higher appointments in the Armed Forces. Reports about short supply at the front would also not redound to the credit of the Defence Ministry, particularly after the accent placed on defence production in the last few years.

POLITICALLY, the Chinese offensive has created complicated problems for our foreign policy-makers. The need for more arms, and to get them quickly, has naturally strengthened the hands of those who wanted the government to give up its allergy to taking military aid from the West. Although the Prime Minister has so far stubbornly held out against the pressure for arms aid, he has conceded the need for buying arms quickly. More arms would naturally mean less money for the Plan, and although New Delhi does not entertain the idea of scrapping the Plan, the question of pruning it has already come up.

Under the circumstances, there is the danger, not very remote, of our foreign policy orientation leaning more and more towards the West. Thanks to Peking’s Machiavellian diplomacy-cum-military offensive, the lobby that has gained most in the last one week in New Delhi is the pro-West and not the anti-West lobby.

Against this background the entire policy of non-alignment has come under fire. Critics of this policy are now assailing the Prime Minister’s diplomacy as having unsound foundations, for it is based, they say, neither on the strength of arms nor on allies who will supply the arms. In a world of realpolitik and with such an unscrupulous neighbour as China, noble sentiments alone cannot provide the policy that can ensure national security and protect national interests: such an opinion is gaining more hearing here today.

This school of thinking is reinforced in its argument by the stand taken by the Western Press over the India-China conflict. Conspicuously, few among the more important ones have come out in earnest support of the Indian case in the dispute with China. It appears as if they are keen on teaching New Delhi a lesson for following the policy of non-alignment, and giving it back for all the homily poured out from here against their policy of military alliances against communism.

Viewed in this context, significance is attached here to the new emphasis evident in New Delhi on explaining India’s stand not only to the Afro-Asian world but to the communist countries as well. The Prime Minister’s letter to Mr Khrushchev is believed to have explained the position with regard to the reported Soviet suggestion for a ceasefire made just before the massive Chinese attack of last week-end.

It is felt here, rather acutely, that on the propa-ganda front, Peking is ahead of us, having assiduously spread the poison against India, and particularly against the Prime Minister, while from our side, even the bare minimum of explanatory material has not gone to all these friendly governments. This lag is being made up now, for it is felt that if China has to be tackled effectively on the diplomatic front, she needs to be isolated and her India-baiting propaganda has to be shown up. Although Sri K.P.S. Menon’s Moscow trip was planned a long time ago, it is expected that he will take the opportunity of briefing the Soviet leaders, which will not be a difficult task considering his standing in Moscow.

While the demand for diplomatic rupture with Peking has gained ground in the last one week, the government is opposed to it mainly because it holds on to the principle of a negotiated settlement of the border dispute. But Peking’s overtures could be accepted only when the withdrawal of the Chinese Army to the other side of the Himalayan watershed is clearly assured.

The fact that China is pursuing a policy of forcing decision by arms is being highlighted in this explanation campaign, and the proof of this is provided by the attack on Tawang, far south of the MacMahon Line, and of our Ladakh post at Daulat Beg Oldi, recognised by China as being in Indian territory by even their 1960 map.

Incidentally, the impression is strong in New Delhi that Moscow’s hands being full now with the crisis over Cuba, the Soviet authorities would not like the India-China dispute to flare up as a world issue. On the issue of Cuba, responsible quarters in the Capital hold it against Washington, particularly against the Pentagon, for forcing a crisis. It is also felt that the US excitement over Cuba is partly the by-product of the Congressional elections in the first week of November.

WITH the crisis on the frontier, the authorities are naturally anxious to see that the morale of the country is kept intact. In this connection, the position of the Communist Party is under close study. The ambiguous resolution of the Central Secretariat of the Party issued last week—which refrained from even naming China as aggressor— has had an adverse reaction in both official and non-official circles in the Capital. Sri Dange’s attempt to retrieve the situation coupled with numerous units of the Party coming out attacking the Chinese—thereby virtually repudiating the Secretariat Resolution—has partly helped to improve matters so far as the Communist Party is concerned.

Responsible quarters here, however, are awaiting the stand that the National Council of the CPI is going to take at the emergent meeting called for next week. Particularly critical has been the reaction here to the conspicuous absence of any criticism of Chinese aggression by prominent sections of the leadership known for their ideological leanings towards Peking. The attempts of a West Bengal leader of the Party to play the quick-change artiste by demanding “guns and not sweets for the jawans” has hardly impressed anyone here since there has been no criticism of Chinese misdeeds on his part. The position of such elements in the Party’s leadership, it is felt here, is an anomaly when the overwhelming majority of the CPI ranks as also leadership have come out in open condemnation of the Chinese aggressioin. Not much respect is evident here also for those in the CPI leadership who preferred to sit on the fence, as it were. For, it is said here that although sitting-on-the-fence may be a convenient pastime at times, it may not be comfortable when the fence is a barbed-wire fence. And this country’s relations with Peking today are hedged by the barbed wire of an armed front.

WHILE few have ever heard of Chinese believing in astrology, it is worth noting that Mr Chou En-lai’s infamous demand of Indian territory south of the MacMahon Line was dated September 8, 1959. Three years later, exactly on September 8, the Chinese armed offensive started for grabbing the very same territory to which Mr Chou En-lai had put forward his claim.

(From N.C.’s ‘New Delhi Skyline’ in Mainstream, October 27, 1962)

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