Don’t Forget The Heroes of 1962!

As a 11 year old in 1962, the Indo-China War made a deep impression on me. Today, exactly 50 years after that fateful day in 1962 when Chinese troops entered Indian territory, here are my thoughts, obviously gathered later after a lot of reading on the subject, through Col. Belliappa in “It Can’t Be You”.

“Another distinguished Coorg officer was Gen Thimayya who became a very popular Chief of the Army Staff. Uncle Mandanna was more of his contemporary and spoke of him every now and then. “Timmy, a true gentleman, was all at sea in a world of politics. He was a damned fool to get caught in Nehru’s trap.” Uncle Mandanna told me nursing his rum and water. I was staying with him those days. He narrated how at the height of his popularity, Timmy resigned due to differences with Defence Minister Krishna Menon in 1959. Nehru requested him to take back his resignation assuring him that the issues would be resolved. “Timmy did that as an officer and a gentleman only to be castigated by Nehru in Parliament soon after,” said Mandanna. “Nehru shrewdly publicised Timmy’s taking back his resignation. Why he had resigned in the first place was never mentioned. This left Thimayya in poor light. He was never the same person again. The moral of the story, my boy, is to stay as far away from these damned politicians as possible!” concluded Mandanna shaking his head sadly.

It was perhaps a reflection of those times that events came full circle a few years later. It is said that Defence Minister Krishna Menon and the ambitious and politically motivated Lt. General Kaul, who was close to Nehru, began a policy of grandiose one-upmanship against the Chinese. The reaction was sharp and swift. In October 1962 the Chinese invaded India. Nehru, carried away with his own image as a world leader, loftily told the Press he had ordered the Army to throw out the advancing Chinese. The Indian Army got very badly bruised in the debacle that followed. Much to my shock and dismay, they were the ones who got thrown out. A highly agitated Mandanna lectured me at home, “Politics in the Army led to poor leadership. Our ill equipped jawan fought valiantly against severe odds but the reputation of the Army leadership was torn to tatters.” I learnt a big lesson from this. The best of men are wasted when their leaders are useless and incompetent.

My friends and I were horrified to read in the newspapers about the Chinese onslaught. Our troops were pushed back on all the fronts. It was a defeat no one thought possible. The nation watched in shock as dreadful stories emerged of the rout of the Indian army. There were a few exceptions, thank God! One was the amazingly heart warming story of the bravery of Major Shaitan Singh of 13 Kumaon who won a posthumous Param Vir Chakra. Uncle Mandanna had extra rum that evening to raise a toast to the bravery of the Kumaonis. I heard open-mouthed with awe, as he read from the papers how they almost fought to the last man. 109 out of 123 Kumaonis were killed by the Chinese even as they were believed to have inflicted causalities to more than 1000 Chinese at the 17,000 feet high Rezang La Pass. It made me more determined than before to join the Indian Army. My mind was always on the wars and I saw myself becoming a major hero avenging our recent humiliating defeats.”

It was a huge relief for India when the Chinese, having beaten the hell out of us unilaterally declared a cease-fire in November 1962. Ironically, Nehru didn’t recover from the debacle and died a broken man in 1964. Mandanna’s take was that had the Thimayya Incident not happened, the Army would never have been so badly prepared. He muttered about it for years on end- to him, it was the end of an era. Timmy’s downfall was the downfall of the career Army officer. Menon’s victory was the victory of the politician- who continued in office and continued to thrive even as thousands were injured and killed due to their foolishness and short-sighted policies. This was the new India for you. I mention all this in some detail because it left in me, and many career officers of my era, an intense dislike for men in politics which has endured till this day.”

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