The history of 1962 needs to be rewritten, and India should not be ashamed of its Army during those fateful months. On the contrary, it is time to build more memorials and museums and let the general public—and China—know about the outstanding valour of the Indian soldiers.
The event which has most marked the Indian psyche since Independence is undoubtedly the Sino-Indian conflict of October/November 1962.
The best proof is that even a non-Congress government at the Centre has been unable to declassify the Henderson-Brooks-Bhagat Report prepared by the Indian Army a few months after the ‘debacle’.
But was it really a defeat?
Retrospectively, I do not think so, even though the government has kept the totality of the report under wraps … perhaps to save the reputation of a few ‘guilty men’.
If not such a disaster, even though for those who fought, for their families, the Indian Army and the nation at large, the 1962 conflict with China was certainly an extremely harrowing experience?
Communist China still uses the narrative of the ‘defeat’ of the Indian Army for its own propaganda and the Communist leadership keeps threatening India to ‘redo it’.
An example, soon after the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) started an uncalled for confrontation in East Ladakh in May 2020, Beijing tried again to propagate the narrative of India’s crushing defeat in 1962; Beijing argued that it was the Indian Army who had attacked China on the slopes of Thagla ridge and in Ladakh in 1962 and that India had been punished for its temerity.
Already at the end of October 2017, as an offshoot of the Doklam episode, Sina.com published an album of photos “to commemorate the 55th Anniversary of the Outbreak of the Self-Defense Counterattack.” It showed ill-equipped and unprepared Indian troops who ‘dared’ to provoke the Chinese troops, giving Chairman Mao no option but to ‘counterattack’; killing hundreds of Indian jawans and officers in the process.
President Xi Jinping was probably dreaming of another 1962, when he undertook to change the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh in May 2020, not realizing that today’s India was not Nehru’s romantic and peace-loving India.
Would China decide to ‘teach another lesson’ to India, there will be many Rezang-las or Walongs, and this time, India would use its Air Force, without speaking of severe economic and political retaliations (Beijing could forget about its dear ‘One China Policy’)— Tibet and Taiwan could immediately be recognized by India.
If Xi Jinping had thought that the Ladakhi adventure would be a quick and easy one to digest, he probably has not read Sun Tzu’s Art of War properly.
The battle of Walong of 1962 is one of the well-known episodes which illustrates how well the Indian Army fought; unfortunately, it does not get enough coverage in India.
The website Bharat Rakshak explained: “But for most of the war, the fighting qualities of the Indian jawan and the young officers remained unchanged. Without a mention of the heroic resistance offered at Walong, no story of the 1962 war will be complete. Walong is a small hamlet located near the tri-junction of Tibet, Burma, and India. Situated on an ancient trade route, it was manned by an Assam Rifles post with a small airfield capable of only handling Indian Air Force Otters and Caribous.”
The Print recently recounted some episodes of the battle: “On the morning of 16 November , the final day of the battle, the Chinese launched another massive attack to capture Walong. The few tired and ill-equipped Indian troops left continued to fight. A helicopter tried to evacuate the casualties, but could not land because of poor weather conditions and an absence of suitable landing ground free from enemy fire,” quoting Col NN Bhatia, author of Kumaoni Nostalgia.
The retired colonel continued: “But the fate of Walong and 6 Kumaon was sealed as they were surrounded by two brigade strength of the Chinese. With no fresh troops to reinforce, it was impossible to hold on any longer. The remaining troops were ordered to withdraw.” But they had fought well.
It is said that during the battle for Walong and Kibithoo, the 6 Kumaon had 391 casualties, including 115 killed, 109 wounded, and 167 taken prisoners of war; the Chinese suffered 752 casualties, including 198 killed and 554 wounded.
Lt Gen Panag, a former Army Commander noted: “At Walong, 4 Sikh, 6 Kumaon, 3/3 Gorkha Rifles and 4 Dogra under 11 Infantry Brigade fought the most heroic brigade-level action of the 1962 War. The battle was waged continuously from October 18 to November 16, 1962.”
In the Western sector, the battle of Rezang-la will remain in the annals of the Indian Army.
The tale of Major Shaitan Singh, Param Vir Chakra, and his 13 Kumaon is too well known to be recounted; they fought to their last bullet to defend their position at Rezang-la.
Maj K.C. Preval in Indian Army After Independence noted that on November 18, 1962, in a freezing morning, the Chinese began with a ‘silent’ attack on Rezang-la, advancing wave after wave: “Rezang-la was held by C Company of the battalion and had no artillery support. At about 04:00 am, a patrol spotted a large body of the Chinese scrambling up the gullies and gave the alarm. Within minutes; every man in the company was at his fire position. Under Shaitan Singh, the company at Rezang La had been brought to a state of absolute readiness. The gullies had been ranged in and all of Singh’s light machine guns and mortars were now trained on them.”
Then the Kumaonis let the Chinese ‘have it’.
Let us also not forget that due to the ‘madness’ of the then political leadership, the Indian Air Force was not used.
Wing Commander Jag Mohan (‘Jaggi’) Nath, the first officer to have twice been decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), India’s second-highest war-time military decoration, went on regular missions over Tibet for more than two years from 1960 to reconnoiter the Chinese military build-up on the Tibetan plateau. Unfortunately, the political leadership refused to believe the hard evidence gathered during his sorties or use the information gathered. Jaggi Nath concluded that China had no Air Force on the Tibetan plateau in 1962.
Had the IAF been used, one can imagine that the casualties would have been less on the Indian side and more on the Chinese; the Line of Actual Control would have remained where it was in September 1959, and the border dispute with China would not be so acute today; the Shaksgam Valley would have not been offered to China by Pakistan in 1963; Mao Zedong would have lost his job. As a result, China would have been completely different today.
The history of 1962 needs to be rewritten, and India should not be ashamed of its Army during those fateful months, on the contrary, it is time to do more research into those battles, build more memorials and museums and let the general public (and China) know about the outstanding valour of the Indian soldiers.