By Bhaskar Roy
The October 1962 Chinese attack on India was remembered with a slew of articles in the media looking not so much at what China did, but on what Indian leaders did not. This is certainly the correct approach.
Most important, a report in a leading Indian newspaper based on some declassified Chinese reports of that time revealed how Chinese leader Mao Zedong lulled the Indian policy makers with deceptive reports in the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily. At that time the People’s Daily was the only newspaper in China that gave a glimpse of some things that were happening inside China. The other two official media that have been quoted by Chinese officials in interaction with foreigners were the weekly Peking/Beijing Review and the news agency Xinhua. The Chinese official media still continue to play the same role. And as always, they are also used by top Chinese leaders and factions for attacking each other.
China’s martial art of ‘denial and deception’ is well known. The trick is to decipher and understand what the Chinese say, at what time and under what circumstances. Indian leaders have all along failed to read the Chinese plans and strategy. Since 1962, Indian policy makers whether in the PMO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Home Ministry and some even the intelligence organizations have adamantly refused to even acknowledge that China was a problem.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was a great statesman, a visionary and gave India the start it got. But he was not a politician of the real world.
Nehru was acutely aware of colonialism and hence had empathy for all colonised countries. But he also admitted the progress that the British colonialist brought to India.
More importantly, Nehru had a vision for Asia. He saw China, another ancient civilization like India, with a colonised past, with vast potential to work together to make the latter part of 20th century as Asian civilization. Nehru declined India’s seat as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council in favour of China. He saw the offer from both Washington and Moscow as a strategy to divide Asia. He also brought the issue of Chinese invasion of Tibet out of UN, arguing it could be resolved amicably within the ‘families’.
It is, therefore, not a surprise that Nehru ignored Sardar Patel’s letter warning about China. This process continued. His order to throw out the Chinese army from Indian territory was an emotional reaction to a perceived Chinese betrayal.
The fly in the ointment was Defence Minister Krishna Menon. Nehru was progressive, but Menon was a leftist. As most leftists in India believe, China could do no wrong. Menon killed most of the sensitive intelligence reports on the movement of Chinese troops on the border. None of them reached Nehru.
Many reasons are attributed to why the Indian air force was not used, although aircraft were ready. India’s air force was superior to China’s at that time. The Chief Ministers of West Bengal and Madras State were afraid that if India used air force, the Chinese air force would bomb Kolkata (Calcutta) and Chennai (Madras). Then there was the political infighting in the Indian army with an ill and inept officer with no battle experience was appointed as commander of 4 Corps responsible for the north east. Krishna Menon appointed a sick Lt. Gen. B.M. Kaul in the post, demoralizing the army brass.
In brief, the 1962 was fiasco from the Indian side, caught unprepared, and sending unprepared soldiers to an abattoir.
Why has the Indian government been so reluctant to come out with the whole truth about the 1962 war? Why is the Henderson-Brooks report still classified? It is 50 years after 1962 war which ended with a defeat for India and China claims the high moral ground. On India’s side the feeble efforts continue to paper over the incident as Chinese betrayal. From ancient war strategy it has been known that denial and deception are critical in winning a war. In fact, deception is used to win a war without fighting a battle. That is what the Chinese are doing.
Unless the entire story is declassified and written as authentic history, Indians will never learn from the past and continue to make more mistakes in the future. While it has been known that the Chinese have been constructing roads and permanent infrastructure along the borders with India, India has not been able to take similar action on its own side. The Chinese railway has come to Tibet’s capital in Lhasa, and will be extended close to the Indian border by 2014. Troops movement and movement of military ordnance and vehicles to the borders will be quick. They are preparing at least five military air fields near the borders and advanced aircraft have been moved to Tibet. Military exercises conducted by China in Tibet are clearly targeted on the borders.
The Indian government response has been to sweep everything under the carpet and give in to China’s demands as much as possible to buy peace. A number of examples can be given including signing over Tibet to China in 2003 without getting anything in exchange. Fervently hoping China will really recognize Sikkim as an integral part of India after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s theatrics in 2005 in New Delhi. Or on cross LAC incursions by the Chinese army. The quiet official word coming down is ‘don’t provoke the Chinese’.
That China has refrained from resolving the border issue in spite of all the bilateral meetings needs to be considered. At the moment China is not in a position to raise acrimony on the border issue because they are not confident of a 1962 repeat. They are also deeply engaged in territorial disputes with Japan and countries surrounding the South China Sea. But they are building heavily in Tibet, coming into the Indian Ocean, and have embarked on a new strategy to use academics/intellectuals of South Asian countries to weave a new web of distrust of India.
Many in India including in high places argue repeating the Chinese line that there is more in common between the two countries than differences, and there is more cooperation than conflict. Issues like similar stands on climate change, human rights, north-south differences, rising bilateral trade reaching about $80 billion and soon to reach $100 billion are cited. All these are taking place because they suit China.
On issues like Indo-US nuclear deal, India’s position at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Look East Policy, terrorism China’s position sharply differ. China’s position on Kashmir has hardened. Its clandestine assistance on nuclear weapons and delivery system continues. There is little or no discussions about these in the Indian media. We are happy to exclude the negative from our consciousness that has itself become negative. Equally important, India is losing the small expertise it had in reading the Chinese.
There are many more potential threats from China especially through cyber and information warfare. There is hardly any discussions on China’s “Assassin’s Mace”, warfare and sensitive areas are being opened China’s telecom companies which are suspect in many countries in the world. Recently, the Major of Melbourne, Australia, ordered an inquiry in Chinese companies trying to bribe city councillors to favour them in business. One councillor disclosed he was approached with a bribe in 2010. The Indian corporate sector is strangely uneducated about national security and even intellectual property. Only cheap components matter.
Apathy, dysfunction and narrow sectional interest have become malignant tumours. Otherwise, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee could not have scuttled the Teesta river water sharing agreement with Bangladesh, severely denting bilateral relations. In Tamil Nadu, different parties fell over each other to vitiate Indo-Sri Lanka relations on Tamil nationalism.
These developments are matters of serious concern. If we keep our heads in the sands we will pay dearly. 1962 will seem like a picnic.
The foregoing does not mean that the Indian government and experts including in the media to start an anti-China campaign. The two countries have no other option other than working together in certain areas. Trade and economic relations, cultural exchanges, tourism among other thing that must be improved further. The people of the two countries hardly know each other. What is essential is clear understanding of Chinese motives and actions by the Chinese authorities that hurt India’s interests across the globe, and make India’s concerns emphatically clear publicly and bilaterally. India should make it clear that India has its own interest in South East Asia, the North East Asia and in keeping the global commons open for all. There is a Chinese saying “respect the strong and blackmail the weak”. This is how Beijing has been dealing with India. Strength ensures peace, and giving concessions to make pace is a recipe for defeat.
The author is a New Delhi based strategic analyst. He can be reached at e-mail [email protected]