INDIA’S NATIONAL SECURITY WHAT WE HAVE LEARNT FROM 1962 HUMILIATION
Author : C.Uday Bhaskar
October 20, 1962 was the day India was shocked and humiliated by the 'lesson' that China under
Chairman Mao administered to India with Prime Minister Nehru at the helm. Even as the USA and
the former USSR were locked in the brittle Cuban missile crisis that had a menacing nuclear contour,
Beijing challenged Delhi's emotive 'forward policy' and crossed the McMahon Line. The PLA made
rapid advances in the western and eastern theatres of the yet-to-be-demarcated and hence contested
border between the two Asian giants.
The Indian political giant, Nehru was brought to his knees and the Indian leadership - both
political and military - was in complete disarray. Panic was the operative word and it seemed as if
Assam would be abandoned, but a month later, on November 20, China declared a ceasefire and
commenced its withdrawal from the areas it had occupied, having staked its territorial claim and given
unambiguous notice of its politico-military intent. 49 years later, it is moot to ask what India has 'learnt'
from October 1962 over the last five decades. One irrefutable lesson that India internalised was the
deep anxiety about the China factor in India's security calculus.
The other was the tenet of statecraft: that diplomacy however earnest, devoid of comprehensive
national power, complemented by objective political perspicacity about the prevailing regional and
global strategic orientation - would alas be ineffective. China, India and the world have changed
enormously over the intervening decades and now there is talk of both the Asian resurgence and
the inevitable 'rise' of China. Analysts of varied hue who wield the telescope are agreed that China is
poised to overtake the USA to become the world's number one economy in discrete GDP terms.
While there is debate about the exact date when this will happen, a recent IMF study indicates that
this could happen as soon as 2016. By that year China's GDP is expected to zoom from a little under
$8 trillion to $19 trillion - presuming that Beijing is able to sustain its robust and enviable economic
growth rate. By that time, the USA, it is estimated, would touch only $18.8 trillion, with China
contributing to 18% of global output and the US share being 17.7%. There are other economists who
aver that this overtaking could happen even earlier and some who opine that it has already taken
The same strategic telescope suggests that by 2020-2025, India will also grow - perhaps less
dramatically - and be the third largest single state economy in the world, though it would be a distant
third in absolute terms. Thus a tri-polar global economic matrix will evolve with its complex index
of interdependency impelled by the current texture of globalisation and its attendant technological
characteristics. India, in summary, has established its economic credibility and while the potential is
still blunted by anguishing levels of poor governance and lack of institutional integrity -one pattern is
To the extent that 1962 was a wake-up call to the national security apex, Delhi had to address a
similar national trauma on the economic and fiscal front in 1991 with a looming balance of payment
crisis. Adroit restructuring of the moribund Indian economic policies and fiscal management, led by
the then prime minister Narasimha Rao, ably supported by a true professional economist - Manmohan
Singh as the finance minister - brought about this radical overhaul. India had clearly derived the
appropriate 'lessons' from 1991.
The management of economic security is evidently being handled with a proven degree of
professional competence at the political apex, so much so that India is poised to be the part of the
emerging E-3 in the near future. However the same cannot be said of 1962 and the lessons that
ought to have been learnt apropos the military security and strategic domain. Glaring inadequacies
persist in the higher defence management of the country.
Post 1962, the incursions that resulted in the 1999 Kargil war and the enormity of Mumbai 2008 are
testimony to this obduracy. China is unlikely to repeat 1962 and despite the military asymmetry that
is in the PLA's favour, the odds against India are not the same. However this does not detract from
the fact that India needs to radically overhaul its existing stove-pipes and institutions to deal with
its holistic national security. The microscope must be utilised to detect the existing politico-military
malignancies and harmonise policies with the view of the telescope.
Keeping the Indian military - the security professionals - out of the national policy loop is a glaring
omission. This needs to be redressed by the astute Manmohan Singh who played a stellar role in
1991. Otherwise India will be perennially suspended in trying to cross the 1962 chasm in two leaps -
with lessons only half-learnt in a half-hearted manner. Singh must become his own Rao.
(The author is former director of Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses)
(The article appeared in ‘The Economic Times’ on 20 Oct 2011)