The Indian Defence Review published my article on the Henderson-Brooks/Bhagat Report.
The article is also available on the Indian Defence Review website (with end-notes).
Soon 50 years will have passed since China entered NEFA and Ladakh. This event has so deeply traumatized India that the Sino-Indian conflict has remained a scar in the nation’s psyche, partly because we do not know what exactly happened.
It is today possible to get some hints of what took place from Indian official sources (for example, the Official History of the 1962 War prepared by the Ministry of Defence and a number of White Papers published by the Ministry of External Affairs), as well as from memoirs written by the main actors like Brig John Dalvi, Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad, Maj Gen DK Palit or Lt Gen B.M. Kaul and also from CIA , Russian and Chinese sources. However, the main Indian report prepared by Lt Gen Henderson-Brooks and Brig (later Lt Gen) Prem Bhagat is unfortunately still the most secret document of the Indian Republic.
Having lost any hope that the famous document will one day be declassified, I have tried to guess: “What on earth has stopped the Government to declassify the Report?”
Though portions of it were read out in the Parliament by the Defence Minister Y.B. Chavan in 1963, the gist seems to be missing.
A book helps us to understand the background of the Henderson-Brooks Report. Between 1962 and 1965, R.D. Pradhan was the Private Secretary of Y.B. Chavan who after the debacle of October 1962 took over as Defence Minister from the disgraced V.K. Krishna Menon.
Pradhan’s memoirs , give some insights on the reasoning of the then Defence Minister: “For Chavan the main challenge in the first years was to establish relationship of trust between himself and the Prime Minister. He succeeded in doing so by his deft-handling of the Henderson-Brooks’ Report of Inquiry into the NEFA reverses.”
The Private Secretary elaborated on the Defence Minister’s sentiments during the following months: “During the conduct of the enquiry Chavan was apprehensive that the committee may cast aspersions on the role of the Prime Minister or the Defence Minister.” Pradhan adds: “His [Chavan] main worry was to find ways to defend the government and at the same time to ensure that the morale of the armed forces was not further adversely affected. For that he repeatedly emphasized in the Parliament that that the enquiry was a fact-finding one and to ‘learn lessons’ for the future and it was not a ‘witch-hunt’ to identify and to punish the officers responsible for the debacle.”
It is clear that Chavan’s main objective was to defend the government, in other words, ‘defend Nehru’ and the political coterie around him who were responsible for the death of nearly 2000 Indian officers and jawans.
Chavan’s Secretary concludes: “It was a tribute to his sagacity and political maturity that he performed his role to the full satisfaction of the Parliament and also earned the gratitude of the Prime Minister.”
He obviously managed to absolve Nehru of any wrong doing even though the Prime Minister was one, if not the main culprit.
In 2008, answering a question on the Report, Defence Minister A.K. Antony told the Indian Parliament that the Henderson-Brooks Report could not be made public because it was an internal study for the Indian Army and its contents “were not only extremely sensitive, but are of current operational value.”
At first sight it seems strange that this 49 year-old report is still of ‘operational value’. Was it a manual of what should NOT be done in case of a conflict with China or any other country? All the more reason to study it!
Were the officials who drafted the Minister’s reply aware of the other report, quoted earlier, the Official History of the Conflict with China (1962) prepared by the same Defence Ministry, detailing the famous ‘operations’ in 474 foolscap pages?
In 2005, under the Right to Information Act, veteran journalist and former MP Kuldip Nayar saught the following information: “May I request you to make me available a copy of the Report by the retired Lt. Gen Henderson-Brooks on the China-India War in 1962. This is now 43 years old and should have been formally available in the Archives of India, some 30 years after it was submitted to the Government of India. ”
The Respondent, the Ministry of Defence dragged its feet for months and tried to take refuge behind the Section 8 (1).
The stand of the Defence Ministry was explicitly given during a hearing of the Commission on March 7, 2009: “Disclosure of this information will amount to disclosure of the army’s operational strategy in the North-East and the discussion on deployments has a direct bearing on the question of the demarcation of the Line of Actual Control between India and China, a live issue under examination between the two countries at present.”
The fact that it has a “direct bearing on the question of the demarcation of the Line of Actual Control” may give us a hint in which direction to look to find an answer to our query.
In a ‘decision notice’ dated March 19, 2010, the Central Information Commission said: “We have examined the report specifically in terms of its bearing on present national security. …The disclosure of information of which the Henderson Brooks report carries considerable detail on what precipitated the war of 1962 between India and China will seriously compromise both security and the relationship between India & China, thus having a bearing both on internal and external security. We have examined the report from the point of view of severability u/s 10(1). For reasons that we consider unwise to discuss in this Decision Notice, this Division Bench agrees that no part of the report might at this stage be disclosed.”
It seems strange as large parts had already been disclosed by the Defence Minister himself as well as by Neville Maxwell, the author of India's China War who had the ‘privilege’ to access a copy of the Report from which he abundantly quoted in his book.
Looking for hints why the Henderson-Brooks report has never been released, the following sentence give some indications:”There is no doubt that the issue of the India-China Border particularly along the North East parts of India is still a live issue with ongoing negotiations between the two countries on this matter.” It is perhaps where one needs to look.
What does the Chinese side say
Another clue is that China has always said that it is India which attacked first. According to Chinese historians who wrote the history of the 1962 conflict, a first key meeting was held in early October 1962 (probably on October 6) in Beijing.
Defence Minister and Deputy Central Military Commission Chairman, Lin Biao reported on the situation in the Tibet and the Xinjiang Military Regions. Lin said that the Indians continue to ‘advance’ and often open fire on Chinese outposts.
The Chinese military intelligence had correctly gathered that the Indian forces were planning an attack on Thagla Ridge on 10 October .
Mao told his colleagues: “It seems like armed coexistence won't work. It’s just as we expected. Nehru really wants to use force. This isn't strange. He has always wanted to seize Aksai Chin and Thagla Ridge. He thinks he can get everything he desires.”
The Great Helmsman continued: “…Since Nehru sticks his head out and insists on us fighting him, for us not to fight with him would not be proper. Courtesy emphasizes reciprocity.”
Mao seems to believe that India attacked first, though there was no question of the India Army ‘attacking China’ with no food, no clothes, no armament or ammunition supply, the Chinese perceived the situation differently.
Was the Communist leadership just looking for a pretext? Probably, but what could be this pretext?
Why did China really believe that India attacked?
The answer is to be found in the books written by the Army officers who have been the unwilling actors in the ‘blunder’, namely Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad, the GOC of 4 infantry Division, Brig John Dalvi, the Commander of 7 Infantry Brigade and Brig D.K. Palit, then Director of Military Operations at the Army Headquarters in Delhi.
Niranjan Prasad in his book The Fall of Towang explains why he decided to write his memoirs: “…to remove some of the misconceptions regarding that operation.”
The version of Niranjan Prasad is important as he was the link between the ‘bosses’ in Delhi (often dictating orders to lower subordinates from the Army HQ) and the troops struggling on an undefendable ground in the NEFA. Having suffered the humiliation of the defeat, he does not have to spare the real culprits, the politicians.
Where is the McMahon Line?
In his Fall of Towang, the Commander of 4 Infantry Division describes the setting of the operations thus: “The McMahon Line from just north of Khinzemane, as drawn by Sir Henry McMahon in 1914 with a thick blue pencil on an unsurveyed map, was not an accurate projection of the Himalayan watershed line. Much of the territory in those days had not been explored and McMahon was only guessing at geography when he drew a thick blue [red] line from Khinzemane to the Bhutan-Tibet-India tri-junction to its east. In this process the position of Thagla ridge was, to say the least, left ambiguous. The story goes that the officer surveying the area had completed an admirable task of delineating the watershed up to this point when a pretty Mompa girl claimed his attention and the work was left uncompleted. Whatever the reason, the survey authorities, ignoring physical features on the ground, joined Point MM 7914 to the India-Bhutan Tibet tri-junction by a straight line. Stranger still, the Government of India had not corrected this obvious mistake even in 1962. Clearly someone in External Affairs had not done his home work. This lapse cannot be easily excused or explained away; it was largely responsible for the critical dispute which later developed and eventually led to war.”
Though the Thagla ridge was the logical border if one follows the watershed principle as well as the ownership of customary pastures’ rights, the fact remains that the old map which was the reference for India’s position on the ‘genuine ’ location of the border, showed the Thagla ridge and the Namkha Chu , north of the 1914 line. As Maj Gen Prasad said, it had unfortunately not been corrected after India’s independence.
The Chinese probably may have known the doubts of the local Army commanders. In his memoirs, Prasad recalls: “From our own Signals channels I had received reports of a pirate radio operating somewhere in our area, but when we referred this to higher authorities the matter was dismissed.”
It could explain how Mao was aware of Operation Op Leghorn to evict the Chinese from the Thagla ridge in October 1962 .
Another possibility was that some Monpa villages had been ‘bought over’ by the Chinese.
It is necessary to return two years earlier in history to understand the situation on the eve of the tragedy. The Government of India had mooted a new policy; to quote the Official Report of the Ministry of Defence: “In NEFA, ‘Operation Onkar’ was launched in 1960. According to this plan, there was to be a large expansion of the Assam Riffles, and units were to be posted all along the frontier and also in the areas not occupied till then. Those post were to be manned by Assam Riffles personnel but were to be established under Army supervision. The siting of these posts and their exact location was, however, decided mainly by the Intelligence Bureau and not the Army.”
It became the famous ‘Forward Policy’. It was the brainchild of Krishna Menon, the Defence Minister with the full support of the Prime Minister who however said that posts should not be established in ‘disputed areas’.
The Official Report continues: “In the wake of this order, efforts were further intensified. In the Eastern Sector some Assam Rifles platoons were placed under 4 Inf Div in May 1962 which speeded up the establishment of forward posts ‘as close to the border as possible’ under ‘Op Onkar’. By 20 July 1962, a total number of thirty four posts (8 in Kameng, 8 in Subansari, 7 in Siang and 11 in Lohit Frontier Divisions) were established in NEFA along the border with Tibet. Those posts included one at Dhola, established a little south of the Namkha Chu on 4 June 1962.”
The local Commanders (Corps, Division and Brigade) were not happy and they made it known, but nothing could stop the folly of the ‘authorities’ in Delhi.
Brig Dalvi recalled: “It is known that many generals, including General Umrao Singh, opposed the indiscriminate opening up of more posts. Who forced him to open Dhola? Surely India was not landed in the straits of 1962 by an unplanned and thoughtless drift into a disputed area because of an archaic map? The opening up of posts in undisputed areas cannot be questioned. The setting up of posts in disputed territory is a different matter. It is an act of rashness...”
As the local GOC, Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad noted that the local officers had no choice, they could perhaps have resigned, but in an almost war situation, it is not an easy decision.
As mentioned, a post was established at a place known as Tse Dong (Chinese: Che Dong), at the bottom of Dhola peak, on the southern bank of the Namka Chu by Captain Prasad. The post later entered in history as the ‘Dhola Post’.
Though Captain Prasad's maps showed the McMahon Line as passing to south of the Thagla ridge, the political representative present in his party, assured him that the ridge was part of the Indian territory; however when the young Captain came back to his base after setting the Post, he reported the matter to Divisional Headquarters, which in turn cabled the Corps and Army Headquarters. By then, it was July 20.
General Prasad extensively debriefed Captain Prasad and “became convinced that the Thagla ridge was indeed the main watershed”.
Brigadier Dalvi wrote later that the setting of the Dhola Post was one crucial factor for the subsequent conflict.
In his Himalayan Blunder, he questions how the Dhola Post came into existence: “We seemed to have ventured most casually into a potentially explosive commitment. Instead of working in water-tight compartments, we should have alerted the whole Army and prepared for a clash.”
Who was informing the ‘civil supremacy’? The Intelligence Bureau and its Director had probably no clue about the Chinese preparations and even less about the political upheavals going on in Beijing.
Visit of the Director of Military Operations
On 14 August, 1962, Brigadier D.K. Palit, Director of Military Operations visited the Corps Headquarters in Tezpur.
He told the brigade commanders and the staff that according to Intelligence input “there was little or no probability of the Chinese resorting to armed hostilities”. About the issue of the Thagla ridge, he said that though the Divisional Headquarters had sent its report August 4, the Army Headquarters in Delhi had only received it the day before he left for Tezpur (14 August morning). He promised to look into this and send an answer ‘as soon as he could’.
Prasad recorded in his Memoirs: “I told the Director of Military Operations that the establishment of Dhola Post could lead to very serious consequences if in fact it lay north of our claim line. I asked for a clear cut definition of our claim line and emphasised that our posts should be shed in relation to that line. He promised to examine the case on return to Delhi and to give me an answer as soon as possible.”
In his insider’s assessment of the conflict, War in the High Himalayas, Brigadier Palit recalls the encounter: “On my return to Delhi I referred the Thagla dilemma to the Director of Military Survey. The latter commented that as the existing maps of the area were 'sketchy and inaccurate, having been compiled from unreliable sources', the map co-ordinates of the new post quoted by the patrol leader were of doubtful accuracy. He confirmed that the recognised border was the watershed, but qualified this statement by adding 'the exact alignment of [this] will depend on accurate survey'. This, he added, would take two to three years to complete.”
As Palit commented that was ‘not greatly enlightening’. He decided to get the opinion of the Ministry of External Affairs and more particularly, the Historical Section of the Ministry which answered: 'We may permit the Army to extend the jurisdiction, if they have not already done so, up to the line suggested by them [Thagla ridge].”
Wanting to clarify the exact position, Palit went to meet Dr S. Gopal , the Director of the Historical Section, who had been part of the group of Officials who met the Chinese on five occasions to discuss the border issue in 1960. Palit recalled that he went to see the historian “in order to double-check before I passed on this decision to HQ 4 Division”.
Gopal explained to him that since the boundary talks with the Chinese in 1960, the Government of India had been aware that the actual terrain in the area of the tri-junction was different from that depicted on the quarter-inch scale map Simla sheet.
The point given by the Chinese for the tri-junction was 91° 40’ East, 27° 48’ North . Gopal noted on the file: “This point was further north of the tri-junction shown on our maps and nearer the point now suggested by Army Headquarters. Furthermore, the Chinese had been told [during the talks of 1960] that the alignment [of the McMahon Line] followed Thagla ridge, which is also the ridge shown by Army Headquarters in the sketch.”
But Palit adds: “What Gopal had not told me — and I found out only later —was that the Chinese had not accepted our arguments and had counter-claimed Thagla ridge, as well as the valley at Khinzemane, as Chinese territory.”
The Director of Military Operations wrote that he sent Gopal's remarks to HQ Eastern Command in Lucknow for onward transmission to 4 Infantry Division: “but by then it was mid-September and events in that remote region on the border of Bhutan and Tibet had already reached a critical stage”.
It was already too late to go back, at least for the egos of the main actors in Delhi (in the Army HQ and the Governement).
The September 8 Incident
The situation was getting hotter by the day. In Beijing, Mao Zedong had begun his come back to the political stage in Beijing .
In the morning of September 8, 1962, Chinese launched a first offensive precisely against the Dhola Post.
The Official Report said: “troops were noticed moving across the Namkha Chu in the Tawang sector. In a few hours about forty of them crossed the river, virtually surrounded Dhola and threatened the small post manned by troops from 9 Punjab. The Chinese troops also destroyed 2 bridges near the post of the Namkha Chu. …The Chinese settled into positions near and dominating the post, thus repeating the tactics that they had adopted in the Northern sector against Indian posts.”
It was panic in the Indian camp.
While the Indian Army was trying to reorganize itself and hurriedly (and anarchically) send reinforcements to the Namkha river, the Chinese watched from their dominating position and this, for a week.
But as the Official Report recorded: “The Chinese resumed firing after a short interval. After the incidents of the 20 and 21 September, there was intermittent firing on 22-25 September. On 28 September, the Chinese used automatic weapons. The Indian troops retaliated. In those bloody clashes both sides suffered casualties. Suddenly the Chinese stopped firing. But it turned to the proverbial lull before the storm.”
That was it! The point of non-return had been reached. Mao could launch a full-fledged military campaign against India to ‘teach her a lesson’ that she would remember ‘for decades’. He had the necessary pretext: the Indians troops had crossed the Red Line of the 1914 map (though ironically Beijing would continue to treat the Line as ‘illegal’).
On September 16, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing in a Note to the Indian Embassy in China stated: “Indian troops recently again crossed the so-called ‘McMahon Line’, intruded into Che Dong [Dhola Post] of the Le village (approximately 27° 49' N, 91° 48' E) in China and constructed barracks and defence works there in preparation for prolonged entrenchment.”
Beijing added: “After swallowing up by force large tracts of Chinese territory south of the ‘McMahon Line’ on the eastern sector of the Sino-Indian border, the Indian side went further to intrude into Khinzemane north of the Line in 1959 and has since hung on there. And now, it has further intruded into Che Dong [Dhola Post]. These systematic nibbling activities fully reveal how ambitious the Indian side's aggressive designs are. They also show that the Indian side is actively extending the tension to the entire Sino-Indian border. The Indian Government must be held responsible for all the consequences arising therefrom.”
Four days earlier, Niranjan Prasad had received Lt Gen L.P. ‘Bogey’ Sen, the Army Commander based in Lucknow at the Tezpur airport: “He greeted me coldly; and during the drive back to Divisional Headquarters he did not utter one single word and, disconcertingly, ignored all my questions.”
At a conference at Divisional Headquarters, Sen announced that the Thagla ridge was Indian territory and that the Chinese would have to be “driven out, the operation, codenamed Op Leghorn, was to be executed at all costs”.
On 20th September, New Delhi complained that two Chinese soldiers had crept up to an Indian patrol post and thrown two hand grenades.
The next day, Beijing retorted: “Indian troops in the Che Dong [Dhola Post] area of Tibet, China, north of the so-called McMahon Line, into which they had intruded, made a sudden armed attack on Chinese frontier sentries standing on guard west of the Che-jao bridge.”
In these tense circumstances one understands that there were no questions about rethinking India’s position on the border.
A Flamboyant Corps Commander
On October 3, Lt Gen B.M Kaul took over Corps IV, a Corps especially created ‘to throw the Chinese out’. On his arrival in Tezpur, he had a briefing by Naranjan Prasad, the 4 Infantry Division Commander, who recorded: “My proposal was to have stronger posts further away from the border as bases for patrols operating up to our claim line.” Later Kaul addressed the senior officers.
According to Prasad: “At the conference, however, General Kaul's mannerism changed completely . His reply to me was brusque and final: ‘The Prime Minister himself had ordered these posts to be set up and he had based his decision on the highest Intelligence advice.’ Also, explicit in his reply was a warning that failure or dragging of feet in completing the task could result in serious consequences for those responsible in other words, for 4 Infantry Division. So that was that.”
A story of utter confusion!
John Dalvi’s commented: “The [former] Chief of the General Staff, General Kaul too must have been aware of the background to the Dhola area, and the possible military repercussions of treading on dangerous ground. Was Dhola established under Government orders; or was it established by the Army Command purely as 'an operational matter'? Did the Government say that we must hold Dhola?”
Fifty years later, it is still a mystery: who ordered the setting of this particular post. The issue is a sensitive one for the Chinese because it is in the vicinity of this post that the Dalai Lama crossed over from Tibet to India in 1959 , an event that had (and still has) not been digested by the Chinese. In many ways, this was the most sensitive area of the entire India-China border from Ladakh to the Burma tri-junction.
It was a place heavily charged with history.
Though Nehru had apparently declared that posts should be established in places ‘where we are convinced it is ours’, Dalvi commentated: “The Chinese had raised a dispute about the exact alignment of the McMahon Line in the Thagla Ridge area [during the 1960 talks]. Therefore the Thagla-Dhola area was not strictly a territory that ‘we should have been convinced was ours’ as directed by the Prime Minister, Mr. Nehru, and someone is guilty of exceeding the limits prescribed by him.”
Indian historians had good reasons to be convinced that the Thagla ridge was the traditional border between India and Tibet, though the 1914 map shows it a couple of miles southward. One of the main proofs is that the pasture rights on the ridge have always been with the Pangchen villages which belong to the Monpa tribe, while the Lebus villages, north of the Thagla ridge has always been under the jurisdiction of Tsona Dzong whose population are Tibetans.
But the point that the ‘historians’ did not grasp in 1962 was that the area around Khinzemane and Thagla ridge had a ‘historic’ significance for the Chinese.
Historian G.N. Rao who participated to the Official’s talk of 1960 said that it was a mere theoretical difference, but a difference which was fully used by the Chinese as a pretext to attack India in self-defence, even though the extent of the attack demonstrates that it was just a pretext for Mao to reestablish his position inside the Chinese Communist hierarchy and to ‘teach India a lesson’.
Not only was the Dhola Post disputed by the Chinese but worse, as Dalvi said, it was militarily unsound: “Sometime in July or August 1962 GOC 4 Division represented the unsoundness of the location of Dhola to his superior, but had not received a reply up to 8th September when the Chinese debouched across Thagla Ridge and threatened the post. The name of the person who did not give an answer, or failed to take a decision on this vital issue for over two months, will have to be made known as his was a major contribution to the events of September 1962.”
There are many ‘guilty’ men, generals or civilians in this story, but let us forget them for the time being and return to the front and listen to Dalvi: “We knew (or should have known) that Chinese Officials in the 1960 discussions had not conceded our version of the Line in this particular area.”
This is an important point, because though the Indian presentation was far more accurate than the Chinese one during the 1960 border talks, Beijing had not agreed to the Indian point of view.
This explains the unhappiness of the local brigade commanders in NEFA. Dalvi wrote: “The Thagla Ridge had a tactical significance for the Chinese as it overlooked their forward base at Le Chinese countermeasures would place us at a grave disadvantage, both tactically and administratively.”
India simply tried to bite more than it was possible for her to chew at that time.
The McMahon Line again
In his memoirs, General Prasad comes back on the McMahon Line: “…The McMahon Line generally follows the Himalayan watershed. The line then comes down to Khinzemane [the border post with Tibet, contested by China], and thence, instead of following the main watershed of the Thagla ridge, it is drawn in as a straight line running to the India-Tibet-Bhutan tri-junction. The details of the area shown on maps then existing bore little resemblance to the actual configurations of the ground, presumably because this area had not been explored when the McMahon Line was drawn.”
As we have seen there was a discrepancy between the Line printed on the map and the de facto and historical border which took into account the watershed and the rights of pasturage on the slopes of the ridge.
Just before entering into his narrative of the battle of the Tawang Chu, the Division Commander comes back once again to the incertitude vis-à-vis the line to be defended: “I would like to make a resume of the facts regarding the operational situation as I saw them and as I briefed General Kaul:
(a) The McMahon Line, drawn on the watershed principle but not drawn very precisely, purports to delineate the boundary between Tibet and India.
(b) The maps issued to the Army showed Thagla Ridge and the Namka Chu as lying to the north of the McMahon Line.
(c) The Ministry of External Affairs, in all the intervening years, had made no effort to demarcate the McMahon Line on the ground. The details shown on the maps of the area, particularly west of the Nyamjang Chu river, bore no relationship to the actual topography and this discrepancy had never been corrected.
(d) Despite repeated requests for clarifications from higher authorities, the correct delineation of our claim line and the status of Dhola post was never given to me.
It is in these circumstances that the Indian forces were asked to ‘throw the Chinese out’ of the Thagla ridge.
Brig John Dalvi put it rather bluntly: “It is known that many generals, including General Umrao Singh, opposed the indiscriminate opening up of more posts.”
The Henderson-Brooks Report probably shed some light on some of these issues. This could explain why it is still kept secret nearly fifty years after its publication.
The names of the culprits are known but will probably remain a State secret for the years to come.
After the War
The controversy about the exact location of the border between Tibet (China) and India continued well after the war.
On 14 November, the Indian Prime Minister wrote to his Chinese counterpart: “That the attack was premeditated and carefully planned is clear from the fact that this attack at the Thagla ridge frontier which commenced on the morning of the 20th October, 1962, was not an isolated move; similar attacks against Indian defence posts started simultaneously along other parts not only of the eastern sector of the frontier, but also of the western sector of the frontier.”
Though Nehru must bear the responsibility for the entire painful 1962 episode, he is however absolutely right when he points to the fact that the Chinese attack occurred simultaneously in all sectors. This is certainly proof that the operations had been prepared well in advance by the Communist regime in Beijing.
The setting up of the Dhola Post was nonetheless the required spark that triggered an all-round attack on India.
One question remains: did the Chinese really believe that the Indian troops had crossed over to Chinese territory by setting a post on the Namkha Chu?
It is possible; it is at least what the Chinese historians wrote, thereby justifying the massive attack six weeks later. But why the attacks all along the border then?
As mentioned earlier, the Forward Policy of Krishna Menon was a sort of psychological and political compensation: Delhi had made a fool of itself by not having noticed the occupation of the Aksai Chin for several years; something had to be done. It was the rationale of new Policy.
Nehru bluntly told Zhou: “I do not want to go into the history of the last five years and the forcible, unilateral alteration of the status quo of the boundary by the Chinese forces in the western sector, on which a mass of notes and memoranda have been exchanged between our two Governments.”
The Indian Prime Minister was absolutely correct. But the setting of the Dhola Post involved a far more sensitive issue: the welcome of the Dalai Lama in India (at Khenzimane border post, in the vicinity of the Dhola Post).
On November 4, Zhou Enlai answered Nehru: “So far as the eastern sector is concerned, I believe the Indian Government must be in possession of the 1914 original map of the so-called McMahon Line. According to the original map, the western end of the so-called McMahon Line clearly starts from 27° 44.6' N. Yet the Indian Government arbitrarily said that it started from 27°48' N and, on this pretext, it not only refused to withdraw the Indian troops from the Kechilang River [Namkha Chu] area north of the Line but made active dispositions for a massive military attack, attempting to clear the area of Chinese frontier guards defending it. Such was the position in the eastern sector of the Sino-Indian boundary prior to September 8, 1962. How can the Chinese Government agree to revert to such a position?”
The Chinese remained steady on their position.
The successive governments in Nanjing and Beijing have always considered that the agreement between the British and Tibetan plenipotentiaries in March 1914 in Simla was a ‘secret’ agreement: the fact that Tibet was considered an independent nation by the British at that time is unacceptable by China, though it is a fact of history that they themselves acknowledged by sitting at the same table with the British and Tibetan Plenipotentiaries for several months in Simla.
The Chinese Note continues: “The reason why the Chinese Government pointed out the coordinates of the western extremity of the so-called McMahon Line was to show that Indian troops had crossed this line and intruded into the Kechilang River [Tawang Chu] area.”
Here again it is a question of interpretation of the Simla agreement for demarcating the border between Tibet and British India. There are different views on the subject but even if one admits the principle of the ‘highest ridge’, the Himalayas do not always bend to the will of the cartographers.
Once again, Sir Henry McMahon never envisaged that the hurriedly conducted survey and his drawing of a thick red line on a map could trigger a war.
The ‘massive attack’ supposedly planned by India cannot be taken seriously in view of the total lack of preparedness of the troops in terms of armament, ammunition, clothing and food supply. More than half of the casualties are said to have succumbed to the cold and the shortage of food. Some senior Officers in the Army Headquarters in Delhi may have dreamt to ‘throw out the Chinese’ or take ‘the Thagla ridge’, but it was a pipe dream only.
Further, the position of the Chinese government was ambiguous: on one side they did not recognize the McMahon Line having not been part of the ‘secret negotiations’ between Sir Henry McMahon (and Charles Bell) with Lochen Shatra the Tibetan Plenipotentiary in Simla in February/March 1914, but at the same time Beijing was ready to accept the Line as the Line of Actual Control.
Though India rightly stated that the customary border was the Thagla ridge, it had never been delineated, it was only in 1951 that Major Khating and the Assam Riffles walked to Tawang, and further north.
But Mao had needed a pretext, some Indian Army senior officers and politicians offered it to him, though one thing is sure, with or without pretext, the conflict would be happened anyway.