The military drubbing India received from the Chinese 50 years ago still rankles many of us as many of our army units, despite being ill-clad and barely equipped for war, had fought back ferociously, sometimes with their bare hands and stones when ammunition ran out. Their defiance in the face of imminent defeat is the stuff of legend. At Namka Chu, near Thagla ridge, where it all began, 7 Infantry Brigade under Brigadier J.P. Dalvi (of Himlayan Blunder fame) was massacred despite the heroic stand of units like 2 Rajput, which were virtually wiped out by the Chinese. Among all this, clearly the honours for the “last stand to the last man” goes to Major Shaitan Singh (a posthumous PVC) and his 114 men of 13 Kumaon, at Rezang La, near Chusul in Ladakh. They repulsed seven Chinese attacks till they all died holding their weapons, and lay frozen there for weeks.
So it wasn’t for a lack of determination by our forces. The fall of Tawang, Walang, Se La and Bomdi La could perhaps have been prevented if only India’s military brass hats in Delhi and Tezpur had stood up to Nehru’s arrogant defence minister Krishna Menon—who had once boasted that he alone could handle the Chinese—and prevented him from micro-managing the conflict. The odd ones who did, like Lt Gen Umrao Singh, GoC 33 Corps, were marginalised and a new corps was raised in Tezpur to accommodate New Delhi’s man, Lt Gen B.M. Kaul. But once the Chinese attacks began, it was clear Kaul was out of his depth. He soon took ill but insisted on commanding his forces from a hospital bed. Though China’s aggression of 1962 lasted only a month—October 19 to November 21—it has left scars that are yet to heal. The reason is that the causes of India’s defeat—largely in Se La and Bomdi La on the eastern front, and in Aksai Chin in the west—have been hushed up, and the nation hasn’t had a chance to understand who all were guilty for the debacle.