Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why Mao attacked India in 1962

This article has been published in the last issue of the Indian Defence Review.

An angle of the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict has been insufficiently studied.
What were Beijing’s motivations to go to war? Why did China suddenly decide to slap Nehru? Who decided to inflict the worse possible humiliation to India?
The historical sources are still sparse, but going through some available documents, one can get a fairly good idea of the Chinese motivations or more exactly the ‘political’ compulsions which pushed the Great Helmsman into this win-win venture.

Mao temporary leaves the stage
It is fashionable to speak of crimes against humanity. One of the greatest, known as the 'Great Leap Forward', began in China in February 1958 and resulted in the largest man-made starvation in human history. By initiating his Leap Forward, Mao Zedong's objective was to surpass Great Britain in industrial production within 15 years. For the purpose, every Chinese had to start producing steel at home, with a backyard furnace. In agriculture, Mao thought that very large communes would cater for a many-fold increase in the cereal production to make China into a heaven of abundance. Introduced and managed with frantic fanaticism, it did not take much time before the program collapsed. However, the more the plan failed the more the party cadres provided inflated production figures to Mao and more people died of starvation.
One man tried to raise his voice against the general madness and sycophancy. This was Peng Denhai, Defence Minister and old companion of Mao during the Long March. Marshal Peng, who was a simple, honest and straightforward soldier wrote a long personal letter to Mao on what he had seen in the countryside and the misery of the people. Mao immediately distributed his friend's critics to all the Party cadres and 'purged' old Peng. The Great Leap Forward was to continue till 1961/1962 and it is today estimated that between 40-50 million died of hunger in China during these three years.
At the beginning of 1962, while tension was increasing on the Indian border, did Nehru realize that China was a starving nation? No, very few grasped what was going on in China at that time.
How many knew that, by the end of 1961 Mao was practically out of power? Dr Zhisui Li, Mao's personal physician recounts how in 1961 Mao was: "…depressed over the agricultural crisis and angry with the party elite, upon whom he was less able now to work his will, Mao was in temporary eclipse, spending most his time in bed."
A year later, at the beginning of the fateful 1962, Mao's situation had not improved, Dr Li noted: "1962 was a political turning point for Mao. In January, when he convened another expanded Central Committee work conference to discuss the continuing disaster, his support within the party was at its lowest."
During the Conference, known as the 7,000 Cadres' Conference, Lui Shaoqi declared: "…man-made disasters strike the whole country." He was targeting Mao. After a month, as the meeting could not conclude, Mao decided that it was enough: he would temporarily retire to stage a comeback against 'left adventurism' and the 'capitalist roaders' later.
By the Fall of 1962, Mao would return with a bang. The conflict with India will be closely linked with his comeback.

Read on...

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