A false narrative on 1962 cannot gloss over the failure in 2020 to stop Chinese incursion  

It is unfair to condone failure of present govt in halting Chinese intrusion on ground that China had also encroached on our land in 1962, as many BJP spokesmen are engaged in doing now

 Nehru interacting with soldiers
Nehru interacting with soldiers

Arun Sharma

It is unfair to compare the present debacle in Eastern Ladakh with the mishap that occurred in 1962 at our border with China.

It is equally unfair to condone the failure of the present Government in halting the Chinese intrusion that happened in the last two months on the ground that China had also attacked and encroached on our land in 1962, as many spokesmen and supporters of the BJP are engaged in doing now.

The two situations are as different as chalk and cheese. The challenges that Nehru faced in respect to China were nearly insurmountable compared to what Narendra Modi faces today. There are many glaring dissimilarities between the two situations. Yet the contrast between the response of the two Prime Ministers is too stark to escape attention.

To begin with, Nehru had to start on a clean slate. Nehru had inherited the foreign policy of a colonial power. He had to therefore formulate a new foreign policy that would safeguard the integrity and sovereignty of the new nation that had just thrown off the colonial yoke.

The lure of being entrapped in the politics of the two power blocks, namely, the US and the USSR was very much real and enticing in the Cold War era. Nehru was wise enough to pursue an independent foreign policy and was able to steer India clear of the military alliances that would have certainly compromised the independence of the nation to a great extent.

Modi has had no such onerous task before him when he came to power in2014. He inherited the legacy of a sound foreign policy laid down by Nehru. A policy that could enable him to spurn the repeated offers of the President of the most powerful nation in the world to mediate in Kashmir and Ladakh.

Nehru inherited a border which was unoccupied and un-administered in British times. Subsidies were given by the British to dissuade the tribesmen from raiding into the mainland. It was in Nehru’s time from 1954 that India occupied much of NEFA; apparently in order to anticipate possible Chinese occupation. (Sir Walter Crocker’s biography of Nehru, page 102).

Sir Walter Crocker reveals that he was ‘told by some officials concerned that Nehru himself from the early fifties expected trouble over the border, and his policy was to play for time and let sleeping dogs lie’. (ibid page 103)

Nehru did not want to precipitate matters by a war over Tibet in 1949-50 as India was preoccupied with her millions of refugees and with the strained relations with Pakistan, including the Kashmir issue, wrote Crocker. He further mentions that a war with China over Tibet would at that date would have been impossible for India (ibid, page 103). Nehru was not complacent; he was pragmatic. He would rather first make his country economically strong.

Modi has had no such problems or compulsions., save the Corona pandemic. The LAC had been more or less defined, though not incontrovertibly. There have been several agreements signed by previous governments since 1993 with China to maintain peace on the border. More importantly, no soldier had died in the last 45 years on either side of the borders with China.

Although Nehru’s status as an outstanding statesman with a firm grip on international issues was acknowledged all over the world even 15 years before India’s independence, he was not so blessed in his aides in the ministry of foreign affairs.

The External Affairs ministry was small, amateurish, and overstretched, observed Crocker, while his cabinet ministers were mostly new to Government itself, over and above their ignorance of military and foreign affairs. (ibid, page 103) Moreover, civil and military intelligence were in their nascent stage. The Indian armed forces too were not as powerful as it is today and were in the process of being built.

It was with these limitations, which compare unfavourably with the things as they stand today, that Nehru faced the challenge of China’s attack in 1962.

But his response was to stand up to the Chinese and fight; not to keep quiet. Noted Defence expert Ajai Shukla has referred to a news report in Times of India, Bombay edition of 13 July, 1962 which says ‘Nehru ordered the Army to hold Galwan valley at all cost’. The soldiers there fought to the end, he recalls. Modi on the other hand seems to have almost ceded Galwan to the Chinese.

Nehru appealed to the US and UK for help. Ultimately, the Chinese withdrew to the original location on their own. Nehru was devastated by the Chinese attack. But he regained his composure, writes Crocker. ‘Such was Nehru’s resilience and adroitness, he says, ‘that he weathered the storm and within a few weeks was regarded once more by majority of Indians as indispensable’ (ibid, page 128).

It is worthwhile to remember how much Nehru did not let go even in defeat. Walter Crocker lists a few : He did not give up non-alignment, although there was pressure at home; he did not break off diplomatic relations with China; did not succumb to the hypothesis that China was a big threat; did not bow to the West; in fact got more aid from the West too; did not give in to the pressure to turn the Plan economy into a War economy. What he got, Crocker quotes someone say at that time, ‘was military reliance without military alliance’ which was not little. (ibid page 129).

Most significantly, writes Crocker, ‘Nehru got the US, apparently with the help of an American ambassador who was new to these matters and to diplomacy to recognise the McMahon Line. Hitherto the State Department had refused to recognise it, a fact not without significance; the White House now overruled the State Department. It was a virtuoso performance; and the more remarkable as Nehru not long ago had recovered from the first illness in his life, was old and tired.’ (ibid page 129)

Nehru also kept the nation duly informed of the crisis, in and outside the Parliament. He even kept his chief ministers also informed about the crisis through his fortnightly letters to them although they were not directly concerned with the foreign affairs issue.

By contrast, Modi has maintained silence despite repeated appeals by Rahul Gandhi to speak up. Even in his last address to the nation on 30 June, Modi did not utter a single word abouwt China’s incursion!

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