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Indian Leadership Like the Proverbial Pigeons Facing the Cat Is in Denial Mode From the Time of Nehru to Modi on China

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.



I have been reading many articles and discussions by senior retired generals and political analysts on various TV broadcast channels regarding China and its latest shenanigans. Some retired generals also appear on TV to give their opinion as to how to face China. Many of these generals and political commentators propound fanciful theories and many of them say that India will give a bloody nose to China. Nobody has specified what is that bloody nose.

Then some correspondents and generals keep repeating ad nausea that 1962 will not be repeated. This again is shallow thinking because any military historian will tell you that China's aim is not to repeat the 1962 border war. Such a thing would not be possible in the present age. They would be happy to make incursions into India and put the onus of reaction on India. In the case India forcefully reacts to Chinese incursions then the Chinese will go into action. In other words, China will not provoke a 62 but will wait for India to get provoked.

China has made it very clear to the world that in Asia there cannot be a multipolar power. China wants to don the mantle of the biggest military and economic power in Asia and maybe in another decade jump from the number two position in the world to the number one position.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947, became the prime minister of India but he was an idealist. Having all his life agitated against the British Raj he was of the view that imperialism is the bigger factor in world politics. He did not realize that imperialism was dead and gone two years after the end of World War II. In the new power equation emerging, he failed to realize that India must sustain itself and maintain its pre-eminent position as the biggest power in Asia which the British had left behind in 1947.

Just for the record India was the bigger power in 1947 with a battle hardened army that had fought in World War II. India was also economically strong at that time as it had an aircraft factory, locomotive factory, steel plant, and motor car manufacturing plant. Japan had been destroyed with two atomic bombs and the fire bombing raids of the USAAF. China was in the primitive age and a civil war was raging between the communists led by Mao Tse Tung and the nationalists under General Chiang-Kai-Shek. At that time not even a bicycle was manufactured in China.

Logically Nehru should have built on this but he had little comprehension of strategy or power politics. The Army was neglected and the defense Minister Krishna Menon played politics with the general staff. Nehru also downgraded the status of the Indian Army vis-a-vis the civilians to a great extent. He was helped in this by a supine General staff that included General Cariappa, General Rajinder Singhji, and General Pran Thapar.

We all know the age old story of the cat among the pigeons. When a cat enters the coop occupied by pigeons the pigeons close their eyes so that they don't have to face the danger of the cat and keep hoping that the cat will go away. The cat never goes away and this is precisely how India has been reacting to China from the time of Nehru to Modi.

In 1954-55 Indian intelligence had discovered that the Chinese had built a road through the Aksai Chin area from Tibet to Sinkiang. This information though with the Nehru Government only came out in 1959 when an Indian CRPF patrol was ambushed by the Chinese and 12 soldiers were killed. That was the time the Indian public came to know that almost 30,000 mi.² of Indian territory have been occupied by China in Aksai Chin.

Despite these momentous happenings Pandit Nehru still continued to pursue a policy where he was lobbying for China to be made a member of the Security Council and the United Nations. His naivety can be gauged from the fact when the 1962 battle was raging the Indian Rep to the United States, Mrs Vijay Laxmi Pandit when asked for her reaction to the Chinese invasion replied that we are a nation of principles and we still will continue to fight for China's entry into the Security Council..

One fails to understand that in 1954-55 when India discovered the Chinese road why Nehru did not upgrade the Indian Army and strengthen the defenses. In this, the general staff is equally guilty because there is no note or letter written by any of the generals from General Cariappa downwards to Nehru to beef up the northern border.

Another thing which must be pointed out is that despite Nehru having come to know of the loss of Aksai Chin made no attempt to modernize the army or to inculcate an offensive attitude. He was content to bask in the sun as a ' Great Third World leader.'

He had earlier shown his lack of foresight and spunk when in 1949 China invaded Tibet, just after the Communist victory on the mainland. He was sitting on his haunches at that time and sowed the seeds of the present predicament in Ladakh where China calls the shots and India just reacts.


After Nehru

The Indian leadership after the death of Nehru was no better. We also hear our generals and political analyists talking of a great victory against Pakistan in the 65 war. Nobody can explain why the Indian Army at that time did not open a front against East Pakistan which was defenseless. It shows a lack of strategic thinking.

The period from the time of Indira Gandhi was perhaps the best in India as she was a dynamic lady and integrated Sikkim with India. Her death, however, was a watershed in Indian politics and the arrival of her son Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister saw the opening of engagement with China. During this decade and a half China was building up economically and there was a very little problem on the border with India except for some minor incursions here and there.

Rajiv Gandhi visited China and at the same time, he realized that China's border problem has to be solved. Unfortunately, he was assassinated. it must be mentioned that during this entire period the Indian Army policed the northern border very lightly and the Chinese were happy. No infrastructure like roads and railways were built in the northern areas and this also suited China.

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I remember when I was doing the staff course we were taken for a study tour of Ladakh and Leh. The Deputy GOC at that time told us that we have one division facing China in a "holding role." On a query as to how many divisions the Chinese had on the other side, we were told that they had five. This about sums up the Indian approach to China. At that time China was not the power it is now and it's per capita income was about the same as India.

After Rajiv Gandhi visited China it was decided to have some sort of border agreements and from 1993 onwards four border agreements were signed between India and China. It is on record that the Chinese have voilated every one of them and the Indians have only been writing some mild protest letters.

The period when Atal Bihari Bajpai was the prime minister was another black spot in the Indian political rainbow. In a visit to China in 2003, Vajpayee made the announcement that India recognized Tibet as a part of China. This was something which even Nehru had never agreed to and he had always maintained that Tibet was supposed to have autonomy while China had suzerainty.

While agreeing that Tibet is a part of China the Indian leadership opened a hornet's nest. The Chinese having got Tibet in their pocket now began to make extravagant claims over the areas which at one time formed part of the Tibetan Empire. They claimed the entire Arunachal Pradesh as part of southern Tibet.

All this could have been avoided if India had signed a border agreement with China. Way back in 1960 the Chinese prime minister Chou En-Lai visited Delhi. Chou proposed recognition of the MacMohan line in the east and as a quid pro quo, India accepting Aksai Chin as a part of China. Nehru did not accept it and after the defeat in 1962, matters were not helped by a resolution passed in Parliament stating that India would take back Aksai Chin from China.

A similar proposal was made in 1983 when Deng was the leader of China but somehow again it did not go through. The Indian leadership during these two decades thought they could just continue on as is where is basis.

Vajpayee showed his lack of comprehension of power politics when he insisted that the Kargil conflict remain localized with the result that the Indian army suffered heavy casualties. In contrast in 1965 after the Pakistan offensive in the Chamb Jaurian sector, Shastri had agreed for the opening of a front in the Lahore sector

One fails to understand why Vajpayee did not carry out a similar operation.

The period when Manmohan Singh was prime minister is the period when China began to grow big. At that time also it did not strike the Indian leadership to build up an army capable to deter not only Pakistan but China. The entire period of Mr. Manmohan Singh as prime minister was hiding incursions by China on the border from the nation..


The Present Era

The senior generals and armchair political commentators are now passing weird comments on the latest Chinese incursions in both Ladakh and Sikkim. One political commentator has gone on record to state that the time had come to teach China a lesson. Such comments are good for TRP ratings but they are not the best way forward.

Many of the generals point out to a great victory at Doklam when the Indian Army faced the Chinese for 73 days. Nobody talks of what happened after that. Satellite pictures show that the Indian Army has withdrawn but the Chinese have not withdrawn and have built up a massive camp complete with billets and roads. The purpose to stop the Chinese from constructing a road has failed and in real terms, I wonder how one can say that the confrontation at Doklam was a win for India.

The BJP government led by Mr. Modi had been trumpeting this as a big victory but the facts are otherwise. Modi also like Nehru failed to gauge the Chinese mind. Even when China was occupying Aksai Chin, Nehru was talking of Hindi- Chini Bhai-Bhai. Similarly, Modi thought that he could set up a personal equation with President Xi. It is on record that he has met him 9 times and the net result of all these meetings is a big zero.

The Chinese have now entered Ladakh in an area which they had recognized earlier as part of India. My understanding is that they have occupied at least 30 to 40 mi.² and the Indian government is in a denial mode. The defence minister has been making friendly noises despite all this and just stating that it is not clear where the Chinese are, as the border is not defined. One may well ask him if the LAC was not defined then what are the Indian soldiers standing there for.

The Chinese have also made it clear to India that they are on their territory. They have the gal to talk like this as even now they are carrying out military exercises just near the LAC. How good the Chinese army is in the battle is not the point but the fact is as Alistair MacLean wrote in his famous book " Fear is the key." This about sums up the Modi government's thought process.

60 years have passed since the 1962 defeat and it is a tragedy that during these years the Indian Army has not been beefed up, to an extent where it can strike China where it hurts. The Indians have a plan to deal with Pakistan but the Indian Army and the political leadership have no plan what they will do in the event of hostilities as far as China is concerned. Any logical political leader or general would be waiting for a chance to mount an offensive into Tibet and Capture Lhasa.

The problem is that we have not planned for it and we have neither built the army, the air force and the infrastructure in the region to sustain operation in the highest mountains of the world. China on the other hand has built a network of road and rail in Tibet which gives them great mobility which is one of the principles of war.

I once wrote an article on the "durg" mentality of political leadership as well as the army. The Indian Kings kept holed up in their forts with big elephant corps waiting for the enemy to attack without going ahead and being proactive and attacking the enemy when he was advancing. This is brought out by Field Marshal Montgomery in his " History of warfare" wherein he stated that the Hindus had tremendous bravery but they lacked strategic sense as the passes of the northwest frontier were never guarded.

I do not wish to recount the various battles the Indians lost for not being proactive and sitting behind fortresses. Even now the Indian Army is thinking only of a defensive posture against China that is why they keep talking that 1962 will not be repeated. General Rawat who is supposed to be the CDS appears to be a fish out of the water and to my mind, he is a political appointee who keeps on talking for the consumption of the masses that India is ready to fight a two-front war. A two-front war is not going to take place because all the three nations have nuclear power and why should the Chinese provoke a war when they are getting what they want because of the timid approach of the Indian Army.

Narendra Modi has been silent on what is going on in Ladakh and defence Minister Rajnath Singh is not the best person to inspire confidence. The Indian government aims to just deny that the Chinese have intruded into Indian territory and occupied some area. They keep on stating that the border is not defined so nobody knows what is happening. No Chinese is making this sort of claim and they are clear when they state that they have gone into their territory only.

The only way you can call the Chinese bluff is to physically throw them out from the area they have occupied. Despite all the jingoistic talks by a few generals and the political commentators, the fact is that the Indian Army is just not in a position to throw out the Chinese troops which have occupied the Indian territory.

The question arises how they came there first of all as probably this area was not guarded at all. A similar thing had happened at Kargil when the Indian Army chief had withdrawn during winter the Indian troops from the Kargil heights and the Pakistan army went and occupied it. In any other country, this dereliction of duty would have been severely dealt with but it does not happen in India .

The Chinese have also made it clear to India that the Northern Ladakh which is the most inaccessible area will always be under the boot of the Chinese. The Indian government will now like to show to the Indian public that they are very strong while making some statements that the Chinese have been pushed back.

We are deluding ourselves because the facts on the ground are quite different. India is now getting surrounded on the northern border with even Nepal having published a map showing Indian territory as part of Nepal. I heard an interview by the defence minister talking of long-standing ties of friendship with Nepal without coming to the point of the map. It reminds me that when Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, 15 BSF soldiers were gunned down by the Bangladesh rifles and there was not even a ripple in the Vajpayee government.

In the Singapore club we meet and discuss with a few friends. Many of them point out that it is about time that the word coined by Frank Moraes "Meek and Mild Hindu" be thrown overboard.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 22, 2020:

Mike, I have spent a fair amount of time in Indian forces, and all I will say is I have a lot a battle experience. China only understands the language of force and there is no option for India but to confront China at a place and time of its own choosing. This requires political will as the Army is pretty confident of even reaching the capital of Tibet, Lhasa which is just 150 miles from the Indian border. India has the advantage of the restive Tibetan population and the Tibetan government in exile has long been asking for help. Most of China's actions are dictated by its fear of losing TIBET. With Narendra Modi at the helm of affairs, this can be a possibility.

Readmikenow on June 22, 2020:

Excellent article. What do you thing would be necessary to happen for things to change? What would it take for India to stand up to I'm sure you would like to see?

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 22, 2020:

Siddharth, thank you for commenting

Siddharth Shankar V from India on June 21, 2020:

Very nice

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 09, 2020:

Thank you, Pamela, for commenting

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 09, 2020:

This is a very interesting article about the history of India and problems with China.

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