INDIA HONOURS ITS 1962 DEAD AFTER 50 YEARS
Author : C.Uday Bhaskar
INDIA HONOURS ITS 1962 DEAD AFTER 50 YEARS
India finally honoured its long ignored ‘shaheed' -- soldiers who had
laid down their lives defending flag and national sovereignty -- in the
brief war with China that began with the surprise People's Liberation
Army (PLA) attack on under-equipped and ill-clad Indian troops on
October 20, 1962.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony, accompanied by the three service chiefs
and the venerable five-star Marshal of the Air Force, Arjan Singh (a
World War II veteran), led the nation in laying a wreath at Delhi's war
memorial at India Gate.
This has been described as a gesture of epic proportions, for ever since
the humiliating defeat that India suffered with nearly 3,000 troops
killed in the icy Himalayan heights, the Indian state led by former
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru chose the path of obdurate and
A long festering border and territorial dispute that had its origins in
the colonial-era demarcation (imposed on Tibet and China by imperial
Britain during the heydays of the British Raj in India) was at the heart
of the Sino-Indian dispute. The month-long war left India stunned and
Nehru was taught a lesson by Mao. The war ended as suddenly as it began
when China withdrew unilaterally.
The Indian troops, equipped with vintage World War II ordnance and
cotton clothing, acquitted themselves with characteristic gallantry and
raw courage. Certain battles such as Rezang La will compare with the
legendary Thermopylae. However, there was an abysmal failure at the
highest political level in India and PM Nehru and his abrasive and
arrogant Defence Minister Krishna Menon were unable to cope with what
Mao had unleashed.
To its shame, over the last 50 years, the Indian state chose not to
acknowledge the death of its soldiers -- those who defended the nation
to their peril. The unstated reason was it would sully the image of
Nehru to recall or commemorate the 1962 war. India's distinctive
strategic culture derived from the Buddha-Gandhi tradition of ‘ahimsa'
and non-violence is reflected in the discomfiture of the Indian state in
empathetically and astutely dealing with either military victory (the
1971 India-Pakistan war) or defeat and this is an abiding trait.
To their credit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Antony took this
brave decision to finally acknowledge the war by honouring those killed
in 1962 -- and while it may not be the beginning of a long-awaited MEA
culpa, it is nonetheless welcome. The families of those who died may
find some succour and the Indian military and its three million
veterans, some solace.
Antony also briefly dwelt on the trauma of 1962 and asserted: "I would
like to assure the nation that India of today is not the India of 1962.
Over the years, successive governments learning lessons from the past
strengthened our capabilities and modernised our armed forces ... we are
confident our armed forces will be able to protect the border in event
of any threat."
Fifty years after the October 1962 war, Sino-Indian relations are more
stable, though the territorial and border dispute remains exactly where
it was -- frozen in time. The complex Tibet issue and the presence of
the Dalai Lama and his followers in India irks Beijing. India remains
wary of Chinese intent and the received wisdom is that Beijing's deeper
objective is to contain India in the subcontinent and that Pakistan is a
useful strategic proxy.
The much hyped Asian century is predicated on the rise of China and
India who have a combined population of more than two billion. Strategic
restraint has been the lodestar for the political leadership since the
1993 peace accord signed by the two Asian giants.
Commercial and economic opportunities beckon and bi-lateral trade is
expected to cross $100 billion soon. But for China and India, neither
co-operation nor conflict is preordained.
Sino-Indian relations will be tested when a new leadership assumes the
helm in Beijing in early November and defines the contours of its
relations with Washington and New Delhi. India will have to review its
past more objectively to manage its future orientation apropos China.
The first step was taken on Saturday.
( C Uday Bhaskar is a Visiting Fellow at the National Maritime
Foundation. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org . This article first
appeared in Reuters on October 21, 2012.)
(C Uday Bhaskar is a Senior Fellow at the National Maritime Foundation. He can be contacted at email@example.com . This article first appeared in the South Asia Monitor on October 28, 2012.)