Half a century ago at 00:00 Hours tonight 21 November 1962

By- Dilip Dutta

STOP: An apology for an error in this paragraph, “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” India should read China.

Read on from my previous posting: With the battlefield guns roaring Monpas descended on to Assam plains in droves and the October Assam weather was too hot for them. They had to shed their heavy attire with an atypical smell for Assam and were seen to dip themselves in rivers. The plump womenfolk with a soft buttery skin in their nakedness with shrill of happiness. The angry guns are far away in the Himalayan mountainous terrain.

In the war front:

India rapidly deployed troops to the war front. In total THREE divisions. There are plenty of revelations from the surviving soldiers and officers of the pitiable uniform, weaponry and ration for these soldiers (Lieutenant Colonel Eric Vas (later a lieutenant general) who led the first battalion that was inducted in Tawang tried to highlight the problems by dramatically writing a letter on a Chapati as there were shortages of everything from ammunition to clothing and even stationary! But Vas was sacked from his command.) Out of all the available information what struck me with almost unbelievable exposure that chocolates to be issued as an emergency ration was not issued to those poor soldiers by the defence hierarchy as it was treated as a monopoly of the elitists!

On the other hand in Assam, people responding to call for donations for the suffering Indian soldiers sent on a heroic mission of teaching the Chinese a lesson, gave the precious meagre jewelleries and savings to the begging bowls of the politicians. (I wonder what the fate of all was that collection?) Gauhati Radio Station repeatedly played Jyoti Prasad Agarwala’s Biswabizoyee No Jawan and Bhupen Hazarika’s Topto Tikhare NCC cadets were mobilised as if they were formal conscripts! On the Chinese side SEVEN divisions were deployed. The Chinese attacks were conducted in waves. Looking back at Chinese strategies and Nehru’s fear of losing Assam, it is curious that Chinese Radio did not do any propaganda work in Assamese. The answer lies in that the Chinese leadership of the day did not have any design on Assam. It has always been the shaky position of Delhi as Assam was taken inside the Indian Union at the behest of a handful of leaders opting in to do so. The Patel letter gives an implicit insight into this Indian weakness.

The THREE divisions India deployed, INTENTIONALLY used Assam Rifles, said to be Not to annoy China. Does it mean then to hoodwink the Chinese that Assam was defending using her own defence force? The truth however is that, even today Assam Rifles have hardly more than a few Assamese soldiers. The Chinese PLA breathing fire and Indian soldiers surrendering, Nehru hurriedly begs for help from foreign governments (except Portugal and South Africa) on 26 October. His focus was mainly Great Britain and swallowing his pride from the United States of America in the main. The Soviet Union which India counted to be the closest ally was tagged on only to save his face. The Soviet Union refused to stand on the opposite side of China. The Russian Bear in fact advised Nehru to settle the border dispute in Chinese terms. Great Britain and the USA mainly offered sympathetic words and some non-logistic help. In the recent weeks some Indian analysts are trying to portray the Cuban Missile Crisis as the reason behind American non-involvement in the Sino-Indian war siding with India; and also the Chinese taking advantage of the crisis to attack India when the world is almost at the verge of THIRD world war and nuclear annihilation. I do not feel that much credence could be given to these analysts’ assertions. First of all it was quite important for USSR to stand up for China. Secondly the Missile Crisis ended on 28 October any way. There was no reason why USA could not fulfil Nehru’s desperate pleas to rescue from the hopeless situation India was facing. But the US nor Great Britain came forward. So, India found herself all alone in facing the Chinese wrath. H.E. Kuldip Nayar, India’s Ex-Ambassador to the UK; who interestingly had a stint in Assam as a journalist in his early days, in his autobiographical ‘Beyond the Lines’ has revealed something indeed incredible, “As the war began, the Shah of Iran sent Nehru a copy of letter he had written to Ayub Khan, suggesting that he send his soldiers to fight alongside Indian forces against the ‘red menace’. (I have seen the copy.)

I recalled what Jinnah had said at Law College in Lahore when I had asked him what Pakistan’s reaction would be if a third power were to attack India. He had said that his soldiers would fight alongside Indian soldiers. Ayub told foreign powers who wanted him to help India that the fact that Pakistan did not take advantage of India’s vulnerability was a form of assistance and a sufficient gesture.

At the end of hostilities, Shastri recalled the Shah’s letter and said that had the Pakistani soldiers fought alongside us and ‘shed their blood with Indian soldiers’, it would have been difficult to say ‘No’ to Pakistan even if it had asked for Kashmir (Agar wo Kashmir bhi mangte to na karna mushkil hota). Probably he was right because emotions played a substantial part in our decisions.”

No wonder despite his credentials Nayar is hated in many quarters in India and been labelled as Pakistan Lover. In the Brahmaputra valley initially the administration was quite upbeat that India will give the Chinese a bloody nose. The villagers went about their day to day as usual without much worry or even having any knowledge of the confrontation. In the towns including Guwahati (which was a tranquil relatively neat and clean Township still had some British finesse, was too far from Assam Himalayas). Non conscript NCC(National Cadet Corps) were conscripted into service of maintaining law and order in central Assam. One such leader who always prided himself in NCC uniform became an extremely busy body taking power into his head. In his later life he became an officer of the BSF from which he was given retirement without giving him the opportunity of being a top brass, as appreciated by himself upon retirement; all because him being an Assamese!

However as the Chinese troops advanced, the border town of Tezpur in the north bank of Brahmaputra people of the town started to feel nervous. Some families from Tazpur and surrounding areas crossed over to the south bank looking for safety (!) in the towns and villages

On 19 November Bom Di La fell to the Chinese and that evening Indian PM. Jawaharlal Nehru became convinced that Assam cannot be saved and he went on air on All India Radio Delhi first in English,. “Huge Chinese armies have been marching in the northern part of NEFA. We have had reverses at Walong, Se La, and today Bomdila, a small town in NEFA, has also fallen. We shall not rest till the invader goes out of India or is pushed out. I want to make that clear to all of you, and, especially our countrymen in Assam, to whom our heart goes out at this moment” (that we could not save Assam) then in Hindi, “Hum Badi Dukhse bol raha hoon ye Bomdila Ki Bhi patan ho gaye. Assam ko bacha na saka.”  With a perception of Chinese occupation of Assam, Indian exodus trickle in the meantime has become a deluge. The European and American nationals (mainly Tea Executives) were air lifted out of Assam.

The Tezpur District Commissioner after ordering the inmates of the Tezpur Mental Hospital to be set free fled the district. It is not known if it was him or somebody else who ordered to burn all the Bank Notes and to throw all the coins held by the State Bank of India into the famous Hajjara Pukhuri (locally known as Padum Pukhuri) in the middle of the Town. Today, we can only imagine the level of chaos descended on the small township. Next day the Assam trunk road saw rows of dark olive military convoy roaring pass Assam Villages and Towns packed with head bowed down Indian soldiers travelling on the opposite direction of Tezpur and frequent red Assam Transport corporation buses one horned majestic Rhino drawn on its side panel plying empty in both directions. On the evening of the 20 November from the south bank of Brahmaputra the sky yon side of Tezpur was orange red with the battle field guns roaring continuously. Many Assam villages are known to be completely unaware of this momentous episode.

Next day while Tezpur awaits the arrival of the PLA, at midnight of 21 November China declares unilateral ceasefire while withdrawing in the mean time 20 KM beyond the LAC.

I am tempted here to let my readers have a taste of the actual war footage at this juncture which bears out some of the stories Indians find it hard to believe viz humanitarian treatment the captured Indian soldiers received and Chinese soldiers reported cleaning and oiling all the Indian weapons and returning all the war material recovered to India with the POWs. (Ref. http://ilookchina.net/2011/12/29/china-and-india-at-war-1962/)

The million dollar question:

Why China did become so benevolent towards India? Why loose it after winning it all?

Many Indians still believe that the US would have come to India’s rescue and fearing such a prospect China decided not to hold on to NAN ZANG (NEFA). Indian Air Force’s top brasses apparently could not understand why Nehru did not involve the air force. They contend today that Air Power would have changed the outcome of the war which China does not agree with. My take on the curious unilateral cease fire and not keeping NAN ZANG is not worry over US involvement. The US was just breathing a sigh of relief upon the end of the missile crisis. Fidel Castro was annoyed by the Soviet climb down, as, he actually asked Khrushchev not to remove the missiles and even was prepared to take a US nuclear hit on Cuba. Hence, US getting involved with India thousands of miles away despite standing up against communism is not on. US knew that to defeat China nuclear weapon has to be deployed. The sceptics should read this piece to understand US executive thinking on the Sino-Indian conflict. Ref: The Independent Saturday 27th August 2005: World Section.


JFK was ready to use nuclear bomb on China, tapes reveal By Andrew Buncombe in Washington. But in 1962 US was not prepared to send advanced war planes Nehru is known beg for these including US air forces direct involvement in the war, but, to no avail. Nehru obviously knew very well that the semblance of Indian Air Force if deployed to defeat the Chinese with bombing sorties over the advancing army would have fierce response of the Chinese blitz on Indian cities to destruction. Such a perception explains the Nehru’s farewell message to Assam. It was cheaper for India to let go of NEFA and Assam rather than Indian cities and army cantonments facing the blitzkrieg by the Chinese massive air power.

The reason behind the Chinese withdrawing from NEFA is perhaps multi factorial. We must appreciate that Chinese are acutely aware of India’s ancient civilization and Buddhism transplanted in China by Indian Buddhist scholars, which has been instrumental in uniting China to become the great nation we know today. India was the first nation to recognize the Communist State and played a significant role in China becoming the FIFTH member of the UN permanent Security Council. Hence it is quite likely that China hoped that in the fullness of time India will accept Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev advice to resolve the border dispute in Chinese terms. China appreciated that people of NEFA were in a fine harmony with the Assamese rather veering towards Tibetan Politics to cause them concern then. Appreciating the good relationship of ancient Assam(Pragjyotishpur) empire and the Six Hundred year old Ahom Kingdom of Assam with Yunnan connection, China did not expect any anti-china activities from NEFA or Assam soil.

In 1962 the infrastructure in Yunnan was quite poor. If Chinese soldiers decided stay put in NAN ZANG, the approaching heavy wintry snowfall would have cut off all supplies. China most likely interpreting Assam inside India is happily accepted by the Assamese and did not do any preparatory work to consider the option of restoration of Sovereignty of Assam to get supplies from a friendly nation across the NAN ZANG border, producing Chinese staple food rice in abundance with substantial petroleum reserve. The last but not the least is the vast mineral resources NAN ZANG /NEFA have under its soil could not have been known to the Chinese then. But as Assamese we were quite well aware of the gift of XuwonSiri, but, not clever enough to explore, cultivate healthy attitude towards residents of NEFA, for them to feel more at ease and residents of NEFA choosing to continue Assamese as the lingua franca, rather than becoming a Hindi speaking region; sadly even at the cost of losing their own tongue and culture in some cases. How sad!

Foot Note :

This writer is acutely aware that many Indian readers of this piece might think cynically of the information contained in it. However, I would respectfully suggest that they should force the South Block to make the report prepared by General Henderson Brooks and Major General Prem Sing Bhagat (VC) public, which will unfold the hidden truth kept locked away including the follies of Premier Jawaharlal Nehru; which should substantiate the narrative in my article.

Ali JinnahAndrew BuncombeBeyond the LinesBhupen HazarikaBom Di LaBrahmaputraBrahmaputra valleyChinaChinese PLACubaCuban Missile CrisisDefencedefence forceFidel CastroGauhati Radio StationGuwahatiHajjara PukhuriIndiaIndia China warIndian Air ForceJawaharlal NehruJinnahJyoti Prasad AgarwalaKuldip NayarLahorelingua francaMajor General Prem Sing BhagatNAN ZANGNational Cadet CorpsNCCNCC cadetNEFANehruPadum PukhuriPakistanPragjyotishpurRussian BearSoviet UnionState Bank of IndiaTawangteaTezpurTezpur Mental HospitalUnited States of AmericaWarWashingtonXuwonSiriYunnan