Aina on Indo-China

Today October 20 2012, marks 50 years of the Indo-China war. On October 20, 1962 at dawn, China opened hostilities at NEFA and Ladakh and the war lasted for a month till China went in for a unilateral ceasefire on November 20, 1962. India was defeated and suffered heavy losses in the war.

 Indian army soldiers
March past: Indian army soldiers of the Gorkha Regiment patrol the India–China border at the height of 16,000 feet near Tawang, in 2003. Pic/AFP 

Many years later and many miles from the site of that conflict, bloody history and bravehearts will be remembered in Mumbai. At 10 am, when the CST crowd would be lesser than on manic weekdays, a crowd of at least 100 persons are expected to pay homage to fallen Indian soldiers at the Amar Jawan Jyoti at CST. Friends of Tibet (Mumbai), in association with an organisation called Republican Sena, is holding a commemoration because of the landmark 50 years date. The chief guest will be Anandraj Ambedkar, president Republican Sena and grandson of Dr B R Ambedkar. Floral tributes and speeches are tangible parts of this programme.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defence Minister A K Antony pose with military personnel during the Combined Commanders-in-Chief Conference, in New Delhi on October 19
United front: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defence Minister A K Antony pose with military personnel during the Combined Commanders-in-Chief Conference, in New Delhi on October 19. pic/AFP/Indian Press Information Bureau 

The intangibles and more important aspect though is the spirit of the commemoration. Says Rohit Singh, campaign co-ordinator Friends of Tibet, “This is the first time we have held a commemoration of the war and since 50 years is a landmark date, we thought it was fitting to do so.” For Rohit (30) it is a particularly sentimental time. The young man who hails from Ghazipur village dist. (UP) says, “Ghazipur is a soldier’s home.

Amar Jawan memorial
Sentimental site: The Amar Jawan memorial at CST. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Many families have people in the defence services. Several families were fragmented during action in this war, with their members dying in action or missing in action. My grandfather (mother’s father) went missing in action during this war. His name was Kashinath Singh and he was a Nayak Subedar in the Artillery Division. He went missing in the Bombila Front in Arunachal Pradesh.”

Rohit adds that his mother was just four at the time when she lost her father. “Another sister was born a little after the war, my maternal grandmother brought up three little children (they were three sisters) on her own on a pension and the help she received from the army.”

Rohit says that remembering this war where India suffered horrendously is as important as remembering wars in which India emerged victorious. He says, “The government marks other victory days but we need to mark our mishaps or defeats too. There is nothing wrong in acknowledging that you have been defeated. That is the way one can rectify the mistakes and become better. Also, the sacrifices that our soldiers made need a special salute. Fighting a war is like a double-edged sword. One needs a vision to defend one’s country; we cannot give up anything on a platter. We have to bounce back post-defeat, mobilise resources and win again. We did that in subsequent wars.”

Rohit says that they also hope to raise awareness about the fact that though the Army chief took the rap for the defeat, no political leader stepped forward to resign. “When the army wins, it is the politicians who step up to claim victory, in defeat the forces stand alone. That is unfair because after all, to go to war was a political decision."

When: October 20 to November 20, 1962

Why: The dispute was over two regions: the Aksai Chin territory (the land between Ladakh and Bhutan) and the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA; now the state of Arunachal Pradesh). India and China both claimed that these regions came under their jurisdiction. On October 3, 1962, Zhou Enlai, the then Chinese Premier, visited Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi and assured him there would be no war.

What: On October 20 1962, the Chinese Army attacked two different regions — the Chip Chap valley in Aksai Chin and the Namka Chu river in NEFA. In four days’ time, the Chinese had occupied quite a few disputed territories that were under Indian administration and advanced 16 km into Indian territory. Fighting stopped for three weeks while Zhou and Nehru negotiated a truce. The talks failed and Chinese troops resumed their attacks on November 14. By November 19, Chinese troops had occupied all the areas they had laid claim to. China ordered a ceasefire starting from November 21. Zhou also claimed that his troops would withdraw 20 km even though they had fought in their own territories.

Impact: India’s army was thoroughly reorganised and strengthened so that it will serve better in future conflicts. The benefits were seen in the wars India fought against Pakistan in the subsequent years. Gen J N Chaudhari, who took over as Army Chief after the war, commissioned an internal inquiry into what went wrong. 

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