Hu Shih (former ambassador of China to the USA) said “India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border.”
Background of the 1963 Indo-China war
There were two zones where the 1962 war took place viz. Aksai Chin (in Ladakh district in the state of Jammu & Kashmir) and NEFA (North East Frontier Agency, currently known as state of Arunachal Pradesh).
In Aksai Chin, the Indian claim was derived from the Johnson-Ardagh alignment of 1865. Later, Hung Ta-chen, a senior Chinese official at Kashgar, Xinjiang, and George Macartney, the British consul-general there, mapped the boundary line along the natural barrier of Karakorum Mountains. Sir Claude MacDonald, the British minister to China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing dynasty, presented this Macartney-MacDonald Line, in 1899. China believed that this then was the accepted boundary. But post-1950, the Chinese stated that Aksai Chin was a disputed territory because they said the British had unilaterally mapped it as India (India’s claim was certainly stronger than China’s).
The British negotiated the McMahon boundary line at Arunachal Pradesh, with Tibet in 1914, which too China was to reject when they forcibly annexed Tibet. When the McMahon Line was agreed upon, China was never there, either in 1914 or before or after.
When China attacked Tibet, USA offered help to India to defend Tibet. Their estimate was that India had only to send a brigade of troops to Tibet and China would have held off. Infact, Sardar Patel wrote a long critical letter to Nehru, criticizing his Tibet policy and China appeasement policy! (This letter is published in the book ‘Himalayan Blunder’, by Gen Dalvi, 1969, AND also ‘Between the lines’, Kuldip Nayar, 1969).
Immediately, the distrustful Chinese refused to accept McMahon line as the international boundary at Arunachal Pradesh, stating that it did not recognize the treaty signed by Tibet with British India. Then, Nehru unilaterally declared that McMahon line is our international border, but curiously failed to say anything about Aksai Chin.
China build an excellent all-weather motorable 750 km long road in western Tibet, of which 112 km was through Aksai Chin. But surprisingly, Nehru formally complained to China only in 1958 that this was encroachment into Indian territory and China move her only traffic road of western Tibet. China thought this was injury to China, as for this road India had no use and there was no benefit to India. At this point if both India and China had agreed there would have been status quo. In reply to Nehru’s letter, China sounded willing to accept McMahon line in Arunachal Pradesh as the border, in return of Aksai Chin as the border in the western sector. But this was obviously not acceptable to New Delhi.
Highway construction between Srinagar and Leh was stopped in 1954-56 due to allegations of corruption. So during the 1962 war, Leh could be approached only on mules or supplies had to be air-dropped.
Nehru hid about this boundary dispute to the Parliament till August 1959. Infact he lied to the Parliament that India had not received any letters from China! India and China had first exchanged letters about the Arunachal Pradesh border in 1954. Nehru lied saying that the western border (Aksai Chin) was governed by an 1842 treaty between Gulab Singh (ruler of Jammu and Kashmir) and Emperor of China (who was not even in the picture then). Nehru changed his official views several times by saying he was quoted out of context, further complicating matters.
Meanwhile, China had taken a decade but it settled and completed tough but reasonable negotiations on its boundary disputes with Burma (where it accepted the McMahon line), Nepal, Pakistan, Mongolia and Afghanistan.
Mood got worse when Tibetans rose for independence and Dalai Lama fled to Mussourie, India (then later he moved to Dharamsala). Nehru visited him immediately in Mussourie and further irritated China.
Chinese Premier Chou En Lai was shocked by Nehru’s intransigence during a New Delhi summit on border talks in 1960, and said he was an unreliable person.
Plight of the Indian army
Indian Army of 280,000 was short by 60,000 files, 700 anti-tank guns, 5,000 radio field sets, thousands of miles of field cable, 36,000 wireless batteries, 10,000 one-ton trucks and 10,000 three-ton trucks! Two regiments of tanks were not operational due to lack of spares. Most of the Indian troops were using .303 rifles which had seen action even before World War I (not II). Chinese troops were equipped with machine guns/ heavy mortars/ automatic rifles. Nehru prohibited import of arms because his Non-alignment image would look bad! He often quoted Gandhi’s ahimsa!
The general altitude in Aksai Chin was 14,000 feet and patrols had to reach as high as 16,000 feet. Temperatures were arctic and the Indian troops winter clothing was inadequate. Mules were not of much use at that altitude and so supplies had to be air-dropped. The Indian troops had to trek whereas the Chinese troops moved around in trucks.
To add insult to injury, it was the general impression that Nehru had an inefficient chamcha as a Defense Minister Krishna Menon, whom both Congress and the opposition parties opposed. Krishna Menon did not implement Gen Thimayya’s recommendations and Gen Kaul was made Chief of General Staff (CGS), though Kaul did not have any combat experience (but because Kaul may have been a relative of Nehru and a Kashmiri pandit!). This severely affected the morale of the armed forces.
Nehru openly talked of war, if Chinese did not withdraw from Aksai Chin (but refused to talk about McMahon line). Nehru lied in Lok Sabha that India was militarily stronger in the western sector. To this, Gen SD Verma (Corps Commander) wrote to Krishna Menon’s favourite Gen Thapar (Chief of Army Staff – COAS) that this was incorrect as there were only 2 battalions in Jammu and Kashmir (when the requirement was of 7) AND that the Chinese outnumbered India by atleast 5:1. He was forced to resign and his pension was held up for a year! Gen Daulat Singh replaced him as GOC-in-C (Army Commander in Chief) in this sector.
Nehru, Krishna Menon, Gen Thapar and Gen Kaul implemented a flawed ‘Forward policy’, inspite of the Indian army not being adequately equipped. This policy involved moving patrols and posts into Chinese-occupied territory (sometimes behind Chinese posts), with the naiive belief that China will not attack a non-violent nation.
Chinese government send a lot of warnings (diplomatic and otherwise) but Nehru dismissed them as bluff. For all his loyal affection to Nehru, Krishna Menon wrote of him ‘Nehru lets himself be edged bit by bit into a situation from where escape is difficult. He cannot be acquitted of failure’.
President John F Kennedy after meeting with Nehru in Washington DC in Nov 1961, said that it was the worst head of state visit and it was like trying to grab something in your hand only to have it turn out to be just fog.
Ambassador of India to the USA, BK Nehru (cousin of Jawaharlal Nehru) said that the Indian army was badly equipped and could not ensure security, thus contradicting repeated assurances by Nehru to the Lok Sabha. Nehru withdrew the Indian ambassador to China but all throughout the war maintained that diplomatic relations must be maintained.
In July 1962, Gen Daulat Singh of Western command (Aksai Chin area) wrote to the Army Headquarters (HQ) about the enormous numerical superiority of the Chinese and the helplessness of the Indian army (as it was anchored to lower ground due to the dropping zones, and the Chinese army was at a greater altitude). He requested that the forward policy be suspended OR a division of 4 brigades be added. He was ignored.
The plight in the Eastern sector (Arunachal Pradesh area) was the same. Posts were set up in remote locations (there were no roads here and even air dropping supplies was not possible due to the terrain). The Chinese had all-weather roads on its side and their troops were acclimatized at that altitude. The Indian geography had jungles, mountains, 300 feet deep valleys. Ropes and bamboo suspension bridges were used, which even mules could not cross!
Sep 1962 – the trigger in NEFA
A forward post was setup at Dhola/ Thag La ridge. A border line drawn on the map corresponded to a few kilometers on the actual ground. This post may have been North of the McMahon line (in Chinese held Tibet, not in India), as confirmed by the army officers, who were in meeting with the Defense Minister Krishna Menon. The official minutes of this meeting were never noted down (but later reported in newspapers and a few books).
From the nearest road at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, this Dhola post was a 6 days uphill trek, if there were no landslides. And the nearest airbase in Tezpur was a few days away from Tawang. Whereas for the Chinese it was 3 hours from their nearest road (which was constructed to carry 7 ton trucks).
The altitude in this area was 13,000 to 16,000 feet and winter was approaching, so proper clothes and shoes were required. But the Indian troops were given a cotton uniform with a thin sweater to guard against the wind. Only 30% of air dropped supplies reached the troops, as the parachutes used were re-packed and of inferior quality. This was NOT a war. It was suicidal politics!
The Indian troops came face to face with the Chinese at Dhola post, and there was a skirmish on 8 September 1962. It seemed to be a ploy of the Chinese to make India provoke the Chinese into a cause for aggression. But now 2,500 Indian troops and 500 porters stood there without winter supplies. Still Indian troops were outnumbered 20:1. Gen Umrao Singh of XXXIII Corps suggested that the troops be withdrawn to 3 km south of the McMahon line, as they were north of it at Dhola. Suggestion was ignored and he was removed!
Mid October 1962
Nehru told journalists that in NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh) the advantage was with India, thus misleading the public which lead to their expectation of prompt and decisive action against an allegedly inferior Chinese force.
Gen Kaul (Nehru’s cousin) who was on leave from Sep during the crisis, reached Dhola post to take charge. Kaul immediately claimed of medical pulmonary trouble and withdrew to Tezpur (Assam) on 17 Oct, and then Delhi. He did not go to a hospital, but went home!
Gen Dalvi makes his last of various numerous requests to re-group troops on 19 Oct. When ignored, he resigned as a last resort.
The actual war starts on 20 October 1962
On 20 Oct 1962, the war started as China attacked Indian troops at Dhola and other posts at Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin. China issued a false statement that India had launched a full scale attack. The Indian public reaction turned from outrage to resolution and surprisingly then to optimism and this war came to be seen as a means for the ultimate triumph!
A group of Congress and Opposition MP approached President Radhakrishnan to remove Nehru, suspend Parliament and impose President’s rule. Nehru kept defending Krishna Menon till 7 Nov, but finally due to pressure from his own cabinet ministers; Chief Ministers; Members of Parliament and party-men and the public, Menon was forced to resign.
USA and UK supported India and offered arms. Almost all Non-Aligned nations and the Arab world was silent and urged restraint. This hurt Nehru the most, as he always felt he was the leader of the Non-aligned Movement (which included Arab countries). Russia (USSR) leaned towards China and blamed Nehru for the conflict. Finally Nehru accepted US aid on 29 Oct.
Mao Tse Tung had once said that in every battle, concentrate an absolutely superior force encircle the enemy forces completely and strive to wipe them out thoroughly. Fight no battle unprepared, fight no battle you are not sure of winning.
China had used 3 divisions in Arunachal Pradesh and penetrated from Tawang to Se La to Dirang to Dzong to Bomdi La AND another division at Walong encircling the Indian troops, which were completely scattered and outnumbered.
Holding a position in Tongpeng La area near Tawang, Subedar Joginder Singh faced repeated attacks by the Chinese between 20-23 October 1962. Despite suffering grievous wounds, he refused evacuation. He manned a light machine gun and killed a large number of enemies. Finally better weapons and superior numbers of the enemy prevailed and Singh was martyred. He was awarded the Param Vir Chakra for his bravery under adverse conditions. The Chinese troops kept penetrating the Eastern command (Arunachal Pradesh), which was under Gen Kaul.
The fight was very even in Aksai Chin
The Western command which was under Gen Daulat Singh was doing great and though India was at a disadvantaged position, it was a very even contest there. The Chinese faced fierce resistance at Daulat Beg Oldi, near the entrance to the Karakoram Pass; secondly, south of Pangong Lake at Chushul; and thirdly at the head of the supply road down to Leh.
Major Dhan Singh Thapa and his small team of about 30 men of the 1st battalion of the 8th Gorkha Rifles Regiment were surrounded from 3 sides by about 600 Chinese soldiers, but offered fierce resistance on 20th October 1962. The Chinese had to call in tanks to finally overcome this post. Major Dhan Singh was honoured with a Param Veer Chakra.
Major Shaitan Singh Bhati was asked to protect the crucial position at Rezang La, a pass on the south-eastern approach to Ladakh’s Chushul Valley air base, as it had an all weather landing strip. Protecting Chushul airfield was vital, if India had to hold on to Ladakh. Situated at a height of 5,000 meters (16,404 feet) above sea level, Rezang La was considered as the toughest combat zones in world, where mere breathing was a big challenge. Major Shaitan Singh Bhati was leading the Charlie Company of only 120 ‘Ahir’ jawans of the 13th Kumaon infantry battalion here.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of 5,000-6,000 soldiers equipped with heavy artillery support attacked Rezang La, at 330 am in the early morning of 18 November 1962. A crest of the ridge prevented Indian artillery from lending support, leaving the Jawans to fight for themselves. A lesser army might have retreated, but the company led by Major Shaitan Singh had no such intentions.
They resisted SEVEN waves of fierce Chinese attacks and over 1,300 – 2,000 Chinese lay dead! Major Shaitan Singh and his men had fought till their last breaths. Major Shaitan Singh was honoured with a Param Veer Chakra posthumously. The Chinese had been taught a lesson here. In Aksai Chin, the Chinese were not at all able to penetrate further!
Un-surprisingly, China decides to withdraw on 21 Nov 1962
Between Tawang and Bomdila, the Battle of Nuranang at Se La pass (named after tribal girls Nura and Sela who helped Rifleman Jaswant Singh) began on 17 November 1962 and went on for the next three days. Jaswant Singh Rawat, the only survivor left at his post at an altitude of 10,000 ft, managed to kill over 300 Chinese soldiers by firing from different bunkers. The Chinese soldiers thought they were facing an entire battalion! They finally killed Jaswant Singh, but single-handedly he had inflicted a severe psychological blow to the huge Chinese army. Indian Army’s reinforcements arrived, thus saving the opponents further progress into Arunachal Pradesh. Jaswant Singh was honoured with a Mahavir Chakra (posthumously).
Some key events during the war that may have altered the Chinese strategy, making them declare ceasefire on 21 Nov 1962:
- Wherever the Indian troops had the resources to stand and fight (both in Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh), Chinese suffered heavy casualties.
- Krishna Menon’s favourite, Gen Thapar (Chief of Army Staff) was replaced by Gen JN Chaudhari, who ordered the Indian troops in Arunachal Pradesh, to take up positions and under any circumstances retreat no more.
- Finally, Nehru’s relative Gen Kaul (Chief of General Staff) resigned and was replaced with Gen Sam Manekshaw! (Nehru offered Kaul the post of Governor of Himachal Pradesh, after the war!)
- The Chinese supplies were stretched, and for some strange reason, Nehru had decided against using the Indian Air Force, to cut off the stretched Chinese supplies lines.
- Dumping the Non-Aligned Movement, Nehru had requested the US for help. An US aircraft carrier had reached the Bay of Bengal.
- Though hurt, the Indian public seemed mentally ready for a long term war!
On 21 Nov 1962, China unilaterally announced ceasefire and started to withdraw back north of the McMahon line.
December 1962 – after the war
Due to Nehru’s false pride, bad planning and horrible leadership, India had lost 1,363 valiant soldiers in the fighting and 90% of whom were in Arunachal Pradesh alone. YB Chavan became Defense Minister, on the day the war ended. Nehru had finally learnt his lesson at the expense of a nation, and stopped interfering into the internal affairs of the army.
- Book ‘India’s China War’ by Neville Maxwell, foreign correspondent for ‘The Times’.
- Various Indian government official sources and documents
- Google maps
- Almost no part of this book has come from the secretive Chinese official sources.
Median Age (in years) of population
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Why the world thinks, that the Indian elephant may overcome the Chinese dragon? By 2020, India will contribute an additional 136 million people to the labour pool, compared to 23 million by China and 11 million by USA. Meanwhile, Japan’s and Europe’s working population will decline by 8 million and 21 million people respectively.