The popular narrative in India and abroad of the 1962 Sino-Indian war holds that it was the result of India provoking China with its Forward Policy. This belief has been fostered by authors like Neville Maxwell whose writings cast India as the aggressor through its provocative policy—a belief that still prevails today.
At the first military literature festival in Chandigarh recently, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, an ex-army officer and author of books on military history declared that the government’s forward policy and complete intelligence failure was responsible for the 1962 war. But a new book by Bertil Lintner presents an alternative view that the Chinese leadership had begun planning the attack on India as far back as 1959.
The title of Lintner’s book China’s India War is a play on Neville Maxwell’s book, India’s China War. Lintner refutes Maxwell's premise that it was Nehru’s Forward Policy of setting up new posts in forward areas that provoked the Chinese dragon to war against India.
Lintner, journalist, prolific author and a seasoned observer of Asian affairs, brings fresh insights into the events that led to the disastrous war of 1962. He firmly situates the main cause for China’s aggression in Tibet. Though India had accepted Chinese control over Tibet, Chinese leaders believed that India was supporting the Khampa rebels in their opposition to Chinese rule. That view was reinforced by the Dalai Lama’s cordial reception in India in 1959. It was in March 1959 when Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping told a Chinese Communist Party Politburo meeting that India should be taught a lesson at an appropriate time. Shortly thereafter, occasional skirmishes started on the border while the Chinese leadership kept up the pretence of goodwill towards India.
The forward policy was launched in November 1961 and the war began less than a year later. That the Chinese preparations had been in the making for much longer was obvious as it required moving thousands of Chinese troops, transporting heavy equipment and setting up supply lines through difficult terrain across Tibet. The People’s Liberation Army was also accompanied by a contingent of interpreters conversant in the main Indian languages. The timing of the attack was chosen when the Americans would be preoccupied with the Cuban missile crisis.
According to the author, an important factor that led to the war was Mao Zedong’s need for an emotive issue to unite the country behind him when he was in a politically shaky position after the disastrous effect of his Great Leap Forward policy in China. At the same time, Mao was also keen to dislodge India from the position it then occupied as a leader of the third world.
The 1962 defeat was a bitter humiliation for India, giving China the opportunity to move into a more globally prominent position.
His research took him to libraries, freshly released government documents, and oral testimonies from old-timers and eye-witnesses. Lintner added boots to the ground as he trekked the Himalayan ranges where the bitter battles were fought, travelling through Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal through Myanmar to China’s Yunnan province. He dispels the misperception that the PLA over ran the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, the area that China now claims as Southern Tibet. In actual fact, the PLA penetrated only those areas where the tribals spoke a Tibetan dialect and did not venture to places were non-Tibetan dialects were spoken.
In his highly readable book, Lintner gives a comprehensive account of the developments in Tibet after the Chinese invasion of 1950 and the impact on India-China rivalry on the disputed border, as well as the effect on Bhutan and Nepal.
China’s India War: Collision Course on the Roof of the World
By Bertil Lintner
Published by Oxford University Press
Price Rs 675