The military has been a perennial blindspot of the Indian civilization.While Indian Muslim
rulers like the Lodis and the Moghuls suffered their share of defeats, as a
generalization, the ability at warfare has been particularly a Hindu weakness. Although
the lust for territory and the race for colonies withered by the end of World War II,
fighting between nations is a continuing possibility. National interests, whether
commercial or strategic, can dash and lead to war. Moreover, the collective ego of a
country can lead to a flare up. In short, India must make sure that it is always
Let us take the Sino-Indian war of 1962 as an example. To blame only
the fumbling Generals and the blunderous Defence Minister Krishna Menon would not be
sufficient.. The final responsibility must be borne by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. If
he had kept his cool and consulted the right people even after the initial defeats, India
could have come out undisgraced at least in the eastern sector. The invasion began on 20th
October or at the beginning of autumn. Thus means that either the Chinese were not
interested in a prolonged action or they were prepared to spend the cold winter on the
mountains of NEFA.
We were fully aware that most of our troops did not have the clothes
for the cold in the mountains. Our artillery did not possess mountain guns that would fire
at a high trajectory. The obvious answer therefore was to retreat to the plains of Assam
and to remain relatively unscathed in order to meet the Chinese on a level fighting field.
There would have been nothing novel about such a manoeuvre. "Defence in depth"
had already been theorised on the basis of how Field Marshal Erich van Manstein slowed
down the Soviet invasion of central Europe by retreating faster and deeper than the Red
Army could advance. Thereafter, his troops could cut off and surround the over extended
Soviets from their flanks.
Over a century earlier, Carl van Clausewitz, the guru of Conventional
warfare, wrote a primer for the child crown prince of Prussia. In it, he wrote that one
should never depend on the terrain. If the enemy cannot cross it, he would find a way of
circumventing it. This is precisely what happened in 1962 when the Chinese passed the Sela
Pass whereas our Generals had waited for the enemy to cross it.
As it happened, the Chinese declared a unilateral ceasefire on the
night of 20th November while our Prime Minister was asleep the Home Minister was unaware
of the declaration even at 5.30 the next morning. Unaware, he arrived at Palam airport to
catch a special plane to Assam in order to instruct that the oil wells there be rendered
unusable if they were to fall into enemy hands. Mr. M.C.Bhatt, then secretary of Oil India
Limited was to fly in the same plane along with the company's managing director, Mr.
Finlay. The Home Minister on reading the newspapers tried to phone the Prime Minister who
was asleep. The Home Minister then personally went to see the Prime Minister.
Many of us are aware of our military history and the catalogue of
invasions suffered by India. It is however not widely realised that the last time we
defeated and drove out an invader was. in the fourth century B.C. when Chandragupta Maurya
got the better of the Greek Seleucus, whom Alexander the Great had left behind, when he
retreated from India. Defeating Pakistan, whether in 1971 or later, was like winning a
civil war. Nor has our great civilisation been able to innovate a military weapon or a
technology of warfare. In fact, we did not learn lessons from a previous defeat which
explains why the invader won out every time. This was not merely a Hindu failure. Ibrahim
Lodhi failed in 1526 as did Hemu at the second battle of Panipat and as did Bhao Sahib,
uncle of the Peshwa at the third battle of Panipat in 1761.
Before that, Nadir Shah humiliated the redoubtable Moghul emperor
in1739, burnt and looted Delhi. Amongst what he took back to Iran was the peacock throne
and the Kohinoor diamond from the Red Fort at Shahjahanabad. His successor Ahmed Shah
Abdali invaded India nine times between 1747 and 1769 and plundered Agra, Delhi, Mathura
and Vrindavan at his sweet will. This is to emphasise that somehow we failed to learn the
lessons of one defeat and moved on from one invasion to another without ever
securing a victory.
It is uncanny that our civilization did not record enough way of history until the
advent of the British. True, during die medieval period the badshahs and the sultans
commissioned their courtiers to write the chronicles of their reigns. Ancient India
produced vast treasures of philosophical writings starting with the Rig Veda. A great deal
of verse and drama were written.
Sculpture, dance and music flourished. It is equally strange that to this day we have
written very little political theory and even less by way of national strategy. Regardless
of our preferences, we Indians must learn to change so that we can compete as well as deal
successfully with other countries.