Half a Century ago – October 20,1962



20 days before at Abbey Road Studios, London, Four Liverpudlian youths recorded the song Love me do AND THE LEGEND of BEATLES was born! Happiness abounds!

The same day at Pinewood Studios, Britain, Sean Connery, a staunch Scottish Nationalist uttered this line, “My name is Bond….James Bond”. And a legendary film ACTOR was born! The thrill begins!

ON THIS day across the not so legendary British drawn McMahon line battle guns roared in anger. Blood of Chinese and Indian soldiers stained the soft Himalayan snow crimson red!


To understand this event let us do a rapid read into British Imperial history relating to Assam, Tibet, and China.

With the pretext of ejecting the Burmese from Assam to secure the Bengal Presidency keeping Assam as a buffer, the East India Company pleading to the Citizens of the Kingdom of Assam entered Assam to conduct a well planned military expedition. But the Company did not keep its word and instead of restoring the Sovereign Independent Kingdom of Assam they turned Assam into a Chief Commissionership in the same vein as Punjab, in 1834. The British Assam administration subdued the tribes who were tributary to Assam Royal household and administered this region of the Himalayan foothills as Assam Himalayas, The Himalayan range stood as the biggest challenge for the British imperial ambitions to colonize China. However many ancient mountain passes existed to reach the Brahmaputra valley from the Tea and Horse Trail of China since time immemorial.

No wonder then the British decided to send an expedition in 1903-1904 under the leadership of Francis Younghusband to test the waters before long term adventurism in China could take place. Younghusband reached Lhasa and a deal was made with the Lhasa administration mostly in British terms. He backtracked from Lhasa. But the agreement he made at Lhasa ensured that Tibet became the soft underbelly of the Middle Kingdom, Imperial China.

In 1914 a conference was arranged at Simla to serve the Imperialist design of British India administration. The participants were British India, Tibetan representative, and China. The purpose was to create a demarcation of outer Tibet under the Tibetan Suzerainty and Inner Tibet (Qinghai Province) belonging to Imperial China AND an arbitrary border drawn beyond Assam Himalayas including Tawang(second holiest place of Tibetan Buddhism) by Sir Henry McMahon. The Chinese representative left the conference in anger rejecting the whole idea of dividing Tibet and the McMahon line itself. However, British Administration continued to administer the area south of the so-called McMahon line as North Eastern Frontier Agency(NEFA). Imperial China being in a shaky political flux did not want to scratch ears with the British Tiger’s tail and continued to tolerate the occupation of Zang Nan (NEFA). Chief Commissionership of Assam however continued to pay a levy to China for the use of the NEFA territory (vide Years of Change in Bengal & Assam by Sir Robert Reid). (Incidentally, Sir Reid, a true friend of Assam actually saw the danger of the indigenous peoples’ future inside India and wanted Assam to be left outside India. )

At the event of British decolonization of British India, to appease Jinnah on the basis of a doctored statistics of an inflated Muslim population of Assam, returning Assam to a Sovereign State was not given a due airing and the Two-Nation solution was bulldozed into action. But TAKE NOTE that although Burma was ruled as part of the Bengal Presidency of British India, Burma was returned to a Sovereign State. Therefore British administration may be held responsible for unfair and illegal inclusion of the Chief Commissionership of Assam to be put in the workings of the two-nation theory solution. Human Rights organizations should look into this aspect of decolonization and consider taking it up with the UN Decolonization Committee.

In 1947 NEFA along with Assam went under the control of the Republic of India. We can only surmise here that China in the middle of the revolution and the Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-Shek (Jiang Jieshi) had his hands full to put his mind to the southernmost hilly terrain of Zang Nan(NEFA).

The crux of the matter:

After the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China on 1 October 1949, Chairman Mao took steps to secure Chinese territories, and as the upshot from this policy on 29 April 1954 India had to accept that Tibet belongs to India (Reference).

So readers, White Sahibs taketh and Brown Sahibs giveth. Well, to be honest India did not have a leg to stand against the Chinese argument over the ownership of Tibet, and courage always has been in short supply in the Indian psyche.

Upon failure of the US-backed and Indian tacitly supported Tibetan armed rebellion against the People’s Republic of China, the current HH Dalai Lama flees Tibet and reached Assam seeking political asylum. India much to the ire of China accepts HH Dalai Lama as an honoured guest.

India could not have refused refuge to HH Dalai Lama. Let’s not forget he is the religious and political head of Tibet. India knew very well about the importance of keeping Tibet in her grip. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s letter to Nehru 7 November 1950 (Reference) makes it very clear especially the hatred against the substantial population of then Assam and the importance of having Tibet as a buffer against China. Till PRC was established, post 15 August 1947 Indian leadership was a quite hunky-dory of British India status of Tibet to continue. But the 1949 success of communism in China dashed India’s hope. With age-old tried and tested Kautilya policy Nehru now packages India-Tibet relationship as spiritual and sentimental and hiding the long term goal of bringing Tibet under Indian wings in keeping with the explicit revelations in the above mentioned Patel letter. His letter oozes out venom against communist China and echoing his own appreciation then and President George Bush (Junior)’s, You are either with us or against us perhaps explains currently India leaving the Russian camp and aligning herself with the USA. Assertive Chinese policy towards Tibet and perhaps the true hidden Indian intentions as appreciated by Patel in his own words, “Therefore, if the Chinese put faith in this, they must have distrusted us so completely as to have taken us as tools or stooges of Anglo-American diplomacy or strategy. This feeling, if genuinely entertained by the Chinese in spite of your direct approaches to them, indicates that even though we regard ourselves as the friends of China, the Chinese do not regard us as their friends” gives credence to reports that between 1949 and 1950 India covertly supplied arms to Tibetan administration.

With the view of the vulnerability of the region beyond the so-called McMahon line, this side of India’s perceived border led to better fortification than Ladakh and Aksai Chin. In fact India came to know about China building a road into Aksai Chin too late. This road is still vital for China to control Tibet.

From all the available reports from International commentators including India’s own Kuldip Nayar, it is quite clear that China has been accommodative in resolving the Sino-Indian borders. Zhou Enlai made four trips to India against Nehru’s one and in exchange for Aksai Chin given to China, China would renounce its claim on NEFA, and McMahon line will be regarded as the International border there. But, NEHRU WON’T HAVE IT. HE WANTED IT ALL FOR INDIA. It is very clear why he could not do a deal giving up India’s claim on Aksai Chin. Because it meant giving up India’s design over Tibet forever!

India emboldened on the successful invasion of Goa a year earlier, and Chinese soldiers fleeing from their outpost in Ladakh upon firing upon them, Nehru became increasingly confident backed up by supposed successes of the Indian Indigenous Ordinance (Vide Kuldip Nayar’s autobiography Beyond the lines; ‘I can tell the House that at no time since Independence has our defense been in better condition and finer fettle.’) factory producing suitable war material, the Forward Policy was put in action. Forward Policy carried the assumption that the Chinese would rather withdraw then to fight back. Kuldip Nayar’s book again re-affirms, “To reassure Thapar, Nehru told him that he had received reliable information that the Chinese would not offer resistance if there was a show of force to make them vacate the check-posts. Thapar knew from where the information had come. Obviously, the government had not taken any note of the Chinese warnings that the Indian aggressor must bear full responsibility for the consequences of their crimes” that it was Indian Prime Minister Nehru was itching for a confrontation with China- that was the true face of the so-called man of peace.

To be fair to Indian assumptions we need to analyze the sealing of the border between the Lokka region of Southeast of Lhasa, NEFA and Bhutan in early August 1959. On 25 August 1959 at Longju on the Lokka-NEFA border armed skirmishes led to the first bloodshed which Mao later on blamed on local Chinese Commanders. As an upshot from this incidence to calm things down expecting India to do same China withdrew soldiers 20 Kilometers from the line of actual control unilaterally and ceased patrolling in that forward zone. This action reduced hostilities and tension for twenty-three months.

My take at this juncture, underpinned by boldness Indian leaders expressed during this period, that this withdrawal was taken as a sign of weakness of the Chinese in line with the interpretation of the Ladakh incidence earlier. Consequently in November 1961 India implemented the Forward Policy. Indian troops were ordered to “patrol as far forward as possible from our(India’s) present position towards the International border recognized by us (and) prevent the Chinese from advancing forward and also to dominate any Chinese posts already established in our territory.” When the Indian Army initially began implementing the Forward Policy, Chinese forces indeed withdrew when they encountered the newly advanced Indian outposts. Indian forces were elated and according to official Indian history, A large number of Indian posts were established quickly.

China then resumed the patrols within 20 KM north of McMahon line – suspended since October 1959. On 26 February China again called for a peaceful settlement of the boundary problem in a conciliatory letter. India’s reply to this offer on 13 March an essential precondition of a Chinese withdrawal from Aksai Chin before negotiations.

China then decided to construct more outposts ordering the units to avoid actions that would cause further aggravation of the border situation. Chinese forces were also ordered to go on a propaganda mission towards the Indian soldiers, urging them to stop aggression against China, extolling the traditional friendship between China and India and recounting the efforts of the Chinese Government to achieve a peaceful resolution of the border issue. Chinese forces started to stand their ground both in the Western and Eastern sectors. But, Indian forward policy instead of being reappraised was enhanced despite Chinese protests, and 5 May 1962 exchange of gunfire took place.

On 19 May, another protest was lodged by China stating, “Unless India desists immediately” from intrusion into the Longju region, “the Chinese Government will not stand by.”

By the end of June Indian forces have brought under Indian control 2,000 Sq Miles of China claimed the territory since the beginning of the Forward Policy. Moreover, in July 1962 Indian Army HQs gave discretion to all post commanders to fire on the Chinese if their posts are ever threatened. No wonder the Army HQ felt comfortable to do so, as, Indian leaders came to a consensus that China would not respond with military force to Indian advances, or if it did, any military response would be extremely limited. A large scale military adventure was deemed impossible. It was firmly believed by Indian leaders that India by demonstrating firm intent can force the Chinese to back down. India obviously ignored the American humiliation in the Korean War at the hands of the Chinese.

Indian audaciousness resulted in a major provocation on 21 July 1962, when a newly constructed Chinese outpost was fired upon and Chinese forces returned fire. After 20 minutes of firing, Chinese forces suppressed the Indian firing. The Chinese forces then stopped firing and allowed the Indian force to withdraw.

Indian forces had established an Indian outpost Dhola, the Tibeto-Bhutan-NEFA tri-border juncture at the southern base of Thagla in June 1962 as a part of the Forward Policy to evict the Thagla Ridge where Chinese forces entrenched themselves atop the ridge in August. On 8 September a force of 800 Chinese soldiers came down from the Thagla heights and surrounded the Indian post at Dhola for twelve days. This incident gave rise to public clamor to throw the Chinese out from Thagla Ridge, and on 18 September India officially announced the intention of driving the Chinese forces from the Dhola area at the base of Thagla. Subsequent effort to achieve this lead to clashes on 20 and 24 September.

On 3 October, China proposed to start a peaceful negotiation again, but, New Delhi rejected it on 6 October. On this day Mao decided to punish India severely. Plans were drawn to expel Indian forces from the areas of their north of the traditional, customary boundary (that is China’s claim line is to the southern foothills of the Himalayas i.e. North of Assam Himalayas of the British description.)

On 9 October, another Indian attempt on Thagla Ridge was thwarted by the Chinese at the cost of the lives of eleven Chinese soldiers.

On 12 October, Nehru reiterated his order to free our country, and Indian forces continued aggressive patrolling and harassing fire. China had no hesitation to describe Nehru’s stubborn and war-mongering attitude and finalising the war preparation viewing the large scale Indian attack on 10 October as the watershed moment, India firing the first shot.

On 16 October, China decided to annihilate Indian forces that had aggressed against Chinese territory in the east.

On 17 October, orders were sent to the PLA in the Tibet military region.

On 18 October, the Chinese Military Council met again to give formal approval to the decision for a self-defensive counter-attack war the participants in the meeting were Mao, Zhou. Liu, Shaoqi, Deng Xiaping, Lo Ruiqing, Marshals Liu Bocheng, H Long, Xu Xiagqian. The decision for war was finally approved by an expanded Politburo meeting and the attack was set for 20 October and the PLA offensive began on that day in the Tawang region with the roar of battlefield guns FIFTY YEARS ago at 5 AM THIS DAY.

To be continued with subsequent immediate developments from this war.

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