India’s forgettable ‘anniversary’!

N.S. VAGEESH | Updated on March 09, 2018

Chinatown?.. A bird’s eye view of Tawang city of Arunachal Pradesh — Manoj Deka

In three weeks’ time, India and its famed army will observe an anniversary that it would love to forget. It is 50 years since the border clashes with China took place. In that short and brutal war, India was humiliated.

It was a period when our morale was low. Delhi, ever the capital of rumour, intrigue and disinformation, was going wild with reports of imminent collapse and surrender. There were reports that the Indian Lt General Kaul who led the Indian response, had been captured. Public reaction to this piece of misinformation was best reflected in then President S Radhakrishnan’s devastating riposte: “It is, unfortunately, untrue.”


The lack of a clearly demarcated border, a costly inheritance from the colonial era, and prolonged skirmishes both at the border and at the diplomatic level on the subject during the fifties probably hastened the conflict. Adding fuel was the communist ideology and the Chinese State’s expansionist aims.

Jingoism on this side wasn’t wanting either. A weak army, poor leadership, (both political and military) and a raising of temperatures that went unchecked combined to deliver a crushing blow to India. Help from the superpowers came only in driblets, infuriated as they were with our preachy and moralistic foreign policy. With some perverse pleasure, they perhaps enjoyed our discomfiture when we had to approach them for arms, abandoning our ‘non-alignment’.

Subsequently of course, the Chinese pulled their troops back (although large parts of the disputed area remain under their control), for reasons that have never been fully clear. Perhaps their objective of ‘teaching India a lesson’ had been achieved. Perhaps they realised the perils of being an ‘occupation army’. Or perhaps there were warnings from other superpowers (then engaged in the Cuban missile crisis).

India as a nation took some time to recover from this demoralising blow. India’s Prime Minister never did, dying in office 19 months later. Biographers and acolytes fed the mill that he died heartbroken at what he saw as a betrayal by a country that he did so much to promote in the international arena.


In some sense, we have moved on from there. In some sense we didn’t. To this day, no discussion on India and China is ever complete without a reference to that border war. For a nation still smarting under the defeat, the embers of that debacle are kept alive by harping on a Parliament resolution asking for return of our territory.

China of course, seems ever ready to provide pinpricks, with their ‘maps’ often portraying Indian states such as Arunachal Pradesh as their territory.

So, the moot question: will we get our territory back? Quit dreaming, say some hardliners. Occupation is 99 per cent ownership in relation to land, goes that old saying. So, realistically they are not going to give it back. But the government cannot admit this in so many words — so it goes through the endless charade of delegations and working groups visiting each other’s countries and issuing pious statements on the ‘problems left over by history.’

What do we do now? As with many legacy issues, there is no ‘neat closure’ possible on the border issue. One may just have to live with the unresolved dispute — as we have for the past 50 years. And hope that trade and commerce heal some old wounds between the world’s two most populous countries and neighbours. At least here there is some movement.

Indo-China trade has multiplied manifold from practically nothing a decade ago to about $75 billion last year. History offers some hope — many countries in Europe that were engaged in ‘100-year’ wars are allies today that share strong economic links!

Published on October 03, 2012

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