Kiren Rijiju, Nehru and the great betrayal of ’62
Kiren Rijiju stirred a hornet’s nest recently when he claimed that Nehru had given up Assam to the Chinese during the ’62 war. India as a nation is extremely poor at remembering history the way it happened, instead, we take pride in knowing selective bits and pieces of history. It is these bits and pieces that make Superheroes out of ordinary men and reduce giants amongst men to a banal existence. This is probably why someone like Sardar Patel gets a fleeting mention in our history books, while Nehruvian policies have several chapters dedicated to them. Kiren Rijiju’s remarks therefore deserve analysis. What happened in 1962 that has forced the young Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, an MP from Arunachal to bring this issue back from the public focus.
Nehru claimed to be an idealist at heart. Sadly, He chose to be idealistic, when pragmatism was expected and he was pragmatic when it would have been wiser to be idealistic. There are several examples to prove this. It was Nehru’s idealism that forced him to promise a plebiscite in J&K under the auspices of UN at a time when it was not in the least necessary. It was the same idealistic Nehru who refused to accept a UN seat for India claiming that newly Communist China to its North deserved that Honour. But it was Nehru’s bullheadedness that forced him to reject several proposals from the Chinese to settle the border, all the while insisting that the ill-demarcated border should persist. While Nehru sang paens to the ideals of Asian and African amity, things were beginning to go haywire in India’s own neighbourhood. The Chinese dragon was waking up from a long slumber. Nehru ignored all these ominous signs. He chose a disastrous forward policy that pitted India against China, severely underestimating China’s strength.
The month long Sino-Indian war began on 20th October and lasted till 21st Novemeber 1962. The war was started by the Chinese and ended by the Chinese. Everyone knows the ‘mundane’ details of the war. How the Chinese sprung a surprise on the unsuspecting Indians. How they overran all of Nehru’s forward posts. How the Indian army was woefully undersupplied. We also know of the extraordinary bravery displayed by Indian soldiers at Rezang La, Tawang and many others. But on the whole, India struggled while China pushed ahead with its aim to teach India a lesson. Nehru failed India militarily as well as diplomatically. The much touted Non-Aligned Movement failed to shore up support for India in the international forum, proving the hollowness of Nehruvian idealism.
It was during the 1962 war, in the Eastern theatre, in Arunachal, then known as NEFA, that the Indian forces faced the brunt of the Chinese juggernaut. By end October, the Chinese forces had invaded Tawang. In the absence of official communication from the government, rumours started spreading that the Chinese forces were approaching Assam. By mid November, these rumours had become credible. It was believed that Bomdila had been overrun and the Chinese were approaching Tezpur in the plains of Assam. Panic took hold and people started evacuating the town. In Tezpur town, the administration had gathered all papers and was getting ready to burn them. In the local State Bank of India building, all notes were burnt and the coins were dumped in the nearby pond. Suddenly came the announcement that Bomdila had indeed fallen and that people should start digging ditches. In an hour’s time, the administration panicked and asked people to evacuate the town. All hell broke loose. People started running helter skelter. With no semblance of local administration, chaos reigned supreme. Fortunately, the Chinese army stopped a few kilometeres away from Tezpur and soon retreated. The lack of official preparedness and the arrival of enemy at the gates of Tezpur created a bitter memory that refuses to go away even after 50 years of the war.
It was during this time, on 20th November that Nehru made the speech on AIR. “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.”. The “…Especially our countryment in Assam, to whom our heart goes out…“, gave an impression that Assam was lost and that Nehru was asking his countrymen to prepare for the loss of Assam. At the same time, Nehru seemed to be asking the Assamese to prepare for a life of servitude under the Chinese. And that is not all. During a parliamentary debate on the Chinese aggression, Nehru had said “‘In those barren land and mountains of Ladakh and Arunachal, not even a blade of grass grows, why Parliament is wasting time“. ( On hearing this in Parliament, the Congress MP, Mahavir Tyagi, riposted that the Prime Minister’s head did not have a single hair but that didn’t make it useless, but that is a different matter), showing how naive Nehru had been all this while and how, even with overwhelming evidence of his policy failing, he chose to look the other way.
It is statements like these that have been conveniently erased from history. Kiren Rijiju deserves credit for speaking out about the trials and tribulations faced by our countrymen during those dark days. Hopefully, Kiren Rijiju’s statement will spur a debate into this shameful episode and enable a frank discussion on our past. The truth is Nehru was a mere man. He had his strengths, but he had critical shortcomings that cost the nation dearly. Now is high time that the nation gets to know the true history as against the manufactured history that has been force fed to it for 7 decades.